The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

Funding SEND for effective provision: things just don’t add up!

Meeting needs and provision is something that does not come cheap, as SENCOs across the country will no doubt be aware. As we approach the new year, it's time to be realistic about the funding crisis. 

This week has seen a lot of news about funding, again!

Headlines included ‘Schools must reduce spending by 8 per cent per pupil by 2020 - the biggest real terms cut in a generation' and ‘Big city schools hit in funding shake-up’ as the National Audit Office (NAO) reports that the schools budget could be cut by £3bn.

According to the NAO, schools will be expected to make ‘efficiency savings (an estimated £1.3 billion) through better procurement’ and by ‘using their staff more efficiently’, meaning that in reality there’s a real fear of recruitment cuts and job losses in the very near future.

This backdrop, coupled with the High Needs Block on ‘life support’ and other more complex SEND funding issues, which are articulated brilliantly by Jarlath O’Brien in this piece ‘Four reasons why SEND funding is in crisis’, paint a very bleak picture for all schools and young people, but particularly so for those with SEND.

A local context

I always find funding issues quite complex, and as a school we have always, and continue to ensure that needs and provision come first, then we talk about how! 

There is a real need to maintain a personalised approach, even set against these times of challenge. Funding shouldn’t be a driver for provision; however it is for some SENCO colleagues who are charged with an almost Sisyphean task of providing statutory requirements for EHCPs with wholly inadequate funding and resources.

There is a real need to maintain a personalised approach, even set against these times of challenge

In years gone by there was a ‘notional 8/9%’ of the AWPU being allocated for SEND, however any references to this have long since disappeared and now the ‘notional £6,000’ that all mainstream schools need to ‘find’ for students with additional funding is taking its toll, set against the low AWPU many schools receive in the first place.

For example, we get £4,707 per student at my school; other local schools get more than us, based upon deprivation indices.

School Per-pupil funding (2015-2016)
My school 4,707
School A 5,185
School B 5,581
School C 5,823
School D 6,194

In short, we don’t even get the ‘first £6,000’ in our core funding. So, for our 46 EHCPs/statements, we have an initial deficit of £1,293 for each student, or £58,479 in total. For a school with a very low AWPU that is a lot, and with added pressure following the reduction of other non-school services, mental health and social care, the ‘push-back’ into schools is increasing.

Even with an inclusive whole-school approach, we cannot sustain provision within the current context 

Whilst this is all very confusing to many SENCOs, and I include myself in that group, there is a really useful Explainer by Schools Week entitled ‘How schools will be funded under the new national formula’ that helps us understand some of the nuances of the National Funding changes.

If you're a SENCO without access to your school's budget, obtaining the necessary funding can be even more of a challenge.

For Optimus members, Sue Birchall explains what you need and how to ask for it. 

A change of direction

No one wants to be the harbinger of doom and gloom at this festive time, but we do have to be realistic.

Even with our additional delegated SEND funding of £108,000, and being very used to making provision with very little, times are still extremely hard for schools. Especially when trying to be inclusive.

In the new year we must all respond to consultations, lobby through professional associations and ensure this message is kept high on the agenda. Some headteachers have already highlighted the reality of the current situation, which will only get worse without significant change.

Even with an inclusive whole-school approach, we cannot sustain provision within the current context.

Beneficiaries of the new funding formula or not, a simple redistribution of funding will not address the root problem: there simply isn’t enough money to meet statutory requirements.

A change of direction in the new year and better focus on long-term sustainability is much needed, our objectives for 2017 must be on keeping this issue high on the national agenda and keeping the focus on young people and their families; after all, that's what the Children’s and Families Act intended, wasn’t it?

I know what I’ll be asking Santa for this Christmas!

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