Sunday, 30 June 2013

SEN Funding reform: what difference does it make?

I am hugely indebted to a very wise parent who has written this piece for the blog on the funding reforms which affect every school.

When reading this, it is important to remember that whatever is being provided at School Action and School Action Plus level [categories which are due for abolition with the Children and Families Bill] is not legally enforceable.  Only Statements are legally binding. This makes it essential that Statements are worded unambiguously [see 'What should be in a statement?'].  Provision must be quantified and specified in terms of hours of support, staffing arrangements, therapy input, professionals involved, hours per term etc. Note further that there is no 'cap' on what amount of money is needed to fund a Statement: SEN provision is about meeting the child's individual SEN. 

SEN Funding reform: what difference does it make?


Parents of children with SEN frequently get drawn into discussions about the cost of provision for their child.  They are often assured that their child’s provision is ‘very expensive’ and that there isn’t a single child in the County who gets as much support as they do.  Other parents are told that funding ‘is not their concern’ but often feel that they are being dismissed, rather than reassured that their child’s needs will be met, whatever the cost. 

The Government has implemented a reform of schools funding, beginning in 2013.  This includes a reform of SEN funding arrangements.  Many parents are anxious to know how this ‘affects’ their child.  The short answer is: It doesn’t.  Why? Well, because parents should never have to consider the cost of meeting their child’s needs (except if they’re forced to tribunal by a Local Authority, when they’ll be expected to cost every single element.  Nice irony there).  The SEN Code of Practice makes reference to cost of provision only in terms of ‘efficient use of resources’ when provisions are compared.  In other words, if there are two provisions which are equal in suitability, the Local Authority is entitled to choose the cheapest. What they are not entitled to do is refuse to meet needs because they are expensive, or to use unsuitable provision because it is cheap.  

So, in one sense, funding is irrelevant.  However, some parents like to know the nuts and bolts of SEN provision.  To understand the new funding arrangements, it’s helpful to understand the old funding arrangements.

How was it?

Previous to the funding reform, each Local Authority could choose how it funded SEN provisions.  Some Local Authorities preferred to give a large pot of money to each school for SEN provision (known as a delegated budget), but in return, expected those schools to provide a significant amount of support to a child under School Action or School Action Plus, before approaching the Local Authority for help.  Other Local Authorities gave a smaller delegated budget to schools, but would step in and help much sooner.  This meant that in some Local Authorities, a child would be expected to have 15 or 20 hours 1:1 support, say, funded by the school, with the Local Authority topping up as necessary.  Some Local Authorities devised ‘Bandings’ and ‘SEN Matrix’ to determine if a child’s needs were sufficient for particular amounts of funding.  Other Local Authorities would divide children’s Statements of Educational Need into ‘High Incidence’ Statements and ‘Low Incidence Statements’.  They would expect High Incidence Statements (Statements where the main need was very common across the population, such as Speech and Language Needs or Moderate Learning Difficulties) to be funded by the school, out of the delegated SEN budget, and would directly fund Low Incidence Statements (Statements where the main need is uncommon across the population, such as Hearing Impairment or Visual Impairment).

Why change it?

The Government felt that this system was too complicated, too confusing and did not achieve the aim of high-quality SEN provision.

“These reforms aim to encourage the development of high-quality and innovative provision, to improve transparency, and, particularly in relation to SEN, to empower young people and their families and to increase choice.

3.1.2. To achieve this, we need a set of funding arrangements for pupils and students with high needs that is responsive to the needs of individual pupils and students, and is supported by clear information in the form of a local offer about the high needs provision available in schools, colleges and other providers. Furthermore, we must avoid perpetuating or creating potential perverse financial incentives that may prevent young people receiving the educational experience that is right for them.

3.1.3. The current funding system falls some way short of this. Since different types of providers are funded in different ways for high needs provision, the current system contains potential perverse financial incentives to place pupils and students in one type of provider over another. Furthermore, the complexity in the current funding arrangements means it is difficult for young people and their families to understand what provision is available to them and to exercise meaningful choice.
3.1.4. For these reasons, we will reform education funding arrangements for high needs pupils and students. We will ensure that funding for high needs provision is arranged on an equivalent basis across different types of providers. This approach will also ensure that funding arrangements are transparent and that there is clear and accessible information about available provision for commissioners, providers, and young people and families. This will help to improve choice for young people and their families, remove potential perverse incentives, and thus ensure pupils and students with high needs get the support they need to fulfil their potential. We are working towards the introduction of these reforms from financial year 2013-14.”

In other words, the Government aims to ‘level the playing field’ across providers of SEN provision.

What now?

In School Funding Reform: Next stepstowards a fairer system, the Government has defined ‘High Needs Pupils’.

“3.1.8. In July, we proposed to define high needs pupils and students as those requiring provision costing more than around £10,000 per year. We deliberately chose a financial threshold to define a pupil or student with high needs, as opposed to an assessment-based threshold – such as having a statement of special educational needs (SEN) – since the latter could create perverse incentives if assessment was linked directly to additional funding. For example, this could create additional pressure for unnecessary statutory assessments.

3.1.9. High needs pupils and students include: 

a) pupils aged from birth to 19 with high-levels of SEN in schools, Academies or other settings;
b) those aged 16-25 with high-level learning difficulties or disabilities (LDD) in FE; and,
c) school-age pupils placed in AP.”

So, the definition of ‘High Needs pupil’ is ‘costs more than £10,000 per year to educate.’  Funding has been reformed using the High Needs Funding Matrix and is as follows:

Mainstream Schools:  Will get their usual funding from school budget. A sample Budget Share shows each element.   They will get a delegated budget for SEN, based on the number of children in the school, deprivation indexes and ‘low attainment’ calculations.  A sample Notional SEN Budget shows each element.

Schools who have children with ‘high needs’, defined as costing £10,000 or more to educate, will need to use £6,000 of their Notional SEN budget, plus the ‘Age-weighted Pupil Unit’ value from the main budget.  The Local Authority will make up the rest of the agreed cost.  For example, Child A needs provision costing £15,000.  Using the budgets above, the school gets £2,470.59 per pupil.  They would need to use this amount, plus £6,000 from their Notional SEN Budget.  This totals £8,470.59.  The Local Authority would top-up the school with the remaining £6,529.41.

Special Schools, High Needs Units or Resourced Provision : These types of provision get ‘Place led funding’ rather than ‘Main block’ and ‘SEN’ budgets.  They will get £10,000 per pupil.  Any provision in excess of £10,000 will be topped up by the Local Authority.

Alternative Provision: These provisions will also be given ‘place led funding’, but will receive £8,000 per pupil, with the LA topping up any provision in excess of £8,000.

What difference does it make?

For most people, the changes in financing SEN provision will make no difference at all.  The SEN Code of Practice is clear that children with SEN must have their needs met.  However, there are some benefits:

  • No longer can Local Authorities hide behind bandings/incidence/diagnosis or categorisation of Statements.  The bottom line is that schools must use their budgets to meet the first £6,000 of needs and then the LA has to make up the rest of the cost.
  • Comparing different provisions should be much easier – the ‘cost’ of such provisions has been made level.
  • It may be helpful to get confirmation in writing from the school that your child is receiving as much as they can provide under delegated funding.
For further information, the Council for Disabled Children has just published this very handy and detailed guide.

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