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Exclusive: Funding formula poses 'real problems' for SEND pupils

SEND pupils in dozens of local authority areas stand to lose out from the government's funding shake-up, analysis indicates

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SEND pupils in dozens of local authority areas stand to lose out from the government's funding shake-up, analysis indicates

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) face "real problems" as a result of the government's funding plans, a school finance expert is warning.

Under the Department for Education's latest proposals, local authorities will be restricted in the amount of money they can transfer from the main schools budget to prop up funding for pupils with "high needs".

High-needs funding is aimed at SEND pupils, and is under increasing pressure as budgets have been squeezed, the number of conditions being diagnosed has increased, and more children survive serious health conditions that cause developmental delays.

In recent years, many local authorities have been forced to boost their "high-needs" cash with money taken from the main pot of school funding they receive from central government, known as the "schools block".

But, from next year, there will be a limit on the amount of money that can be transferred between the two funding streams, equal to 0.5 per cent of a local authority's schools block.

The government had said in July that local authorities would retain some "flexibility" over the amount of funding they could transfer to high needs. The 0.5 per cent limit was only revealed in guidance published quietly over the summer.

Julie Cordiner, an education funding specialist at consultancy School Financial Success, said in 2017-18, 80 local authorities transferred a total of £118 million into their high needs budgets.

Her analysis shows that 44 of these local authorities would have breached the 0.5 per cent limit if it had been applied that year. 

Ms Cordiner warned that, as the pressure on high-needs budgets continues to grow, “there could be real problems” as a result of the new guidance.

Transferring money to high-needs budgets will only be permitted with the agreement of local schools forums. If forums do not agree to the change, or if local authorities wish to exceed the 0.5 per cent cap, education secretary Justine Greening will have the final say.

In contrast, some schools – including those with low numbers of SEND pupils - are now set to see increases of up to 20 per cent over two years, a Tes analysis shows.

This is despite the fact that most schools will have any budget increases “capped” at 6 per cent over the same period.

The reason that some schools will be allowed to breach this limit is that the latest version of the formula exempts the new “minimum” per-pupil funding - amounting to £4,800 for secondary pupils and £3,500 for primary pupils – from the cap.

This helps schools that receive a relatively low proportion of their funding from specific pots aimed at, for example, helping deprived pupils or those with low attainment.

The Department for Education confirmed the change would benefit schools that had lower numbers of SEND pupils or that were not based in deprived areas.

This is an edited article from the 22 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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