Education & Family

Special needs units risk closure in shake-up, say heads

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Plans to shake up special educational needs funding could see special units in mainstream schools close, a teaching union says.

The National Association of Head Teachers said reducing the per-place funding for such units from £10,000 to £6,000 a year would be "disastrous".

It also said the plans would not address the wide disparity in funding for children with similar needs.

The government says it has boosted high needs funding by £90m this year.

In its report, Getting it right: Funding pupils with complex needs, the NAHT looks at the impact of the proposed changes to the funding for children with high special educational needs.

'Fair distribution'

The changes include basing the way funds are allocated to local authorities on the number of two- to 18-year-olds in the area.

This will then be modified by three factors - the number of children in bad health or on a disability benefit, low attainment and deprivation levels in the area.

But the NAHT says the proposals do not address the so-called "top up" funding for children with very complex needs, where there are big differences in funding.

The variability in funding levels means children with very similar needs could attract £2,000 of education funding in one local authority but £20,000 in another.

"This is clearly unacceptable and the DfE needs to develop parameters and controls to ensure that funding is fairly distributed within local authorities," the NAHT said.

Kim Johnson, president of NAHT and principal of Bradfields Specialist SEN Academy, says: "Those of us who are passionate about the education of children with high and complex needs have been pressing for this review of high needs funding for a long time.

"We desperately need a new approach that creates greater consistency and transparency.

"But we also need to be mindful that local authorities have taken very different approaches and that the transition to such an approach could result in some significant changes."

'Big financial hit'

The NAHT also opposes plans to cut funding for special units within mainstream schools from £10,000 to £6,000 per pupil.

"Such a move would be disastrous for such units, leading to potential closures," the heads' union said.

Heads say basing the funding of the centre on the provision itself, rather than the number of pupils attending, would place provision on a stable basis.

Chris Hill, head teacher at Hounslow Town Primary School, says: "The place funding, rather than pupil-led funding, helps to create stability.

"But if this were to change, as currently proposed in the consultation, it would threaten the viability of our centre as the drop from 20 pupils to 14-15 in any one year would be a very big financial hit."

A Department for Education spokesperson said every child, regardless of their circumstances, deserves an excellent education that allows them to fulfil their potential.

"That is why we've protected the overall school budget and increased the funding for children and young people with high needs by over £90 million this year.

"We have consulted on proposals to make funding fairer for schools and pupils with high needs - this included some changes to the way that schools with special units might be funded.

"We are currently considering the responses to that consultation, so any suggestions are purely speculative."

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