Sheffield pupils miss out on high needs cash

Sheffield pupils with complex needs will miss out on £6.7m extra cash this year, due to the way the government is phasing in funding reforms.

From April 2018, the government will introduce a new national funding formula for “high needs”. This is money given to local authorities to fund provision like special schools, integrated resources, top-up funding for mainstream schools and specialist support services like the Autism Team.

Sheffield has historically been one of the worst-funded big cities in England and has been struggling to finance an increasing number of special school places from a budget that just hasn’t kept pace. The new formula should be addressing this – but it falls far short. This is because the government has capped the increase at 3% per year, to keep the introduction of the new funding system “affordable”.

Information shared by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) suggests that, based on the current demographics and profile of Sheffield pupils, high needs funding for Sheffield in 2018/19 should be £60.4m. Due to the 3% cap, however, it has been set at £53.7m – a £6.7m shortfall. To put this into context, Sheffield is planning to spend £21.7m of this year’s high needs budget on special schools, £3.7m on independent specialist placements, and £2.1m on top-up funding for children in mainstream schools.

In the long term, funding for high needs should increase – but in the short term, the council will be struggling to balance the books, and our children will feel the impact of this.