Funding aimed at supporting the most vulnerable pupils – those designated as having high needs – is heading for a shortfall worth hundreds of millions of pounds this year, Tes can reveal.
The 2017-18 projected funding gap in high-needs budgets – targeted at pupils with disabilities, behavioural problems or ill health – is more than three times what it was in 2014-15.
The data is based on responses from more than half of England's local authorities to Freedom of Information requests and shows a projected shortfall this year of £226 million between the amount provided by central government and the amount that local authorities say they will need to spend.
This figure could reach £409 million if the pattern is replicated across the rest of England’s 152 local authorities.
Teaching unions are warning that the high-needs system is in “crisis” and headteachers say there is a “perfect storm” of insufficient funding and rising demand.
A Tes analysis of annual budgets over the past four years shows the funding shortfall has more than tripled since 2014-15, when it amounted to £70m – or £127m, projected across all local authorities.
Next year will introduce further fiscal pressures, the analysis suggests, with some local authorities predicting significant shortfalls in 2018-19, amounting to up to 30 per cent of their high-needs budgets.
Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, says the union “is increasingly concerned about a growing crisis” in SEND education.
She adds: “The education and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society is being jeopardised through inadequate resourcing of their needs”.
Using up reserves, transferring amounts from other funding blocks and carrying forward shortfalls into the next financial year are the most commonly cited measures being taken by councils to cover shortfalls.
The number of children in England with a statement of SEND or an education, health and care plan has risen from 223,945 in 2010 to 242,185 in 2017 – an 8 per cent increase – according to Cordis Bright, a public services consultancy.
West Sussex headteacher Jules White, from the Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding, comments: “Demand for support for those youngsters with SEND and additional needs continues to outstrip resources, staffing and capacity”.
Councils are also struggling to deal with the impact of the 2014 Children and Families Act, which extended the age range of pupils with SEND that local authorities are responsible for to 25. They are also having to deal with decisions by SEND tribunals that force them to adopt more expensive care packages.
Some headteachers are warning that budgets are now so stretched that pupils are being turned away.
Pupils paying the price
Grahame Robson is the headteacher of Manor Green College special school in Crawley, West Sussex – where the local authority is predicting a £4.1 million shortfall in high-needs funding this year.
He said: “I have already reached the stage where I am having to send students home because we don’t always have enough staff to guarantee their safety.
He added: "Unless we all start fighting for our special schools soon, there isn’t going to be a service worth saving”.
This comes amid mounting fears for the future education of high-needs pupils. Last month, it emerged that there is a £100 million shortfall in the SEND budget across London.
And earlier this year, Tes revealed how high-needs pupils will lose out under the new funding system in which councils will have less flexibility to cover shortfalls using money from elsewhere in the schools budget.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are investing an additional £1.3 billion in schools and high-needs funding and have protected this budget in real terms during the next two years.
"Under the new high-needs national funding formula, every local authority will see an increase in funding.
"Where authorities are finding costs difficult to manage within their allocations of high-needs funding, there is continuing local flexibility to ensure that councils can work with the schools in their area and direct funds to where they are most needed."
This is an edited article from the 8 December edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click 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