Clare Dorer, CEO of NASS writes this guest post for us about funding reforms and how they affect high needs students.
It seems like not a day goes by without us hearing something about a public service experiencing financial pressure. Up until now, this has generally been related to the NHS or adult social care but in recent weeks we have started to hear about schools and local authorities that are worried that they have insufficient funding to meet needs.
This is a live issue for special schools. Most local authority special schools are full, some almost to bursting point, and we are even starting to see full schools in the independent and non-maintained special school sector. At the same time, the Government is currently consulting on reforms to how money for SEN (‘High needs’) gets allocated to local authorities. At the moment, the method of deciding who gets what is largely based on what authorities have spent in past years – not very scientific or equitable. The government is proposing moving to a formula-based approach so that there is a fairer way of funding.
The government has recognised that it would be unhelpful if any local authority lost funding under the new system – something we were grateful to see. However, the proposed new system assumes that the numbers of children with High Needs will remain static and bulging special schools suggest that this is not the case. Effectively, we will be finding ways to make the same amount of money spread across more children and young people – not a position schools or authorities feel comfortable with.
For NASS, the discussions around funding have come at the same time as a major review of Residential Special Schools, led by Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of Council for Disabled Children. This is the first time the Government has looked closely at special schools since 2003 so we are keen to make sure we gather lots of evidence for the review! When money is tight, scrutiny is often closest on those placements that cost the most amount of money – usually those for children and young people with very complex needs. We want to help the Government think about what life is like in our schools and to reflect the struggle many parents have in accessing specialist provision. We are currently gathering survey responses from parents with children in residential provision and have been amazed by the number of responses we have received – over 140 in 2 weeks. Each story is unique but we are already seeing some common themes. For the vast majority of parents, a special school place was an active choice and very much valued. However, many parents noted the struggle they had been through to get their placement and the lack of support they had received early on. Whilst parents are generally very happy with their child’s school there was a huge sense of sadness and frustration that their child was not living at home.
Our research is raising lots of questions. We would like to see parents have easier access to specialist placements and not to have to face such a battle to get them. However, we would also like to see more investment in supporting children in their local areas. If we only focus on how we fund the most complex we will miss the real opportunity – to improve parental confidence in the ability of mainstream schools to be able to meet the needs of children with SEND. As a group of specialist schools, we would love to see better structures for those in the independent and non-maintained sectors to be able to share their expertise with mainstream schools but we think this is something the funding reforms miss. We often hear politicians and policy makers talk about a ‘continuum of provision’ for children with SEND – let’s start making that a reality.
You can find out more about the High Needs Funding Consultation at: https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/high-needs-funding-reform
You can find out more about the Lenehan Review at: https://consult.education.gov.uk/special-educational-needs-and-disability-division/lenehan-review
Claire Dorer is the CEO of NASS – the national membership association for independent and non-maintained special schools. NASS works with 300 schools across England and Wales.