SEN funding reform

31st August 2012

  • “There’s no point applying for a statement because it wouldn’t give the school any extra funding.” “We don’t have money to buy in more speech therapy.” “Schools in wealthy areas get less money for special needs.” Ever heard one of these?

    School funding arrangements have a big impact on our children, and understanding how the system works can be empowering for parents. The problem is that every few years, someone decides to change it! The Department for Education (DfE) has just announced a major shake-up of the school funding system, which includes a new approach to funding provision for learners with the greatest needs.

    What does the DfE want to do?

    There will be a partial return to the principle of “the money following the child” – something that Sheffield ended circa 2008, when the direct link between statements and funding was cut. Since then, SEN funding for mainstream schools has largely been included in their delegated school budgets, without being linked to individual children.

    SEN funding graphicThe DfE wants to introduce a new approach called “Place Plus”. This approach defines a financial threshold above which schools or colleges will receive “top-up” funding to meet the needs of disabled learners. This threshold has been set at £10k per year (£4k for the average mainstream school place, plus £6k for additional education provision, such as one-to-one support or equipment. To give you an idea, £6k would buy you approximately 10 hours of Teaching Assistant support per week).

    Mainstream schools will continue to receive an SEN and Additional Needs budget as part of their delegated school funding. Schools will be expected to use their SEN budgets to support pupils with lower-level needs, such as those on School Action and School Action Plus. They will also have to fund provision for high-need pupils from this budget up to a level of £6k per year. Above this level, schools will receive “top up” funding from their local authority. This will be allocated to pupils via a banding system. The top-up funding will follow the pupil wherever they go to school – whether that is a mainstream school, special school, integrated resource (IR), academy, or further education provider. In other words, pupils should be funded at the same level whatever the provider (within the maintained sector).

    Special schools and IRs will receive £10k per planned place, plus any additional top-up funding allocated to their pupils via the banded funding approach.

    Clearly, this banding system is going to be important! It looks likely that local authorities will be allowed to determine their own bands (instead of having a national framework), and allocate funding rates to them – in fact, many already have such systems in place. Sheffield isn’t one of them, but has now developed a local banding framework in anticipation of national changes. The implementation of this framework (alongside other changes to school funding arrangements) is currently subject to a local consultation. There will be further consultation on the funding bands and their descriptors following trial use in a group of schools.

    What does the Council want to do?

    • By April 2013, all pupils in mainstream schools who either have a statement or who currently receive funding through a local pilot (Families of Schools – Exceptional Needs pilot) will be audited and allocated a funding band if they meet the criteria. In order to receive top-up funding, pupils must be allocated a funding band and their school will need to show that they are spending at least £10k per year on them.

    • Pupils currently attending special schools and IRs will not be audited individually. Instead, the Council will fund these pupils by nominally allocating bands to pupils so that the funding is as near to the school’s current budget as possible, in order to minimise disruption.

    • Pupils who are newly identified from April 2013 will be individually audited and banded.

    • Specialist support services (Educational Psychology, Hearing Impaired, Vision Impaired and Autism Service), SEN transport and outreach provided by special schools will continue to be centrally funded by the local authority.

    What could these reforms mean for your child?

    The banded funding approach could lead to more transparency and fairness, as children in mainstream provision will receive equal funding to those in specialist provision who have similar needs.

    Mainstream schools should be more able to meet the needs of pupils with exceptional needs because of the top-up funding received. However, schools may still argue that their delegated SEN budgets are insufficient, particularly if they have a large number of high-need pupils on roll.

    Delegated school funding for SEN and social deprivation in Sheffield will increase in April 2013 (by an average of £1,600 per pupil with SEN – around 20% of the school population). Delegated SEN budgets will not be ring-fenced, but there will be sharper accountability on SEN expenditure.

    In a response to the SEN Green Paper, SEN charity IPSEA expressed concerns that bandings could be set at an unrealistic level and not increase in line with inflation.

    Local authorities will still have a legal obligation to make the provision described in Part 3 of a child’s statement, regardless of the funding band allocated. However, IPSEA points out that pupils whose statements are vague, and those without statements, could be forced into provision that is dictated by the funding assigned to a particular band, rather than the pupil’s needs.

    It is likely that only pupils deemed to have “high needs” (over the £10k threshold) would be able to obtain a place at a special school.

    The local consultation on school funding reform ended on 1 October 2012. Please click here to download our consultation response.