Schools funding 'near crisis point' due to SEND pressures

By Joe Lepper

| 27 November 2018

The school funding system will implode unless the government addresses shortfalls in support for SEND pupils, an influential director of children's services (DCS) has told MPs.

Dave Hill told MPs that funding of special educational needs in Surrey was under severe pressure. Picture: Alex Deverill

Dave Hill, executive director of children, families and learning at Surrey County Council, told members of the education select committee that the schools funding system is "close to a national crisis" due to SEND funding pressures.

"We have a spending review next year. I fear that unless we address the issues around SEND funding then the whole system will implode at some point," said Hill, who is a past president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services.

He added that already in Surrey the council is close to being unable to run its core services due to pressures to support SEND pupils.

"In my authority, I've got pressures on the high needs block of £30m," Hill told MPs.

"That's almost enough to trigger a 114 notice that the council will not be able to run its core services. That's caused almost exclusively by pressures on the high needs block."

Hill says that the creation of education, health and care plans (EHCPs) through the Children and Families Act (2014) has increased pressure on SEND budgets, as these are seen as the best way by parents to access support for their children.

"What [parents] tell me is they don't want to have to go for an EHCP. They want support in the first instance but the system forces you to get a EHCP. They are seen as a ticket to money and resources," said Hill.

The funding system is also geared towards supporting families in crisis rather than early intervention, which is leading to further rises in EHCPs, he added.

"Once you are locked into a vicious circle where the crisis becomes the thing then EHCPs will rise exponentially," said Hill.

"If you can get money into the early bit then I'm sure from past experiences that you can reduce the number of EHCPs.

"And from a human level for the child and their family it is more helpful. But as money is so tight it's hard to get out of the vicious circle."

Also appearing at the education select committee hearing into school and college funding was Gary Fielding, North Yorkshire County Council's corporate director of strategic resources.

He said: "In terms of high needs this year we have had a 0.75 per cent increase in our high needs budget. Demand has gone up by 10 per cent, and by 46 per cent up since the introduction of EHCPs."

Earlier this month the Local Government Association said that councils are facing a total shortfall in SEND funding of £536m in 2018/19, nearly double the shortfall for 2017/18.

LGA children and young people board chair Anntoinette Bramble also told MPs that in Hackney, where she is deputy mayor, there is a £6m shortfall in SEND funding this academic year.

She said she welcomed support on offer to SEND children and families in the Children and Families Act.

"However, what the government failed to do is think about the additional support. What you have is more children accessing the same level of funding," she said.

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