With seemingly no end in sight, austerity continues to hold our education system in a fiscal headlock. The need for Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans has increased far beyond the scope of council budgets and now local authorities are turning to other areas to fund their SEND initiatives.
It’s a problem that is reaching breaking point. Councils are unable to cope with the 11% increase in EHC plans from the last academic year and are still struggling with wider funding shortages across the board. With SEND costs expected to rise again in the 2019-20 academic year, local councils and parents of SEND children are looking for answers.
The effects of underfunding SEND
A BBC article shed light on the hightening crisis, stating that many councils were trying to ‘ration’ resources, with some SEND students waiting in excess of 90 days for their EHC plan and over 8,500 students currently classed a ‘awaiting provision’. These issues have caused a spike in complaints which have led to an increase in investigations from the previous year. Around 90% of these investigations were upheld.
93% of local authorities have lost out on funding since 2015
All of these investigations cost, yet more money. The Local Government Association (LGA) reported an estimated £536m SEND funding deficit amongst local councils in the last year. With austerity still affecting council budgets on top of this, this puts local authorities in real difficulty. If these conditions continue, it is likely that local councils will run out of budget in coming years.
In order to fulfil their legal duty to provide adequate SEND support, councils have, in the past, redistributed their budgets to pay for the increasing number of EHC plans. The government’s barrister described having to, “Steal from Peter to give to Paul”. This alludes to the fact that school budgets will likely have to be used to fill the EHC plan spending gap, removing funding from state school budgets, of which 60% are already running at a loss.
A report by the National Education Union (NEU) found that 93% of local authorities have lost out on funding since 2015. With council budgets going down and SEND costs going up, it’s no surprise that councils are in this situation.
How do we bring an end to the crisis?
The key issue here is funding. Without more funds being released by the treasury, local councils simply cannot cope with the rising cost of EHCs. The government has agreed to release further funding to councils in the 2019-20 academic year, but the added budget would cover less than half of the current SEND deficit.
What is needed is proper funding of our SEND system to give the 1.3 million SEND students the support they deserve, and to safeguard our state schools’ budgets so that all students receive a quality education. Without the correct funding, councils will continue to whittle away at other services in order to comply with their statutory obligation to provide for EHC plans they cannot afford.
Have your students or children been affected by EHCP delays? Leave a comment and let us know how this problem has affected you.