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(UK) DofE: ‘Report could not be more damming of special needs education'

Mar 4, 2022, FE News: Reduced staff, SEND support, and curricula risks “damage to children’s education” say PAC – Sector Response

PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE REPORT CHALLENGES DFE ASSERTION THAT THE SCHOOL SYSTEM IS IN GOOD FINANCIAL HEALTH PAC report on “Financial Sustainability of Schools in England” says “DfE must grasp that it’s not ok for any group of our children to be abandoned in the system it oversees” In a 2016 investigation the NAO found that on the basis of the Department for Education’s planned funding at that time, schools would need to find significant savings to counteract cost pressures caused mainly by rising pupil numbers and increases in staff costs. Since then Government has increased funding for schools and provided additional support to help schools improve their financial sustainability, but in October the PAC reported that the new national schools funding formula put in place by DfE has seen a real terms shift in funding from already more deprived areas and schools to less deprived ones. The Public Accounts Committee today (3 Mar) warns that the DfE’s reliance on national figures that indicate schools are in reasonable financial health is masking “significant variation and challenges for individual schools”. The Committee has significant concerns on more-deprived schools, measured by proportion of children eligible for free school meals, “faring worse than less-deprived schools under the Department’s new funding system” – while some academy trusts are building up large reserves, meaning a significant amount of funding is not being spent on educating pupils currently in school. Some of the steps that schools have taken to maintain their finances have adversely affected children’s education: cutting staff, dropping subjects from the curriculum and further reducing the support system for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) which “continues to fail many children and remains financially unsustainable”. The Department for Education also “has little assurance” that extra £4.7 billion [$6.2B] committed for school funding in the 2021 Spending Review “will be enough to cover cost pressures including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”…. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “This report from the PAC highlights problems in the education system that are long standing and have seriously hindered the ability of schools to give every child the education they deserve. Findings point to the larger proportion of maintained schools in financial difficulty compared with academies, and quite rightly criticises the Department for Educations failure to understand why this is happening. ’To get around shortfalls in finances schools have had to balance the books by making decisions that no head teacher wants to make such as cutting educational provision, increasing class sizes, cutting subjects and removing support for pupils with special needs. Add to this the fact that more deprived schools are in greater financial difficulty than schools in more affluent areas it is clear children’s education is being compromised. … ‘The report could not be more damming of special needs education. The fact that children most in need of support are being failed by a system that is poorly funded and resourced is a dereliction of duty and needs to be addressed. … “What should be clear from all of this is that the school system in England continues to operate under considerable financial pressure. To make matters worse, the post-16 sector is in an even worse state with more than a decade of severe underfunding from the government. None of this is good enough for the children and young people who our schools and colleges are trying so hard to support day in and day out.”… 10. While we wait for the much-delayed SEND review, the support system continues to fail many children and remains financially unsustainable. In May 2020, we reported that many children with SEND were being failed by the support system and recommended that the Department should, as a matter of urgency, complete its SEND review which it had begun in September 2019. The SEND review has still not been completed, and families continue to be frustrated by the support system. The Department has now committed to publishing the results of the review in the first quarter of 2022, alongside the Schools White Paper. The aim of the review is to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND. The Department says that, as well as educational attainment, the impact measures will cover life outcomes, such as the number of young people with SEND not in education, employment or training, and health and wellbeing. It is essential that the review is completed so improvements can be made. We are also concerned about the financial sustainability of the SEND system, for example some local authorities are struggling to cover the high costs of places in some private special schools. The Department expects that increased funding, including for more places in state special schools, and extra support for some local authorities with large high-needs deficits, will help to improve the sustainability of the system. …


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