Ministers are concerned about the “continuing drift” of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities into special schools and alternative provision, it has been revealed.

According to documents published today, the government fears decisions about the education of SEND pupils are being taken “primarily to avoid financial pressures from falling on a particular institution, by transferring costs elsewhere”.

There are also concerns about “disproportionate pressure falling on some mainstream schools and colleges, especially if they get a reputation for providing good SEN support”.

The Department for Education has published a call for evidence on SEND funding, which the education secretary will officially launch at the National Association of Head Teachers’ annual conference in Telford this afternoon.

It comes after ministers acknowledged “perverse incentives” in the current funding system, particularly around the current set-up whereby schools have to fund the first £6,000 of high needs provision themselves. School leaders have also voiced concerns about moves by councils to top-slice funding for SEND from mainstream budgets.

The call for evidence document sets out what the government wants to know from schools about provision, but also the issues that ministers think exist in the system.

The document reveals concerns about the movement of pupils out of mainstream schools “which is raising overall costs to the system without improving the outcomes for children”, and warns of the impact on small schools which “cannot easily manage exceptional costs within their budget.”

The DfE also warned of an over-emphasis on securing an education, health and care plan to “guarantee a particular level of financial support, rather than on making the special educational provision necessary to meet the needs of the child, with or without an EHC plan”.

It follows concerns in the sector that rapid increases in the number of EHCPs issued in recent years has in part been driven by cost pressures. Pupils with EHCPs receive more funding than those who don’t.

But the consultation will not address what most headteachers see as the elephant in the room – the overall lack of funding in the system.

“This call for evidence is not directly about how much funding is needed or about the statutory processes for meeting complex needs,” the document states.

“Rather, it is intended to focus on understanding how current funding is distributed, including how it enables mainstream schools to make provision for their pupils with additional needs, and on improvements that could be taken forward in future.”