The government has announced several million pounds of special educational needs (SEND) funding to help councils move to the new system of education and health care (EHC) plans, admitting there are still “remaining challenges” in delivering the changes.
Edward Timpson, minister for vulnerable children and families, has confirmed that £40 million will be available to councils from April – an increase of £4.2 million on their budget this year – to smooth the transition to new statements, brought in more than two years ago.
Schools Week has previously reported the number of pupils who receive timely EHC plans varies significantly between local authorities. Without an EHC plan, a pupil may not be able to access additional school support such as a teaching assistant or altered curriculum.
The pot for local authorities makes up two-thirds of the £60 million package announced yesterday, intended to support children with special educational needs.
Timpson said the wide-ranging SEND reforms announced in 2014 had been “the most significant” for SEND children “in a generation” but challenges remained in their implementation.
“As we enter the final year of the transition, I know there are still challenges to overcome, to ensure that the inspiring work going on in many parts of the country is shared with areas where improvements still need to be made.
“That’s why I’m delighted to be able to confirm this additional funding for councils and for the groups playing such a vital role in supporting children with SEND. All children, no matter the obstacles they face, should have the same opportunities for success as any other.”
But Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) children and young people’s board, said the increase in funding would only go “some way” to allowing councils to support families further – adding other government proposals, such as changes to higher needs funding, could undercut progress.
“Councils are doing all that they can to make sure children with SEND get the support and opportunities they need to flourish, but are experiencing increasing demand for all services, while trying to implement significantly underfunded reforms that were set out in the  Children and Families Act.
“Proposed changes to schools and high needs funding could also make this problem even worse, taking away the freedom for councils to top up high needs funding from other budgets if necessary.”
The £60 million funding announcement also includes £15 million for the Independent Supporters programme.
Families seeking an EHC plan assessment are meant to be able to access an “independent supporter” to navigate the process. The role is overseen by the special needs charity, the Council for Disabled Children, which has worked with the government on SEND reforms.
Schools Week has previously highlighted large differences between councils in how many requests for EHC plan assessments are being completed on time, leading to accusations of a “postcode lottery” from solicitors.
Another £2.3 million was also announced for parent-carer forums, so as to “provide a voice to influence local decision-making”.
I know there are still challenges to overcome
Councils are now inspected by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on the quality of their “local offer”, ranging across schools, voluntary organisations, social and health care services, for special educational needs children. Parents are encouraged to give their view for these inspections.
And a final £1.8 million has been put aside for Contact a Family, a national charity for families with disabled children which can provide advice and support via a telephone helpline.
The announcement also follows a review published by former Conservative MP and special educational needs adviser, Lee Scott, in November last year which found reductions in council funding had led some to build up cash reserves while cutting SEND provision.
Schools Week has also reported claims that councils can be reluctant to fund assessments beyond basic diagnoses because of the additional costs of treatment this could then trigger.