It's time to deliver a better future of SEND funding

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Children have made huge sacrifices during the pandemic, experiencing enormous disruption to their education and missing out on quality time with their friends and families. For young people, this has also meant missing out on exams and many opportunities that begin preparing them for the next stage of their life, like work experience and college visits.

For children and young people with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND), the effects of the pandemic have impacted both their care and education. Many services that families relied on, such as therapies and/or daytime short break services were unavailable and those that were still open, offered fewer places in order to meet social distancing guidelines.

Support for SEND

The £1.4bn announced for education recovery works has been hugely disappointing. The package breaks down to the equivalent of £50 extra per pupil per year and will largely be spent on tutoring to make up for lost learning. This simply doesn’t go far enough or consider the resources required for those with complex needs. There should be more in the way of extra resources, to help make up for lost holiday clubs and extra-curricular activities where children, especially those with SEND, are able to boost their broader social skills and utilise these skills in different contexts.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have concluded that children with SEND have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Having experienced missed and narrowed education, an absence of essential services and long waiting times for assessment and treatment. Without ringfencing funds and resources for children and young people with SEND, there is a fear that this additional funding could be swallowed up into aspects such as supply cover for when teachers are required to self-isolate.

Over a million children are currently registered as having special educational needs in England. The disruption, fear and social isolation experienced during the pandemic will undoubtedly lead to concerns from an increasing number of parents and guardians. Deteriorating mental health and emotional well-being, coupled with the challenges children face reintegrating, will likely lead to more children being identified as having needs and an increase in demand for SEND services. It may be the case that more children will exhibit challenging behaviours, as they struggle to come to terms with the new rules and routines and changes to the school environment, trying to make sense of how they fit in.

A need for long-term funding

For local authorities, this puts added pressure on their children’s services, which will see an influx of schools pushing for amends to education, health and care (EHC) plans. The strain on case workers will be significant; not only will they be responsible for creating brand new EHC plans, but they will also have to manage and review existing plans where the child or young person’s needs have changed considerably. Although the Department for Education has announced a funding boost for local authorities to support children with SEND, this is intended to be used by councils to create new places in schools, academies, colleges and early years settings. What it doesn’t consider is the staffing numbers and resources required to ensure EHC plans are accurate, up to date and tracking outcomes within the local authority itself.

The current system is increasingly focused on the most urgent cases. For children to have access to the additional resources and support they require, it will be important for schools and local authorities to have tools in place that can demonstrate a change in need. One that captures the needs of that child or young person, allocates top-up funding fairly and accurately and can monitor changes in need over time.

Life after lockdown

We don’t know what the ‘new normal’ will be yet. For some children with SEND, home learning has opened up additional opportunities, as the classroom environment is no longer a barrier and learning can take place flexibly. For others, it has been hugely detrimental as they have not received specialist support at the right time, which has resulted in regression on the progress they’ve worked hard to achieve in their physical or social skills.

The pandemic has disrupted education for all students, but it’s also opened up the disadvantage gap between children with EHC plans and their peers. We mustn’t lose sight of the disparities highlighted over the last 16-months! Now more than ever there is a need for a wider conversation around how local authorities, schools and third sector providers can work together and fund the delivery of better outcomes for children with SEND.

Around 430,000 children and young people already have an EHC plan, and the demand of additional SEND support is set to rise. Sufficient high needs funding needs to be available to support children and young people as they move through the social care system. The current SEND review provides an ideal opportunity to ensure this is in place and enables them to achieve the best possible outcomes and live independent lives.