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High Needs – Fix the Leaking Pipe in School Funding (by @SabrinaHobbs8; Blog 7 2018-19)

As school funding discussions roll on, so does the momentum and gravity of the subject as the urgency and impact of insufficient funding in schools and LAs snowballs.  The issue is not going away. It’s only getting worse as ministers scramble to comprehend why the system still isn’t working, regardless of the ongoing introduction of the “soft” National Funding Formula this year.

Organisations such as Worth Less?, F40, and the Headteachers’ Roundtable are great mechanisms to open up the discussion, providing a voice and a platform for the sector to be heard.  The analysis and causes of this system failure have now been identified so it is time to bring it altogether and provide the solutions necessary for successful change.

Through our collaborations we’ve learnt about the positive visit Damian Hinds made to Devon last month.  How he and his influential colleagues listened to F40 concerns and in particular, the rising anxieties regarding the High Needs Block and special schools.  These thoughts were shared by the Department for Education and the feedback is that they are looking for ideas to help the situation… this is the opportunity we have been waiting for!

With the High Needs budget underfunded by an estimated £300 million, causing many LA’s to top slice the Schools Block by 0.5-1% to fund High Needs, there is a knock on effect on all schools, leaving the most vulnerable exposed as school leaders make tough decisions on what to cut from their school budget. In such incredulous circumstances the assumption is that there are no other options but to simply do what we have to do, but those working within the special school sector in particular, know there is another way.

Burst pipe with water

We have identified the ‘leaking pipe’. It’s always been there, but the flaw has emerged through the cut backs in the maintained system. A simplified scenario gives context:

Lack of on-going investment in education and real time cuts to funding; schools respond by cutting back on staffing and resources; this results in schools unable to meet as many pupil needs; pupils with additional needs now unable to be met in mainstream, transition to special schools; maintained special schools get full and filled to over capacity; maintained special school placements no longer available/ not able to meet need due to shortfall of school funding; LAs pay up to £200k (7 times more than the highest funded maintained special school) per year, to place pupils with additional needs in private sector placement.

Sounds superficially reasonable; if the maintained sector cannot meet additional needs, then we, as taxpayers, should pay for the private sector to deliver. However, flipping the narrative on this, at £200k for a pupil place, there won’t be a single maintained school leader in the country who couldn’t develop a provision to meet any type of pupil need. This raises an important question. Why doesn’t this happen? The answer, because the current funding mechanism for the high needs budget is outdated, with no robustness to the national formula for distribution to LA’s, and because the SEND code of practice stipulates that High Needs funding reflects pupil need.

Again, this sounds rational. But it’s not. A person’s need isn’t the aspect of education that costs money. It is the resource/provision that meet a person’s need that costs.  By changing the funding structures to ensure it reflects the resource and provision necessary for a young person to be educated effectively would not only enable a High Needs fair funding formula to be established, but it would also provide a more stable platform from which school budgets can be forecasted and therefore effectively managed. This difference would fundamentally retain more public money in the public sector, fixing the leak.

As a result, a different scenario would unfold:

While the sector awaits investment into school funds, schools maximise on a provision focused approach to meeting pupil needs; collaborations between mainstream and special schools are created and formalised to efficiently utilise strengths in the system; greater inclusion opportunities for all pupils in both mainstream and special schools; special schools retain places for only those young people who require a separate provision; collaborations between social care homes and special schools (inc EBSD and AP) for young people who require a more bespoke residential package of support; as a result an increased number of young people stay within their local communities and maintain regular and frequent contact with their family; we shape a future generation who value inclusivity and know how to make it work.

Fixing the leaking pipes maximises what’s already in the system.

Sabrina Hobbs is Executive Primcipal of Severndale Specialist Academy, Shropshire and is a member of the core group of Heads’ Roundtable.

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“CEO – what it seems to be, what it isn’t and what it might be” by Rob Campbell (@robcampbe11; Blog 6 2018-19)

The role of the CEO in state education in England is a relatively recent one. Six years ago, multi-academy trusts were just emerging and there were still relatively few CEOs. There are currently 1534 MATs, each who is led by someone who is (whether formally designated or not) a ‘CEO’.  This means the role is firmly established on the education landscape and, presumably, here to stay for quite a while.  Yet its emergence has largely been an improvised one. Continue reading

“The logic of confidence or what we should expect from our schools” by Duncan Spalding (@duncanspalding; Blog 5 2018-19)

How can you tell if a school is any good? Look at its Ofsted report. That will tell you all you need to know about educational standards at any given school. It will give you an accurate and balanced perspective on how every school is doing. Failing that, look up its performance tables entry. That will tell you everything about how well its pupils achieve. Attainment, progress, attendance, progression rates – you name it, it will give you chapter and verse. An unambiguous and clear portrait of a school’s strength and weaknesses. Continue reading

“What I have learned about school improvement” by Ros McMullen (@RosMcM; Blog 3 2018-19)

  1. It is not the same thing as a dramatic improvement in results.

It is possible to effect a dramatic improvement in a school’s results and our accountability system puts demands on our most vulnerable schools to do this.  OFSTED inspections rely very heavily on published data and inspection outcomes are extremely high stakes for school leaders and governing bodies. Continue reading

“Worth More” by Helen Keenan (@hbkeenan; 2018-19 Blog 2)

I have worked for 34 years in 10 schools in 4 countries, across 3 continents and in umpteen roles from supply teacher to Headteacher. I have worked in non-selectivestate schools and in international schools teaching kindergarten children through to 19 year olds.   Continue reading