Survey results revealed: What’s the national picture of special, hospital and alternative provision funding?

16th February 2024

As part of our commitment to understanding the current landscape of all factors affecting education in the North East and beyond, we regularly orchestrate roundtable events and surveys specific to topical challenges. 


Together with The National Network of Special Schools for School Business Professionals (NNoSS), a network facilitated by Schools North East, we amplify the voices of those working in the specialist sector across the length and breadth of the country.


Most recently, we honed in on the subject of funding for special, hospital and alternative provisions to better recognise current concerns, and the impact on budgets, on a national level.


This couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Schools in the special and AP sector are battling with increased financial pressures; Tes recently revealed the schools worst hit by the costs crisis, and new research from Special Needs Jungle exposed the fact that top-up funding has been stagnant since 2018 in a third of areas.


Statistics published in the summer (June 2023) show there were 517,026 EHCPs last January – an increase of nine percent from January 2022 (473,300). Most concerning, however, is learning that this number has increased year on year since 2014.


It’s clear that more financial support is desperately needed in line with the escalating number of children with special educational needs and disabilities, so where is it? What more do we need to do before it’s understood that the system cannot cope for much longer without intervention?


Financial pressures

This month (February 2024),  NNoSS conducted a funding survey to all the fantastic school business professionals working in the special and AP sector. Responses represented 100 special and AP schools across England.


Thank you to all those who stepped forward to share their experience with us for the greater good of the sector!  It’s just a shame that the feedback is a far cry from where the sector needs it to be…


When asked ‘Do you expect additional financial struggles due to support staff pay increases?’, an overwhelming majority (93.2 percent) said ‘yes’.


It’s fundamental that we don’t see yet another year of unfunded support staff pay increases, especially within specialist schools. One school reported that the additional costs will be almost £250K in 2024, on top of the impact of unfunded increases over the past couple of years. This is driving the school into deficit creating unsustainable overspends.


To put it bluntly, schools are struggling to meet the complex needs of students because of inadequate funding. Increased costs, combined with stagnant funding for the past decade, means some schools have no choice but consider reducing support staff, which naturally raises concerns about delivering proper care and meeting safeguarding responsibilities.


Budget deficits

While over two thirds (68.2 percent) of schools in the sector confirmed they were not in a deficit for the 22/23 academic year, half of respondents did reveal they were projecting a deficit either this academic year or next.


Roundtable: Feedback from Head Teachers and trust CEOs from special and AP settings


In line with our funding survey, we also held a roundtable discussion to gather feedback from Head Teachers and trust CEOs from special schools and alternative provision settings.


Financial concerns – Reactions from the roundtable backed up the responses we received from the survey: the budget blues are hitting hard with several settings projecting a deficit. AP schools are especially troubled that they’re losing out on top-up funding due to the higher numbers of permanent exclusion students.


Issues with capacity – The system is bursting at the seams. Exclusions are on the rise coupled with the alarming fact that there are more students with complex needs than ever before. This squeeze means that some pupils end up in AP settings that aren’t best suited for them.


Staff struggles – Teachers and support staff go above and beyond to support students in the way that they need, but limited budgets and growing SEND numbers put huge strain on the system.   With not enough staff to go around, this isn’t just unfair on those involved, but it also raises significant safety concerns.


Pressure from parents – It comes as no real surprise to learn that, since the pandemic, there have been changes in expectations from parents. Not just on schools, but on their children, too.  Some parents are failing to set out boundaries at home, which can lead to behavioural challenges in schools. Additionally, EHCPs and tribunals are being used by parents to access provision that’s not always suitable for their children.


We need immediate action

Armed with vast evidence and opinions from those working directly in the sector, Schools North East and NNoSS can continue lobbying for the change that special, hospital and alternative provision settings desperately need in terms of funding.


Pauline Aitchison, Deputy Director of Schools North East and NNoSS Lead, said: “Staff are doing their very best to support children — really, they’re superheroes. Every single day within the NNoSS network, we witness the hard work, determination, and resilience of our community.


“However, there’s only so much they can do with the tools and resources they’ve been given, and the evidence from the survey and roundtable quite clearly shows that this is far from adequate.”


The ongoing issue with funding and deficits is putting extreme pressure on the sector and we can't let another decade pass before we say enough is enough.


You can find out more about funding within the specialist sector at the NNoSS Annual Conference 2024 on 25 April in Manchester. Tom Goldman, Deputy Director, Funding Policy Unit, will be at the conference to discuss High Needs Funding and will take questions from attendees. Click here to view the event details.


NNoSS is a collaborative network of School Business Professionals from specialist schools across England. Together they are a loud and powerful voice, challenging decisions and influencing decision-makers for the greater good of the entire specialist sector. For more information, click here.