Special needs support for children in England faces potential half billion funding gap

By agency reporter
November 16, 2018

Vital support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is facing a potential funding gap this year of more than half a billion pounds, according to the interim findings of new research by the Local Government Assocition (LGA).

The LGA has found that the projected shortfall facing these vital services in England is £536 million for 2018/19. This is more than double the gap they faced the previous year as councils struggle to cope with rising demand for support.

These are findings based on a survey of 73 councils (half of local authorities with SEND duties).

The LGA is warning that this growing gap is putting at risk the ability of councils to meet their statutory duties, and that children with SEND could miss out on a mainstream education without urgent action by the Government to provide investment in the Local Government Finance Settlement next month. The underfunding of SEND is also adding to the severe pressures already facing schools. 

This comes as government figures show:

  • the number of children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) or statements, which detail the support a child with SEND receives, has increased by 35 per cent in five years, from 237,111 in 2013/14 to 319,819 in 2017/18.
  • the number of children and young people educated in special schools and specialist colleges has risen by 24 per cent during the same period, from 105,442 in 2013/14 to 131,230 in 2017/18. 

The increase in demand is due to a variety of factors, such as population growth; the code of SEND practice rightly raising expectations of parents; more young people aged 16 and over being on EHCPs, and core funding pressures on mainstream schools impacting their ability to support pupils with high needs.

This has placed significant financial pressures on local authorities to provide support for children with SEND.

The LGA’s research shows that councils have overspent their allocated budgets for children with SEND, known as the High Needs Block, for the last four years.

This has seen them 'top up' budgets with funding from elsewhere such as general schools budgets. However this flexibility to transfer funding has now been significantly curtailed by government restrictions, further exacerbating pressures on councils.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “We face a looming crisis in meeting the unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Parents rightly expect and aspire to see that their child has the best possible education and receives the best possible support. Councils have pulled out all the stops to try and do this, but are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand.

“Schools are also being pushed to the brink by the underfunding of SEND, at a time when there is already severe pressure on general schools funding. This risks creating a perfect storm, where not only does this mean schools can’t provide the extra support pupils with SEND need, but it means other pupils and teachers suffer the consequences of funding being squeezed on a daily basis, by not getting the support in the classroom that they need.

“As our interim research shows, there is a significant shortfall in funding, which we urge the Government to address in next month’s Local Government Finance Settlement and we are keen to work with ministers to bring this about.”

The LGA has commissioned the Isos Partnership to research high needs funding in SEND. These are interim findings, which show that for the 73 local authorities that have responded to the survey, there is a total deficit of £280 million by the end of 2018/19. Scaled up, this could translate to a national deficit of £536 million. This compares to a similarly projected national deficit for 2017/18 of £267 million. These findings will be followed by a full and final report.

* Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/

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