Gareth Copeland: 5 minute read

Is the 350m in extra SEND funding enough to make a difference?

Local authorities across the country are battling against a consistent stem of cuts and an increase in demand. This is relevant within SEND and all other frontline services. Most headlines will showcase the difficulties that services are running through but few choose to showcase the strides that local authorities have made when it comes to reversing the effects of continual cuts.

£350 million is a lot of money, but it is only a third of the SEND funding that is required for this year alone. 2019/20 will see a shortfall of £806 million and subsequent years will see additional shortfalls of £1.2 billion for 2020/21 and a potential £1.6 billion by 2021/22. These are large sums of money that will not be addressed through the token gesture of £350 million. This is most likely a vote-winning gesture and will have little practical application.

There is simply not enough money to keep up with demand
We have said it once and we will say it again, a universal funding plan with the long term as well as the short term being addressed is of utmost priority. Sticking plasters of funding are not the answer when you consider how many millions depend on these front line services every year. They are helpful but do not combat the long term effects of underfunding.

Brexit continues to loom in the distance of this country like the looming spectre of destruction, waiting to remove the extra funding applied to frontline services by the government. It is something that everyone has a comment on. It is divisive, with no-one knowing what the end result will be and no consensus as to how the trigger should be pulled.

All of this adds up to political turmoil and uncertainty that means frontline services are provided with sticking plasters of funding. These ease pressure in the short term but as demand and cost continue, the relief they provide reduces each year. There will come a point in which the bubble could burst, with services unable to deliver as they have done.

Brexit can easily become an excuse though and Caroline Dinage MP stood up earlier this year to provide a speech at the annual ADASS Spring Conference. She suggested that local authorities need to stop waiting for silver bullets such as the Green Paper and get on with it. Change as she said is in the hands of the authority and the time is now to act. Brexit is here and it is going to affect our lives greatly when it kicks in but the actions we take today can temper this.

How many children are affected by SEND?
SEND stands for Special Educational Needs and Disability. More than a million children each year are diagnosed with SEND and this figure is likely to be more than the headline as many children continue to be left undiagnosed due to delays in the system. For the last three years, this headline figure has increased, moving from 14.6 to 14.9% at the start of this year.

This figure is generated by the Department of Education. It goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that local authorities have overspent their budgets allocated to SEND across the country. Known as the High Needs Block, the lack of additional funding has seen local authorities top up the ‘pot’ with money from the general schools budget.

This then leaves the general budget short and schools reaching out to the community for money for items such as stationery. This has led to the government curtailing the ability for local authorities to transfer money from the High Needs Block, which has further exacerbated the existing problem.

Demand has increased
The shortfalls in funding are additionally accentuated by the fact that there has been an increase in demand for assessment and the simple fact that more children enter the system each year. Class sizes now average more than 30.

In the last five years demand for an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP), has increased by 35%. This is in direct comparison to the previous five years from which only a 4% increase was recorded (Starting back from 2018/19). This huge increase in demand for assessment and services has been caused by a number of factors.

Chief of which is the aforementioned increase in the number of pupils. School census data between 2014 and 2018 shows that an additional 400,000 children entered the system.

A change in expectations
The Children and Families Act 2014 raised parent’s expectations as to what schools should deliver to their children. It did so through a new code of SEND practice that put the onus onto schools to deliver the best possible education and support. This, coupled with new legislation has resulted in many more young people not just in school but between the ages of 16 and 25, leaving the system drained.

Whilst we praise the government for raising expectation and attempting to deliver the best education possible, we do question the plan underpinning it. Without adequate funding and a long term plan it has led us to the situation that we have today and that is one in which the system is letting people down. This is not due to the lack of care and dedication of those in education, it is due to resources.

One way in which local authorities can help to alleviate the situation is to create specialist schools. This is not inclusive however and doesn’t provide the opportunity for pupils with SEND to mix. It does, however, provide them with the space in which to be themselves and for them to receive the specialist support they deserve but once again, money has prevented local authorities from creating new provision here.

Technology is another means in which local authorities can help the SEND process.

One SEND – The London Borough of Westminster and The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Many of the delays that we hear about within the SEND processes can be improved through the use of technology. Common feedback to be heard is that poor administration and inadequate gathering of evidence is responsible for delays in process. These delays cost time and delays assistance being provided to the child or young adult in question.

In the current climate, many SEND teams are utilising technological solutions that were first implemented 20 years ago. Processes continue to be run off disparate spreadsheets and this is sad to see given the technological solutions out there. Person-centred processes should be utilised throughout the process to truly personify person-centred care. This is something that is currently missing and adds to the problem created by additional demand.

The London Borough of Westminster and The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea saw the vision of technology and partnership working. They have created from this the first SEND partnership across boroughs and have been reaping the rewards. The chief amongst these is additional time to be spent on those that these services have been set up for.

By utilising technology, you can battle the oncoming tide that is population growth, in which the number of those requiring, EHCPs will continue to increase. You will be able to be more efficient and support them to the help that they need, thus ensuring the best possible life.

A long-term plan

£350 million is a lot of money but it is nowhere near enough to keep up with demand
Praise has to be given for the additional funds. It is still a gesture and no matter how ill-thought-out it is in the long run, it is still of benefit but it is still not enough to fill the existing shortfall of £806 million that SEND services face in 2019/20. More than £450 million short and as each day passes, the gap increases, with more than £1.5 billion being predicted as the shortfall in 2021/22.

What the system needs and all of the frontline services need is a plan that works cross-party, with thought given to those it will care for. It needs to remove politics from the equation and create a system that will support all those in its care. It needs to combine forces with technology to expedite processes and give time back to those who deliver this care on a daily basis.

The money promised is to be praised but given how far it will go when you consider the system, you have to wonder who it is of benefit to? Has it been promised by a party looking to retain its seat at the head of parliament or has it been promised with the desire for change? We need consensus and we need it soon.

To conclude
SEND services like most other frontline services are underfunded. They are on the brink and whilst the increase in funding is a step in the right direction it is less than half of what is required. Each day that passes increases this funding gap and ensures that at present, when we reach 2021/22 there will be a potential funding gap of £1.6 billion.

There is simply not enough money to keep up with demand. This is leaving many local authorities struggling to catch up with the increase in expectation and seeing delays increase day-by-day. The ones that are most affected by this are those that the service is here to help, children.

Additional funding is required at a time when the government is preoccupied with Brexit. Authorities need to look into the benefits that technology can brink to their services as otherwise, they may be waiting a long time for a Green Paper that may not arrive. Even when it does, the Green Paper will most likely not be the silver bullet that we are all hoping for.