Demand outstripping funding for special education needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in schools is forcing English councils to cut staff and increase assessment waiting times.
The National Education Union (NEU) said funding allocated to local authorities since 2015 has not kept up with rapidly increasing demand, with many councils having “reached crisis point”.
The number of children and young people granted an Education Health Care Plan (which states their legal entitlement to funding for extra educational support) has rocketed by more than a third since 2015, from 240,000 to 320,000.
But the budget for SEND provision has only increased by six per cent in that time – from £5.6bn to £6bn – leaving more than nine out of 10 local authorities facing shortfalls of thousands or millions of pounds.
Despite the small increase, in real terms there has been a £1.2bn drop in spending since 2015.
Councils have said the problem was exacerbated by a poorly-funded 2014 policy change that meant they took on the responsibility for supporting young people up to age 25 who are on special needs care plans.
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Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The funding shortfall for SEND provision comes against the backdrop of the swingeing cuts to local authority budgets imposed by Westminster over the last nine years which have left many councils on the brink.
“Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the government had provided for services. This is an appalling way to be addressing the education of some of our most vulnerable children and young people and is causing untold misery and worry for thousands of families.”
Some parents reported being encouraged to withdraw their children from mainstream school as they did not have the funding to adequately support pupils with SEND.
And parents of children with SEND in North Yorkshire, Birmingham and East Sussex are taking the government to court in June for failing to provide the support their children have statutory rights to.
The High Court action challenges Westminster’s special education needs funding policy and parents hope it will force the government to give local authorities the funding they need.
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi pointed out that his department increased SEND spending this year.
You can find out how your local authority is affected by the shortfalls by visiting the NEU’s database.