Damian Hinds signals extra funds for special needs education

Children protest  in Parliament Square to highlight the funding crisis in special education needs and disabilities (Send).


Children protest in Parliament Square to highlight the funding crisis in special education needs and disabilities (Send). Photograph: Imageplotter/Rex/Shutterstock

Spending on children with special educational needs and disabilities is expected to be increased after the education secretary said the government recognised the urgent need to relieve pressures on families, councils and schools.

Although Damian Hinds declined to put a figure on the announcement to be made as early as next week, he said discussions between the Department for Education and the Treasury recognised the “particular pressures” caused by the rapid increase in children and young people with Send.

The news will be welcomed by campaigners, and local authorities that have borne the brunt of the additional support required and have struggled to meet rising costs.

Hinds said increased resources should include more capital funding for special schools and other specialist facilities, following revelations that local authorities have been forced to spend millions on private provision.

“We’ve done this work with the Treasury, I’m not going to comment on a particular number, but we’ve done the work to analyse what the pressures are in the system and both how we should and must respond to those pressures in terms of cash,” Hinds told the Guardian.

“There is also how we can help to relieve some of the cash pressures by making sure we have the right provision, that there aren’t blockages in the system, that children aren’t having to go into the wrong type of provision. Sometimes we haven’t got enough space in state special schools so more kids have to go to private special schools and so on, so we have got to make sure we have got the mix of provision right.”

Hinds’ statement comes as county councils – most of them Conservative-led – say the additional support they have been required to find for high needs provision is cutting into other parts of their budget, while parliament’s education select committee has called for special needs funding for schools to be urgently boosted by £1.2bn.

Hinds said the pressures on local authorities and schools have been emerging since the government’s 2014 reforms, which mandated support for children with education and health care plans (EHCP) and raised the age for support from 19 to 25.

“Local authorities need to make sure there is the right setting for every child to help them develop to their fullest potential. There are a larger number of children getting EHCP statements and there have been other cost pressures on schools as well,” Hinds said.

While the education secretary has also been lobbying the Treasury for an overall improvement in funding for schools in England, Hinds said it was well understood within the government that special needs was a top priority.

“It’s about making sure we have the right amount of capital for state special schools and that we’ve got the right provision of inclusion facilities within mainstream schools, the right number of educational psychologists, there’s a whole range of things. But you need to fund it as well, you need the money that goes behind it,” Hinds said.

“But these questions around high needs are really, really important. We passed the Children and Families Act in 2014, a really significant reform. That has resulted in more support for more children, which is a good thing, and there’s also more support for children after the age of 18. But it does need funding.”

With a new party leader and prime minister in place next week, Hinds does not know if he will retain his post, but said: “I’d love to be able to carry on doing this job, it’s a great privilege.”

Hinds has spent his time in office dealing with the impact of shrinking school budgets in England, but reports suggest he has had some success in getting money out of the Treasury to offset part of the cost of a 2.75% pay rise for teachers next year, with 2% of the rise to come from school budgets and the further 0.75% from elsewhere.

The education secretary may exit as protests continue in Birmingham by parents and others over relationship education including LGBT being taught by schools.

Hinds defended his department, which has been criticised for not giving schools firmer guidelines on relationships, sex and health education, leaving school leaders vulnerable to pressure from parents.

“The idea that schools decide what they teach is not a new feature of the English education system. We have never, ever, specified exactly what you are going to cover in sex education and in what year,” Hinds said.

“I think we’ve got that balance about right, we came up with a set of guidance that Stonewall welcomed and the Catholic education service welcomed. In the consultation we were in close contact with the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Association of Muslim Schools as well as teaching unions.

“There is no version of relationships and sex education which pleases 100% of people but I think we’ve got pretty close to that.”