A central government funding boost of £700m for education for children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) has been met with scepticism and uncertainty by both local campaigners and the Town Hall.
The money, alongside a review of provision for children with SEND since the Children and Families Act came into force in 2014, has been promised by education secretary Gavin Williamson as part of a drive “to make sure these children can access the education that is right for them”.
However, campaigners for Hackney Special Education Crisis, who recently took part in co-ordinated action across the country alongside the borough’s top councillors to protest the funding deficit for SEND provision, are now warning that there is no certainty the money will result in the necessary change.
A spokesperson for Hackney Special Education Crisis (HSEC) said: “We welcome the funding but very much doubt pupils with SEND in Hackney will see a penny.
“It makes little difference to pupils in Hackney who have seen their in-class teaching assistant support cut and children who still have no school place because their Educational Health and Care Plans are underfunded.
“The deficits are not due to profligacy or ‘overspending’. This money will barely plug the yawning funding gap and will do little to reverse savage SEND cuts in recent years. It is a standstill position.
“Worryingly it is still unclear whether the money will be ring fenced for SEND or added to the general schools funding block where it will quickly vanish among the massive competing demands on underfunded schools.
“What is clear is that thanks to parent-led campaign groups like ours around the country, Government is no longer able to deny the SEND Crisis, a crisis that continues to scandalously fail disabled pupils in Hackney and beyond.”
HSEC went on to say that findings from a recent National Audit Office report into the 2014 SEND reforms had “added insult to injury” for parents, criticising the government for not fully assessing the impact or cost the changes would bring.
The Children and Families Act extended the special educational needs system to young people up to the age of 25 and introduced an Education, Health & Care (EHC) plan, a council-assessed legal document entitling a young person to extra help so they can access education or training.
However, campaigners have repeatedly called for the correct funding to have been put in place alongside the extension of EHC plan provision, with local authorities facing a high-needs SEND gap of £1.6bn over the next two years, according to ISOS partnership figures.
The NAO report estimates that the Department for Education (DfE) gave councils £9.4bn in SEND support in 2018-19, or just under a quarter of their core grant for schools.
However, while funding has increased, the number of pupils identified as having the greatest need has also risen by 10 per cent between 2013-14 and 2017-18, with per pupil funding dropping by 2.6 per cent in real terms for those with high needs, and also decreasing for those without EHC plans.
The NAO is now recommending that the government should assess how much it would cost to provide the system for supporting pupils with SEND created by the 2014 reforms, and thus to determine whether it is affordable.
Cllr Chris Kennedy (Lab, Hackney Wick), cabinet member for families, early years and play, said: “While additional SEND funding is welcome, and will help the council reduce some of the cost pressures on local services, it’s disappointing that the government’s announcement only covers around half of the reported £1.2-1.6bn nationwide deficit for SEND.
“The additional funding is also guaranteed only for next year, offering no certainty beyond that for the young people who rely on this vital support.
“As part of the Government’s welcome nationwide review of SEND services, we will be demanding that they provide long-term funding.
“The Government is yet to announce allocations for individual councils, which we expect some time in October.”