Children with special needs at risk of being turned away by schools - warn councils

"There has been a historic underfunding of high needs funding and a significant increase in the number of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities in schools."


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Press release 30 March 2017

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are at risk of being turned away by mainstream schools due to a lack of funding and rising demand, councils warn today.

In response to the Government's consultation on the high needs funding formula for schools the Local Government Association, which represents over 370 local authorities, is warning that if the Government does not adequately fund SEND, children with high needs or disabilities could miss out on a mainstream education.

Analysis of Department for Education (DfE) data reveals that in the past four years there has been a substantial increase in the number of pupils with SEND who attend a specialist school setting, up from 5.6 per cent in 2012 to 8.5 per cent in 2016. The proportion of pupils in independent schools has moved from 4.5 per cent to 6.3 per cent over the same period.

For several years the High Needs Dedicated Schools Grant has been frozen, putting local budgets under increasing pressure. Councils have had to meet the difference by topping up high needs funding from other budgets where necessary, however the consultation suggests that this flexibility will no longer be available to local authorities, making it even more difficult to provide children with the support they need. This has been an important mechanism for local authorities to counter the impacts of reduced budgets.

In acknowledging rising need, the Government should provide additional funding to meet increasing pressures. Otherwise, councils will be put in an impossible situation where they may not be able to fund enough places for those with the highest needs or will be unable to ‘top up' provisions for pupils with high needs attending mainstream schools. Whilst the DfE has provided some extra funding since 2015/16, it has been allocated on the basis of the total number of children in an area, rather than any measure of the number of children with complex needs.

If councils do not receive sufficient funding to cover high cost SEND, they will not have the resources to allocate extra funds to highly inclusive schools that take higher than average numbers of pupils with additional needs. Equally, mainstream schools may find it difficult to accept or keep pupils with SEND because they cannot afford to subsidise the provision from their own budgets, as they are already under significant pressure.

Councils are calling on government to use this consultation as an opportunity to reduce financial pressures and ensure that vulnerable children have access to the services they need to get the best start in life. 

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"There has been a historic underfunding of high needs funding and a significant increase in the number of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities in schools.

"The Government should provide additional funding to meet this need, otherwise councils may not be able to meet their statutory duties and children with high needs or disabilities could miss out on a mainstream education.

"Whilst the additional funding announced earlier in the year was a step in the right direction, it was never enough to meet the needs of the increasing number of SEND pupils. 

"Councils are doing all that they can to make sure children with SEND get the support and opportunities they need to flourish, but are experiencing increasing demand for all services.

"Proposed changes to schools and high needs funding could also make this problem even worse, taking away the freedom for councils to top up high needs funding from other budgets if necessary.

"The reset of the High Needs Funding Formula is the perfect opportunity for the Government to ensure SEND pupils get the support they need to succeed at school."

Notes to editors

  1. Our response to the Department for Education's stage two consultation on high needs funding formula is available on request.