Until recently, the difference between the High Needs Block and remainder of the Dedicated Schools Grant that funds schooling in England was known only to a few officers and civil servants and those headteachers and governors serving on School Forum. The advent of a National Funding Formula for schools outside the special school sector and a growing demand for spending on children with additional needs has brought the issues with the High Needs Block into sharp relief.
The Local Government Association has published the outcomes of the research they commissioned earlier this year. A key paragraph sets out the issues and reflects two of the key issues, the ability of local authorities to ensure all schools act in ‘the common good’ instead of ‘their own good’ and the effects on the school funding of an extension of support to young people up to the age of twenty five from the High Needs budget, not originally designed for that age range. The report can be found at: https://www.local.gov.uk/have-we-reached-tipping-point-trends-spending-children-and-young-people-send-england
Addressing the points raised in paragraph 17 of the Report would go a long way to creating a sustainable and successful system for young people with SEND.
- To create a more sustainable funding settlement going forward there may be merit in considering some key questions around how incentives in the system might be better aligned to support inclusion, meet needs within the local community of schools, and corral partners to use the high needs block to support all young people with SEND as a collective endeavour. These might include
- setting much clearer national expectations for mainstream schools;
- rethinking how high stakes accountability measures reflect the achievements of schools which make good progress with children and young people with SEND or at risk of exclusion;
- correcting the perverse funding incentives that mean that it can be cheaper to pass the cost of an EHCP or a permanent exclusion onto the high needs block than making good quality preventative support available in-school;
- looking again at the focus and content of EHCPs to afford greater flexibility to schools in how they arrange and deliver the support needed;
- providing ring-fenced investment from government designed explicitly to support new and evidence-based approaches to early intervention and prevention at scale;
- providing additional capital investment and flexibility about how that can be deployed by local government;
- issuing a national call for evidence in what works for educating children and young people with these needs, backed up by sufficient funding to then take successful approaches to scale and a new focus for teacher training and ongoing professional development;
- more specific advice for Tribunals, parents and local authorities on how the test on efficient use of resources can be applied fairly when comparing state and non-state special school placements; and
- reaffirming the principle around the equitable sharing of costs between health and education where these are driven by the health needs of the child or young person.
At present, there are perverse incentives for schools to look first to their needs and only then to the needs of children with SEND. The extension of the age range to twenty five brought many more young people into scope without necessarily providing the resource.
The announcement of more cash by the Secretary of State will help, but is almost certainly not enough to solve the problems being faced within many local authorities. At the heart of this is broken system for governance of our schools. In the post Brexit world, whatever it looks like, creating a coherent education system with democratic accountability across the board should be a high priority for the Education Department and its Ministers at Westminster.