July 2023

We have written to every local authority that has a “safety valve agreement” with the Department for Education (DfE) asking them to confirm that they will fulfil all their legal duties to children and young people with SEND – duties that remain unchanged in the context of both the Government’s SEND Change Programme and the safety valve intervention programme. 

Safety valve agreements are written agreements by individual local authorities with the Department for Education, agreeing that the DfE will “bail out” local authorities that have over-spent their high needs budgets. In exchange for this financial assistance, local authorities have agreed to contain their spending on provision for children and young people with SEND, to avoid deficits building up again. Thirty four local authorities from all parts of England are so far part of this programme. 

In our letters to directors of children’s services, we highlighted parents’ concerns that, in the drive to control and reduce costs, children and young people are at risk of being denied the special educational provision and support to which the law entitles them. 

IPSEA’s CEO, Ali Fiddy, said: 

“Individual safety valve agreements are explicit about containing numbers of EHC needs assessments, EHC plans and placements in non-mainstream settings, among other things. But it would not be lawful, for example, to introduce local policies on eligibility for EHC needs assessment that vary from the legal threshold, or blanket policies on access to particular services or placements. 

“While early intervention, effective multi-agency working and inclusive practices are all vitally important, there will always be children and young people who need additional statutory support. The Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND Regulations 2014 set out clearly children and young people’s entitlement to provision that meets their individual needs. However, the steady rise in appeals to the SEND Tribunal, and the high volume of unlawful decision-making evidenced by the overwhelming number of appeals upheld by the Tribunal, indicates that local authorities do not always prioritise compliance with SEND law.” 

We have asked each local authority to let us know how they are making sure they are fully compliant with their legal obligations to children and young people with SEND. We have also asked to see a copy of each local authority’s “dedicated schools grant management plan” that’s referred to in each safety valve agreement – these documents explain in more detail how they will contain costs and should help us understand better what the safety valve intervention programme means for children and young people