The Department for Education has today launched a consultation on how to improve funding arrangements for learners with high needs.
The department is seeking views on what “may be adversely influencing local authorities, mainstream schools, colleges and other education providers” in their support for young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).
“We welcome views on changes to the funding system that could help in getting the best value from the resources available,” the DfE said.
The evidence document said the government “understands the cost pressures facing both local authorities and post-16 providers as they seek to meet the needs and ambitions of young people, and the need for appropriate levels of funding”.
However, it hopes to gather views on whether there are other aspects of the financial arrangements that are acting as a barrier to young people accessing the support they need, “regardless of the amount of funding available”.
For every SEND pupil, schools have to foot £6,000 of the bill for their provision, which is then topped up by councils. However, this works differently for 16 to 19 year olds, as there is no notional SEND budget.
Support for students with lower level SEND is funded through the “disadvantage factors in the national 16 to 19 funding formula,” today’s consultation explains.
“For those with more complex SEN, whose support costs more than £6,000, colleges and local authorities are expected to agree a package of support for their students with SEN, consisting of a number of high needs places funded at £6,000 per place, supplemented by top-up funding for those students with the most complex needs.”
The consultation added: “We would welcome any evidence that the funding or financial arrangements that currently apply to post-16 and post-19 provision are causing decisions to be made that are both unhelpful in securing the best outcomes for the young people concerned and adding to the costs of provision.”
Earlier this year, special educational needs experts warned of a “postcode lottery” for post-16 learners with high needs.
During an education select committee roundtable in January, Pat Brennan-Barrett, principal of Northampton College, said she was “deeply concerned” about the “postcode lottery of funding, the devolvement of the budget, the interpretation of the language of the [SEND] code, and how that is used”.
Beatrice Barleon, policy development manager at Mencap, told MPs that one of the challenges of the reforms was the “implementation across all the different local authorities”.
At the end of the discussion, the committee chair Robert Halfon said the picture of post-16 funding for learners with SEND “seems to be a big tangled mess”.
Meanwhile, Graham Razey, principal and chief executive at the East Kent College Group, wrote in FE Week in December that, “while a strong argument can certainly be made that the amount of funding in the high-needs system is simply insufficient”, the first place to start would be to remove “unnecessary bureaucracy”.
He said some of the funding that used to be spent on support for learning disabilities now goes on administration, and argued students would benefit if the money went direct to providers.
The consultation will run until July 31.