Allocating money based on the concepts of ‘predictable and exceptional needs’ could strengthen SEND support

Strengthening school budgets and a different kind of accountability system would be a more effective way of solving serious SEN issues than proposed Government reforms, experts have said.

Allocating money based on the concepts of ‘predictable and exceptional needs’ could strengthen SEND support and early intervention so that parents can be more confident that most children’s needs can be met.

The Government’s plan to introduce a national funding approach is intended to ensure greater consistency, reduce the “postcode lottery” and strengthen expectations about schools’ spending decisions as well as being the focus for external accountability and inspection.

However, the SEN Policy Research Forum has warned the proposals do not address some of the key problems with the current funding system which are contributing to the ‘SEND crisis’.

Most local authorities have budget deficits with regard to SEN provision. This is despite a 60% increase in High Needs funding over the last 6 years. The situation is likely to get worse as the Government has reverted to ‘inflation-only’ growth from 2024/25 onwards and spend increases are generally higher than that. Around half of LAs are now involved in a Government intervention programme (Safety Valve/Delivering Better Value) but there is limited evidence so far that these are having a significant impact on financial sustainability.

Parent groups and voluntary organisations are concerned statutory entitlements may be diminished in the drive towards a more sustainable financial position. There is evidence from national data that spend increases have also coincided with significant growth in the numbers of pupils being placed in specialist provision (special schools and mainstream resource bases).

Peter Gray, co-coordinator of the Forum, has also pointed out that the Government changes fail to acknowledge ongoing inequities in the funding received by different local authorities which relate to history rather than the Government’s own indicators of need.

Dr Gray’s analysis says the majority of SEND should be predictable and most schools should be able to make the necessary adjustments and adaptations in their teaching and learning and organisation to meet these needs internally. This means funding should be provided wherever possible at a school level. Pupils with exceptional needs will still need to be funded at an individual level but the type of support will require more nuanced judgement and understanding of the context of the school they attend. A proportion of funding currently held centrally would be better deployed if it was devolved on a longer-term basis for schools or groups of schools to manage.

Dr Gray said: “This would support an enhanced mainstream offer. Funding for exceptional needs could still be allocated centrally but not necessarily through a system that required statutory assessment of EHC plans.

 “The Government’s SEND improvement plan does nothing to address the problems inherent in a pupil-led funding model and the move to a system of bands and tariffs could even make things worse. It would be better supported by a more flexible and dynamic funding model which really does ensure that children get the ‘right support, in the right place, at the right time.

“Funding schools and settings, with the right support and accountabilities, would be more likely to make this happen. And more collective processes for targeting funds at those with the most significant needs would provide a major opportunity for strengthening the quality of provision for all children and schools.”

A framework for the future development of national policy on SEND and inclusions is now available on the SEN Policy Research Forum website at In addition to funding and accountability, this includes other areas where changes are needed to support a more inclusive approach, such as curriculum, assessment and teaching; support and training; and workforce development.