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Changes to the way funding for Special Educational Needs is allocated could encourage schools to tailor their intake of pupils towards those requiring less challenging and complex support, Chris Keates has warned.
The NASUWT General Secretary raised concerns that the new Dedicated Schools Grant would hit school budgets as specific funding would only go directly to pupils with moderate and high SEN.
Because most pupils with SEN were not in those two categories then school budgets would have to bear the brunt of the majority of SEN provision, Ms Keates told an NASUWT fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
The meeting was chaired by Brian Lamb, Chair of Achievement for All, who also headed a major inquiry into SEN in 2010. The fringe and also heard from Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of special needs information service NASEN.
Ms Petersen outlined the challenges facing the profession, particularly as there were more children with complex special needs.
This was partly due to more babies who were born very prematurely surviving due to advances in neo-natal medicine. Babies born to drug and alcohol-addicted mothers also led to higher numbers of children with SEN, she said.
“Although this increases life expectancy there will be an ongoing impact development and may lead to increased complex learning difficulties and disabilities as the child develops.
While it may be right to say that in some instances there could be an over-identification of SEN, Ms Petersen also believed that there were “equally as many” children with SEN not identified.
She said: “Schools are under more pressure to meet the needs of this group of vulnerable pupils to ensure significant progress is being made.”
Ms Petersen highlighted a 2010 Ofsted report A statement is not enough which suggested that the over-identification of SEN was due to poor teaching and with better teachers many pupils would no longer be classed as having SEN.
But she stressed: “It is not about poor teaching but a lack of high-quality training at both initial teacher education and with ongoing professional development.
“We need to ensure we have a highly-skilled and trained workforce that can meet the complex needs of 21st century children.
Ms Keates said: “Under the Coalition Government’s plans and the funding changes that will come in from April, SEN funding is going to be delivered to schools through one single funding stream and that is the Dedicated Schools Grant.
“Unlike in the past this is going to be a dedicated grant that is unhypothicated, there is no ring-fencing within for any particular provision.
“It will therefore be very difficult to disaggregate from that what should be any allocation for SEN.
And she warned: “A further factor in funding is going to be how funding is allocated and the thresholds the Government is putting in place.
The proposals we have got is that specific funding will only go for high and moderate SEN. High need will have a threshold of £10,000 or more and moderate need will have a threshold of £6,000 or more.
“If you are below that threshold then that falls to the school, now the majority of SEN pupils are not in those two categories of high and moderate need so the school budget will have to bear the SEN provision and the pupil that needs support of say £5,000 will be quite expensive for those schools.
“So this will be a challenge, not just because of those cuts but because of course schools are no longer benefiting from economies of scale. Schools now will be in the business of commissioning support.
“Many are saying they are finding that difficult.
“Of course pupils with SEN are not spread evenly throughout the school system and yet the funding formulas will be the same.
“It is easy to see how it is a very short step from that increased financial pressure on schools, giving them quite an incentive to start to tailor their intake towards less challenging and less expensive pupils.”
Ms Keates said there was now “no real scrutiny” of how admissions codes were working in schools
She added: “In the absence of rigorous monitoring you do have a system that is ripe for manipulation.”