August 2019

The House of Commons Committee (the “Committee”) has published a report, “A ten year plan for school and college funding”, recognising that schools and colleges need a long term plan to meet the wide-ranging challenges they face.

IPSEA’s response to the Committee’s consultation, submitted in May last year, highlighted that the general pressure on budgets was not being properly acknowledged which was having a significant and detrimental impact on students with SEN. We argued that the funding review must recognise the duties on LAs, schools and colleges to identify and meet the SEN of the individual, rather than being led by the provision available, and must identify the real-world cost of doing so. IPSEA was pleased that the recommendations of the Committee reflected our concerns.

The Committee recommends a multi-billion pound settlement from the Treasury, informed by a “comprehensive, bottom-up assessment” of “what services and support schools and colleges are having to provide, the real-world costs of delivering these activities and meeting attainment expectations, and how these costs relate to current school and college funding provision.

IPSEA awaits the government’s response with interest, and hopes that the significant investment and long-term planning called for is delivered.

IPSEA has summarised the Committee’s main findings below.

Cuts to spending

Total school spending per pupil fell by 8% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18 (taking account of the 5% increase in post 2009–10 school spending, the 55% reduction in local authority spending on schools (for example SEN and education-related services), and the 24% reduction in school sixth form funding). Further education was the hardest hit, with the Committee noting that by 2019–20 spending per student in further education will be similar to 2006–7 levels, while school sixth form spending will be lower than at any point since at least 2002.

The Committee was critical of the government’s spending on consultants to recommend cost-cutting within schools and colleges and queries value of the suggestions these consultants have proposed (cutting school lunch portions, for example).

The Committee recommended that:

  • A multi-billion-pound uplift is required, and the Department for Education (“DfE”) must strongly make this case to the Treasury.
  • The DfE should carry out a comprehensive review of the real-world costs of school education.
  • The DfE should produce an official statistics publication for school and college funding, to replace the confusing myriad of sources it currently uses.
  • The AWPU (age weighted pupil unit) should be increased in the next spending review.
  • There should be closer scrutiny of MATs (multi-academy trusts) as there is limited scrutiny of how funding is distributed within individual schools in the MAT, which undermines the purpose of the National Funding Formula. As part of this, OFSTED should be able to inspect MATs (not just individual schools), and MATs should be required to provide a breakdown of their income and spending on their websites.

Post-16 education

As noted above, post-16 education has suffered the greatest cuts. Although the population of 16-18 year olds in education has increased, the funding per student has fallen. The Committee noted that the government’s proposals in relation to T-levels will not address this funding pressure because the funding commitments for T-levels would be offset by reductions to the rest of the further education college budgets.

The knock-on effects of these budget pressures are evident. The amount of guided learning hours for 16–19 pupils fell from 730 hours to 665 hours per student between 2012–13 and 2016–17. The Committee highlighted the fact that there is no equivalent of Pupil Premium after students turn 16 (there are two further separate systems). Disadvantaged students did not appear to be benefitting from having learning hours protected despite providers attracting funding increases for them. Again, scrutiny of the use of this funding was criticised.

This compounds social injustice, as disadvantaged students are twice as likely to attend an FE college rather than a school sixth form. In addition, the cost of transport presented a significant barrier for disadvantaged students with many not being able to attend the most appropriate setting but instead needing to attend the nearest.

The Committee recommended that:

  • The DfE should request a post-16 core funding rate raise from £4,000 to at least £4,760 per student, rising in line with inflation.
  • The DfE should commit to revising this figure following a comprehensive bottom-up assessment of cost requirements.
  • The government should provide an outline of its proposals to improve transport for 16-19 education
  • The DfE should introduce a 16–19 Pupil Premium scheme.

Pupil Premium

The evidence provided suggested that this funding was increasingly being used to off-set budget cuts and supplement core funding. The Committee was clear that the choice should not be between running core operations and supporting disadvantaged pupils. The Committee was also critical of the eligibility for Pupil Premium, which is based on eligibility for free school meals, which have a low take up. This means eligible children do not receive the targeted funding.

The Committee recommended that:

  • The compliance system and OFSTED’s oversight of how this funding is used should be improved.
  • Enrolment in free school meals should be automatic, using Universal Credit information along with school applications and NI details (something the government has previously resisted).
  • There should be a clear system for transferring information about disadvantaged pupils from schools to post-16 settings.

Pressure on SEND funding

The Committee had deep concerns about long-term planning and financial prudence regarding high needs funding. The £350 million SEND allocation was deemed, by those providing evidence, to be inadequate and would not address the wider systemic issues.

The findings of the Committee reflected IPSEA’s response, which was that an effective response to the budget pressures would need to reflect the wider context, including:

  • High demand (especially amongst those aged 16-25) –insufficient had been given to how provision for those aged 16-25 would be funded when the 2014 reforms came into effect.
  • Perverse incentives, whereby those schools with good reputations for inclusivity are hit with disproportionately high costs and those schools which are unable or unwilling to be inclusive are better off.
  • Increased pressure on high needs funding through requests for EHC plans. IPSEA was disappointed but not surprised to see that this was sometimes attributed to parental pressure arising from “perceptions” in respect of SEN Support. The “crisis of confidence” referred to in the Committee’s report is, in IPSEA’s experience, driven by the real-world inadequacy of the SEN support system (as a result of the underfunding and perverse incentives for inclusivity which the Committee also notes). However, what children with SEND are legally entitled to and what schools and LAs perceive them to be entitled to are often at odds, which might explain why this kind of language has appeared in responses to the Committee.
  • The shortcomings of the high needs funding formula; the Committee noted the 2018-2019 budget was allocated based on LA spending patterns in 2012–13, which in turn was derived from LA patterns and decisions in 2005–06.
  • The wider cost of exclusions on the high needs budget.

The Committee outlined that these pressures have led to projected deficits in high needs spending of between £1.2bn and £1.6bn by 2021, LAs attempting to restrict access to funding, and consequently an increase in appeals to the SEND Tribunal (costing LAs approximately £100m since 2014).

The Committee recommended that:

  • The DfE must make the strongest possible case to the Treasury for sufficient funds to finance the widening high-needs deficit.
  • This must include a thorough assessment of the cost implications of local authorities’ duty to maintain an Education, Health and Care Plan up to the age of 25.
  • Improvements to SEN Support by creating more accurate budgets and having national expectations of what SEN Support should cover.
  • A review of the high needs funding formula so it can be more responsive to changing needs and to use a more forward-looking approach.