Maintained nursery schools are recognised as being centres of excellence for supporting children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in the early years but funding cuts are putting that role in jeopardy. Four in ten report that SEND funding has decreased since the introduction of the Early Years Nationala Funding Formula. One in six received no additional funding for children with SEND, despite having children eligible for SEND support, and holding or working towards securing Education and Health Care (EHC) plans. On average survey respondents were spending £17,000 more than they received in high needs funding.
These headlines come from a survey undertaken by Early Education in December 2017/January 2018 to assess the impact of funding changes on their ability to fulfil this role. Key findings include:
- The 128 schools responding were supporting 2467 children with SEND, representing approximately 15% of children on roll including a mix of those with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans in place (148 children), those for whom the school was helping with the process of securing an EHC (603 children) and those eligible for SEN support (1716 children).
- A quarter of respondents offered specialist SEND provision (411 places across 31 schools, and a further 138 reserved places at 13 schools for children with SEND). This allowed nursery schools to budget from year to year to retain expert and experienced members of staff. However, such funding was being eroded, putting this specialist provision and staff expertise at risk.
- Staff at all levels within the nursery schools had a wide range of specialist qualifications, as well as providing their teams with extensive CPD on supporting children with SEND. They also bought in specialist external expertise such as educational psychologists and speech and language therapists.
- There were reports that increasing numbers of children with SEND were transferring to maintained nursery schools from other providers which could not meet their needs, including both private and voluntary (PVI) providers and primary schools, and demand resulting from a lack of places in special schools.
- Some schools reported that the funding received was no longer sufficient to pay the necessary rates for specialist staff.
- Few local authorities were making use of the staff expertise in maintained nursery schools to support the rest of the sector, although many were keen to do more of this work. Where they were providing such assistance, it was usually being done for little or no charge.
- There was little consistency across England as to the amount of funding available to support children with SEND in the early years, the eligibility criteria in place and the complexity of the processes for obtaining it.
- One in six of the schools responding received no additional funding for children with SEND, despite having children eligible for SEND support and others working towards EHCs, or with EHCs already in place.
- Regardless of the availability of funding, maintained nursery schools prioritised the admission of children with SEND.
- At a conservative estimate, schools spent an average of £17,000 more on SEND support than they received in funding in order to meet children’s needs, but were concerned that the scope for cross-subsidy was reducing significantly.
- The Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF) was reported as improving availability of SEND funding by only 4% of respondents; 41% reported that less funding was available and/or administrative processes had become more onerous. Some reported that funding had already been reducing prior to the EYNFF. Issues were raised in relation to lack of SEND funding for 2-year-olds in some areas, and insufficiency of SEND funding for children on the 30 hour entitlement.