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What rights are there to special educational provision? 

The statutory Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND): Code of practice, first published in 2014, sets out detailed information on the support available for children and young people aged 0 to 25.

Broadly, there are two levels of support:

  • SEN Support, provided to a child or young person in their mainstream pre-school, school, or college. Most children and young people with identified SEN in the school system receive this kind of support.
  • Education, Health, and Care (EHC) Plans which provide a formal basis for support for children and young people who need more support than is available through SEN Support. Those with EHC plans may be in either mainstream or specialist settings.

Government’s SEND reform programme

In September 2019, five years after the introduction of the current system of support for children and young people with SEND, the Government announced a major review of its effectiveness.

Following delays to the review during the pandemic, the Government published a green paper consultation on reform to the system, SEND Review: right support, right place, right time, in March 2022.

The Government published its SEND and alternative provision improvement plan in March 2023. This confirmed the Government’s future plans following the green paper consultation.

Among other changes, the improvement plan proposes a unified system for SEND and alternative provision, driven by new national standards, as well as local SEND and alternative provision partnerships to commission provision.

A SEND and alternative provision roadmap was published alongside the plan, setting out timelines for key parts of the Government’s proposals.

Levels of need

In January 2023, there were around 517,000 children and young people of all ages with an EHC plan in England. Most of these were compulsory school age children. In January 2023, around 69% of those with EHC plans were aged between 5 and 15 years old, 20% were aged 16-19, 7% were aged 20-25, and 4% were aged under 5.

The number of EHC plans (and earlier, statements of SEN) maintained by local authorities has increased in each year since 2010 (when there were around 228,200). This increase has accelerated since 2015 (when there were around 240,200). This increase occurred in a wider context of rising pupil numbers, as well as reforms that extended the age group covered, to 25 years old.

Trends in funding

Funding for SEN in England is not allocated as a separate amount per child or young person with SEN. SEN funding is part of the overall Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) allocated to each local authority to fund their schools budget. It is for local authorities, in consultation with their schools forums, to determine the individual allocation to schools. The high needs block of the DSG provides funding for complex SEN provision, but there are other sources too, including the schools block of the DSG, which supports mainstream schools’ general budgets.

High needs block allocations have generally followed an upward trend, particularly in recent years, both in cash and real terms – that is, accounting for economy-wide inflation. However, many local authorities are facing significant budget pressures, and there are now a number of DfE financial intervention programmes relating to SEND, including the Safety Valve programme and the Delivering better value in SEND programme. 

What are Supplementary Estimates?

One of Parliament’s longest standing functions is the consideration and authorisation of the government’s spending plans, requiring the government to obtain parliamentary consent before spending public money. These are presented to Parliament in documents known as “Estimates”.

Estimates typically take place twice per financial year:

  • April to June: Main Estimates (initial departmental spending plans)
  • February to March: Supplementary Estimates (revised final departmental spending plans)

The Library has published briefing papers setting out details of the government’s initial spending plans (published in June 2023 for the Main Estimates 2023/24) and its revised spending plans (published in February 2024 for the Supplementary Estimates 2023/24).

Section two of this debate pack looks at the DfE’s supplementary estimates for 2023/24, which provide the context for this debate. 

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