Hundreds of SEND students left in funding limbo

11th August 2017 at 00:02
Delays in local authorities confirming funding are creating timetabling and staffing issues for specialist colleges across the country

Hundreds of students hoping to attend specialist further education colleges from September are yet to learn whether they will receive the necessary funding from their local authority, Tes has learned.

According to the SEND Code of Practice, 31 March is the deadline for decisions to be made for students transferring from secondary school to a specialist college; the transfer of students between post-16 institutions should “normally” be finalised by the same date.

But according to Natspec, the membership body for specialist colleges, this deadline is regularly missed. It emerged at Natspec’s regional meetings during June and July that just one in 10 places at member colleges had been confirmed. And this week, less than a month from the start of term, one college said that it was still waiting for 53 per cent of its intake for 2017-18 to be finalised.

‘Really upsetting’

Alicia Jackson, one of the students affected, told Tes that the two-and-a-half-year journey to starting a course at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) this September had been “really upsetting”. And for the colleges concerned, the prolonged period of uncertainty poses difficulties for budgeting, staffing and planning.

“We have to plan the curriculum and timetables, and have the systems in place for each individual learner,” explained RNC principal Mark Fisher. “That means our planning goes right to the wire.” The fact that many students live on the college’s Hereford campus made the situation difficult enough, without the added pressure caused by late funding decisions, he added.

Of the 93 students that the college expects in September, around a quarter were this week still awaiting a decision from their local authority.

Chief executive Lucy Proctor said that many students had to be “rebuilt” once they arrive. “If someone has been Neet [not in education, employment or training] for a year unnecessarily, you need extra time,” she explained. “People should not have to spend their life savings on a solicitor to battle for the right place for their child.”

Local authorities 'compromised'

However, Natspec chief executive Clare Howard had some sympathy for local authorities. “They are compromised: they have a statutory obligation to assess young people with SEND, write education, health and care plans [EHCPs], and then commission provision from a limited pot of funding," she said.

“There is silo-thinking in terms of budgets, and a lack of recognition that investing in the education of young people with SEND increases their chances of gaining employment and their capacity for independence later, thus reducing their future need for support and their reliance on adult services and the benefits system.”

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said that while councils were “working hard” to support students, they were also having to cope with “implementing a complex set of reforms which have been set by government at a time of limited resources and rising demand”.

“We were clear from the outset that the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Bill were significantly underfunded and that more needed to be done to ensure funding was made available,” he added.

This is an edited version of an article in the 11 August edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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