21st November 2022
Councils Seized Millions of Pounds Designated for Special Schools
Special schools are being denied funding that instead is being passed on to their mainstream counterparts.
Schools Week has found at least two councils that have kept up to £4.3 million of additional high-needs funding this year, which means that special schools are being denied extra cash that is being passed on to their mainstream counterparts instead. Others councils have said they were still in talks with schools.
A government spending review in 2021 promised £1.6 billion extra for schools to cover increased running costs. £1.2 billion was passed to mainstream schools directly under the Schools Supplementary Grant (SSG). However. the £325 million funding increase allocated for special and alternative provision schools goes to councils as part of their high-needs budget. These schools were told to “discuss” potential increases with their local authority.
In an attempt to resolve this, ministers will introduce a minimum funding guarantee (MFG) that will require councils to increase special schools’ top-up funding by 3% in 2023-24.
Councils can keep the cash
The government has agreed that councils can ask to keep the cash to plug black holes, diverting the funding from special schools.
Rob Williams, a senior policy adviser at the leaders’ union NAHT, said this was a “shameful and indefensible decision and shows that this government does not appear to prioritise the needs of our most vulnerable pupils. Instead, they seem content to see local authorities use funding that should be used for SEND support and provision, be redirected to plug a local deficit.”
Special schools are suffering
Chair of Special School Voice, Graham Quinn said budgets in real terms have fallen 25%-30% since 2014. Special schools have been hardest hit by unfunded pay rises as their pupils’ additional needs generally mean staffing costs make up a larger part of their budgets. He said it was “totally untenable and unacceptable”, that schools have had to close hydrotherapy pools, reduce holiday provision and compromise their statutory objectives to deliver education, health and care plans.
Kirklees Council kept its £2.4 million “in order to maintain levels of funding for 2022-23”. The council has a dedicated schools grant (DSG) deficit of more than £30 million and is on the government’s “safety-valve” programme, where it is given a bail-out in exchange for cutting costs. A spokesperson said there was “no expectation through discussions” with the Education and Skills Funding Agency that the additional cash had to be passed on.
Funding postcode lottery
Schools Week has revealed that one academy trust, (which wished to remain anonymous), sent a letter to three local authorities as they did not pass any extra funding on to schools. The councils then agreed to a 4% rise.
Decisions also show a postcode lottery. In Salford, just 12% of £1.9 million was passed on to special schools. In Doncaster, special schools top-up rates increased by 4% for 2022-23. Croydon increased top-up funding by 5%.
Responding to Schools Week, the government said that councils could still request the secretary of state’s permission to exclude some or all of their schools from the top-up funding requirement. No decisions relating to next year had been made yet.
Julia Harden, a funding specialist at heads’ union ASCL, said "The underlying problem is that the government is not providing enough money to support children with special educational needs, and the complexities of different funding pots is a case of shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. Special schools and the young people they serve deserve better.”
DfE said it is “committed to providing a world-class education system for all children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, which is why we have increased high needs funding to £9.1 billion overall this year”.