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(UK) DofE pushes for more SPED students in mainstream schools; more funding needed

Feb 9, 2024, tes: Over 50% of special school pupils could be in mainstream, says DfE report

Evaluation for DfE suggests majority of reviewed pupils with SEND in Delivering Better Value areas could have their needs met within mainstream schools

More than half of pupils placed in special schools could have been better off in a mainstream school with the right support, an analysis of a major government intervention programme has found.

Interim findings from the government’s Delivering Better Value (DBV) in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) programme claim there are opportunities for a greater proportion of children with SEND to be educated in mainstream schools “through ordinarily available provision”.

Ensuring more pupils with SEND can be educated in mainstream schools is one of the ways in which outcomes for those young people can be improved, while ”reducing unmitigated growth of spend”, the report adds.

It also highlights more pupils being appropriately placed in local maintained special schools as a key opportunity for improvement.

The report warns that if current trends continue, the difference in costs between state and independent special school placements will rise by £30,000 [$38K] per child by 2028 - meaning an additional £114 million [$145M] cost for the system in the DBV areas considered in the report.

Delivering Better Value in SEND

The DBV programme was launched by the DfE in 2022 to support more than 50 councils with high needs deficits, with an aim “to support local authorities and their partners to improve delivery of SEND services for children and young people whilst working towards financial sustainability”.

The report has been authored by the consultancy firm hired by the Department for Education to run the DBV programme.

The Newton Europe contract attracted controversy last year after ministers were forced to deny that the aim of the government’s SEND reforms was to reduce demand, due to a reference of “targeting at least a 20 per cent reduction in new EHCPs issued”. . . .


The consultancy’s report, published online on the DBV programme website just before Christmas, concluded from case reviews that more than half (54 per cent) of pupils could have had their needs met in a mainstream setting that could have been “more ideal for them”, based on an evaluation of 354 special school pupils in DBV intervention areas.

Of these, 28 per cent could have had their needs met under ordinary provision in a mainstream school, and another 26 per cent could have been placed in a resourced provision or SEND unit within a regular school setting, according to the answers provided by professionals involved in these case reviews. . . .

The report also suggests ensuring that education, health and care plans (EHCPs) are delivering effective outcomes and ensuring pupils are “placed appropriately at local special schools” as ways of improving SEND provision.

Meanwhile, teachers in mainstream schools in DBV areas said their settings could better meet the needs of pupils with SEND if they could recruit more specialist staff and access more support from councils, according to a survey included in the report.

Based on findings from staff and parent surveys, and case reviews of young people with SEND in 21 of the council areas taking part in the programme, the report concludes that “complex system-wide transformation” is needed to achieve the outcomes it advocates.

Improved mainstream SEND provision will cost more, not less.

Headteachers’ leaders have warned that the initial findings from the DBV programme show that increasing the ability of mainstream schools to meet pupils’ needs will mean more government spending.

A central part of the government’s planned SEND reforms is that improved early intervention can improve outcomes for pupils, reduce the need for EHCPs and lower the amount being spent meeting needs later on.

But heads’ leaders have questioned how this can be achieved without extra investment.

James Bowen, assistant general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said it was “laudable” that “one of the central messages emerging from the DBV programme appears to be that a greater proportion of children with SEND should receive support for their needs in their mainstream schools through ordinarily available provision”.

But he added it won’t be achieved unless the government starts “being realistic about the resources and support schools will need. It is certainly not simply about imposing a set of standards”.

He said: ”The school staff involved in the DBV programme themselves identified in-school support staff, and access to support from external specialist services as crucial factors in supporting pupils with SEND.

“Without those resources and access to specialist services, schools will continue to find it extremely difficult to meet the needs of a greater proportion of pupils with SEND. Ultimately, mainstream, special schools and alternative provision settings need to be properly funded if we are to find a way out of the current SEND crisis.”

‘Constant challenge for schools’

Margaret Mulholland, SEND and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said staffing levels and the difficulty of accessing specialist support mean providing SEND support is “a constant challenge for schools”.

She added that there is “general agreement that early intervention is key to improving the current system - primarily because it is better for children, but also because it will be more cost-effective in the long run by preventing problems from escalating”.

However, she said that aim is “a pipedream” unless schools and local authorities have the necessary funding.

She added: “We welcome the additional high-needs funding made available via DBV and note the positive feedback the scheme has received, but this is a sticking plaster for the wider problem of inadequacy of government funding.

“Rising demand for SEND provision has simply not been matched by resources and whatever financial schemes are devised in Whitehall, we cannot get away from the fact that more funding is needed.” . . ..


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