The research found a significant link between funding allocations to local areas and their level of use of specialist provision.

Historical funding arrangements are the cause of significant inequities in special educational needs funding, study shows

Significant inequities in the budgets given to local areas to fund high special educational needs are largely the result of historical spending arrangements, research shows.

Although areas with higher levels of need tend to get more money, there is considerable variation across the country, with significant differences between areas with similar levels of need, according to the research. One area with similar social disadvantage can get nearly twice as much as another, and some of the higher funded authorities are ones that have a relatively lower level of need.

The research, outlined in a new report commissioned by the national SEN Policy Research Forum, shows in upper tier shire county authorities, one local authority would need to get an extra £40 million to have the same funding as another which was demographically similar.  For London boroughs one authority would need to get an extra £30 million to have the same funding as another London authority which was demographically similar.

Report author Dr Peter Gray said: “The Government has put more money into high needs over the last three years but has not taken the opportunity to address these inequities properly.”

Funding for high needs comes to local authority areas as part of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). It is expected to cover educational provision and services for pupils with more complex/significant special educational needs. It includes funding for special schools, alternative provision and mainstream resource bases, as well as additional support for those who are educated in their local mainstream school.

Demands for high needs funding have risen significantly over the last few years and many authorities have been reporting substantial overspends. The Government has invested more money in this area over the last three years which has helped address this issue but spend continues to grow.

Dr Gray said: “Evidence shows that a wide range of authorities have overspends, not just those with lower levels of funding. The Government expects all local areas to manage within their budgets but no account is being taken of how well or badly they are funded in the first place. They have recently agreed to cover the deficits in the top five overspending areas. Our evidence shows that some of these are already relatively well-funded compared to other similar authorities. There is limited incentive for other authorities to manage their deficits when they see this happening.”

The research paper was carried out by Dr Alan Marsh, Dr Peter Gray and Professor Brahm Norwich from the University of Exeter. The researchers analysed high needs funding given to all local authority areas in England and compared this to their levels of social disadvantage. Figures for individual local authorities have been kept confidential.

Dr Marsh said: “Our research shows that, despite extra money coming into the system, funding is still largely determined by history, by the amount of money local authorities were spending on high needs when the DSG was first created over 10 years ago”.

The research also found a significant link between funding allocations to local areas and their level of use of specialist provision. Authorities that were relatively well-funded historically tended to have a higher percentage of pupils in special schools or resource bases.

Dr Gray said: “the level of use of specialist provision in England is affected by local policy and practice. However, more inclusive local authorities should not be disadvantaged by having less money to meet pupil needs.”

The publication of the report of the Government’s national SEND review, originally expected in Spring 2021, has been delayed until the Autumn.

A recent review of international research on the impact of mainstream education on pupils with SEN and their ordinary peers, also carried out by members of the SEN Policy Research Forum, indicates generally positive effects, particularly on those with more moderate needs. And yet national evidence is showing a significant rise in numbers of specialist placements, along with escalating budget demands. “The Government needs a much clearer policy on this issue”, argues Professor Norwich.

Summaries of the two research reports referred to in this release can be found on the SEN Policy Research Forum website:  https://senpolicyresearchforum.co.uk/past-policy-papers/

Date: 9 August 2021

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