When I worked at the Department of Education back in the mid-2000s, it always surprised me when the sector reacted to what I’d have thought would have been good news, (a new injection of cash into a specific policy area for example), with disappointment. Once out of government though, I soon realised that the world isn’t divided into discrete policy areas. As such, the reason small-scale, specifically-targeted funding often disappoints is that it only addresses a tiny part of a much bigger problem.
This is certainly the case with this weeks’ announcement of an extra £40 million in 2017 to help local authorities (LAs) through the final year of the transition to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs; the system that replaced “Statements” for SEND children with “high needs”). To be fair, this is very welcome and much needed financial support for authorities. As we pointed out in Joining the Dots and SEND and poverty last year, LAs have struggled to cope with the increasing demand for EHCPs, not least because funding cuts have seriously eroded their capacity. Meanwhile this has all taken place against a backdrop of major reforms that have put groups of schools in charge of some services previously provided by LAs.
We’re therefore pleased that the DfE has recognised the problem, and taken our advice in implementing steps to address some of the issues.
Whilst undeniably useful in helping authorities bring in extra capacity to deal with the changing system, the funding doesn’t address the long term problem: an increasing number of children and young people with complex needs (the kind that an EHCP is meant to address). Authorities’ ability to manage a growing volume EHCPs as more children with SEND enter the school system won’t be fixed by a one-off injection of cash. Nor will it help them raise the quality of provision available to children with SEND, which after all, is what really matters here.
Furthermore, this new funding does not sufficiently recognise another additional burden imposed by recent reforms: the inclusion of 18-25 year old in SEND reforms. As Barney Angliss points out, although this is a welcome move, it has also created a demand which authorities are not resourced to meet in the medium to long term.
This funding announcement is certainly welcome. However, crucial services for young people with SEND will increasingly struggle to meet growing demand in the context of squeezed budgets across schools, the NHS and social care. As a result, children with SEND, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, will continue to fall through the gaps until policy makers and education leaders prioritise the needs of children with SEND, and until the services they rely on receive long term funding commitments that match the scale of need and reform.