Concerns around the national funding formula rightly sparked a public debate – but there’s a far greater, hidden crisis in education, which threatens the life chances of some of our most vulnerable young people.
It’s an issue my council has been battling for some time. In fact, the high-needs block of the Designated Schools Grant has effectively been frozen since 2011. This is despite a major increase in the pupil population and reforms in 2014, which significantly increased the number of children who are eligible to receive support, leading to a 34 per cent increase in the number of pupils Hackney supports.
In Hackney there is a funding shortfall of about £6 million, but the impact is being felt across the capital. Research carried out by London Councils found that, in 2016-17, 26 out of 31 London boroughs reported a combined funding shortfall of £100 million.
As a council, our primary job is to look after our most vulnerable residents, so turning off the tap is not an option. To meet this shortfall, councils across London are using money from other education funding pots and are drawing on reserves – which is not sustainable in the long term. Next year funding is expected to rise by 0.5 per cent – but this is nowhere near enough to fill the shortfall.
Of course, this all comes at a time when local authorities are having to make continued, unprecedented cuts. In Hackney we’ve had to save over £152 million since 2010 – and will need to find a further £30 million by 2021-22. We just don’t have the luxury of shifting money around any more. So where do we go from here?
In Hackney, we'll be reducing the amount of high-needs top-up funding we give to schools by 5 per cent. Reducing funding is absolutely the last thing we want to do, and it’s been a hard decision to make. We’ve given schools plenty of advance notice of this, but I know that for some it’s going to have an impact and will mean they have to plan things differently.
During the public debate around the national funding formula, the government heard clearly how important adequate and sustained funding for schools is to parents and teachers. It’s now vital that we have the same debate about SEND funding, and I have written to the education secretary, urging her to reform how this vital funding is calculated and distributed, taking into account the growth in demand alongside actual spend.
The gradual erosion of funding for this most vital of services threatens to have a huge impact on the children, parents and carers who need it most. It isn’t simply a matter of finance – inadequate funding will affect young people for the rest of their lives.
As a SEN teacher and politician, it’s always been my job to stand up for those whose voices are not heard, and we desperately need to shine a light on this hidden crisis before it’s too late.
Anntoinette Bramble is Hackney's deputy mayor and cabinet member for children’s services and education