Proposed funding changes could force closure of mainstream SEN units

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Changes to government funding for pupils with complex needs could result in the closure of special units in mainstream schools, school leaders have warned

The concerns are expressed in Getting it right: funding pupils with complex needs, a new publication from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

The second in the union’s ‘getting it right’ series it asked school leaders in specialist, mainstream and independent schools to assess the practical impact of the government’s proposed changes to funding, as set out in the recent high needs funding consultation.

Among the issues addressed are the role of local authorities in the new system, transitional arrangements and the need for national guidelines on the notional SEN budget.

The NAHT says the responses reflect many of the issues it raised in the initial stage of the consultation. They include:

  • A concern that the Government’s proposals only deal with how local authorities are funded at a national level. They fail to address the key issue of inconsistent approaches to top-up funding, which mean that a child with the same needs can attract £2,000 of education funding in one local authority but £20,000 is another. The union says this is unacceptable and that the Department for Education (DfE) needs to develop parameters and controls to ensure that funding is fairly distributed within local authorities.
  • Opposition to plans to reduce per place funding for mainstream schools with special units from £10,000 to £6,000, with the rest of the funding dependent on the number of pupils in the unit in any one year. The union says such a move would be disastrous for these units and could result in closures.
  • A call for the £10,000 place funding to be extended to SEN specialist units in mainstream post-16 settings as well as in special schools and colleges. The union says greater clarity is needed on how to fund young people in special schools who stay on until the age of 19.

Commenting on the report, Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, said:

Views from the frontline are crucial for the government to look at the impact of proposed changes. Our consultation response has raised real concerns about planned changes, not least plans to reduce per place funding in special units in mainstream schools. This is backed up by the experiences set out in this report. The government should listen to the concerns of school leaders on the potential impact changes could have on the most vulnerable pupils.

As we await the publication of the Education for All Bill, we hope the government will listen to the concerns of school leaders in making changes to how high needs funding works. We are open to consulting further on changes, and hope the government will take the opportunity to have a broad and meaningful conversation with professionals by publishing the bill in draft form.

Kim Johnson, president of NAHT and principal of Bradfields Specialist SEN Academy, said:

Those of us who are passionate about the education of children with high and complex needs have been pressing for this review of high needs funding for a long time.

We desperately need a new approach that creates greater consistency and transparency. But we also need to be mindful that local authorities have taken very different approaches and that the transition to such an approach could result in some significant change. A much longer period of transition than for the national funding formula should be planned, as the needs of our pupils dictate this.

On Government plans to reduce per place funding for mainstream schools with special units, Chris Hill, head teacher at Hounslow Town Primary School, warns that, ‘the place funding, rather than pupil-led funding, helps to create stability. But if this were to change, as currently proposed in the consultation, it would threaten the viability of our Centre as the drop from 20 pupils to 14-15 in any one year would be a very big financial hit.’

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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