NAHT demands immediate high-needs cash injection

A leading union has demanded better funding for high-needs pupils after the number of children with special needs increased by 21 per cent in just three years.

The issue of high-needs funding will be at the top of the agenda at the NAHT’s conference this weekend, after the number of pupils with statements of special educational needs (SEND) or education and health care plans (EHCP) rose by over 50,000 between 2014 and 2017.

NAHT members and local authorities have reported “increasing pressure on the high-needs budget”. Top-up funding – used to meet individual needs of pupils with complex SEND – is being cut in mainstream and special schools, and councils have had their right to top-slice school budgets in order to offset deficits in high-needs funding curtailed.

“Children with the highest levels of need are paying the biggest price for the government’s real-terms cuts to education,” said Valentine Mulholland, NAHT’s head of policy. “The system is now under unsustainable pressure. This makes it harder for mainstream settings to be inclusive.”

There was a five-per-cent increase in the number of SEND pupils moving from mainstream to specialist provision between 2010 and 2017. Although primary school numbers remained stable, in secondary schools, the number of pupils with an EHCP has fallen from 28.8 per cent of pupils to 22.2 per cent.

This, NAHT says, has “additional cost implications”, as specialist provision does not receive the same amount of money as mainstream schools.

At the same time, there has been a 19-per-cent increase in the number of SEND pupils attending independent special schools during the same period. This costs more money because independent schools often support pupils with the most complex needs.

NAHT warned that real-terms cuts to school funding since April 2015 have had a “significant impact” on the education of pupils with high needs, with money being “stretched” to cover pay increases for staff, the apprenticeship levy, increases in employer costs including national insurance and pensions and a £600 million cut to the local authority education services grant.

The school leaders’ union acknowledged the government has made £1.3 billion available to schools for two years from April 2018, including £140 million for high needs, but warned this continues to present a real-terms cut to school budgets.

It also notes an increase in the number of SEND children and young people being home educated, from 3,305 in 2010 to 8,304 in 2017, with half of these (4,050) awaiting specialist provision.

However, the Department for Education insisted this was “misleading” as the figure for “awaiting provision” had increased alongside the overall number of EHCPs and included young people aged 19-25, and said the high needs budget is the “highest it’s ever been”.

A spokesperson added: “We want every child to have the support they need to unlock their potential, whatever their background and no matter what challenges they face – which is why we have undertaken the biggest reforms in a generation, introducing new Education, Health and Care plans which put children and young people with special educational needs at the heart of the process.”

Paul Whiteman, the union’s general secretary, said the analysis “provides clear evidence” of increased pressure on costs per pupil and increased demand for support for children with special needs.

“The chancellor must recognise the growing shortfall if we are to avoid our most vulnerable pupils missing out on the education that can allow them to realise their potential,” he said.