Special needs funding plan shown to be ‘unreliable’

The government’s proposed new way of funding early education for children with special educational needs will fail to distribute resources adequately and result in some being “turned away”,  an expert claims.

A Department for Education (DfE) consultation on changes to how free childcare and early education for three and four-year-olds is funded, including a new national funding formula, concludes on September 22.

It is part of the government’s ongoing plan to change funding distributions, but the plans highlight the difficulty of ascertaining the needs of some children.

The proposals use Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimed by parents and carers of children up to five as part of a basket of indirect “proxy” measures for those with special needs (SEND). Funding for early years in an area will be triggered based on this proxy. But education consultant Barney Angliss said the proposal was “very unreliable”.

Mr Angliss, a SEND consultant and director of the website SpecialNeedsJungle, analysed recent DfE data on SEND provision in primary schools to uncover the number of pupils in an area with an educational need. He then compared it with the rate of DLA claims in each area.

A “poor correlation” suggested the proxy was a poor indicator for levels of SEND in any area.

His research also revealed that inner London would fare worst on the DLA measure. On average, its boroughs ranked 36th for levels of  SEND in primary schools out of 149 LAs covered in the data, but 97th using the proposed DLA proxy measure.

In outer London, Hounslow is in the top 10 nationally for levels of SEND during the primary school years, but the new formula would place it 121st.
Angliss said: “The DfE will say the amount of money triggered in the formula for special needs is a tiny proportion of the total allocation to each local authority. But to early years providers and parents, that makes it all the more important that the proxy measure reflects the reality of special needs in each locality.”

He was surprised the DfE had not used its own data on SEND in primary schools to develop the new formula. “We know that claiming DLA for a pre-schooler is difficult for most parents as they don’t have a lot of professional evidence to guide them. Many are also parents for the first time and know nothing about the process, so these numbers are not representative.”

Some children with additional needs would be “turned away because the formula does not distribute resources where they are needed”, he added. Dr Julian Grenier, head of Sheringham nursery school and children’s centre in Newham, east London, called the findings “extremely worrying”.
He said research by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools and Classes showed maintained nursery schools had “very high number of children on roll with SEND.

“The new formula already risks endangering the future of those maintained nursery schools, and if the planned method of allocating funds for children with SEND is flawed, that will only worsen the situation.”

Kathryn Stinton, an early tears teacher and trainer, said that she shared Angliss’s concerns. “Many parents do not claim DLA because they are not informed of their entitlement and the benefit isn’t means-tested.”

She said schools had a vested interest in ensuring additional funding was available to early years settings, because with “appropriate local systems, children can start school with education, health and care plans in place as well as interventions and advice from a range of professionals”.

A DfE spokesperson said the proposed changes would “transform” the funding and “deliver a better deal.

“We will carefully consider all the responses to this consultation once it has closed.”

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