Election 2024

SEND crisis must be ‘first order issue’ for new government

Labour has inherited a system on its knees with councils facing bankruptcy, parents forced into court and schools crying out for resources

Labour has inherited a system on its knees with councils facing bankruptcy, parents forced into court and schools crying out for resources

Sorting out the crisis in special educational needs (SEND) provision and funding is a “first-order issue” for the new government, experts have said.

Sir Keir Starmer and Bridget Phillipson have inherited a system on its knees, with councils facing bankruptcy, parents forced into court to secure support for their children and schools crying out for more resources.

Labour has said little about what it will do. Its manifesto pledged a “community-wide approach” to SEND, improving “inclusivity and expertise in mainstream schools, as well as ensuring special schools cater to those with the most complex needs”.

The Department for Education today announced a restructure to place responsibility for SEND and AP within its schools group “to ensure that we deliver improvements to inclusion within mainstream schools”.

Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said SEND was among the “first-order issues that will affect school resources and put pressure on school budgets”.

“Trying to work out how to develop a system that meets children’s needs and is financially sustainable would be a good thing to do,” he added.

“It’s clearly not functioning well at the moment, and they need to be thinking carefully about how to redesign the system.”

Ticking time bomb of council deficits

One quick fix enacted by the previous government was an override allowing councils to keep their high needs deficits off their main balance sheets until April 2026, preventing them from going bankrupt.

Jo Hutchinson
Jo Hutchinson

Jo Hutchinson, director of SEND and additional needs at the Education Policy Institute, said incoming ministers “could protect children’s provision in the short term” by extending that override.

Deficits now sit at £1.6 billion. Hutchinson added that “the prospect of deficits being added to main council budgets in 2026 is very likely to drive councils to cut essential provision for disabled children as things stand… They could even write these deficits off.”

Hilary Spencer, chief executive of the Ambition Institute, said Labour’s ambitions for SEND “will also rely on well-supported and well-trained teachers”.

She said Labour should fund the new national professional qualification for SEND “immediately” and in full.

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