Thank you for contacting me about local funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The system for identifying and meeting the needs of all children with SEND is designed to deliver the right support for all children, so that they can achieve their potential and their education prepares them well for fulfilling adult lives.
Dorset Council use the local funding formula to estimate the number of children with special education needs a school is likely to have. They are required to allocate sufficient funds to schools to enable them to meet the additional cost of pupils with SEND, up to £6,000 per pupil per year. If the additional costs exceed this amount the local authorities allocate top-up funding from their high needs budget. Local authorities can also allocate additional funding from their high needs budget to schools that have a disproportionate number of SEND children.
I am very encouraged that the Department for Education has provided a total high needs budget of just under £6 billion a year across England, a £142 million increase since last year. This is the highest high needs budget on record. An additional £250 million of high needs funding has been announced, along with a further £100 million top-up to the Special Provision Capital Fund. The cap on the number of special and alternative provision free school approved in the current wave has also been removed.
Unfortunately, before the creation of the new unitary Dorset Council, the County Council got into a significant mess so far as the funding of SEND provision was concerned. A lot of this had to do with the fact that there were not enough places in special schools in Dorset, with the result that pupils with special needs were often being sent to very expensive placements outside the county. This is now being remedied through the provision of a major grant from the DfE for the establishment in Dorset of a new special school. This will mean that mainstream schools will be relieved of a considerable amount of financial pressure.
In addition, the administrative savings from the merger of the councils into Dorset Council are mainly being devoted to removing the deficit in the children’s services budget. Again, this will relieve Dorset schools from considerable financial pressure.
Finally, we all recognise that, despite the new funding formula, Dorset and other counties like it remain under-funded by comparison with London schools, even when allowances are made for the costs encountered in London. This is something that the Government is now addressing through the Spending Review. Once the adjustment comes through, this should also help to relieve the pressure on Dorset schools.
But the final piece of the jigsaw is that schools across the country now need additional funding – and I shall therefore be pressing for schools to be given top priority, alongside adult social services in the forthcoming Spending Review, now that a huge amount of additional money has been allocated to the NHS where the pressures were even more intense until recently.