This is a very brief consideration of the ‘Research on funding for young people with special educational needs’ (DfE July 2015)
Having read through the Executive Summary, (the entire document is over 150 pages long and will need some time to consider in detail), this appears to be a thorough and considered report which reflects the complexity of the existing funding context and the challenges faced in trying to address the issues within.
In a week where we have also seen Nick Gibb initiate a review into the assessment of children operating at a level below the National Curriculum tests, it is heartening to see another area of significant complexity relating to the education of children with special educational needs being given careful consideration. Perhaps we are moving into a period of greater consideration by policy makers.
So here are some hurried thoughts which may or may not be amended at a later date:
- The acknowledgement that funding should reflect the current need rather than historic funding levels is gratefully received. This is an essential change if we are to be able to successfully meet the increasing pupil numbers and increasing complexity of need being seen in schools, both mainstream and special.
- As with many other education issues, the report acknowledges that the best schools make a complex and challenging system work well for them. We need to be sure that changes in funding will lead to improvements in quality of opportunity and that some form of impact evaluation is conducted following any changes to the funding system.
- There is recognition that school capability affects the distribution of funding, leading to some schools being rewarded for being less willing or less effective. We need greater equity of funding so that highly effective schools who meet need successfully are not financially penalised for doing so and that under performing schools are not funded disproportionately without the returns.
- The suggestion about modelling the use of the DLA claiming measure as an additional factor within the funding formula is concerning. If I have understood this correctly, it has the potential to make the DLA assessment process an even more high stakes one if the outcomes are to influence educational funding and would require highly skilled and educationally informed staff to make the assessment using the DLA criteria. There is also the issue of conflating the complexity of need within the home and the complexity of need within the school. The two do not always correlate.
- There is clear recognition within the report of the complexity of the current system and the variability of implementation both with and across Local Authorities. This is problematic for schools in seeking funding equity when serving more than one LA, so very encouraging that it is being identified as an area in need of consideration.
- I’d be interested to find out more about why the idea of a notional SEN budget for early years settings has been dismissed. I’d also be interested to know what proportion of those families whose children have additional needs are able to take up their entitlement to ‘free’ sessions at age two or three. If, as I suspect, the uptake is low, then adequately funding early years settings to be able to meet the needs of children with SEN is vital and I have concerns about whether local solutions alone would do this effectively. The recommendations around this could be stronger in my opinion.
- The points about the increasing pressure on special school places are well made and reflect something I have longed wished for which is a better strategic plan for meeting the changing need within localities. The call for a ‘more explicit process for accessing capital funding to develop new SEN provision’ is vital if we are to be able to better meet the needs of those looking to access provision of that type.
So to summarise, the report seems to be reflecting, which I suspect those of us working with children with SEN have known for some time, that the variation in both the processes and the funding itself is too great. That the systems lack transparency and are far too vulnerable to local interpretation. That there is a real need for reform, but a reform which is carefully considered, nuanced and informed by the views of pupils, families and those who work with them. Overall I am heartened by what I have read, but as I said at the top, this is based on the Executive Summary, so please allow me the luxury of a volte-face if need be once I have digested the detail.
The full report can be found here:
All comments gratefully received, especially if they add clarity and accuracy to this admittedly potted summary.