Alongside the consultation on the national funding formula for mainstream schools there is a similar consultation for what is known as the ‘High needs’ group of pupils. This consultation has received far less notice than the mainstream NFF consultation, but is arguably as important for pupils with some of the most challenging of needs.
At the heart of the consultation is the central dilemma facing education in England. Who makes the decisions? The new formula proposes placing a great deal of responsibility with local authorities, as at present. That’s fine, but it ignores the fact that free schools can be established where local authorities might not want them and existing schools can become academies and thus alter their governance structure in relation to the local authority.
The ‘high need’ special education sector has always been a complex area to understand. There are some that think the current proposals out for consultation show that even the government doesn’t fully understand the issues. For example, the government doesn’t seem to have a policy for the use of the often highly expensive independent sector for placements of children where there is a shortage of space or expertise in the state-funded sector. This can be a real burden on some authorities. However, the consultation, in as far as it addresses the issue, seems to opt for the status quo. It might have been helpful to have tried to work out nationally how this expenditure could be reduced without damaging the education of the young people.
The formula has also to grapple with the issue of providing enough places, even if not always filled, and how far to use a methodology where funding follows the pupils, as with pupil unit funding in the mainstream school formula. I am not sure the proposed methodology is going to work as effectively as it might be required to do so. I am concerned that it mustn’t persuade some mainstream academies to ditch existing special provision units leaving the local authority to figure out how to provide a high quality education for these children plus a possible increase in the local transport bill. Local authorities should be able to challenge, if not veto, changes in existing provision not part of a planned and agreed local arrangement, especially where the MAT has its headquarters outside of the authority’s area.
I am worried about the inclusion of IDACI as one of the formula factors. Taken together the total of formula factors seem slanted to special needs caused or exacerbated by deprivation. I understand the concept, but for an authority such as Oxfordshire with limited pockets of urban and rural deprivation, many of our children with high needs don’t live in areas where this factor will be a key determinant. However, those children still need the funding necessary for their education. A review of SEN transport, especially in rural areas and complex non-residential cases, might have raised some issues about planning.
Overall, this looks like a redistribution of the current funding envelope rather than a formula based upon an understanding of the complex needs of this group of young people. It is also a work in progress since the funding of hospital schools isn’t included. I hope when it is a full understanding of the needs of young people with both physical and mental health issues and their relationship with the hospital service is included.
If you haven’t yet looked at this consultation, please do so.