Schools are being pushed to the brink by a funding gap of more than half a billion pounds for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), council bosses have warned.
A survey of 73 councils has shown a projected shortfall of £536 million in funding for SEND support for 2018-19 – more than double the gap for last year.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that children with SEND could miss out on a mainstream education unless there is urgent action and funding from the government.
The Department for Education last night acknowledged that local authorities were facing cost pressures, and said it was keeping "the overall level of funding under review".
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “We face a looming crisis in meeting the unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with special educational needs and disabilities.
“Parents rightly expect and aspire to see that their child has the best possible education and receives the best possible support.
“Councils have pulled out all the stops to try to do this, but are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand.
“Schools are also being pushed to the brink by the underfunding of SEND, at a time when there is already severe pressure on general schools funding."
The interim findings of new research by the LGA are announced today at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Manchester. They follow a Tes exclusive last year that predicted funding aimed at supporting the most vulnerable pupils – those designated as having high needs – was heading for a shortfall worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
The new LGA’s research shows that councils have overspent their allocated budgets for children with SEND, known as the High Needs Block, for the past four years. This has seen them “top up” budgets with funding from elsewhere, such as general schools budgets. However, this flexibility to transfer funding has now been significantly curtailed by government restrictions, further exacerbating pressures on councils.
The LGA is warning that the growing funding gap is putting at risk the ability of councils to meet their statutory duties. This comes as government figures show the number of children and young people with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) or statements has increased by 35 per cent in five years, from 237,111 in 2013-14 to 319,819 in 2017-18.
The LGA said the increase in demand was down to a variety of factors, such as population growth; the code of SEND practice raising expectations of parents; more young people aged 16 and over being on EHCPs; and funding pressures on mainstream schools affecting their ability to support pupils with high needs.
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is exactly the same for every other child – to achieve well in education, and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.
"This is why we’ve introduced education, health and care plans, tailored to each individual, to ensure they are supported while they study.
“Local authorities and schools have statutory duties to support children and young people with SEND. In 2018-19, councils will receive £6 billion of funding for young people with more complex SEND – an increase from £5bn in 2013.
"However, we recognise that local authorities are facing cost pressures on high needs, which is why we are monitoring local authority spending decisions and keeping the overall level of funding under review. As part of this, we will be very interested to see the LGA’s final report.”
Authorities have already had to use hundreds of millions of pounds from their overall schools budget to support children with SEND, according to the Observer.
It identified 40 councils that have either cut special needs funding this year, are considering making cuts or are raiding other education budgets to cope next year.