A Crisis in High Needs

The demand for high needs funding is out-stripping the budgets available to local authorities across the country, resulting in serious deficits in the High Needs Block in many councils.

Local authorities are finding it extremely difficult to recover these deficits and cuts to existing high needs services and pupil top-up funding makes what provision is available simply unsustainable. 

The additional funding provided in the 2019-20 settlement is welcomed, but woefully inadequate.The reality is that there is a crisis in high needs funding that the government must address before permanent damage is done to very many vulnerable pupils. 

The Department for Education’s attempts to fix the problem by permitting a 0.5% transfer from schools funding to high needs was too little too late: not only does it fail to address the size of the emerging funding problem, but it also hardens attitudes between schools, through their representatives on schools’ forums, and local authorities, who consult schools forums on their proposals. 

There has been no recognition of the increasing population since 2013-14 in the High Needs Block and, if the funding blocks are to be ringfenced, there is a moral imperative that it be properly funded, rather than just permit small scale transfers from a Schools’ Block that is already under considerable cost pressures.  

Significant funding pressures are being placed on local authority budgets and the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). The impact of this is to put pressure on schools, who are being asked to take on more and more work that traditionally was undertaken elsewhere, e.g. youth work, parental support, or was less of an issue in the past, such as mental health.  

Schools need to be suitably funded and trained for this work. Schools are significantly more complex institutions than they were in the past and the funding for this has not kept pace. 

It is recognised that austerity measures have limited government funding and that schools have been relatively protected, but the amount of additional work they do, and cost pressures put upon them, has more than removed any protection they had.

The historic element of the High Needs Block will need to be better understood if it is to remain part of the formula for the long-term.

Local authorities made decisions about how much they used for the High Needs Block, based upon their needs at the time. To baseline this into the formula is clearly fairer, but it needs to be part of a review of the quantum of funding that is available for the High Needs Block. 

Our objectives

  1. f40 is calling for a further immediate injection of new funding, estimated on increased costs and demand since 2015, of at least £1.4billion per annum, and the introduction of an annual index-linked review for this block. 
  2. A review of Special Educational Needs (SEN) policy and guidance is also required to help manage down demand more effectively.

The Local Government Association-commissioned ISOS Partnership report provides a clear analysis of the situation and the funding issues, along with the legislative changes that are needed to bring high needs funding back to appropriate levels.

You can download a presentation on the report to the f40 executive committee by ISOS Partnership, which shows the impact on f40 authorities.