Election 2024

SEND: EPI criticises ‘lack of urgency’ on ‘most pressing’ issue

Think tank calls for funding review and for budgets to be 'grounded in the level of need'

Think tank calls for funding review and for budgets to be 'grounded in the level of need'

The crisis in SEND support is the “most pressing” school funding concern, a think tank has warned, as it decried a “lack of urgency” from political parties on the issue.

The Education Policy Institute warned that “schools, local authorities, and some of our most vulnerable children are at risk if the current situation is not addressed”.

Schools Week has documented the growing crisis, with councils on the verge of bankruptcy, parents having to fight in court for promised support and vulnerable children waiting years for help.

But the manifestos of the two main political parties contained little detail about what they would do to resolve the problems if they are elected on July. The Conservatives have pledged new special schools, and Labour plans a “community-wide approach”.

In new analysis of the manifestos, the EPI warned funding for pupils with SEND had “struggled to meet needs” in the face of rising demand for education, health and care plans.

Budget should be ‘grounded in level of need’

“The…most pressing concern, is that of high needs funding, for pupils with acute special educational needs.

“Commitments from the main parties are again limited, or do not set out what they will achieve and how they will do it.”

They said whoever forms the next government “must review funding for special educational need including how funding is allocated”.

The high needs budget “should be grounded in the level of need across the population and the true cost of provision to address those needs”.

The current system “does neither and therefore creates substantial financial instability.

“In addition, the government must take action to increase capacity within state-funded special schools and address the high cost associated with private provision to reduce the cost of providing places.”

The think tank also warned of “disparities in provision for those with special educational needs and disabilities, the most significant factor in whether a given child is recorded as having SEND is the primary school they attend”.

Two thirds of the total variation is “accounted for not by any individual facts about a child but by which school they attend”.

“Individual child-level factors that influence SEND identification include deprivation and there is some evidence of the rationing of SEND support to relatively less deprived children living within more deprived areas.”

Recruitment challenges are “even more acute in disadvantaged, special, and alternative schools”.

Special and alternative schools have 0.9 vacancies per 100 teachers, “almost double that of all state-funded schools”, and have higher rates of posts being filled on a temporary basis.

Private school influx ‘unlikely to be significant challenge’

An influx of pupils into state schools resulting from Labour’s tax plans is “unlikely to represent a significant challenge to the system”, the EPI has said.

The think tank pointed to Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis suggesting that between 20,000 and 40,000 pupils are likely to move into the state sector once VAT is levied on school fees.

But “fluctuations of this scale are not unusual in the state-sector. Taken with the expected fall in pupil numbers over the coming parliament, the move of pupils into the state-sector is unlikely to represent a significant challenge to the system.”

The EPI compared the scale of change in pupil numbers predicted by the IfS with “historic and projected changes in the pupil population in state-funded schools in England”.

However, it noted that these were “numbers at a whole system level and may not fully reflect all local circumstances”.

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