Special Educational Needs

Special Needs Education Funding shortfall: Creative solutions required not careless communications.

Credit: Solihull Observer

Funding for the education of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is a very sensitive issue but rarely attracts much popular attention. When it does, it is often misunderstood.

Support for a child’s education is often only secured by the Parents after a long battle with the Council. It is not surprising then, that Parents are highly tuned to any suggestion that their funding will be affected, in any way. Sadly some Head Teachers are sowing the seeds of doubt in unnecessarily dramatic ways.

The Council are in the process of consulting with Head Teachers, Trade Unions, Parent groups over the funding for 2019/20 – the Council have identified a funding shortfall of £1.8m.

Budget position

Over and above the £220m that the Council spends on the range of local services  e.g. Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, Bin collections, Leisure services, Highways, Maintenance etc, it also receives money specifically earmarked for Schools – the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG).

In 2019/20 the DSG will be £235m (2018/19 – £227m) – the majority of this,

  • £176m ( 2018/19 – £168m) is given directly to schools and is ring-fenced for their use.
  • Some of the DSG  is used to provide central education services and Early Years support;
  • £34m (2018/19 – £32.6m) is provided to fund the additional SEND support – the High Needs Block (HNB). This is calculated, by Central Government, and is ring-fenced.

In addition to the £34m High Needs Block (HNB), the schools budget of £176m includes £25m for baseline spend on SEND support. In total, in 2019/20 – £59m will be spent on children with SEND.

The budget into Derby, year on year, for SEND is increasing

Numbers of children requiring SEND support

The majority of the funding is for children who have a written “contract” with the School/Council for that support, known as an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – previously a SEN statement.

In 2018  the number of children with an EHCP was 1683; in 2017 this was 1485  – a 13% increase in just one year. Since 2015 the increase has been 48%.

Budget Gap

In 2017/18 the Council did not report any shortfall in the High Needs Block funding. However, a £2.4m transfer from the Central Schools Reserve hints of a problem. In 2018/19 the projected HND Block spend is £37.6m with the gap being closed by a £3.5m transfer from Central Schools reserves, and a £0.9m, transfer from the Schools element of the DSG.

The historical transfers from the Central Schools Reserves has reduced it down to just £1m.

In 2019/20 the demand for SEND support is expected to increase even further – to ~£39m, against a Central HNB budget of £34m. Approx £3.2m will be covered by a transfer from the Schools DSG budget, together with some additional DSG funding leaving a residual gap of £1.8m

This is the problem!

The Problem

The funding from Central Government is increasing but not fast enough to meet the  rise in the growth in numbers of children requiring SEND support.

In Derby City, the gap has been masked in previous years, by topping up the funding from reserves – this option has now essentially disappeared with the Central Schools Reserve now at £1m.  The general “Budget Risk Reserve” which was £36m is planned to reduce by 90% due to the A52 overspend; and the final cost for this has yet to be fully determined.

The net effect of this is that the total amount of money planned to be spent in 2019/20 will be the same as 2018/19 – but across a much higher population of children.

The Proposal

There are 5 elements:

  1. Currently Schools fund 10hrs per week Teaching Assistant (TA) support for a child with special needs – £6000.  If a child needs more support than this, then the school appeals to the Council for additional funding, currently at the rate of £600 pa, for each 1 hr per week. On the basis that the additional funding should only cover the salary cost of the TA, and the most likely outcome is that 1 TA will support 2 children, then the Council’s proposal is to reduce the top-up rate to £350pa for 1 hr per week.
  2. A number of mainstream schools have, on site, Enhanced Resource Units to provide support for SEND children. The school receives 2 part funding – one part for the number of places commissioned by the Council, and the other for the number of places actually filled. In many cases there are surplus places which the Council continues to fund where there is no child being supported. The proposal is stop funding commissioned spaces not actually used by a child.
  3. Special Schools/Pupil Referral Unit are predicting a 5% growth in demand for places. Proposal is that those settings need to manage that growth within their existing budget
  4. Restructure the STEPS and Inclusion team to reduce the budget
  5. Reduction to the In-Year Fair Access budget

Comment

There are a number of fundamental problems:

  1. The growth in the number of children requiring SEND support is growing. The rate of growth is much faster in Derby than many other cities.
  2. The funding for SEND places is not increasing at the required rate.
  3. The base Schools budget is inadequate and the SEND funding is cross-subsiding this mainstream shortfall. So, whilst some of the Council’s current proposals make some sense, the issue is that, in reality it is compromising the mainstream position.
  4. The Schools budget shortfall drives behaviour which results in children, unnecessarily, being excluded from mainstream education and then transferred to a Special School / People Referral Unit. This then exacerbates the HNB funding problem.

It would be reasonable to ask why Central Government just doesn’t give the Council the required amount of money. The HNB budget is based on a complex calculation using various population statistics and demographic indices. Just 8% of the calculation uses current actual numbers of SEND children in Derby; however this is then only Special Schools/Pupil Referral Unit populations.

An opportunity does exist here!.

The 2019/20 calculation is based on 724 children – the actual number is 796. At £4000 per place, the HND funding is short by £288k. When I approached the Council about this opportunity the response was indifferent despite it being 16% of the gap. There is a similar difference in 2018/19 which could be challenged which is worth £388k.

Parents would naturally assume that, in the wake of this consultation that their child’s support would be cut. However, the obligation to provide an “appropriate education” to children with SEND rests with the Head Teacher and creative options need to be explored. In 2019/20 the Schools mainstream budget will be further increased (on top of the £176m) by £5m ; this could be used to mitigate the HNB gap.

For those children with an EHCP, their support is contracted and, by law, this should be specific (i.e. no. of hours per week / ratio of TA support). And by law, has to be delivered in line with that contract – so there should be no cuts in these circumstances!

The only way through this is quality consultation and collaboration between all stakeholders developing innovative solutions. This is not fully in place yet. Confidence has to be instilled in Parents that their child’s education is the priority, and that it is seen to be driving decisions, and that they are not just victims of unintended consequences, or careless communications.

Postscript

Please contact me if anyone has their support cut below the agreed level in the EHCP as a result of any funding issues.

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