Special schools in England are struggling to access crucial government funding worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to offset rising staff salaries and soaring fuel costs, headteachers have warned, some facing reductions in class size.
The Autumn Spending Review included £1.2billion of funding for schools to cover upcoming National Insurance increases and ‘wider cost pressures’, including the new salary of departure of £30,000 for teachers, as well as rising fuel prices.
This funding, the Schools Supplementary Grant, has been given directly to mainstream schools, but it goes through local authorities to special schools, alternative schools and hospital schools via the high needs budget.
Special schools warn this has resulted in a ‘postcode lottery’ in which some cash-strapped councils withhold all or part of the grant to cut shortfalls in their high-needs budgets, while others match or exceed the subsidy received by the general public. schools.
Pauline Aitchinson, who runs the National Network of Special Schools (NNoSS), which represents 460 special schools across England, said: ‘Special schools are very oversubscribed so there has to be a balance – no one would want to see children suffer as a result of this.
“Some schools haven’t had a supplement increase for many years. They see real cuts in their funding. We need to ensure that when mainstream schools are guaranteed additional funding for additional costs that are not their fault, these special, hospital and alternative services are treated equally. The rules of the game must be fair. »
Aitchinson said the funding was particularly important for special schools, which employ more staff per pupil, and to help them avoid a looming staffing crisis, with support staff leaving the profession on low pay. “Having these funding guarantees could allow schools to be more strategic in retaining and attracting the right staff for their schools,” she added.
According to an NNoSS survey of 135 specialist schools from mid-March, almost two-thirds had not yet heard from their local authority, despite the health and social care levy coming into force from April 1, while nine in 10 expected not to receive adequate information. funding from their local community.
The uncertainty makes it difficult for chiefs to plan for next year and budget properly, Aitchinson said. She said the Department for Education (DfE) had said delays were up to councils and schools, with no fixed timeframe or methodology set out in guidance to local authorities.
A multi-academy trust, Eden Academy, said the four local authorities in which its specialist schools were based had so far given different answers. Hillingdon will not pass on any funding, Harrow will give some but has not yet determined how much, Cumbria has passed on 3 per cent, just below the 4 per cent that mainstream schools receive, and Northumberland has yet to decide, its chief executive has said. , Sudhi Pathak.
He said the lack of clarity made it difficult to establish what support schools would be able to offer pupils in September, from therapy, including for speech and language, to the possibility of limiting the size of eight-student classes, as well as forcing schools to dip into emergency funds to cover unforeseen expenses such as construction work. “I can only budget for something that I know is definitely going to happen. The danger is that I count on it and it doesn’t materialize.”
He added: “Our chiefs were told that this funding was coming in and now it looks like it is not. We always try to discuss with the local authorities to get something out of it. It’s stressful on the heads, the uncertainty of not knowing what the budget will look like.
Warren Carratt, chief executive of Nexus Multi Academy Trust in South Yorkshire, said he believed the decision reflected a government view that special needs schools were to blame for high needs funding increases in recent years. years, which, according to him, was a nuance to the dispatch. green paper published last week.
“The department’s view seems to be that special schools are well-funded and that’s where the problem lies, rather than there’s a structural deficit in high-needs blocks,” he said.
“The green paper seems to suggest that the financial recovery will come from the reduced number of children in special schools and the department’s reluctance to order the board to pass on SSG. [schools supplementary grant] is a clear indicator to me that the ministry is saying that special schools don’t need more money, which special schools would strongly disagree with.
A DfE spokesman said SSG was “paid directly to mainstream schools, but for alternative offers, special schools and a few others it is paid to local authorities. This replicates the approach taken through the National Funding Formula (NFF), and from 2023-24 the additional grant will be integrated into the NFF.