Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Funding

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:43 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education) 3:43 pm, 12th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate Sir Vince Cable on securing this debate, and I thank him for the constructive tone that he adopted in his opening remarks.

Provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the support available for their parents and families, has been a particular concern for me since I was elected in 2005. Governments of all political persuasions have struggled to get it right.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the success of the Children and Families Act 2014, and pointed out some of the issues that have arisen. I was a Minister in the Department of Health when we were doing the early work on it. Much of what was done at the time was the right thing to do, but we must now resolve some of the issues that have arisen from that. Many—but not all—of the issues relate to funding. Many local authorities and schools are having to work very hard to make the best use of the resources available, particularly in supporting those children and their families.

I want to put on the record some of the things that we have done. We have prioritised funding for schools, and increased funding for high needs from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year—a 20% increase over five years. In December we allocated an additional £250 million funding for high needs, and in the next financial year we will ensure that every local authority will get a share of that additional funding. Across England, funding for high needs will rise to £6.3 billion in 2019-20. We have also announced an additional £100 million of capital funding to create new places and improve facilities for children and young people. That will take our total investment between 2018 and 2021 to £360 million.

We will invest in more of the new special schools that are needed locally. Sixty-five local authorities have applied for funding to build special and alternative provision free schools. We are currently looking carefully at those requests and will go ahead with all bids that meet the criteria and are of good quality, so that local authorities have the specialist provision they need. We are hoping to notify local authorities before Easter. I recognise that although that additional support is welcome, it will not provide a complete answer to the funding pressures that local authorities are reporting to us. We are preparing for the spending review with that in mind.

We have reformed the funding system and have introduced a new formula allocation to make the funding for those with high needs fairer. We introduced the national funding formula after extensive consultation. It marks an historic change to the way that we distribute education funding—one that previous Governments have long avoided. The formula that we use to allocate high needs funding uses a range of factors, including low attainment, deprivation and health factors, to direct funding to where it is most needed.

The formula ensures that the funding changes from year to year and takes account of changes in the overall population of young people and children, which the system it replaced did not. The formula also includes a substantial element of funding based on local authorities’ past spending, to reflect the fact that there are factors driving costs that depend on local circumstances and cannot be linked directly to the population and other characteristics represented in the formula. The formula also includes a funding floor to guarantee an underlying increase in high needs funding from this year to next year, subject to population and pupil or student number changes. Although the national funding formula is a significant improvement in the way that we distribute high needs funding to local authorities, we will keep it under review.