Councils in deficit SEND funding were recently granted money (up to £27m) from the Department of Education (DfE) to bring their groaning finances back into line by 2026.
The DfE has put together deals with five local authorities, conditional on them ensuring cost-effective measures be put into place to manage higher needs provision in mainstream schools. Such measures are rightly cited as aiming to ensure early intervention, so children’s needs do not escalate to crisis point. Always a good idea. The aim is to halt the growing need for children requiring an Education, health and Care Plan (EHCP) and more costly provision and placement in specialist schools. All to be achieved through early intervention and better service provision. Sounds sensible at first glance, but let’s unpick this.
Spreading the budget
Clearly, there are many issues that need addressing here. Yes, schools do need to ensure there is a culture of inclusive education for all. They absolutely need to ensure that SEN Support is high quality and meets needs. And yes, there is a requirement in the SEND Code of Practice (CoP) that teachers are teachers of all children,
including (let’s not keep considering them a bolt on) especially those with SEND. So, professional development needs to make that aspiration a reality. Certainly, it is paramount that LAs somehow manage to do this within the budgets set and to commission appropriate services to provide for the children in their care.
However, parents and teachers will likely take issue with determining this recent financial intervention by the DfE as a ‘bail-out’. The wording suggests the financial deficits lie squarely on the shoulder of councils, and so by default schools and headteachers. In fact, what has happened here is the DfE has provided some of the funding that should have been in place since at least 2014. Appropriate funding should always have been provided to make the aspirations of the CoP a reality from the outset. It wasn’t.
Since the legislation in the Children’s and Families Act 2014, and the subsequent revisions to the CoP, all LAs have had escalating financial difficulties in adequately providing for children in the care. What does that matter of fact alone tell us? That all LAs are useless at managing their budgets or the funding was poor? Headteachers have constantly highlighted inadequate finances to practically implement the aspirations within the CoP and manage provision. Or are we saying that all headteachers got that wrong too? There is nothing inherently wrong with the CoP and the principles within in, nor the legislation that sits behind it. Schools were simply funded to fail.
Unpicking the rhetoric
All children with SEND are ‘children in need’ under law. In recent rhetoric about SEND phrases like ‘drive down costs’ feature, often coming from high profile individuals with influence. This rhetoric towards blithely driving down costs needs challenging. Any calls for LAs to have more legislative powers to manage provision (higher needs children) in mainstream schools also needs challenging.
LAs need more funding to meet needs. They do not need more legislative power to support not meeting need! That would merely result in current failures for children, and the SEND crisis we find ourselves in, being made legal. That is morally corrupt. Our elected MPs need to call for more funding to ensure LAs can manage higher needs children in mainstream schools.
One size does not fit all
Schools are a conduit towards an inclusive society. Our children with SEND need to leave school equipped to be fully participating members of that inclusive society. It is wholly inappropriate to suggest that the current modelling of mainstream education is working for all our children when it clearly is not. Many are in crisis, SEND or not.
One size mainstream modelling simply does not fit all and shoehorning children into the current system without adequate funding is not, and has not been working. There is insufficient specialism within the current model. There are too few specialist supported placements within mainstream, and even fewer special schools sited alongside mainstream schools to allow the fluidity of support needed.
Mainstream schools currently do not have adequate access to the therapeutic support many of our children need as part of their educational package. What schools need is more flexibility in-house, with more direct and in-direct service provision for children with the most complex needs. This can’t be achieved without adequate central funding. It certainly won’t be achieved if were are left believing that appropriate funding is a ‘bailout’.
Susan Lenihan for SEND Community Alliance