A high-profile group of heads has warned that schools may not be getting their minimum guaranteed funding because councils are taking money from them to pay for high-needs pupils.
In an open letter to the education secretary, the Headteachers' Roundtable group says that the high-needs block is being underfunded by around £300 million and needs an “urgent and immediate” increase.
The group raises concerns that the most vulnerable children are being failed and have told Damian Hinds that the situation cannot wait for the outcome of the next comprehensive spending review.
The letter comes amid several warnings from council chiefs about a major shortfall in funding for children with special educational needs.
It says: "We believe that the high-needs budget is underfunded by circa £300 million. This is leading to many local authorities top slicing the schools block by 0.5 to 1 per cent to meet the requirements of our high-needs children.
"Consequently, a number of schools are potentially being funded below the de minimis amounts guaranteed by the fair funding formula.”
The heads also urge the government to convert the capital funding announced in the Budget into a revenue payment for schools allowing them to use it on whatever their greatest need is.
Chancellor Philip Hammond sparked an outcry when he said the additional capital funding could help schools to “pay for the little extras”.
The letter says: “Many schools are struggling to provide for the various pay awards. Governors and school leaders may wish to direct these one-off funds towards the retention of teachers and support staff as opposed to equipment or premises.
“One aspect of retaining and recruiting teachers to the profession is to ensure that they are paid salaries commensurate with other professions.
"The lack of funding for the first 1 per cent of the teachers’ pay award is creating difficulty for many schools. This, allied with the continued workload pressures within schools, needs to be rapidly addressed.”
The letter follows a series of warnings about the impact of a shortfall in the high-needs funding available to councils and schools.
Earlier this week, leaders across councils in Yorkshire and the Humber made an urgent appeal for more funding for children with special needs to the chancellor and education secretary.
Town halls across Yorkshire have warned that “the system is buckling” with authorities overspending by more than £40 million on high-needs pupils this year.
And at a Commons Education Select Committee hearing, council officials this week warned that the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system could “implode” because of funding pressures.
In September a survey by the NAHT headteachers' union found that more than 90 per cent of headteachers believe it is getting harder to resource support for SEND students.
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government's ambition for children with SEND is "exactly the same for every other child".
He cited the introduction of education, health and care plans, and added: “We recognise that local authorities are facing pressures on their high-needs budgets, which is why this financial year councils will receive almost £6 billion of funding for young people with more complex SEND – an increase from £5 billion in 2013.”