top of page

(UK) $2.7B SPED deficit by 2025; half of SPED kids have autism

Nov 5, 2022, Schools Week: SEND isn’t on the precipice – it’s tipped over the edge

Rising costs worsened by short-termism and under-investment have left the SEND system incapable of meeting demand, writes Alex Dale

There is no doubt that the SEND system that supports our most vulnerable children is broken and needs fixing… fast.

Without swift and definitive action, we are going to hit the bottom. At a time when we are so focused on “levelling up” and on recovery from a global pandemic, it seems crazy that support for our most vulnerable children and families is so badly resourced.

There isn’t a consolidated and published picture of high-needs deficits, but we know from recent surveys that the national picture is forecast to be around a £2.4 billion [$2.7B] deficit by March 2025.

This is reinforced by the number of local authorities (LAs) that are working with the DfE through its intervention and support programmes – the Safety Valve Programme (20 LAs) and the Delivering Better Value in SEND programme (55 LAs).

This is not pressure at a local level in just a handful of local authorities, but a system-wide failure caused by under-resourcing….

The level of increased need has been on a rising trajectory since 2010; has increased further since the change in the code of practice in 2014; and even further since 2019. This is evident in the DfE’s own data for education health and care plans (EHCPs).

To put this into local context, one f40 local authority member was supporting 3,290 EHCPs in January 2018. It’s 5,323 today, with a further 923 in process.

This phenomenal rise is not only creating a pressure on high-needs budgets but on schools, where it really matters. Special schools are overflowing and mainstream schools are having to meet an unprecedented level of need.

And as mainstream school funding slips into real-terms cuts again in 2023-24, the resources and staffing to support these children will again reduce. Meanwhile, special school base funding has been at £10,000 a place for about ten years.

During that time, the number of children with SEND has continued to rise. Over half of the children and young people in special schools have a primary or secondary need of autism. For children in early years specialist settings, the figure is 65 per cent….

One of its key themes is supporting mainstream inclusion, but to achieve that we must stop cutting mainstream school budgets and invest in mainstream SEND. That means a national funding formula that ensures funding is reaching the schools with most need and targeted, ring-fenced budgets for SEND that reflect schools’ contexts and cohorts.

We must also invest in specialist provision. The base funding was woeful, even before this year’s inflation, and we need more special schools now, not in five years.

The recent announcement of £2.6 billion of capital funding is welcome but it is nowhere near enough, especially with rising school-build costs. LAs will be submitting bids and the reality is that it’s likely to be at least 100 per cent over-subscribed, leaving many authorities to go without.

Yet, going without means more children going into independent special schools, which broadly cost twice as much.

Finally, we need to ensure that local high-need systems can meet children’s needs earlier. Too often, support is only available at the point of crisis, not at the point of need.

This has to change – not because it’s cheaper, but because children deserve the right support at the right time.


bottom of page