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Philippa Stobbs and Martha Evans look at recent changes to school funding arrangements and their impact on SEN provision

In April 2013, the Government made changes to the way that funding is provided to schools. While they will affect how schools provide for pupils, the funding changes do not change the legal responsibilities of schools and local authorities for children with special educational needs (SEN).

The Government is also making changes to the SEN system. The changes, currently set out in the Children and Families Bill, will not start to happen until September 2014. Until then, the current SEN framework, the law and the SEN Code of Practice all stay in place.

The new school funding system and SEN

Funding is agreed locally and is given to schools under three main headings:

Element 1: an amount of money for each pupil in the school
Schools get most of their funding based on the total number of pupils in the school. Every pupil in a school attracts an amount of money. The amount varies from one authority to another. There is usually more funding for each pupil in a secondary school than in a primary school. In 2013, all secondary schools, including academies, are getting at least £3,000 for each pupil and all primary schools are getting at least £2,000 for each pupil.

This is the core budget for each school and it is used to make general provision for all pupils in the school including pupils with SEN.

Element 2: the school’s notional SEN budget
Every school receives an additional amount of money to help make special educational provision to meet children’s SEN. This is called the notional SEN budget.

Special educational provision is anything that is provided to meet a child’s SEN that is “additional to or different from” provision made for all children. The local authority must make sure that the special educational provision specified in a statement is made for the child. For a child at School Action or School Action Plus, the school must use its “best endeavours” to make sure that special educational provision is made to meet a child’s SEN. Schools must also follow the SEN Code of Practice which advises them to involve parents in decisions about how their child’s needs are met.

Secondary schools receive a core budget of at least £3,000 per pupil.The amount in this notional SEN budget is based on a formula which is agreed between schools and the local authority. The formula usually gives more money to schools that have more children on free school meals and more children who are not doing as well as others in English and maths. This provides a good guide to how many children with SEN a school is likely to have.  

A small number of schools may find that they have many more children with SEN than expected. This might happen where, for example, a school has a good reputation for teaching children with SEN. Where this does happen, the school can ask the local authority for additional funding.

The government has recommended that schools should use this notional SEN budget to pay for up to £6,000 worth of special educational provision to meet a child’s SEN. Most children with SEN need special educational provision that comes to less than £6,000.

Element 2 is called the notional SEN budget because no-one tells schools exactly how they should spend their money. When funding is delegated to schools, they can spend it in the way that they think is best. However, schools have a duty to identify, assess and make special educational provision for all children with SEN, and the local authority has a duty to set out what schools are expected to provide from their delegated budget.1 This information must be published on the local authority website.2 

Element 3: top-up funding
If it can show that a pupil with SEN needs more than £6,000 worth of special educational provision, the school can ask the local authority to provide top-up funding to meet the cost of that provision. Where the local authority agrees, the cost is provided from funding held by the local authority in their high needs block.

Element 3 is provided by the local authority for an individual pupil who has a high level of needs and schools are expected to use this funding to make provision for that individual pupil.

Academies are funded through the Education Funding Agency, not through the local authority. Academies get the same level of funding for each pupil as local authority schools in the same area; their notional SEN budget is worked out in the same way and they can get top-up funding from the local authority in the same way. Academies do get extra funding, but this is not related to SEN; it is for services that academies have to buy for themselves, services that are provided by the local authority for local authority maintained schools.

Impact on special educational provision

Changes to the SEN framework will not be made until September 2014 and, even then, they will be phased in over a period of time. School and local authority SEN responsibilities remain the same until then and the school funding changes do not change them.
School responsibilities for special educational provision

Schools must “use their best endeavours” (do their best) for children with SEN and they must “have regard to” the SEN Code of Practice. This means that they must follow it unless they can show that something else would work better. In addition, Ofsted will check on how well children with SEN are learning and how much progress they are making.

Schools are responsible for identifying and making special educational provision for all children with SEN who do not have a statement. They discuss this with parents. Following a review, provision may need changing and there might be a number of reasons for this. It might be that:

  • the child’s needs have changed
  • the school has new information about the child’s needs
  • the child’s needs have been met
  • targets for the child’s learning have been reached
  • targets for the child are not being reached
  • there is new evidence about the child’s progress
  • the school has a better idea about how to meet the child’s needs
  • discussion with the parents shows that a different approach might work better.

Changing SEN provision because of school funding changes is not in line with the SEN Code of Practice or with schools using their “best endeavours”.

Local authority responsibilities and statements

For a child with a statement, changes to special educational provision can only be made by amendment to the child’s statement. Parents have a right of appeal if they do not agree with the changes that the local authority wants to make.

Changes are usually made following an annual review meeting and a recommendation to the local authority. If the local authority wants to change the statement without an annual review, parents can request a meeting with the local authority to discuss the changes the local authority wants to make.

The point at which a child might need a statutory assessment or a statement remains the same. A statutory assessment can be requested by the parent or by the school. Funding for the provision specified in a statement comes from the local authority’s high needs block, along with funding for the first £6,000 worth of provision from the school’s notional SEN budget. The school will continue to provide this when they receive top-up funding for a child with a statement.  

Key facts: sources of funding for SEN support

To meet their needs, children with SEN are entitled to:

  • core provision from the core funding which is for all children in the school (element 1)
  • up to £6,000s worth of extra provision, funded from the school’s notional SEN budget (element 2)
  • extra provision funded by top-up from the local authority’s high needs block.  

Further information

Philippa Stobbs is Assistant Director at the Council for Disabled Children. Martha Evans is Senior Programme Lead at the Anti-Bullying Alliance.
For information and advice about school funding issues and the local arrangements, contact your local parent partnership service. Details can be found at:


1: The Special Educational Needs (Provision of Information by Local Education Authorities) (England) Regulations 2001, SI 2218. These can be found on page 189 of SEN Code of Practice.
2: These requirements will continue when the SEN reforms are implemented. Provision from schools’ delegated budgets will form the core of the local offer which local authorities will be required to publish.
3: This includes free schools, City Technology Colleges and University Technical Colleges.


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