North Yorkshire is consulting schools on reducing the number of 'high need low incidence' statements and delegating more funding directly to schools. The council believe the demand for statements is not sustainable. The current budget for high needs statements is £8.325 million. It says schools have now developed provision and targeted resources better since the last push to reduce 'low need high incidence' statements in 2003.
The county are also looking to reduce the number of children on School Action Plus. In a document published this week the Council said:
As schools feel better placed and more confident to meet a broader range of needs within their delegated resources it is envisaged that there will be an overall reduction in the numbers of children identified with SEN at School Action Plus and a reduction in new requests for statutory assessment. This will be a key indicator of success of the new service delivery. This in turn will provide the potential for greater resources to be delegated to all schools if the levels of funding required for high needs statements reduces.
The Council have suggested four options:
Reduce funding for all pupils to cover the cost of high needs statements by £860,000 for the next year
Reduce the level of funding to schools for children with statements by £20 per hour (a cut of between 3.7% and 4.2% per hour)(from April 2011)
A top up model. The school pays for the first 20 hours of the statement with North Yorkshire funding over this, excluding children with physical and sensory statements (from September 2011)
Reduce the funding for the school generally (the 'annual hourly rate')
Their preferred option is option 3 - the top up method. The extra amount of money will vary depending on the size of the school, and how deprived the school is. There would be some transitional funding in place in the first year.
What evidence does the Council have that delegating funding produces better outcomes for children with autism? School confidence is not an outcome. Should the key indicator be a reduction in the number of statements or children on School Action Plus, or should it be the academic, social and emotional outcomes of these children?
If we look at the academic results for children with autism and a statement at Key Stage 2 (11 year olds), North Yorkshire is one of the worst performing local authorities. In both 2008 and 2009, the county finished bottom in Maths for all local authorities that published figures, in 2008 was in the bottom 18% in children achieving level 4 in English, and in 2009 was in the bottom 10% for science. And yet the county is very good at educating children without SEN. Is this success?
If the top up method is chosen, Schools would have a disincentive to accept children with high level needs, especially if they already had other similar pupils. North Yorkshire have stated their intention to hold some money back, but would this be enough?
Some schools may choose to become academies (as is happening with Harrogate Grammar School), taking a 'top slice' of the education budget with them. They are not under a statutory duty to admit a child where the academy is named on the statement. The arrangements are made directly though the academy sponsor and the Secretary of State for Education via the funding agreement. It would only be statutory to admit a child if expressly included in the agreement. Even then enforcement may not be straightforward. Will these children be cast from pillar to post?
Children shifted from statements onto School Action or School Action Plus would have no precedence when applying for schools. Transition from Primary to Secondary can be exceptionally fraught for many children with autism. The choice for these children will be curtailed.
Children are categorised on School Action Plus if outside professionals are involved - that is educational psychologists, outreach services, speech and language therapists. Is North Yorkshire suggesting teachers are so competent that they can provide these services instead? Or would this be another way of cutting services to a cohort of children?
North Yorkshire currently maintains around 1000 fewer statements per year than the peak in 2003 and it maintains fewer statements as a percentage of the school population than 93% of other local authorities. Why is it unsustainable for the county to maintain the current level when the vast majority of other local authorities maintain more?
The County has already been through this process once before. It already delegates a large amount of money to schools - expecting them to fund the equivalent of 20 hours for a child on School Action or School Action Plus. This is high compared to many other local authorities. How many equivalent TA hours is North Yorkshire proposing to delegate now?
What are the benefits of a statement? Children must go through a thorough assessment of need by a multi-disciplinary team, usually involving a speech and language therapist, an educational psychologist, the school, and a specialist outreach teacher. Advice is sought from the child's paediatrician and social services, and any other relevant professional. These professionals write reports that form the basis of the statement. Each of the child's needs and the provision required are set out. Once the statement is issued the local authority are legally bound to provide the provision. Any changes to a statement involve a review process which involve protections set out in law, with an appeal to the SEND tribunal process always an option.
Children on School Action and School Action Plus go through no such rigorous assessment process, and any provision put in place carries no legal weight. A school or local authority can withdraw that provision at any time without any option to appeal by parents.
Are these proposed changes about capping the amount of money spent on children with high level needs, or cutting the amount? If so, how much money is the county looking to cut?
And finally: why isn't North Yorkshire consulting with the children and families these proposals will affect?
For a greater discussion of delegated funding versus statements see here
School response form
Schools consultation meeting