Schools educating the country’s most vulnerable children must not be “robbed” of their share of the £2.3 billion funding boost, ministers were warned as new analysis suggests scores of councils did not pass on previous SEND uplifts.
The government has yet to confirm how next year’s extra cash, announced at the autumn statement, will be distributed.
Schools Week investigations have revealed how some councils seized millions of pounds in previous funding boosts, with special schools having to go with “begging bowls” or threaten legal action to get cash.
A total of £1.2 billion in extra cash this year was passed straight to mainstream schools. But £325 million allocated for special and alternative provision schools went to councils as part of their high-needs budgets.
Schools were told to “discuss” potential increases with councils. But Schools Week revealed last week how two cash-strapped local authorities had kept up to £4.3 million.
New analysis by SEND specialist Matthew Keer suggests that around 40 councils (just over 25 per cent) did not increase top-up funding for special schools this year, despite the funding boost.
Senior sector leaders have called it a “great robbery”.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive at the Confederation of School Trusts, has now raised the issue with senior officials at the Department for Education (DfE).
Funding must go ‘directly’ to special schools
It was “very important” the funding goes “directly” to special schools, alternative provision and specialist settings, she said.
“We cannot have a rerun” of councils being given “the discretion about what funding (if any) that would pass on”, Cruddas added.
Government said a new minimum funding guarantee (MFG) next year will require councils to increase special schools’ top-up funding by 3 per cent.
But councils can still apply to keep the cash. Many councils are struggling with their own funding woes. Councils’ combined deficits in their dedicated schools grant funding is estimated at £1.9 billion, rising to £3.6 billion by 2025.
Louise Gittins, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said councils need “long-term sufficiency of, and certainty over, funding to support children with SEND”.
But Graham Quinn, chair at Special Schools Voice, said: “The way the system is set up means that some special schools, depending on their councils, are being robbed of funding that they need to support our children. Overhaul is urgently needed.”
Warren Carratt, chief executive of Nexus Multi-Academy Trust, said it means “the most vulnerable pupils in our society have faced the biggest real terms funding squeeze over the last decade”.
He said they need “direct, guaranteed additional funding. We can no longer be scapegoated for the mismanagement or underfunding of high needs budgets.”
DfE would not comment on the calls for funding reform. They pointed to the 3 per cent funding guarantee, adding high needs funding has increased to £9.1 billion overall this year.