FLSE Response to DfE High Needs Funding Consultation

Background

FLSE is an independent body which, as a registered charity and a ‘not for profit’ organisation, provides a framework for extensive dialogue between all those providing special education services and the DfE and local authorities. It is the organisation which relates to government and policy makers and is the voice of leaders who work within the field of special education.

  1. Do you agree with our proposed principles for the funding system?

We fully understand the wish to have a more equitable system for the funding of High Needs and it is right to distribute funding in a consistent, effective and just way. It is also right to consider adequacy and sufficiency of funding.

We agree with the principles but we feel that some of the assumptions that have been made may be incorrect especially about the cost of supporting high needs pupils and what constitutes an inclusive education.

A major concern for FLSE is the impact of such a major redistribution of funding will have on schools across all local authorities, especially those who currently receive greater high needs funding than others. If there is no additional funding introduced into the system then those who currently spend higher amounts will be “levelled down “ which could mean they are in breach of their duties set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.

Whilst considering principles we must also recognise what good practice entails. Practice needs to recognise the importance of identifying the arrangements that a child requires rather than relying on the categorizing or pathologising special needs. The bulk of the cost of provision lies in suitably qualified and experienced practitioners. Who employs these and keeps them suitably trained and up-to-date in the face of growing complexity, severity and longevity of needs is a key question for funding. The extreme low incidence, high cost pupils could be severely disadvantaged by these reforms and ignore the long-term human and financial benefits of appropriate early intervention.

There needs to be much greater clarity about who is funding what provision. Although there is a recognised health cost for many of our high needs pupils it is still very difficult to understand what CCGs should be funding. Currently many local authorities are paying for “health” provision because local CCGs are not co-operating. A new funding system must also include statutory responsibilities of CCGs and Care Services to ensure they are contributing effectively and appropriately to meet a child’s individual and complex needs.

  1. Do you agree that the majority of high needs funding should be distributed to local authorities rather than directly to schools and other institutions?

Over the last two years we have seen many local authorities lose highly skilled and experienced staff as they have seen significant reduction in their budgets. At the same time we have seen, through the duties and responsibilities in the Children and Families Act 2014 an increased workload and responsibility for SEND services. The rational that High Needs Funding sits with the local authority as the responsible body is understandable but it is unclear how this will work when the wider impact of school funding reform and the white paper are implemented. There is a risk that the High Needs funding will become isolated from other funding streams.

It is sensible to take a strategic view but not just within a single LA. There should be a requirement to work across borders and with other agencies, especially health, and to the creation of pooled budgets.  This is especially important for the funding of low-incidence provision, where currently multiple authorities commission places and where costs are relatively high. There does not appear to be any consideration given to encourage local authorities to commission certain types of provision collaboratively.

The place of local accountability needs to be specified if funding for mainstream schools is to be distributed directly to them. There should be firm expectations and national guidance of what should be provided for those with differing high needs. This guidance should show how schools, collaborations, LAs, neighbouring LAs and CCGs can support children and young people with SEND in their present provision and in successful transition.

  1. Do you agree that the high needs formula should be based on proxy measures of need, not assessed needs of children and young people?

Proxy measures for less severe forms of SEND should work reasonably well for big institutions where they have numbers and flexibility. For more complex pupils, however, the main cost of their provision is through either banded or individual top-up i.e. already lined to their individual needs expressed in their EHCPs. If the funding is not based on assessed need then the local authority may not be able to fund the provision as set out in an EHCP, especially if linked to specific therapies and equipment. They are then in breach of the law. This may lead to EHCPs being “dumbed down” to fit the funding available.

Funding will need to consider cross-border and placements provided by the independent and non-maintained sector, especially as the interpretation of ‘inclusion’ in the consultation may be a narrow one.

  1. Do you agree with the basic factors proposed to the high needs formula to distribute funding to local authorities?

FLSE is broadly supportive of the factors proposed but consideration must be given to the contextual nature of each local authority. Some will be “importers” and some “exporters” of children with high needs and this must be a consideration when adjusting funding. It will be important that there are no disincentives to suitable placement wherever that may be including non-maintained or independent provision. It would be helpful if true comparative costs between different sectors are made.

Experience also shows that birth data related to SEND is rarely fed into school planning. Factors from birth weight to specific conditions are excellent indicators of later provision.

  1. We are not proposing to make any changes to the distribution of funding to hospital education, but welcome views as we continue working with representatives of this sector on the way forward.

FLSE members are not expert in this field but funding must reflect need and the transient nature of the children they support. Consideration must also be given to the increasing number of children with mental health needs and those with very complex physical and medical needs who require very specialist support, which may be require additional funding.

  1. Which methodology for the area cost adjustment do you support?

FLSE would like to see a modification to the hybrid adjustment to ensure a number of “local” factors are included.  These might include direct labour costs including those of the CCG; indirect costs of NI and pensions; obligatory and discretionary training to remain legally compliant and competent; composition of the staff group e.g. balance of teachers and teaching assistants, specialist counsellors etc; staff-pupil ratio; curricular costs especially in relation to off-site work; the role of the school as an outward-facing centre of expertise providing services to others; recruitment and retention costs; housing costs.

FLSE is concerned about the impact on small rural local authorities who may have greater demands on certain aspects of provision – eg. High transport costs.

  1. Do you agree that we should include a proportion of 2016-17 spending in the formula allocations of funding high needs?

FLSE are in agreement that you should include a proportion of 2016-17 spending in the formula allocations. One of the issues with the five year plan is that local authorities may not have the capacity to provide all the services for their children NOW – what will the situation be like in another five years? There are currently many children not receiving the provision they are entitled to so it is vital that including elements of the current spending on SEN remains as local authorities plan and develop their services for the future. FLSE would like to point out that 2015/16 has not been a year of increased funding – in many areas of SEN we have seen decreased funding therefore should  not be seen as a benchmark for adequate funding going forward.

  1. Do you agree with our proposal to protect local authorities’ high needs funding through an overall minimum funding guarantee?

There must be a minimum funding guarantee but schools must feel that it will offer financial protection for the most vulnerable young people. The key will be the effectiveness of local authority plans, the collaboration of services and commissioning of high quality provision across all sectors.

Just as special schools should work with mainstream, LAs should work regionally or sub-regionally and include the maintained, non-maintained and independent sectors especially as academies are state independent schools. We need to encourage strategy, especially through the development of free schools.

Local authorities who experience reductions will need particular support in how best to use their funds and to fulfil their duties. Commissioning becomes additionally crucial in a world where no schools belong to them as they become academies (in effect, state independent schools) or are at present non-maintained or independent.

There is a great need for strategy. There needs to be a national view of needs, their  geographic spread and how best to provide given the suitability and condition of resource. All providers: maintained, academy, non-maintained and independent should be included. Capital funds, including those for the Free School programme, should be targeted at need, best practice and cost-effectiveness. Inspection and other evidence should be used to encourage the maintenance of lower-level need within mainstream and especially to distinguish between those with special needs and those who are under-achieving.

  1. Given the importance of schools’ decisions about what kind of support is most appropriate for their pupils with SEN, working in partnership with parents, we welcome views on what should be covered in any national guidelines on what schools offer for their pupils with SEND.

Mainstream schools would welcome guidance on what is appropriate to spend on SEN children and what their commitment should be from their whole school budget. The notional SEN budget is not helpful as not all children will need £6000 of provision where others may need more. There is still an historical perception about “hours of support” being about 1-1 support by one adult – guidance around this would also be helpful. There also needs to be greater clarity between what the school is offering and what the local authority expect for the notional £6000 – this is a real issue for schools applying for “top-up” funding as the criteria differs across the country. National guidelines should also consider the increased number of exclusions and denied admissions due to “schools not being able to meet need”.

There should be comprehensive guidance on expectations and what should be provided for those with differing high needs. This guidance should demonstrate  how schools, collaborations, LAs, neighbouring LAs and CCGs can support children and young people with SEND in their present provision and in successful transition.

  1. We are proposing that mainstream schools with special units receive per pupil amounts based on a pupil count that includes pupils in the units, plus funding of £6,000 for each of the places in the unit; rather than £10,000 per place. Do you agree with the proposed change to the funding of special units in mainstream schools?

Resourced units in mainstream schools, together with very small special schools, are particularly sensitive to fluctuating numbers and lagged funding. The initial staffing, employment rights and subsequent retention of specialist staff can be at odds with funding especially if there is a transient population of children.

If the pupil has an EHCP then there should be 6K plus £4K from the HNF budget already within the school’s budget plus any top-up. If the place were vacant then there would be a base of 6K.

Some resourced units cater for very complex ASD children who will require additional funding above the £10,000 indicated above. Local authorities need to be very clear about how these resource units can access the “top-up” funding in order to meet individual needs.

   11.  We therefore welcome, in response to this consultation, examples of local authorities that are using centrally retained funding in a strategic way to overcome barriers to integration and inclusion. We would be particularly interested in examples of where this funding has been allocated on an “invest-to-save” basis, achieving reductions in high needs spending over the longer term. We would like to publish any good examples received.

Inclusion is not about a place, as this section suggests. A child has an entitlement to an inclusive education in the setting that is appropriate to meet needs.  We would also like to point out that the use of the word integration is not appropriate in the 21st century. There are many ways to “invest to save” – the key is to understand the continuum of need and that alternative settings and support may be required at different stages of a child’s education.

Norfolk has commissioned and linked their special schools to Specialist Resource Bases in mainstream schools. This has proved very successful for the majority of these Bases and has led to positive outcomes for the pupils in them.

  1. We welcome examples of where centrally retained funding is used to support schools that are particularly inclusive and have a high proportion of pupils with particular types of SEN, or a disproportionate number of pupils with high needs.
  1. Do you agree that independent special schools should be given the opportunity to receive place funding directly from the EFA with the balance in the form of top-up funding from local authorities?

Yes – it is good to offer this opportunity. However, it is generally unclear why most independent schools would opt for this since it gives no financial advantage over receiving all funding direct from LAs.

  1. We welcome views on the outline and principles of the proposed changes to post-16 place funding (noting that the intended approach for post-16 mainstream institutions which have smaller proportions or numbers of students with high needs, differs from the approach for those with larger proportions or numbers), and on how specialist provision in FE colleges might be identified and designated.

Specialist institutions should receive the same rate of place funding as special schools.