National auditor criticises SEND provision in England: underfunded and patchy

Janet Downs's picture

The National Audit Office has criticised the support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England.  The NAO found:

1          The number of pupils with Education, Health and Care plans (EHC) has risen since 2014.  This is partly, but not wholly, explained by a rise in the school population.  Demand for support has therefore risen.

2           The number of pupils needing additional support but who don’t have an EHC plan has ‘dropped considerably’.  This suggests pupils who previously would have been identified as needing support may not now be recognised.

3          The Department for Education doesn’t ‘know the impact’ of SEND support.

4          While the DfE has increased funding for schools, ‘particularly for high needs’, this hasn’t ‘kept pace’ with increased pupil numbers.  (Author's note: the IFS found school spending per pupil in England had fallen by 8% in real-terms since 2009/10.)

5          Local authorities are ‘increasingly overspending their budgets for supporting pupils with high needs’.  (Author’s note:  At the same time, LAs have spent £100m on fighting appeals against refusals to issue an EHC plan.  They lost nine out of ten.)

6        The DfE didn’t ‘fully assess the likely financial consequences of the 2014 reforms’.

7          Responses by the DfE and LAs to overspending high-needs budgets ‘are not making the system sustainable’.

8        While 90% of state special schools in England are good or better, the DfE has ‘limited assurance about the quality of support’ for SEND pupils in mainstream schools.

9        SEND pupils, especially ones without EHC plans, are ‘more likely to be permanently excluded from school than pupils without SEND’.

10    Support for SEND pupils is patchy.  Some LA support is not as effective as it should be.  The NAO found ‘unexplained local variation’.

The Children and Families Act (2014) which introduced SEND reform was devised when Michael Gove was education secretary.   When Gove announced the proposed policy, the Daily Mail wrote (9 March 2011):

Michael Gove today announced radical reforms that will remove at least one in ten children - some 170,000 - from the special needs register.’

We now see the consequences of policies which remove support for pupils who need it.

When the law came into effect, the then Children and Families minister Edward Timpson said it was ‘a landmark moment in improving the lives of children with SEND’.  The NAO has shown the expected improvement hasn’t happened : thousands of SEND pupils are being let down.

Six days ago, the DfE launched a review into SEND provision following concerns from teachers and parents. It has announced £700m for SEND provision for one year only.  While any extra funding is welcome, some may say it’s too little and too late.

At the time of writing, the DfE media department hasn't responded to the NAO's findings.  Instead, it's concentrated on universities (twice) and teaching first aid in the first year of school.  




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