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SEN Policy Research Forum Exeter

Fair funding for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability in England?

Fair funding for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability in England?

School funding formulas have been applied across a number of countries for at least the last 50 years. A national funding formula (NFF) was introduced in England in 2018 with the aim to provide a platform for fair funding across the country. The English National Funding Formula (NFF) has four funding blocks: Schools, High Needs, Early Years and Central Services. The NFF aims to address the imbalance in funding levels in different parts of the country. One of the key policy aims of the NFF reforms is to address unintended variations in the amount of funding received by schools where pupils have similar characteristics. However, Local Authorities (LAs) and voluntary organisations have expressed widespread concerns about the funding levels available for provision and services for children with SEND and disparities in the funding received in different areas of the country.

A recent research study undertaken by Alan Marsh, Peter Gray and Professor Brahm Norwich set out to explore the variations in funding received in different local authority areas, to investigate how far the UK government’s policy commitment to a more equitable system of High Needs Block (HNB) funding is matched by the reality, and the degree to which funding is based on need rather than demand or history. The main finding from this new research study demonstrates significant and continuing differences in HNB funding between demographically similar LAs, which the authors suggest undermines the principle of fair funding and negates the broader definition of leveling up.

This study builds on a previous study commissioned by the SEN Policy Research Forum in 2019 undertaken by the same authors. In 2019, the research study found a significant variation in the level of HNB allocations to English LAs in the 2018/19 financial year, ranging from £365 per 2-18yr old resident, to £798. In the latest research, this range was £620-£1021.

The authors note that LA systems which make greater use of special schools have now increased by 56% since 2014 and that given how specialist provision is funded, where each additional placement adds at least £10k to the local area HNB spend, this increase in specialist provision is likely to be more costly than an emphasis on inclusion. If specialist provision and the continued academisation of mainstream and special schools are to be the ongoing preferred policy option, then an even higher level of financial resources will be required in the long run.

The authors further argue that the government’s SEND and alternative provision improvement plan fails to acknowledge ongoing inequities in funding received by comparable LAs. In particular, their findings indicate that, despite extra money coming into the system, funding is still largely determined by history, ie the amount of money local authorities were spending on high needs when the Dedicated Schools Grant was first created more than a decade ago. Accordingly, they suggest that the next UK government, whoever that might be after the forthcoming UK General Election, will have to re-examine the SEND landscape and seriously consider whether the present Children and Families Act 2014 (part 3) is fit for purpose within the context of inclusion, equity and budget sustainability.

The full research article was recently published in the British Educational Research Journal.

Additionally, an explanatory blog post was recently published on the BERA website:



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