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Leo Jones

High needs investment is welcome, but it won’t fix the system

Today’s announcement of an extra £700m for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support will no doubt be warmly welcomed by many, not least by those councils who are struggling with multi-million pound overspends in relation to high needs block funding.

A number of local systems have been stretched to breaking point, and many local authorities are even struggling to find appropriate school places for children with SEND this academic year. However, whilst funding is part of the issue, the challenges across the SEND and high needs system are much greater.

From my point of view, there are 3 priorities that are as important as the need for adequate funding:

  1. The system needs to be reframed around earlier intervention in order to better manage demand. The growth in demand for statutory support is not sustainable; the number of Education, Health and Care Plans has grown every year since the 2014 SEND reforms, driven in part by increased identification for children aged under 5. Even greater challenges lie ahead if this trajectory continues and the system isn’t reframed.
  1. New funding should not just be used to plug the gap for higher cost provision. There should be investment in increasing the capacity of mainstream schools and early years settings, and in building capability in these settings to respond differently where additional needs are identified. The push towards statutory assessment has inevitably led to a focus on higher cost statutory support rather than early intervention. However, IMPOWER’s work across a number of councils has found that in between 35% and 65% of cases, helping children at an earlier stage would have prevented, reduced or delayed the need for specialist support.
  1. The sector needs to be able to demonstrate the impact that current and new investment is having on the outcomes and life chances of children who have additional needs. The current system is fragmented and inequitable; different councils use different criteria to identify needs and allocate resources. In many cases, decisions over funding are not aligned with reviews of children’s needs and are not focussed on the intended outcomes. This creates misaligned expectations between schools, professionals and parents and carers about what should be achieved for children and the resources required to do that.

IMPOWER’s recent work has focussed on ensuring that these linkages are in place. Working alongside 3 local authorities, we have developed a new needs codification tool for children with additional needs which we will start to pilot this month. The tool will enable councils to better understand the needs of children, and crucially, increase the ability of education and home settings to meet those needs. We believe this will help to reframe the discussion on high needs in order to maximise the potential of all children and evidence progress at child, school and local area level.

Today’s investment in SEND provides a real opportunity to not only plug the growing funding gap, but also to create a fairer and more holistic system focussed on children’s needs and the positive impacts that can be made on their lives.

To discuss how you can grasp this opportunity, please get in touch.

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