SEND: What’s the latest situation around funding?

28th March 2024

When it comes to working in special and hospital schools, and alternative provisions, no two days are the same.

Things are constantly developing and evolving (not always for the best), which is why Schools North East, through our partner NNoSS (National Network of Special Schools), always ensures the lines of communication are open wide with our network of colleagues.

So, what’s the latest? Well, it should come as no surprise to learn that ‘funding’ has been cropping up in several different contexts recently…

While it’s a topic we speak about incessantly, we will continue to do so until the sector finally gets what it needs and deserves.

TAs have to perform high-risk healthcare because of cuts

Last week, we caught up with a NNoSS member specifically about funding in relation to education, health and care plans (EHCPs).

This school business manager, who wished to remain anonymous, even helped us to write an article which explored this topic in detail. Demonstrating the sheer power of our network, the article was picked up and published by Tes!

The school business manager explored this topic in detail in an article published by Tes, which was supported by network lead Pauline Aitchison.

Starting  by explaining how special schools nationwide face tightening budgets, leading to increased scrutiny of all spending, which includes high-needs funding allocated to students with EHCPs. Yes, we know it doesn’t make sense but this is the reality we’re dealing with.

Because many SEND schools cater to pupils with complex medical needs that require additional support from health and social care services, the repercussions of these cuts have been alarming.

Schools are now often tasked with complex health procedures, which are typically delegated to teaching assistants. These high-risk procedures include catheterisation, respiratory care, tracheostomy care and changes, and enteral feeds.

None of this will come as a surprise to any of the NNoSS network, unfortunately. Discussions with fellow members reveal that this is not an isolated incident and is in fact happening often right across the country.

Staff are doing their absolute best and we must give them the admiration and respect they deserve, but that doesn’t mean that any of this is acceptable.

Unfunded support staff pay award is a key pressure on budgets

Looking at funding through a wider lens, another NNoSS member put pen to paper to highlight further issues associated with schools’ financial pressures.

In the article, which is due to be published on Schools Week soon (another win for the network!), the writer spotlights how demand for special school services is growing, but the funding has remained stagnant for over a decade.

This lack of funding growth, coupled with rising costs such as staff pay awards, is forcing many schools to operate at a deficit. This is a matter we delved deeper into via our Spring Funding survey.

Uncertainty around future funding makes it difficult for schools to plan effectively, which is incredibly frustrating, not to mention counterproductive. This spiralling situation is putting a strain on schools’ ability to deliver the quality education that we know our students deserve. 

While the recent government commitment to build new special schools sounds fantastic on paper – and is absolutely welcome – it’s just not enough to address the full scale of the problem.

The article calls for a complete overhaul of SEND funding to ensure schools have the resources they need to adequately support students, and give them the best possible start in life.

To help strengthen our data around this topic, NNoSS has a survey currently circulating around the network, which aims to better understand the current state of the support staff pay award.

It highlights the amount of support staff in special schools and the cost of the (unfunded) pending pay increases, insisting – yet again – that the sector cannot take another hit this year with no funding.   

Furthermore, the way the awards have been given in the past two years is unfair on higher paid staff.  Where a lump sum is added to each paypoint, the more you get paid, the lower the percentage increase. 

We need an overhaul of the entire funding system

The current state of funding for special schools paints a bleak picture, and one that Schools North East / NNoSS is desperate to add some colour to!

Chronic underinvestment coupled with rising demand will continue to threaten the successful operation of our schools. If the system is left untreated, our pupils will be without the education they deserve.

…and our staff will continue to carry the unbearable weight of these issues!

Without a significant funding increase, a shift in priorities, and a commitment to long-term financial stability, these schools risk becoming under-resourced islands, unable to navigate the ever-growing needs of their students.

While we can’t deny the government has made progress, we’re way past the point of needing small steps in the right direction. We need to see giant leaps and strides!

If you’re a School Business Professional working in the specialist sector, join NNoSS today and take advantage of a collaborative network – with 300+ members – that connects and upskills colleagues and influences decision makers. Get your voice heard.