SEND in 2020

According to the media Mr Johnson has just returned from his holiday in Mustique to be faced with the death of an Iranian general, the likely expulsion of British troops from Iraq, imminent decisions on the HS2 review and the Heathrow expansion by means of a new runway, and numerous other calls upon the government’s attention and the tax payers cash. Buried within the in-trays is the burgeoning crisis in SEND, evidenced by any body of statistical evidence that the reader cares to review.

An excellent pithy overview of the SEND system, its funding and the key findings of various investigations and reports can be found here: Special Educational Needs Support in England House of Commons Briefing Paper 2nd October 2019 a document in that excellent series of documents which find their way into the House of Commons library, for the education and edification of our legislators.

Immediately one is struck by the increase in appeals over the course of the last 3 years, with what constitutes an exponential leap in terms of the numbers of appeals running to a hearing :

SEND Tribunals
1 September to 31 August of each year, England
                                          Number of Cases     Cases decided in favour of appellant     Proportion of cases decided in favour of appellant
2011/12                             823                            564                                                              69%
2012/13                             808                            682                                                              84%
2013/14                             797                            660                                                              83%
2014/15                             788                            680                                                              86%
2015/16                             883                           780                                                               88%
2016/17                             1,599                        1,418                                                            89%
2017/18                             2,298                        2,035                                                            89%
% change over period                                       +179%                                                         +261%

This follows against the backdrop of a National Audit Office report published in September 2019 which was noted by the House of Commons paper as follows:

The report presented a range of findings about increased demand and the ability of the SEN support system to meet it. It concluded that the “system for supporting pupils with SEND is not, on current trends, financially sustainable”:

Many local authorities are failing to live within their high-needs budgets and meet the demand for support. Pressures – such as incentives for mainstream schools to be less inclusive, increased demand for special school places, growing use of independent schools and reductions in per-pupil funding – are making the system less, rather than more, sustainable. The Department needs
to act urgently to secure the improvements in quality and sustainability that are needed to achieve value for money.

Although the government might suggest that more money than ever before is being placed into SEND, the problem is that any increase in absolute terms is meaningless, unless measured against demand:

The Department has increased school funding, particularly for high needs, but funding has not kept pace with the rise in the number of pupils. The report stated:

Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the Department increased high-needs block funding by £349 million (7.2%) in real terms. This rise was larger than the 2.3% real-terms increase in schools block funding for mainstream schools, meaning that the Department has shifted the balance of funding towards high needs. However, because of a 10.0% rise in the number of pupils in special schools and those with EHC plans in mainstream schools, high-needs funding per pupil fell by 2.6% in real terms, from £19,600 to £19,100. Per-pupil funding in the schools block also reduced over the same period, despite a £754 million real terms increase in total funding.

Accordingly the rise in appeals being made, progressed and ultimately won by parents is readily explicable by the shortage of resource generally in the system: whilst a school is under a qualified statutory duty to make SEP for pupils with SEN, a local authority is under an absolute duty to make provision once need has been identified. An EHC Plan then becomes a golden ticket for the concerned parents of a child with SEN. But the effect of their striving is to turn the EHC Plan system into a life boat for children with SEN, rather than simply being that part of the system with particular application for children with more significant and enduring needs, for whom it is “necessary” to make provision that schools can’t reasonably be expected to provide from their own budgets.

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