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(UK) Ex-ed minister questions where $3.3B in funding for 30,000 new special places went

Mar 15, 2024, tes: Ex-minister concerned over £2.6bn [$3.3B] SEND funding

Education Select Committee chair calls on government to clarify progress made towards providing 30,000 new places for pupils with additional needs

The government has come under pressure over fears that its £2.6 billion expansion funding for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision may have been raided as part of a switching of capital funds to revenue budgets.

Speaking in Parliament this week, Robin Walker, the Education Select Committee chair and former Department for Education minister, said he had “concerns” about the “progress of this much-needed capital investment” and called on the DfE to provide “detailed insights” into how many new places for pupils with SEND had been created using the funding.

Specifically, he called on ministers to “provide figures for how many places have been commissioned” in new specialist settings, the expansion of existing ones and for bases in mainstream schools that were supposed to help deliver 30,000 new school places as outlined in the 2021 Spending Review.

Mr Walker also called for reassurance that £300 million [$381M] of funding, which he said had - based on analysis of DfE “supplementary estimates” - been moved from capital to revenue budgets, had not been taken from the SEND places budget.

“I would ask for reassurance that none of [the £300 million moved] has come out of the £2.6 billion originally targeted for investment in SEND,” he said. And if it had, he asked that ministers clarify how much had been moved.

The former schools minister, who resigned in 2022,  said it was clear from his work that there is a “consistent trend of schools of every phase and variety struggling to meet a rising level of SEND need” - leaving many families struggling to get the support they need.

He added that the funding was not enough to keep pace with demand, not least owing to the huge rise in the number of education health and care plans (EHCPs) that many schools are having to work with.

“It is also clear that this revenue funding has not been sufficient to meet demand. The growth of EHCPs alone over the same period has more than doubled, and the level of need,

demonstrated not only by the number - rising from 240,000 nine years ago to over half a million today - but also by the complexity of conditions and the demand for specialist places to support highly complex pupils, has grown even faster.”

Will special school expansion funding be enough?

Mr Walker also described the £105 million for 15 additional special schools announced in this year’s budget, aimed at providing a further 2,000 special school places, as “very challenging”.

“I welcome that, but I would observe that the calculation that just over £100 million [$127M] can deliver 15 whole new special schools seems to me a very challenging one.

“That gives a cost of £52,000 [$66K] per place compared to more than £86,666 [$110K] per place in the calculations the government made just three years ago, before the impact of three years of high inflation for building costs,” he said.

Mr Walker also urged the government to invest in helping local authorities to “clear or remove” high-needs deficits rather than “producing ever more help to manage the level of deficits” under the Safety Valve and Delivering Better Value programmes, describing them as “not a sustainable solution”.

Finally, the former minister called for a new national framework for banding and high-needs tariffs, which was due in 2023, to be published, as the bandings for specific conditions have not seen an inflationary increase for more than a decade. . . .

 “Within the total funding amount, high-needs funding is increasing to over £10.5 billion [$13B] in the coming financial year, an increase of over 60 per cent compared to 2019-20,” he said.

“The department is also making a transformational investment in capital funding. We’ve published over £1.5 billion [$1.9B] of high-needs provision capital allocations for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 financial years to support local authorities to deliver new places, and improve existing provision for children and young people with SEND or who require alternative provision.”


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