Special schools are having to take “begging bowls” to councils who are refusing to handover hundreds of thousands of funding allocated to cover taxation hikes.
The autumn spending review confirmed £1.6 billion for schools to cover increased employment costs behind the Health and Social Care Levy “and wider cost pressures”. The levy aims to raise £12 billion each year to help tackle Covid backlogs.
Mainstream schools will receive the £1.2 billion Schools Supplementary Grant (SSG) directly.
But the £325 million funding increase allocated for special and alternative provision schools goes to councils as part of their high needs budget – with these schools told to “discuss” potential increases with their local authority.
Schools Week understands special schools in at least 15 councils have been told the SSG funding would not be passed on.
Susan Douglas, chief executive of The Eden Academy Trust, estimates its four schools in Hillingdon – which she says is refusing to pass on the cash – will lose around £400,000.
Meanwhile Dudley council said it would decide whether to pass on cash based on the size of individual school’s surpluses and their staff salaries.
As the government is using top-up funding to cover taxation increase, Douglas said “councils have a moral and legal obligation to pass that on in full”.
Hillingdon Council did not respond to requests for comment.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), warned special school’s ability to support children is “directly impacted” when LAs do not pass on the money.
CST has challenged the government over councils holding on to the cash as they “don’t think that’s acceptable because of the policy intention behind SSG”.
The Department for Education would only say it is for “each local authority to allocate that money locally, just as LAs allocate the rest of their high needs budget”.
Schools resort to legal action amid postcode lottery
Douglas said the trust is now considering legal action.
Warren Carratt, chief executive of Nexus Multi-Academy Trust, told Schools Week it had spent thousands of pounds on lawyers to secure the funding from Rotherham and Doncaster councils after they initially indicated they were “unwilling to do so”.
“You’ve got the most vulnerable kids who have been given no guarantees and their headteachers have to go with a begging bowl to the LAs,” he said.
Lawyers for Stone King say they have “worked successfully” to ensure such schools get their full SSG. They have drawn up an advice pack for schools to challenge the refusals.
As special schools have a high staff to pupil ratio they are “disproportionately” affected by increases in staffing costs, Douglas said.
Carratt said he would have been forced to make “workforce reductions” without the money. He added that different councils taking different approaches meant a “postcode lottery” for schools.
In contrast, Sheffield council agreed to pass on the money immediately, he said. The council said it had agreed to a 5 per cent funding increase per pupil for all its special schools.
There are also differences in the amount of SSG being passed on by councils – with some providing a partial sum.
The Health and Social Care Levy will come into effect from next month – but many special and AP schools are still unaware if they will receive any extra funding.
A survey of over 120 schools from the National Network of Special Schools (NNoSS) this month found two thirds were yet to receive communication from their LA on the funding for their setting.
Respondents voiced frustrations that they were “seen as an afterthought” and they “must fight for money”.
But cash-strapped councils are also facing their own funding struggles. It is estimated they have a combined £2.3 billion in high needs funding deficits.
Leeds, North Yorkshire and Dudley councils have said no formal decision has yet been made on how the extra cash will be spent.
But Dudley said cash would be distributed on a “case-by-case basis” which would take the size of a school’s reserves and its staff salary levels into account.
Dudley’s chief executive Kevin O’Keefe was paid £176,000 last year.
In a letter to the education committee, Eden and Nexus trusts asked it to pick up the issue and challenge education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to issue “clearer guidance” on how the SSG should be calculated.
They also want a direction that the funding is passed as a “lump sum payment”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the mainstream grant would be rolled into the National Funding Formula next year, but provided no clarity for special and AP schools.