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Millions ‘owed’ to colleges for high-needs students

Providers forced to ‘battle’ for funding or absorb costs of additional support for students after legislative changes

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General FE colleges have not received millions of pounds in funding for high-needs students already enrolled onto courses, it has emerged. Tes has learned that some colleges even decided to dip into their reserves to take on learners whom local authorities are refusing to fund.

Local authorities, in turn, said that the new system imposed by the government left them with insufficient funding.

High-needs funding applies in case of students whose provision costs £6,000 or more, and those aged 19 to 25 who have a learning difficulty assessment (LDA) or an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan.

Following the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014, FE and sixth-form colleges and approved specialist post-16 institutions now have to cooperate with local authorities on arrangements for young people with SEND and to admit a young person if, following consultation with the institution, the institution is named in an EHC plan.

Colleges short-changed

But colleges said delays to funding agreements and overall shortfalls often left them short-changed, with some missing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some £696,000 in high-needs funding for the 2016-17 year was owed to East Kent and Canterbury colleges, according to principal Graham Razey.

Local authorities were increasingly assessing individual students’ needs to fall just short of £6,000, meaning the authority is not responsible for funding their education, Mr Razey claimed.

“Anyone who has not accessed high-needs support in the past cannot access that now, which feels counter-intuitive,” he said. “There are many young people who go through the system without being diagnosed. I will have to be at battle, going forward, to make sure my college gets that funding.”

Liz Maudslay, policy manager for students with language and learning difficulties and disabilities at the Association of Colleges, said there had been an increase in reports of colleges receiving insufficient funding for their learners and delays in authorities notifying colleges about funding availability.

AoC chief executive David Hughes said it’s “not uncommon” for colleges to fund places themselves. “Colleges try to do the right thing, but they also have to take some risk. We are really concerned about… whether there is enough cash in the system,” he added.

Limited resources and rising demand

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, says councils are working hard to make sure children with SEND get support. “However, councils are involved in implementing a complex set of reforms, which have been established 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 underfunded by the government and that more needed to be done to ensure funding was made available,” he adds.

According to a Department for Education spokesperson, local authorities must follow “clear timescales” for making decisions, and a “centrally administered funding system combined with a locally run assessment system would be counterproductive”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 29 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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