Council SEND deficit bailouts hit £1bn as 20 more issued

Councils told to make mainstream schools more inclusive in new wave of handouts

Councils told to make mainstream schools more inclusive in new wave of handouts

A magnifying glass over money

Twenty more councils will be forced to make sweeping changes to their special educational needs (SEND) provision in exchange for government bailouts which now total nearly £1 billion.

The latest announcement means ministers have sealed “safety valve” deals of £989 million with 34 councils to help plug high needs funding deficits since 2020-21 (see latest councils below).

But the handouts – a key policy of the Department for Educations’ SEND reforms – come with strict conditions. 

Town halls have been told to create inclusive cultures – such as an “inclusion charter” – in mainstream schools while reducing spend on expensive independent placements.

Kent, one of the country’s largest councils, is set to receive £142 million to eliminate its deficit by 2027-28 – the largest package to date. An initial payment of £56.8 million will be made by April.

Education and health inspectors have previously slammed SEND services in the region for having “too wide a variation … in commitment to inclusion in schools”. 

In return for government cash, Kent must implement a “countywide approach to inclusive education”. This would “build capacity” in mainstream schools and reduce “dependence on specialist provision”. 

‘Incentivise SEND inclusion’

It must also “implement models of reintegration of children from special/independent schools to mainstream where needs have been met”. 

Norfolk has been told to agree an “inclusion charter” with schools in return for £70 million by 2028-29. 

It should help mainstream schools to support “a greater complexity of need” so they are “stepping back from the over reliance” on the costly independent sector. 

In Medway, they must “incentivise inclusion” by providing more funding into the system through top ups to the SEN notional budget – a set amount each school gets for SEND needs. 

The funding policy should be reviewed so schools with a higher proportion of children with EHCPs receive additional funding, the agreement says. This is in return for £14 million by 2025-26. 

Bolton will receive nearly £7 million by 2026-27 to “enhance and embed an inclusive culture” in schools to reduce exclusions. 

Croydon has clinched £27 million by 2026-27 if it increases “leadership capacity” in schools to support pupils with SEND and their families. 

Offer early intervention, councils told

Blackpool should “encourage more pupils” with education, health and care plans to remain in mainstream schools “through consistency of advice and guidance”. The council will receive £3.89 million by 2026-27.

Meanwhile Bexley will be handed nearly £30 million by 2028-29. It should “seek to repatriate learners from independent special settings at key points of transition”. 

This aims to return at least 16 learners per year to Bexley, saving on average £32,000 in high needs funding and save on travel costs, the agreement says. They should also offer early intervention to children requiring SEN support to “reduce the need” for EHCPs. 

Schools Week has revealed how maintained special schools are “bursting at the seams” while council costs soar on private placements and transport.

Councils have also warned that inflation, staffing shortages and construction delays risk undermining the safety valve agreements.  

A Schools Week investigation also exposed how mainstream schools face a raid on their reserves as a condition of the safety valve agreements. 

The agreements are targeted at councils with the largest deficits in their dedicated schools grant budget. If conditions are not met, DfE can withhold payments. 

Councils have an estimated combined £2.3 billion high needs deficit, with ten said to be on the brink of bankruptcy until government stepped in to continue allowing the deficits to sit off their balance sheets until 2026.

More than half of councils have been invited to join the government’s Delivering Better Value programme – for those with less severe deficits – or the safety valve scheme.

In its SEND improvement plan, DfE said the programme showed “if a local area’s leadership work together, it is possible for even those areas facing the most acute challenges to create innovative and viable plans to reach a sustainable position and maintain a focus on high-quality provision for children and young people with SEND”. 

The 20 new ‘safety valve’ agreements

Barnsley – £22.9 million

Bath and North East Somerset – £19.2 million

Bexley – £29.8 million

Blackpool – £3.8 million

Bolton – £6.5 million

Cambridgeshire – £49 million

Croydon – £27.4 million

Darlington – £6.1 million

Haringey – £29.9 million

Hounslow – £26.8 million

Isle of Wight – £12.6 million

Kent – £142 million

Medway – £14.3 million

Norfolk – £70 million

North Somerset – £21.1 million

North Tyneside – £19.5 million

Slough – £27 million

Southwark – £23 million

Torbay – £12.9 million

Wokingham – £20 million

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  1. Annette Edmondson

    This is utterly horrific. Local Authorities have little power over ‘academy’ schools (the government’s clever idea) so how are they going make them more inclusive when they are not interested in being inclusive as it ‘spoils’ their ratings? (Also the government’s idea) As for moving children back into mainstream from specialist because their needs have been met, well…not sure the government actually understands that needs don’t disappear when they are met. An autistic child does not cease to be autistic on attending a school that meets needs.

  2. Antonia

    The problem is the waiting list for CAMHS, but also being accepted into CAMHS. I am on my 4th attempt to get on the waiting list, the doctors fail to send In referral, the mainstream school are il equipped to send the relevant information for referral to be accepted. If the children had proper diagnosis the mainstream school would at least have the correct information to then provide the correct support!!