What is the context?
The DfE’s SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan: Right Support, Right Place, Right time proposes a unified system driven by new national standards. Alongside these standards, the plan sets out a list of laudable intentions that government believes will improve SEND provision.
The current reality for schools is that they do not have the resources to meet the needs of the pupils they are being asked to support. The improvement plan lacks any detail of the financial modelling undertaken by the government to demonstrate where funding is available to implement the plan.
The high needs block has increased by £2 billion in the first two years of the current spending review period (2022 – 2025). However, significant sums are needed to meet debt recovery commitments (Safety Valve and Delivering Better Value SEND programmes). It is unclear how much of the additional funding is available for investment necessary to make the system improvements that children and young people with SEND so desperately need.
ASCL position: ASCL is very concerned about the lack of identifiable funding assigned to implement the DfE’s SEND Improvement Plan. Funding allocated to high needs is disappearing into the black hole of high needs block deficit recovery and is not getting to the frontline where it can make a difference and meet need.
ASCL calls on the government to
Why are we saying this?
- provide a fully costed implementation plan that clearly identifies the quantifiable funding streams available to deliver all aspects of the SEND Improvement Plan
- review and uplift the commissioned place funding factor value, which has been £10,000 since 2013, and as a result of inflation is now wholly inadequate
The system must demonstrate good value for money, but any debt management scheme must deliver on both reducing debt and also supporting children and young people to improve.
ASCL members highlight the tension that exists between additional funding received into the high needs block at local authority level, and the requirement to use this to plug existing deficits, service Safety Valve agreements or support a Delivering Better Value programme. This money is not always getting to the front line.
Members also highlight the insufficiency of the £10,000 place funding, and in particular, the lack of review of this amount over many years. We are hearing that special schools are concerned about maintaining safe pupil to adult ratios. This tends to arise from a combination of insufficient funding (they cannot afford to keep current support staff numbers in post) and a recruitment and retention issue within the teaching and TA workforce.
Schools are using reserves to plug year-end deficits caused by unfunded pay awards in 2022/23, when special schools had to fund 5% pay rises for teachers and up to 10% for support staff. This is not sustainable.