Lord Porter: Without new funding, we face a looming crisis in supporting children with SEND
Local authorities are having to cut budgets or move money to fund support for special needs pupils. A cash injection is needed to ease pressure on councils and prevent children from missing out on education, writes Lord Porter
Recent changes to how support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is funded has brought a whole new financial pressure on local government.
This has fast become a major issue for our members, with councils experiencing an unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with SEND, since legislation changed in 2014.
As a result, the LGA has been making the case to government for this to be properly funded.
At the recent National Children and Adult Services Conference in Manchester, we published interim analysis which indicated the funding gap facing councils providing support for children with SEND could be more than half a billion pounds this year alone. That’s nearly double the shortfall in the previous year.
To give you an idea, 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% in five years, from 237,111 in 2013-14 to 319,819 in 2017-18.
At the same time, the number of children and young people educated in special schools and specialist colleges has risen by 24% during the same period, from 105,442 to 131,230.
There are a variety of reasons why we have seen this increase, 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.
Councils want every child to get the best possible support and have pulled out all the stops to find the funding and make this a reality.
This has been funded out of allocated budgets known as the high needs block. But these have been overspent for the last four years, such is the pressure on funding.
To meet this shortfall, councils have had to top up by moving money from elsewhere, such as the general schools’ budget. However, this flexibility has been greatly reduced, as a result of government restrictions brought in under the national funding formula, meaning councils now have to get the agreement of local schools to transfer funding into high needs, when they are themselves facing increased pressure on their own budgets.
This has only ramped up the financial pressures on local government.
Unless new funding is provided, we face a looming crisis in how we support children with SEND. And it is not just councils who are calling for this to be urgently addressed. Parents and campaigners have also been active about this issue, something which is being keenly followed by the national media as well.
Let’s also not overlook the impact this is having on schools, which are themselves under financial pressure.
We have a situation where not only are schools unable to provide the extra support pupils with SEND need, but it means other pupils and teachers don’t get the support or resources they need in the classroom.
Councils have done all they can to mitigate these pressures and get children the support they need. But the money simply isn’t there.
There is now a real danger that, due to a lack of funding, councils will be unable to meet their statutory duties, and children with SEND could miss out on a mainstream education.
We urge the government to fix this by injecting desperately needed money into the system via the Local Government Finance Settlement. The LGA stands ready to work with ministers to tackle this ever-increasing issue.
Lord Porter is a Conservative peer and chair of the LGA