The DfE’s call for evidence centres on understanding how current funding is distributed, including how it enables mainstream schools to make provision for their pupils with additional needs, and on improvements that could be taken forward in future.
Funding for pupils with SEN in mainstream schools
Local authorities and schools have successfully delivered the reforms set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 and work hard to ensure that all children and young people with SEND have access to high quality provision that meets their needs. However, the system is under considerable strain due to funding pressures and changing needs.
Significant pressure is being put on the system as government high needs allocations are not keeping up with growing demand. In 2017/18 32 local authorities had an overspend on their high needs block, amounting to a collective overspend of £77m. This, however, underestimates the true scale of the pressure in high needs as many councils have been holding the overspend within their Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) and are now facing cumulative overspends of many millions. Given that demand and costs are still rising, as boroughs are running out of local capacity to meet needs, overspends on the high needs block look likely to continue to grow unless the government provides additional significant investment for SEND funding. It is vital that the government increases the overall amount of funding available to SEND provision in order for local authorities to be able to balance budgets and ensure that all children and young people with SEND have access to high quality provision and support.
London Councils supports the inclusion of the current factors for SEND funding allocations, particularly: low prior attainment, IDACI, FSM and mobility, which act as good proxy indicators for identifying the number of children requiring SEN support. However, these indicators are not always that accurate in identifying children eligible for an EHCP and subsequently the first £6,000 of support a school has to provide to meet their needs, resulting in some schools being underfunded. One option to address this would be to create a targeted fund within the Schools Block that directs funding to schools based on their proportion of pupils with EHCPs.
Allocating more funding towards lower attainment would help schools provide more targeted support to drive up performance and incentivise schools to accept lower attaining pupils, including many with SEND. It could encourage a more inclusive school system by decreasing the incidence of off-rolling in schools that are struggling to provide appropriate support for some pupils with SEND because of funding restrictions.
London Councils believes that it is important that local authorities retain significant flexibility over how funding is allocated to schools for SEND. Local authorities have considerable local knowledge and expertise of needs, as well as oversight and duties to ensure all pupils with SEND receive appropriate support. Without flexibility to do this, local authorities may not be able to meet needs appropriately.
Funding for pupils who need alternative provision (AP) or are at risk of exclusion from school
London Councils supports the recommendation in the Timpson review for schools to be held accountable for pupils they exclude whilst they are in AP and urges the government to include this in the new methodology. It is vital for schools to work closely with local authorities to ensure that an excluded pupil has access to appropriate AP and that a clear plan has been put in place to reintegrate them into mainstream education, where appropriate. AP should be used as early intervention for pupils at risk of exclusion, and is in some local authorities, but there is a widespread need to do this more consistently. If schools were to remain financially accountable for excluded pupils, this would incentivise them to tackle poor behaviour earlier on, before it escalates to a longer, more costly stay in AP.
Improving early intervention at each age and stage to prepare young people for adulthood sooner
Funding constraints are making it more difficult for boroughs to continue to fund non-statutory services, such as early intervention and prevention. London Councils is concerned that without the continuation of the Troubled Families programme grant their ability to provide early help will be significantly reduced.
London Councils’ recently published report Under pressure: an exploration of demand and spending in children’s social care and for children with special educational needs by ISOS partnership, identified strong qualitative evidence that putting in place good quality early intervention and preventative services can have a positive impact in stemming the demand for EHCPs for individual children and young people. In particular, a number of boroughs reflected positively on the impact of work to build an effective graduated response to SEND in mainstream schools, to develop the skills of SENCOs through clustering arrangements, and commissioning outreach support to help schools effectively maintain children with more complex needs in a mainstream setting. However, theses types of activity are under pressure across London due to budget constraints.
Read our full response here.