Education secretary’s call for evidence comes as it is feared people are not getting support

Damian Hinds is to call for a fresh look at educational funding for children with special needs in England, as concerns grow that schools and families are struggling to receive support.

The education secretary will make the announcement at a conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) on Friday. It comes as the Department for Education prepares its case to the Treasury for improved funding for schools as part of the spending review in autumn.

“I want to make sure we have the best understanding of how our system for funding children with high needs is operating on the ground, and whether there are improvements we can make so every pound of public money we spend is building opportunities for young people,” Hinds is to tell headteachers.

The DfE will launch a call for evidence on funding arrangements for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) that will run until the end of July.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, said he welcomed Hinds’ announcement because the funding crisis in schools could not be solved without improving support for special needs.

“Not only are school budgets at breaking point, there have been severe cuts to local authority health and social care provision. Schools are left struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils,” Whiteman said.

“But ultimately the solution is simple: more money from the Treasury is urgently needed, both for schools and health and social care services.”

The government argues funding has increased since the introduction of individual care plans for Send pupils in 2014. But the number of children requiring support is continuing to rise, while school and local authority budgets are under pressure.

In recent years, local authorities have been cutting back on special needs provision, leading to a series of legal actions by parents to secure their children’s entitlement. The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates councils in England face a Send funding gap of more than £500m this year.

The DfE’s figures show there are nearly 120,000 children with education, health and care plans (EHCP) in mainstream schools, and 112,000 are in special schools, a 24% rise in the past five years.

The headteachers’ conference in Telford will also hear how schools are struggling to find qualified staff, including ones that report being unable to fill leadership posts or recruit Send teachers.

One-third of the headteachers surveyed by the NAHT said they were struggling to replace staff due to the number of teachers leaving the profession, making retention of experienced teachers a growing concern.

Whiteman said “the facts are no longer in dispute” that teachers are leaving in increased numbers, and blamed accountability pressures, insufficient funding and real-terms cuts to teachers’ pay.

The DfE said the education secretary’s “top priority is to make sure teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession”, having launched a teacher recruitment and retention strategy.

Source: The Guardian

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