About 100 local education authorities have now delegated some or all of their cash for children with statements of special educational needs, often to meet previous government targets.
Some, like Devon, delegate on the basis of existing statements. Others, like Leicestershire, use a formula based on social exclusion and attainment factors which bear little relation to needs and create huge anomalies between schools' funding and actual need.
Governors and heads across the country need to be aware of the dangers of delegation, not only to their school budgets, but to the whole system of support for statemented children.
John Wright, of the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, says:
"Delegation is being used as an unlawful attempt to phase out statementing.
Schools have no incentive to seek assessment and parents don't know their rights."
Legally, parents can apply for statutory assessment and LEAs retain the responsibility to maintain statements. Schools may be unwilling to challenge LEAs, but some brave souls have taken them to judicial review.
In a High Court case against Oxfordshire in 1996, where the LEA was asking schools to fund the first five hours of support, the judge ruled: "If the school were suddenly to turn round and say that it was no longer prepared to apply any part of its budget to the cost of the 20 hours' extra support, it is undoubted that the LEA would immediately have to meet the full cost."
In 1997, governors of Queensmead school applied for judicial review when Hillingdon Council in Essex changed its formula for delegating funds, cutting the amount the school received for such pupils from pound;77,250 to pound;30,068. The governors argued that the cut would leave the school unable to make the special educational provision specified in pupils'
The High Court agreed: "If the formula does not produce a sum sufficient to meet the provision set out in the statements, the education authority cannot require the school to make up the balance."
The new funding system introduced this year allows schools' forums to advise whether statement funds should be held centrally or delegated to schools.
By all means review the system, but starving statements out of the system is in no one's interest.
Cases quoted in "Taking Action" (third edition) by John Wright and David Ruebain, The Questions Publishing Company.Lindy Hardcastle is a chair of governors in Leicestershire.Would you like to write for Sounding Off? Contact Susan.firstname.lastname@example.org. We pay for all submissions published