Services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) could be facing a funding shortfall of more than £500 million according to new research from the Local Government Association (LGA).

An LGA survey gained responses from 73 councils (approx. half of local authorities which have SEND duties) and found these local authorities will have a total deficit of £280 million by the end of 2018/9. Scaled up across England this would indicate a national deficit of approximately £536 million. When the LGA conducted a similar survey last year the projected national deficit for 2017/8 was £267 million, just more than half the figure for 2018/9. This steep increase suggests the funding situation for SEND is under significant pressure.

Government figures indicate that the number of children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) or statements, which detail the support a child with SEND receives, has risen from 237,111 in 2013/14 to 319,819 in 2017/18, an increase of 35 per cent in five years. Meanwhile during the same period the number of children and young people educated in special schools and specialist colleges rose 24 per cent to 131,230 in 2017/8. 

The LGA ascribes the increase in demand for SEND services to a variety of factors including population growth, and the new SEND code of practice introduced in 2014 raising the expectations of parents (rightly, in the LGA’s view). LGA research finds that councils have overspent their allocated budgets for children’s SEND provision, known as the High Needs Block, in each of the last four years. Some councils have ‘topped up’ these budgets with money from general school funding.

Speaking about the funding shortfall, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said ‘We face a looming crisis in meeting the unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with special educational needs and disabilities’, adding, ‘Councils have pulled out all the stops to try and do this, but are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand.’ She urged the government to address the funding gap in the local government finance settlement, which will be announced next month, and said that the LGA are ‘keen to work with ministers to bring this about.’

The LGA announced the interim findings from their survey at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Manchester. The interim findings will be followed by a full and final report. Responding to the LGA figures, Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, said: ‘Local authorities and schools have statutory duties to support children and young people with SEND. In 2018-19, councils will receive £6 billion of funding for young people with more complex SEND – an increase from £5bn in 2013. However, we recognise that local authorities are facing cost pressures on high needs, which is why we are monitoring local authority spending decisions and keeping the overall level of funding under review. As part of this, we will be very interested to see the LGA’s final report.’

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