Government watchdog confirms the huge scale of the SEND funding crisis

The National Audit Office has today published their investigation into special educational needs support. Entitled “Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England“, it has revealed that more than four in five local authorities are overspending their high needs budget.

A couple of months ago I sent a survey to all headteachers in my constituency asking how education cuts affected their pupils. All the surveys returned highlighted cutbacks in SEND provision as being a huge area of concern.

1.3 million pupils in England are identified as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Over a million (79%) do not have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

The NAO report looked at how well pupils with SEND were supported, examining

  • the system for supporting pupils with SEND (Part I);
  • funding, spending and financial sustainability (Part II);
  • the quality of support and experiences of pupils and parents (Part III).

The report is a long read – 60 pages – but includes detailed analysis and charts to outline the current dire state of affairs. The conclusions reached are:

How well pupils with SEND are supported affects their well-being, educational attainment and long-term life prospects….The system for supporting pupils with SEND is not, on current trends, financially sustainable. Many local authorities are failing to live within their high-needs budgets and meet the demand for support. Pressures – such as incentives for mainstream schools to be less inclusive, increased demand for special school places, growing use of independent schools and reductions in per-pupil funding – are making the system less, rather than more, sustainable. The Department needs to act urgently to secure the improvements in quality and sustainability that are needed to achieve value for money.

Our Lib Dem Shadow Education Secretary of State Layla Moran has commented:

Children with special educational needs or a disability have borne the brunt of the schools funding emergency. They are trapped in the middle of a perfect storm. Whilst struggling schools cut teaching assistants and support staff, cash-strapped councils must stretch their budgets to support more children with the most complex needs than at any point since 2014.

The Conservatives don’t understand the scale nor the extent of the SEND funding shortfall. We cannot let these children be failed any longer.

Liberal Democrats would invest thousands of pounds more for every child on an Education, Health and Care Plan so that every child can get a great start in life.

My view is that the funding can not come soon enough. Years of education cutbacks are affecting the future of these vulnerable children. What kind of society are we, if we do not enable all to reach their full potential by providing supportive and nurturing education fit for purpose?

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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