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Petition to withdraw harmful funding changes for pupils with SEND in Devon

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On 19th July 2017, a letter (link below) was uploaded to the schools’ information portal from Dawn Stabb, Head of Education and Learning at Devon County Council.  It stated that, from 1st September 2017, significant funding cuts are being implemented for pupils with SEND across Devon.  This allows most schools 2-4 working days to address these changes before the summer holiday, subject to them having read it.

This letter references “avoid(ing) ongoing significant overspend within the High Needs Block.”  It also references “fair,” “consistent” and “effective” ways of supporting young people in Devon with additional needs, but does not reflect on the likely devastating impact of the funding changes on pupils.

Dawn Stabb notes that there has been an “unprecedented rise in requests for statutory assessments and funding” this year which is as a direct result of the LA capping non-statutory funding requests last September without warning settings in advance. Therefore, if it was unprecedented, it cannot have been un-predicted.  The only way schools have been able to secure levels of funding which adequately address the needs of more complex learners has been to submit statutory requests. 

Between September and December, schools will now need to convert any non-statutory funding for complex learners into statutory funding by undergoing the lengthy and bureaucratic system of initiating statutory assessment.  Despite the impact this will have on schools, this will be done by SENCOs county wide, as the priority will be ensuring that the needs of our most vulnerable children can continue to be met.  However, the impact of this will be less expert, hands-on support from school SENCOs for the children and families who need it most.

For any child who does not have their non-statutory funding converted, all funding for that pupil will cease, at the latest on the annual anniversary of their funding being awarded.

Many of the pupils whom this will effect benefit from life-changing adult support in their schools.  Some of this will be through 1:1 support, group work, enhanced opportunities to access the curriculum in a way which suits their complex needs and adaptations which entail their ‘special educational provision.’

When this funding is stopped (as it will be for some pupils for whom statutory assessments are not agreed – the government expects only 3% of children to require EHCPs whilst a higher proportion are in receipt of top up funding) what will happen to these children who depend on this provision?  Certainly, many experienced, talented and highly valued staff across the county will lose their jobs.

The LA has a duty, as outlined in the SEND Code of Practice: 0-25 years (2014, Department for Education and Department of Health) to ensure that “additional top-up funding (be provided) where the cost of the special educational provision required to meet the needs of an individual pupil exceeds the nationally prescribed threshold” (Section 6.99).  One of the main purposes of the new Code of Practice was to ensure that additional top-up funding was available for pupils with high needs who did not need to undergo the full statutory assessment process.

Furthermore, there has been no consultation regarding these changes with any party, least of all those who matter most, the families of, and children with, special educational needs.  The LA’s duty is to, “when carrying out their functions, to support and involve the child and his or her parent, or the young person, and to have regard to their views, wishes and feelings” (SEN Code of Practice, Section 8.3).

The impact of these changes will be:

- Greater numbers of exclusions likely as pupils with complex needs experience a significant drop in their supportive, personalised and flexible provision
- Children in crisis as their detailed and carefully planned support packages are wrenched from them
- Less family support, direct support from SEND teams and work with multi agencies as school’s battle the bureaucracy of statutory requests
- Fewer support staff in schools for all children (not just those with additional needs)
- Further “unprecedented rise(s) in requests for statutory assessments and funding” which the local authority have not got the man-power to process within their statutory timescales
- Likely dip in academic standards for all pupils
- Pupil premium funding, which should be ring-fenced to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, will be further stretched as there is a high correlation between SEND and PP entitlement
- Negative impact on work life balance of teachers and support staff which will lead to recruitment issues in Devon schools

These changes will affect all children in all schools in Devon.  Where specialist support staff are lost through redundancies, ‘generalist’ staff who usually support all pupils’ learning will need to be diverted to support those with the highest needs.  All children will be taught in higher ratios, with less support.

It is a duty of the local authority to provide “top up funding” (SEND Code of Practice, Section 4.39) for pupils who need it most.  “There is no requirement for an EHC plan for a young person for whom a college receives additional top-up funding except in the case of a young person who is over 19” (Section 7.32).  Devon will no longer be fulfilling this duty.

These changes must be independently reviewed, and if necessary, legally challenged, and the focus of the review must not be on High Needs Blocks and 2017-18 local authority budgets, but rather on the impact of these changes on our most vulnerable and needy children and young people, their families, the staff who care for and support their learning on a daily basis and the other children in every educational establishment across Devon whose education will be detrimentally affected.

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