What does ‘£700 million for SEND’ actually mean in reality?

What does '£700 million for SEND' actually mean in reality?

4.55pm on a Friday doesn’t normally mean good news for SEND parents. It’s often a time when bad news pitches up in your email inbox from LAs, health teams or schools. Last week was different though – as the Department for Education chose late Friday afternoon to lift the lid a bit on a package of additional funding that the Government plans to inject into the English school and education system over the next three years. A chunk of this money - £700 million - will be headed towards the SEND sector too.

Headlines are one thing, but what does it all mean in the grand scheme of a cash-starved system and and what difference will it make to my child or young person with SEND? Details are still sketchy, but putting it simply: if it happens, it’ll be worth having, but it’ll make less difference than you might think.

What extra money is Government pumping in?

The Government press release says they’re injecting £14bn into primary and secondary school education over the next three years, plus an additional £400m into the post-16 sector (further education & sixth-form colleges). 

That’s a slightly unusual way of describing it. What it means is that in the next financial year, starting in April 2020, the Government plans to increase funding for primary and secondary schools by £2.6 billion. In the following financial year, they plan to add a further £2.2 billion on top of that, and then in the 2022-23 financial year, they plan to stack £2.3 billion more onto the budget. 

How much of this extra money is heading towards SEND?

The press release says this:

“The deal includes £700 million extra for children with SEND in 2020/21, so every pupil can access the education that is right for them, and none are held back from reaching their potential.”

Department for Education

At the time of writing, there’s no more detail than that - and it could mean a range of different things. What it probably means is that the Government plans to increase the size of the High Needs Block by £700 million

The High Needs Block is one of four big funding blocks that make up education funding – if your child goes to a special school or college, or a mainstream resource base or unit, or gets a lot of additional support in mainstream or further education, then their placement will draw on funding from the High Needs Block.

But this is SEND, so it’s not as straightforward as that. Pupils with SEND in mainstream (and that’s most of them, don’t forget) get most of their support funded out of a different pot – the main schools funding block. It’s not clear whether any of this extra £700 million ‘for SEND’ would be headed their way, although the Government is also planning to increase the size of the main schools funding block, so with luck this would have a positive impact on mainstream SEND.

The Government is referring to this whole package as a “giant cash boost” – which indicates that this is probably going to be revenue funding (paying for running costs) rather than capital funding (paying for new schools and school buildings). 

When would this money start to make a difference?

Not tomorrow, that's for certain. None of the extra £700 million will kick in straight away. It’ll be at least seven months before any of it arrives. We’re currently in the 2019-2020 financial year, and the first uplift in funding won’t happen until the start of the 2020-2021 financial year, which is April.

It’s also worth noting that the £700m that’s explicitly earmarked ‘for SEND’ is for ONE financial year only – 2020-21. It might well be that some of the additional education funding announced for the following years would be earmarked for SEND, but that would be a decision for another day.

Is the £700 million ring-fenced for SEND?

There’s no way of knowing right now. Assuming that the £700m is headed for the High Needs Block, then the answer is ‘yes, it’s ringfenced for SEND’ – but that’s a civil servant’s ‘yes’, and the definition of ‘ringfenced’ is comically broad.

The High Needs Block pays for specialist SEND provision – but it also often pays for the processes that local authorities use to assess need and allocate (or deny) provision. When the definition of ‘ringfenced for SEND’ includes LA spending on consultants, mock inspections, and emotional support barristers, then it’s not ringfencing that most parents would recognise. It’s a racing certainty that at least some of the additional £700m would be spent on things that go beyond extra front-line SEND provision

Why do you keep saying ‘would’ rather than ‘will’?

Friday’s announcement talks about things that the Government plans to put in place over the next three financial years, starting in April 2020. If these plans are going to become reality, the Government will have to survive at least the next few months. 

I’m no political analyst, but this is the most turbulent political period in living memory. If this Government falls in the next few weeks or months – or if Brexit were to rip gaping holes in the Government’s financial position – then there’s absolutely no guarantee that these plans will ever turn into reality. If the Government falls, then its successor won’t be obliged to make any of the changes announced on Friday.

What difference would the £700m make to my child or young person with SEND?

It’ll make very little immediate difference, because none of this extra funding would be arriving for at least seven months. If your child is in a specialist SEND placement that’s at risk of closure in the next 12 months, then there’s now some extra hope that the LA will think again. On the other hand, if your child has just lost a TA, or visits from a specialist teacher, then it’s very unlikely that anything will change in this academic year, because budgets have already been set.

But even when the £700m funding does arrive in April 2020, I suspect that it’ll make little difference to family experiences of the SEND system. Here’s why: Deficit thinking.

Over the last 2 years, most LAs have racked up massive deficits in their High Needs Block spending. The bloodless, technical, and thoroughly enraging jargon for this is ‘overspend’ - it’s not, it’s underfunding! 

Nonetheless, it’s a financial truth that most LAs - through gritted teeth, and despite all sorts of unlawful chicanery - are spending more on high needs SEND than they receive from central Government.

So how big is this deficit? 

Looking at the financial data, by April 2019 LAs had racked up a combined High Needs Block deficit of around £300 million. Without throwing in money from other sources, the deficit would have been closer to £500 million

And this isn’t a static situation – the ‘pressure’ on High Needs Block funding is still very much there, and it’s growing. Which means that the combined LA deficits are continuing to grow.

So if the Government’s magic money tree finally delivers the promised £700m in April next year, by then LA High Needs Block deficits will be even bigger. Adjusted for things the Government has done in the last year, the most credible financial projections I’ve seen suggest that the combined HNB deficit will be somewhere in the region of £540 million to £680 million by April 2020.

So by April 2020 – when the promised £700m for SEND is supposed to kick in – local authorities will be running high-needs SEND deficits that are likely to be close to…. £700m. 

That means the chances are very high that many LAs will simply use the additional SEND funding to repair their ravaged financial position – replenishing financial reserves, and easing pressure on other school funding blocks. Hopefully, LAs might now start rethinking some of the plans they’ve been working on to cut SEND spending - but it’s very unlikely that they’ll abandon efforts to restrain SEND spending.  

So whilst some LAs might rethink plans to cut the value of high-needs SEND banding, it’s very unlikely that many of them will be increasing their band values. And parents whose children have needs that can only be met in non-maintained or independent specialist provision can continue to expect to have a fight on their hands.

Money isn’t everything SEND needs: behaviour matters

An extra £700m would be a mighty sum, well worth having. In June, the Education Select Committee described SEND funding as “completely inadequate” – this extra funding is a response to that, and it’s a response to the parents, unions, and local government bodies who’ve also told Government that there’s not enough funding. It shows the value of speaking up.

But £700m alone is simply not enough to change local authority SEND behaviour, and it won’t address the other major problems in the system.

Firstly, the SEND-specific injection of funds has only been announced for one year. It might be that there’s more to come in later years, but it might be that there isn’t going to be any more. The SEND financial pressures on LAs aren’t going away. Whilst £700m would be enough to shore up their financial position briefly, it wouldn’t be enough to successfully implement the sort of ‘invest to save’ measures that bring SEND costs down over the long-term – things like early assessment and intervention to meet need as it emerges, before unmet need requires much more expensive support further down the line.

Secondly, without a large-scale overhaul of the way local authorities manage risk, allocate funding and are held to account, it’s hard to see long-term change for the better emerging even with more money

The Department for Education are taking another look at SEND funding mechanisms -and the Education Select Committee and National Audit Office both breathing hard down their necks, with reports from both organisations due soon. If and when these reports emerge, we’ll be covering them here on SNJ.

The Ofsted & CQC local area SEND inspections also shed light on these systemic problems. Over half of all local area SEND services inspected so far have been given a formal notice to improve – and in most cases, the serious weaknesses they’ve identified have little do to with funding, and everything to do with the way local areas approach their work. 

More money by itself won’t drive the change families want to see. We’ve covered the way that LAs use short-term SEND cash injections from Government, and it isn’t pretty. Put crudely, a £700m cash injection into the SEND system would restore LA funding positions back to roughly where they were in 2016. I don’t remember LA SEND teams falling over themselves to meet need three years ago – do you?

Don’t forget health and social care too

Finally, it’s vital to remember that the promised £700m is an announcement about education funding. It doesn’t cover the two other crucial components of SEND provision – health and social care, areas which are also suffering from acute funding shortages that are far larger than those in the education sector. The Disabled Children’s Partnership have estimated that the combined funding gap in health and social care currently stands at £1.5 billion

Five years (yesterday) after the SEND reforms became law, parents should be able to reasonably expect that promises for extra education funding for SEND would be joined up with promises for more support in health & social care. It might be that this week’s Spending Review announcements will throw up good news – but there’s no sign of it so far.

What’s on SEND parents’ shopping lists for £700 million?

As mentioned, it’s likely that £700 million would only put us back to where we should be. But if there’s some left over, here’s a few things taken from what parents in our Facebook group, Let’s Talk About SEND, think it should be spent on - and it centres on training:

  • Reliable training on challenging stereotypes
  • Low arousal training to teach people that restraint doesn't need to be used.
  • Education/training building awareness and knowledge within the LA SEND teams
  • Support staff
  • Training for speech and language, EPs and OTs on how to write reports that are quantified and specified and have a provision for each and every need. Then maybe we would get some meaningful EHCPs
  • Drafting in independent SEND legal trainers for schools, medical and social care professionals, and LA staff and reiterating that law trumps policy
  • A new system making LAs fully accountable for breaking the law, given that they won't have the "We can't afford it" excuse.
  • A system whereby assessments and advice leading to EHCPs are produced entirely independently of LAs.
  • More resources into schools to adapt buildings to cater for everyone.
  • More specialist trained support workers doing 'old school social work' from schools to better help families
  • More resources into speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and OTs to be able to operate full time at schools.
  • Transferring ££ spent on ATUs and segregated provision to fully-fund an inclusive education service
  • LA resources to access specialists, especially for child trauma and attachment - we don’t have the relevant clinicians
  • Re-instate the school hours cut. My son finishes at 2.30pm. That is not enough time for curriculum and therapy.
  • Deaf awareness training. The correct equipment for every child that needs it. Without having to fight.
  • More post-16 and post-19 education
  • What would you add?

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Matt Keer

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