Local authority budget cuts affects SEND provision the most

Ofsted has published a report into the ways in which schools are dealing with funding pressures and Amanda Spielman has published her commentary.

It finds that school funding is not historically low, but has decreased in recent years, and costs have risen.

It finds that most of the reduction in spending comes from cuts to local authority (LA) budgets, which have had a significant impact on schools.

One strong driver of this has been cuts to local provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

In 2017–18, more than 4 out of 5 LAs overspent their high-needs budget. This includes the money that central government gives them to fund mainstream schools to provide for pupils with particularly high needs.

Ofsted says it does not make a judgement on whether the cause of this is too little funding, overly costly provision, or a combination of both. But a driver is certainly the 35% increase in the number of pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) since 2014. This is due to a growing pupil population, raised parental expectations and changes to legislation.

Schools told Ofsted that they had reduced provision for SEND, and for pupils who receive SEND support (SEND-S) in particular. This ranged from reducing one-to-one support, to cutting their use of external services, such as educational psychology, behavioural support and alternative provision. Individual support from teaching assistants had reduced particularly starkly, though not all the people we spoke to felt this meant quality of support had suffered.

However, what the reduction in school support for pupils with SEND-S will potentially do is reinforce the view among many parents that obtaining an EHCP is the ‘golden ticket’ required for effective SEND-S. This could in turn drive further demand for EHCPs, increasing pressure on the SEND system.

As a result of the funding squeeze on LAs, schools have in some cases been asked to provide support and services they are not necessarily well equipped to provide. It is not reasonable to expect schools to be the main port of call for often highly specialised needs. Local SEND provision cannot be the responsibility of schools alone.

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