SEND funding: fixing the holes on a sinking ship?

Parents protest outside Suffolk County Council.
Credit: ITV News Anglia
Protests have taken place across the East this year Credit: ITV Anglia
  • Words by Neil Barbour of ITV News Anglia

It's sometimes difficult to see the rays of hope in the SEND system. We've spoken to families in debt, children out of school, and parents who've been left emotionally scarred, so positivity can sometimes seem short in supply.

The announcement of £60 million in extra funding for Cambridgeshire's SEND system, and Norfolk's £70 million, offers a sense of hope.

A sense of hope to families who want their children in the right setting. A crack of light to those stuck in the dark world of debt. But it's tinged with scepticism.

Decades of failure and chronic funding issues have left those who work in the SEND sector with a feeling that this money is simply window dressing.

The professionals we spoke to said: "Call me a cynic but I fear what we will actually see is a reduction in assessments with increase in refusals."

"[We will see] more children being forced to remain in unsuitable environments under the guise of 'appropriate provision' and training in mainstream, and increased parent blaming for those that don’t make it in the mainstream system."

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Another said: "The analogy I would say, is that if a boat is holed below the water height, unless you do something with that hole, the boat is still going to be at risk of sinking.

"You can be chucking the water out and pumping the water out, and the introduction of more funding feels like it's a stronger pump to get the water out the boat, but if it's not the systemic problem, unless we attend to all that the hole is still there and it doesn't get plugged and it doesn't get patched up."

The number of requests for Education, Health and Care Plans in Cambridgeshire - a document which sets out a child's needs and the support they'll get – have more than doubled from 3,429 in 2016 to more than 7,000 currently.

The money given to Cambridgeshire County Council will create 600 new specialist places in the next three years and provide millions to support new provision on mainstream sites.

Council bosses say the funding will help tackle a £50 million gap in the SEND budget - something which critics say is a symptom of chronic Government underfunding over years

One headteacher told us: "It all sounds really positive. What is missing is pro-active planning rather than reactive promises, which is what we always get."

"What we need to hear from national government is that per place funding is going up and will mirror inflation (forever), that all Government agreed pay rises for any school staff, not just teachers will be funded (again, forever) and that top up funding will somehow be better linked to level of need."

Cllr Maria King, vice chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People Committee, said: “It is great news we will now be able to deliver hundreds of extra school places for young people with SEND and we can now commit to balancing our budgets going forward.

"We do call on government to continue its support and to address the challenges that we are facing in the provision of SEND service both locally and nationally.”

Most agree any funding put towards fixing the systemic problems in the SEND system is welcome, but those who work in the sector are treating their optimism with caution.

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