Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Funding Westminster Hall debate

I too want to thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this important debate. Every one of us in the Chamber is here because we want to fight for children with special educational needs we have met during visits to schools, and for their parents, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) pointed out. Throughout the country every day parents fight for the best for their child, and we want to help them in that fight.

The situation of special educational needs funding in my constituency is particularly acute. West Sussex has a higher percentage of SEN pupils than the national average. For instance, 25% of the children at Chichester Nursery School have special educational needs or disabilities—a huge figure, considering that just 6% of young children in the general population are identified as having them. Meeting those additional needs has been tough on the council’s budget. For 2018-19, West Sussex has an estimated £4.9 million deficit in its high needs block. The one-time transfer of 0.5% from its dedicated schools grant has helped plug the gap. I think we all welcome the additional funding, as has been mentioned, but one-off payments cannot be the remedy for the funding pressures that schools face.

West Sussex wants to switch to a long-term invest and save model for its high needs block. Provision in the county—particularly for autism-related support—is chronically lacking. Because of this, the council spent more than £1 million last year sending children outside the county to specialist schools with the right resources. That is an expensive short-term response when the right long-term solution is needed closer to home. It is natural that parents want the best possible education for their children. We have all met constituents who battle to get that and to get the council to fund their child’s out-of-county school place. The aim of investing to save is to improve the standards of in-county provision and to avoid costly tribunals and out-of-county referrals. The average cost out of county for West Sussex is just under £44,000 per pupil. The in-county cost is £3,000 to £9,000 per pupil, so the business case is simple. The new centres of excellence will of course incur an initial up-front cost, but that will be offset by the decline in spending on out-of-county provision, which is not even the best provision, as it is so far from home.​

West Sussex MPs have already had meetings with the Chancellor and the Education Secretary to discuss a fairer funding settlement for the authority, as well as the benefits of securing additional funding for long-term gains. We look forward to the upcoming spending review, and hope that they will listen to the invest to save plan. It is essential that the funds are available for schools and authorities to support the children who need the most support within the school system. Like many Members, I want sustainable funding, and I hope that the spending review can deliver that.