Only this week, I was researching issues online around funding and SEND provision in England and I came across repeated statements and assertions about the now legendary £6,000 notional budget from charities, parental support groups and other SEND organisations.
What did they all say?
If I may paraphrase to summarise, “schools and settings are required to fund the first £6,000 of all SEND provision for each child or young person. They should only seek help from the local authority (LA) once they have shown they have done this.”
Really? You think so?
I am often asked - both in my previous role as a senior school leader and SENDCo, and currently as an independent SEND consultant - where do we get this idea from, that schools have to account for their spending of the magical £6,000 before seeking LA assistance for a pupil? The issue crops up most frequently when parents or settings request an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment under the 2014 Children and Families Act; often referred to as 'applying for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)'.
I will quote the Department for Education’s 'Call for Evidence' in May 2019, section 3.19: "The concept of the notional SEN budget originated from the implementation of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. It has continued as part of successive school funding changes, most recently those in 2013-14 which resulted in the introduction of the requirement for local authorities to delegate sufficient funds to meet the costs of SEN support up to £6,000 per pupil, per annum".
This is where it gets tricky. The requirement of LAs was and is to “delegate sufficient funds” to meet the cost of £6,000 per pupil, and LAs now insist that all settings must spend up to that limit before applying for further funds - or a needs assessment - whereas in fact, in reality, as any SENDCo can tell us, they never do fund up to that level.
Yet they still insist.
The requirement on LAs goes back to at least March 2016 with the “School Revenue Funding: current funding arrangements”, paragraph 19, and is still there in the most recent higher needs funding operational document “High Needs Funding: 2020 to 2021 Operational guide, February 2020”, paragraphs 100-102.
Local authorities try to insist on proof of spending the £6,000 before they will even consider a request for an EHC needs assessment. I have seen documentation from so many LAs, in some cases up to 35 pages of written, spending-based evidence, which sets the £6,000 as a threshold for accessing any further support for both SEN support (what is referred to in schools as ‘K’) and EHC needs assessments leading (hopefully for child, parent and school) to an EHCP).
In the SEND Code of Practice (Jan 2015),sections 3.96 - 3.99, schools are expected to fund additional support for their SEND pupils. This means any support which is additional to or different from that normally provided for the setting’s pupils of that age. Section 3.99 specifically refers to the 'nationally prescribed threshold'.
The issue is that this threshold is, according to the School Standards and Framework Act and the Department for Education’s Call for Evidence, 2019, a requirement of LAs, not of schools and other settings.
I personally know of one LA which, when a school calculated its incoming SEND budget per pupil, confirmed in writing to the school that their SEND budget was just over £3,700 per pupil, not £6,000. When the school’s SENDCo asked for confirmation that this amount was indeed their notional budget, they received a one word response, “yes”.
So, there we have it, the law requires that LAs provide sufficient funding so that schools can fund SEND provision up to £6,000 per pupil per annum,but we know that few if any actually do so, yet they insist in writing on their websites that schools must spend this before they can access other services.
What do we do?
Challenge. Challenge the LA, its officers, every time they specify such a “requirement”and emphasise that in fact the law requires them to fund up to £6,000 and not schools.
Ask which law requires schools to fund to that level as a threshold; they cannot of course because no such legal requirement exists.
Speak with your finance team and obtain details of exactly how much is coming into school as the SEND budget. Divide that figure by your total number of SEND students on roll.
Ask the LA pertinent questions about whether this amount is what they would describe as the ‘notional budget’ and, if so, why isn't it £6,000 as is required in law?
Above all, it is unlawful for any LA to set a threshold to access an education, health and care needs assessment which is higher than that set in the 2014 Children and Families Act, Part 3, Section 36(8) and this includes a possible funding threshold set by the LA.
This has been a guest post by Garry Freeman. Garry is a SENDCo, National SEND System Leader and Independent SEND Consultant specialising in:
- All EHCP processes
- School improvement and CPD
- Whole School SEND Reviews
Follow Garry Freeman at the links below: