Councils fund support for nearly 320,000 children with complex special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), but are facing a funding gap of almost £500 million.
In 2017/18 there were 319,819 children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans or statements. These set out the support a child with SEND (special educational needs and disability) should receive, funded through local councils.
There are many more children and young people who have special educational needs, but who fall below the threshold required for an EHC plan. The funding for the additional support they need to fulfil their potential is met from mainstream school budgets.
New LGA research shows that councils are currently facing a SEND funding gap of almost £500 million in 2018/19, with many unable to provide the support children and young people need to get the best, not just get by.
In December 2018, the Government announced much welcomed additional funding, however this will only partially adress the gap, which is expected to reach £800 million by 2019/20, and a potential £1.6 billion by 2020/21.
So why have we reached this point?
Demand has gone up
In the last five years, the number of children and young people with a EHC plan has increased by 35 per cent, up from 237,111 in 2013/14. That compares to a rise of just 4 per cent in the previous five years (starting 2008/09).
This unprecedented demand for additional SEND support has been caused by a perfect storm of factors:
A change in expectations: the Children’s and Families Act 2014 rightly raised the expectations of parents and the aspirations of pupils through a new code of SEND practice expecting all children to receive the best possible education and support.
New legislation: many more young people aged 16 to 25 are now on EHC plans.
More children with complex needs: advances in life expectancy, more awareness and better diagnoses means there are now more children and young people with needs that are difficult to meet within mainstream schools.
Current secondary school attainment measures: do not currently reward schools with a high degree of inclusion.
This significant growth in demand has left councils struggling to provide the vital support children with SEND need.
Schools are under increasing pressure…
At the same time, funding pressures on mainstream schools as a result of inflation, increasing teachers’ pay and higher pension contributions for support staff, mean that many can’t provide extra support for complex needs.
By pursuing an EHC plan schools receive further funding from councils. But schools must meet the first £6,000 of any additional support required, leaving increasing numbers of pupils without the help they need.
… high needs specialist provision has increased…
Specialist schools are largely full and councils have found it difficult to create new provision.
Over the last five years the number of children and young people being educated in specialist schools and colleges went up by 24 per cent, from 105,442 in 2013/14 to 131,230 in 2017/18.
Many have to travel long distances, at great expense to councils, often to more costly independent provision, as a result of earlier cuts to specialist services. This year is the first year in which there are more children and young people with EHC plans in such schools than there are in mainstream education.
…and funding has stagnated
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.
This makes it more difficult to invest in the early support services that can help children and young people integrate into a mainstream education rather than need more expensive specialist support, such as family-based early help services, speech and language therapies, physiotherapy and occupational services and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
Councils are now reaching a tipping point
Whilst it is encouraging that the Government has promised additional funding of £350 million over two years for specialist support and tailored facilities, it is not enough to fill the projected shortfall facing these vital services in England of almost £500 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. The potential funding gap could be up to £1.6 billion by 2020/21.
There is simply not enough money to keep up with demand, leaving many councils unable to meet their statutory duties and meaning children with high needs or disabilities could miss out on a mainstream education.