The Schools Supplementary Grant is entrenching inequalities

Written by: Susan Douglas & Warren Carratt | Published:
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We risk entrenching educational inequalities via flaws in the distribution of the vital Schools Supplementary Grant. This could have the biggest impact on our most vulnerable students, say Warren Carratt and Susan Douglas


From last month, the government began rolling out its Health and Social Care Levy and from September 2022 all new teachers will expect a starting salary of £30,000.

To help schools meet this financial demand, the government announced in December that it will provide all state schools with extra funding, in the form of the Schools Supplementary Grants (SSGs), designed to help ease this significant financial burden while simultaneously safeguarding other areas of schools’ budgets so that no part of a child or young person’s educational journey suffers (DfE, 2021).

Although well-intentioned, the SSG hasn’t provided the protections it heralded. While this grant is guaranteed for all mainstream schools, the same cannot be said for SEN and alternative provision (AP) schools. This is because SSG funding for these two types of provision has been passed to local authorities which have then been asked to decide on a mechanism for distribution.

The Department for Education (DfE) advised special and AP schools, which look after the most vulnerable students, to “discuss with their local authority any increases as part of the top-up funding paid from local authorities’ high needs budget”. This disparity in guaranteed funding of course risks solidifying existing educational inequalities which are already all too present in the school system.

Such advice has left these often-sidelined schools in a challenging position. As of late February 2022, 66% of special and AP schools were yet to receive advice from their authority regarding SSG funding and 91% did not understand the criteria against which local authorities calculate SSG equivalent funding. These statistics highlight the uncertainty regarding the support for those most in need (Schools North East, 2022).

Mainstream schools would have faced significant and wide-reaching consequences if they were not receiving this additional funding. These potential funding challenges are even more acute in special and AP schools, as they employ a high number of non-teaching staff who help support the complex needs of their students.

Increasing teaching salaries without a guaranteed rise in funding will force these schools to reduce their workforce and with it the vital support students receive. Furthermore, such a reduction in staff will apply additional pressure on those who remain working at the school, which is likely to only worsen the already decreasing teacher retention rate.

To make matters even more pressing, many special and AP schools are already facing unprecedented levels of financial insecurity as they recover from the pandemic, as many did not qualify for any of the DfE’s Covid funding support.

This is because SEN and AP schools are often more likely to hold reserve funds because income is more variable due to the ever-changing needs of their students. Such back-up funds prevented many of these schools from meeting the criteria for accessing Covid support. This in turn has meant that many SEN and AP schools drained their resources during the pandemic and as such face a future that’s increasingly uncertain.

AP students and those with SEN will ultimately pay the price for the lack of financial support for the schools they attend. This is particularly concerning as these students represent some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in the UK.

Last summer, Ofsted (2021) confirmed that children and young people with SEN have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Furthermore, the government’s recent SEND Green Paper (DfE, 2022a) revealed that 68% of parents with SEN children say that their child’s needs were “not met at all” or only “somewhat met” during the pandemic.

To overcome this, the government declared in its recent Schools White Paper that “we must do more to ensure children with SEN ... and those with a social worker have the same opportunities to thrive as their peers” (DfE, 2022b). Yet, it is not guaranteeing funding for the education of these marginalised children and the Green Paper offers little clarity for the future funding of special schools.

To rectify this and protect all students, the DfE needs to urgently issue clearer guidance on how local authorities should calculate and distribute the SSG for SEN and AP schools, so the financial uncertainty can be addressed and schools can once again feel in control of their future and the level of provision they can provide.

Additionally, it should ensure this formula covers the costs of the particularly large workforce special and AP schools need to employ, and from 2023 onwards, the government should increase place funding to £11,000 as a more secure means of streamlining additional funding to meet additional taxation costs.

Finally, local authorities must be directed to pass SSG funding on to special and AP schools as a lump sum and to recalculate this funding annually to meet changing needs and a growing demand for special school and AP places.

These important steps will help ensure there is an equitable funding system for all children in England’s state education system, as is intended.

If we are to be truly committed to protecting the most vulnerable children in our society, we must see immediate and substantive changes to how SSG is distributed. It is vital all children are supported equally in the face of rising costs. If we leave vulnerable pupils behind at this stage in their educational recovery, we are further entrenching inequalities throughout the education system.

  • Susan Douglas is CEO of The Eden Academy Trust; Warren Carratt is CEO of Nexus Multi Academy Trust.


Further information

  • DfE: Guidance: Schools supplementary grant 2022 to 2023, December 2021 (updated March 2022): https://bit.ly/3LAr3h6
  • DfE: Open consultation: SEND review: right support, right place, right time, March 2022a (closes July 1, 2022): https://bit.ly/36XJ61l
  • DfE: Policy paper: Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child, March 2022b: https://bit.ly/3qLTqQX
  • HM Revenue & Customs: Health and Social Care Levy: https://bit.ly/3OOHaJL
  • Ofsted: Research and analysis: SEND: old issues, new issues, next steps, June 2021: https://bit.ly/3LArurK
  • Schools North East: NNoSS survey to special and hospital schools, and alternative provision on the Schools Supplementary Grant, February 2022: https://bit.ly/39kLTTc


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