The SEND funding minefield: are you being shortchanged?

Amid the SEND cuts, it isn't always clear what money is available. Here one Sendco explains how to navigate the process

Simon Lock

How To Navigate The SEND Funding Minefield

Funding for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is being cut. In the past four years, funding for children with SEND has been reduced by around 17 per cent per pupil across England, with schools in the North particularly affected, facing cuts of up to 22 per cent per pupil, according to research by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

About 14.6 per cent of pupils in the UK have SEND, but according to research from the NAHT headteachers' union 94 per cent of schools are finding it more difficult to get funding for these pupils this year than they did two years ago.

SEND funding: a 'complex' process

There is no set formula for local authorities (LAs) to use in allocating funding. Each LA can take different factors into account, including prior attainment, number of children with English as an additional language and the number of children eligible for free school meals, so funding can vary and be inconsistent across the UK.

Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School in Norfolk and says recent changes to the system have complicated matters even further.

"Basically there’s insufficient funding," she says. "The Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), whilst promising with their outcome-driven approach, have muddied the waters. The old Statements on SEND were a lot more prescriptive, which could be restrictive. However, they came with a clear amount of money attached, and the amount of TA time was specified as well as other provision.

"The new EHCPs have moved away from being provision-driven towards being outcome-driven. I personally think this makes them a lot more woolly. Applying for additional high-needs funding is a drawn out, unnecessarily complex, bureaucratic exercise, which needs to be repeated each term.

"This is not very practical for young people who need longer-term financial support and consistency. For example, a young person may be waiting for an EHCP assessment or an EHCP to be drawn up, which can take the best part of a year, and in the interim they may not have the TA support they require, as it is difficult to employ someone on a term-by-term basis. It just isn’t practical."

Fortunately, many LAs have top-up funding for schools that need additional financial support. However, the process of applying for this is also far from simple, and many schools miss out on funds that they could be entitled to.

Maximising your funds 

Applying for additional top-up funds relies on you clearly documenting the money already allocated to children with special educational needs. By demonstrating where money is being spent, and where there is still a shortfall, you're entitled to an additional allowance. 

Corby says documenting spending is essential. "You need evidence to show how the money is being used and how effectively; without that, you risk facing further cuts," she warns.  

Advice for Sendcos

Corby offers several bits of advice for those in the same position.

"Take every opportunity to apply for funding. Ensure that EHCPs are applied for promptly, when required. Despite being a secondary school Sendco, I actually think more funding needs to be directed to early years and primary schools.

"We get students with additional needs arriving in Year 7 with no diagnosis, not on the SEND register and sometimes with no EHCP when they clearly need one. This limits the funding we can access and therefore the support we can provide. I spoke to a primary school Sendco the other day about getting one of her students assessed by the educational psychologist, but she said she could only afford one EP assessment per year, so this student would have to wait. 

"Try to speak to other Sendcos and the local authority to get advice. When I worked in Tower Hamlets, someone from the local authority met with me to explain everything, and it was really helpful."

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