The SEND funding gap

Written by: Dr Mary Bousted | Published:
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, National Education Union

Funding for children with complex SEN has risen eight per cent since 2015/16, but still lags behind the 33 per cent increase in children with EHCPs or Statements. More must be done says Dr Mary Bousted

Today’s children and young people are growing up in a time of austerity which is directly affecting their physical and mental health.

They are the victims of huge cuts in social care services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Schools see support services failing around them.

Young people are waiting for months to access counselling services as thresholds for intervention have risen to the point where children have to be assessed as suicidal before they can get help.

In December, the Committee of Public Accounts (CPA) warned that pupils with mental health conditions are being failed by the NHS. Only three in 10 received treatment in 2017/18 and many more face unacceptably long waits.

Education professionals see that SEND provision is not available for the children who need it. These are, often, our most vulnerable pupils.

Desperate parents of children and young people with SEND turn to tribunals – the number has doubled in the last two years. Parents win 89 per cent of the cases brought in SEND tribunals, prompting suggestions that councils are using disability tribunals as a “gate-keeper”, rationing support as they attempt to keep within their spending limits. But councils are facing an impossible situation.

There are more than 1.2 million pupils with SEND – about 15 per cent of the school population. More than a quarter of a million pupils have SEND Statements and qualify for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – that’s three per cent of the school population.

But, after years of austerity, councils have neither the personnel nor the resources to meet demand.

The high needs block (the part of the budget which specifically caters for young people with complex or severe additional needs) has risen only by eight per cent in real terms since 2015/16. At the same time, the number of children with a Statement or an EHCP has increased by 33 per cent from 240,000 to 320,000.

Recently, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services reported that the 68 out of 85 local authorities had an overspend on their high needs budget in 2016/17 of more than £139 million. They warn that the current system for high needs is unsustainable.

The government has recognised the depth of the crisis and has found £350 million, but it is not enough and the crisis continues.

And it does not end there. This month, the National Audit Office released a report on the pressures on children’s social care. Its analysis shows that referrals to children’s social care has increased by seven per cent since 2010, and child protection assessments increased by 77 per cent in the same period.

But as children’s needs have increased, local authorities, which have the duty to respond to those needs and keep children safe, have seen their overall spending power reduce by 28.6 per cent.

Unable to make ends meet, councils have drastically reduced spending on services which prevent families reaching crisis point. Spending on children’s centres fell from 41 per cent to 25 per cent from 2010 to 2018, as 500 Sure Start centres were closed.

The NAO and CPA reports paint a bleak picture which is made even worse by raising rates of child poverty, which affected 4.1 million children in 2016/17. In the average classroom, nine out of 30 children are poor and their poverty blights their childhood and, in too many cases, their adult lives.

Child poverty means many things. It delays learning and depresses achievement. It creates mental health problems and physical problems. It lowers self-esteem and causes humiliation as poor children compare the reality of their lives and their opportunities with their more advantaged peers. Poverty is corrosive and it creates greater demands on social services, CAMHS and SEND provision.

And this, in turn, leaves education professionals on the front line, dealing with ever more pressing, and serious, child protection and safeguarding problems. For society, it stores up huge issues for the future as child poverty, combined with councils’ inability to provide CAMHS and SEND support, lead to blighted adult lives.SecEd

  • Dr Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

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