Inclusive provision: More than a question of funding?

Written by: Philippa Stobbs | Published:
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As good as it sounds, the £7.1 billion school funding announcement is not enough – and more will be needed. However, providing proper support to meet pupils’ needs and ensure inclusive provision is not just a matter of funding. Philippa Stobbs explains

The first of a flurry of education announcements hit the headlines as everyone was returning to school following the summer break, and MPs were returning to Parliament after recess. The announcements might well have had more attention, had there not been so much turmoil elsewhere.

On the face of it, the first announcement looked good: this was the one on funding (DfE, 2019; SecEd, 2019). It came at 6pm on Friday, August 30. As the Association of Colleges said, it was a pretty unusual time to make a policy announcement, but then these are pretty unusual times.

Without a three-year Comprehensive Spending Review, it was helpful to have this announcement sooner rather than later and, for schools, this is still a three-year funding commitment.

The big figure: by 2022/23 there will be an extra £7.1 billion in schools’ budgets – that is over and above the 2019/20 allocations. Taking a year at a time: next year, 2020/21, there will be an extra
£2.6 billion in schools’ budgets and the following year there will be an extra £4.8 billion, compared with 2019/20.

It sounds like a lot of money but it doesn’t mean very much until schools get their individual allocations. There is, however, a commitment to increase the minimum per-pupil funding, so all schools will benefit.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that, between 2009/10 and 2017/18, total school spending per-pupil fell by eight per cent in real terms (IFS, 2018) and, by now, that must be significantly more. After the steady erosion of school funding, and real-terms cuts, the funding is, without any question, a good thing. But there are many questions arising from the funding announcement: the first and the simplest, is it enough?

There are more complicated questions too: how will schools replace the staffing and expertise that has been lost over the last 10 years? How will schools redevelop the breadth of the curriculum? How can schools reinstate high-quality support for pupils with SEN?

The national data provides evidence of the difficulties schools are having in meeting pupils’ SEN: the increased exclusion of pupils with SEN, the soaring rate of requests for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), the movement of pupils into special schools and, in a handful of schools, off-rolling.

If this is about funding, could we look to local authority high needs funding to help out? Importantly, there was a high needs funding announcement alongside the school funding announcement.
Next year, there will be an additional £700 million in the high needs block of funding that goes to local authorities to meet their responsibilities for children and young people with SEN across the age range, birth to 25 (DfE, 2019).

However, there are even more questions about this funding than there are about school funding:

With the pressures of additional demand for EHCPs, special schools, alternative provision and independent and non-maintained school placements, local authority high needs spending has gone through the ceiling and most local authorities are in deficit on their high needs budgets.

A report by the ISOS Partnership for the Local Government Association (LGA) identified an anticipated deficit in local authority high needs budgets totalling between £889 million and
£1.2 billion in 2020 (Parish et al, 2018). So, in answer to the original question, is it enough? The answer is: no.

A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO), Support for pupils with SEND in England, identified some of the reasons for the increased numbers of pupils attending special schools. This also pointed to funding pressures limiting mainstream schools’ capacity to support pupils with high needs effectively.

But is it just about funding? Is funding alone responsible for schools becoming less responsive to the full range of pupils’ needs? And can funding alone enable schools to become more inclusive? Or support schools in making better provision for pupils with SEN?

I think there are wider changes we need to consider at a national and at a school level.

  • Could we design some of our national systems to be more responsive to pupils with SEN?
  • Should we have a clearer focus on children’s entitlement and the anticipatory duties in the Equality Act, and think and plan ahead instead of just “responding to”?
  • Could we broaden the curriculum to better cater for pupils who haven’t reached the “expected” level at the end of the previous key stage?
  • Could we recognise a wider range of achievements in the outcomes we assess in our school system?
  • Should we be more explicit about the role of local authorities in providing specialist support to supplement and complement what schools can do on their own?

Hot on the heels of the news on funding was another announcement: a review into support for children with SEN (DfE, 2019). This review should take into account some of these wider considerations about the context in which schools operate.

In the meantime, could, and should, schools do anything about it on their own? Many schools can, and do. The new Education Inspection Framework will provide Ofsted with a clearer insight into how they do it.

With a bit more money, those schools will be able to do it even better, and children’s entitlement will look a bit healthier. It might even get out of intensive care. 

  • Philippa Stobbs, assistant director (education and equalities), National Children’s Bureau

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