Education Secretary Damian Hinds yesterday announced an additional £250m will be given to councils over the next two years to relieve budget pressures in the "high needs funding block", which pays for additional classroom support for children with complex SEND. A further £100m will be provided to create more specialist places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools, and improve facilities such as developing sensory rooms and investing in specialist equipment.
In addition, Hinds pledged to approve all "high-quality bids" in the current round of special and alternative provision free schools applications, in an attempt to create more places for SEND pupils.
However, the Association of Directors of Children's Services said the £125m per year, while welcome, falls "far short" of solving the funding gap in the high needs budget.
"Councils are deploying a range of measures to address this, from transferring money from other pots of school funding and utilising reserves but this offers a temporary sticking plaster and is unsustainable," said Matt Dunkley, chair of the ADCS resources and sustainability policy committee. "Shrinking school budgets also means they are less able to support children and young people with additional needs in the classroom."
Dunkley added that 2014 SEND reforms that introduced new requirements on councils had been insufficiently funded.
"Capital funding was also overlooked and now reliance on costlier independent provision is placing huge demands on the high needs block," said Dunkley. "More capital for special free schools will help, but not funding councils to open new special schools when we carry the responsibility for high needs and place planning remains an odd policy position, and a missed opportunity."
The Local Government Association (LGA) echoed the association's concerns. It warned that councils faced a funding deficit of £472m for SEND services in 2018/19, and up to £800m in 2019/20.
"Parents rightly expect and aspire to see that their child has the best possible education and support, and councils have done all they can to achieve this," said Antoinnette Bramble, chair of the LGA's children and young people board. "However, councils are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand, pushing support for children with SEND to a tipping point."
The government also announced the creation of a new advisory SEND System Leadership Board to encourage health and social care commissioners to work more closely to provide services that meet the needs of local families and children. This will include representatives of health, social care, and education services, and will work closely with charities, schools and families.
To better understand the financial incentives that influence how schools, colleges and councils support children and young people with special educational needs, the Department for Education will be gathering more evidence in the new year. This will include looking at the first £6,000 schools pay for SEND support costs before accessing additional funding from local high needs budgets.
The government has also confirmed an expansion of the funding to train more educational psychologists, who are responsible for assessing children's needs and providing tailored support as part of the education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment process. From September 2020, there will be a further three training rounds and an increase in the number of trainees from 160 to at least 206.
Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said: "We are delighted to see this significant increase in the numbers of educational psychologists being trained to address the current acute shortage across all educational settings.
"This announcement is around a further 25 per cent boost to training numbers and will make a significant difference to our ability to meet the needs of children and their families in the future."
Last month, 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.