The state of Special Educational Needs Funding has been debated in Parliament, with MPs including Robin Walker calling for a uplift of £4.6 billion in funding during a debate secured by veteran Conservative MP David Davis and the cross party f40 campaign group.
Robin has consistently campaigned for a fairer funding formula for authorities like Worcestershire as a leading member of the f40 group of councils who received a lower per pupil rate of funding than elsewhere in England. He joined colleagues in other f40 council areas when they wrote to the Chancellor in October 2023 calling for a significant increase in High Needs funding. Robin stressed that the demand has outpaced the available resources, leaving a majority of local authorities (including Worcestershire) facing high needs deficits.
Robin also used the debate to call for the expansion of special schools in Worcester. He said that both the Fort Royal primary school and Regency secondary school were in need ofexpansion, as well as calling for a new specialist assessment centre for the early years in Worcester.
Beyond such revenue and capital funding, Robin emphasised the importance of addressing home-to-school transport issues, urging joint collaboration with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities for proper funding and effective use of these budgets.
As part of the solution, Robin asked for an update on the Department for Education's plans to make dedicated schools grant payments directly to schools, ending the use of historic figures paid to local authorities, to fulfil the manifesto promise of a fairer funding formula. The call for increased funding was endorsed by various educational associations, including unions, with f40 urging an extra £4.6 billion a year to prevent the current high needs crisis from worsening.
Robin paid tribute to the incredible work happening in every single school in Worcester, supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities. He referred to testimony from “teachers and leaders in mainstream primary schools, early years settings, secondaries, sixth forms and colleges, and, [who] almost without exception, speak about observing rising levels of need and complexity of need.” And said “There are brilliant people providing support to SEND children across the country, but the rising tide of demand for specialist support needs to be acknowledged from the start. That is why the case for more funding, as well as fairer funding, is really important. “
He also emphasised the need for more investment in the training of teachers and school staff to support SEND children and the importance of early identification of need. He made the case for the Government investing in specialist workforces including teachers of the deaf, Auditory Verbal Therapists and Speech and Language Therapists as well as in growing expertise in the early years.
In closing, Robin acknowledged the positive steps taken by the government in response to previous campaigns and the fact that high needs funding has increased by 60% during the life of this Parliament but stressed the need for continued investment in training, infrastructure, and needs-based funding to ensure a sustainable solution.
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised Robin for his role in providing Parliamentary leadership to the cross party f40 group saying “Thus far, we have had a discussion about how the budget is allocated between different counties and regions, led—he was rather humble about it—by my hon. Friend Mr Walker, who was not only part of f40, but is f40 and has led f40.”
At the conclusion of the debate the House voted unanimously for the motion and a revision of SEND funding.