Pauline Holbrook, Head of SEND at SSAT reflects upon the discussions that took place during the SEND Webinar in September.
Ares of discussion included:
- SEND review
- Cabinet changes
Significant cabinet changes in relation to education and young people
Following the government re-shuffle there appears to be no appetite to address any of the concerns previously or currently being raised in connection with SEND. It certainly does not feel as if special schools are at the forefront of any agendas at the moment. The only mention of SEND seems to be in relation to catch up monies as a result of the pandemic. Catch up in the special school sector means different things to different students and some of the money that has been made available along with stringent criteria to access it means special schools and their students are unable to benefit.
Announcement about significant funding for social care
Additional funding for social care is welcomed as some will hopefully find its way to supporting children and young people. Special schools in particular play a vital role in health and social care for many students. The challenging part is getting funding for the health and care elements that schools undertake during term time. Schools that are actively working on this are finding that they are getting stuck around the mechanisms used in these sectors and who the actual decision makers are that they need to be speaking too. If you have cracked this nut I would love to have a conversation.
The SEND review which we are eagerly anticipating appears to be delayed yet again. The cynic in me is saying this is because it is such a hard nut to crack, just like social care and national funding and as such keeps getting buried in the “too difficult to do” pile. However, the optimist in me is saying yes this is hard and the government want to get it right and as such are looking at all aspects of SEND and we will get a review which will really tackle the problem rather than just tinkering around the edges. Guess we will just have to wait and see which is right.
There is always a finite amount of money allocated to SEND within any LA. The amount of funding given to LA’s for SEND has remained stable for a number of years. Funding for mainstream schools has risen over this time although the whole of the education system is underfunded. Due to the lack of increase in funding for SEND this means the sector has lost out by 14-15%. The increase in the number of students identified as having additional needs is growing and I feel will continue to grow. We know the complexity of need is increasing together with the number of students requiring very specialist provision which may not be available locally thus stretching tight budgets even further leading to massive overspending of the high needs budget in many LA’s. One way of addressing this is for the government to offer a safety valve to a LA. Basically it is a way of writing off the debt if the LA over a defined period of time can reduce the number of EHCP’s together with the more expensive high needs expenses. I am not convinced this is the way to address the overspend but a number of LA’s have taken up this offer when invited to do so.
Numbers in the special school sector seem to be out of control. Some colleagues are reporting that schools are being asked to take 1/3 more students over planned places. With many mainstream schools reporting a significant rise in students presenting with mental health needs as well as learning needs this is not going to get better anytime soon. Add to this how data driven our education system is, the narrowing of approved accreditation and the massive reduction of special schools designated as teaching schools I fear we are at breaking point.
A number of LA’s are being proactive in addressing the issue of numbers by setting up service level agreements (SLA’s) between special and mainstream schools. The aim of which is to support mainstream schools meet the needs of some SEND learners who would have otherwise been looking for places in the special school sector. We have been here before and then funding was pulled. This works well like most other initiatives when schools are funded appropriately to deliver.
We know Gavin Williamson had an agenda to increase the size and number of MAT’s. In some areas this still seems to be high on the priority list of the respective RSC whilst in other areas this has gone very quiet. As a sector the percentage of special schools in a MAT is still relatively small. This is certainly something to watch.
Once again, the picture for vaccinations for students in special schools is variable. The government announced during the summer that students in our sector were eligible for the jab and that it would be administered via GP’s and clinicians. The problem is many of the GP’s our students use may be unaware that they go to a special school and as such have not been called up. Some schools/LA’s were in talks with CCG to ask for it to be school led rather than GP led prior to latest announcement that all 12 – 15yr olds will be offered vaccination in school. Still need to address those below 12. Heads very concerned that they may be targeted by groups/parents against vaccination. Members already reporting videos of discussions between parents and heads being posted on social media.
Despite all of the above schools are moving forwards, becoming more and more innovative in order to provide the very best education and opportunities for young people. SSAT membership offers you opportunities to network with others up and down the country, to share experiences, initiatives, problem solve or just have a chat so please don’t sit there alone reach out as it could save you hours and hours of work.