Local councils across the UK face a £600 million shortfall in SEN funding, according to research by Schools Week.
The sum needs to be found by 2025 to shore up the UK’s SEN budget, which some in teaching have called unsustainable. The increase in demand for funding is due to an unprecedented rise in pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities.
The research found that a large number of councils are discussing using money from other education funding allocations to make up shortfalls in SEN funding. Some headteachers describe the situation as a ‘time bomb’ for vulnerable children, warning that job losses are inescapable.
The director of education at the National Education Trust and former deputy head of special school, Simon Knight commented:
“The ongoing financial pressure being faced by the high-needs’ funding block across the country, coupled with the Department for Education’s (DfE) own predicted increase in demand for places in specialist settings, is having a hugely detrimental impact on some of society’s most vulnerable young people.”
The DfE is currently spending £5.3 billion a year on local authority provision for SEN pupils, which includes children with learning difficulties and serious physical disabilities in mainstream and special schools.
The funding accounts for current SEN pupil number of 7.3 million in the UK, but government analysis projects this number could rise to 8.1 million by 2025. An extra £600 million will need to be available in the next decade, to fund a total of affected pupils proportionate to these figures.
A spokesperson from the DfE has said changes to schools funding formulas would mean that SEN funding, which the government categorises as ‘high needs’ funding, would be distributed to councils with the greatest requirements, saying:
“[the new funding formula will help address] historic unfairness in the system, so areas with the highest need attract the most funding”.
A consultation on high-needs’ funding, published last week, said that no area would experience reductions in high-needs’ funding in the coming years and that local authorities “due to see gains on high needs” would see increases of up to 3 per cent in each of the next two academic years.