Policy context
The organisation and sufficiency of funding for special and additional needs
The public service ethos and special and additional needs
Relationships between the education sector and other services for children and young people
Collaboration between local authorities
Relationships between local authorities, schools and other providers of educational services
Relationships between schools


This advice:

  • sets out the NASUWT’s policy position on the provision of state education and the critical importance of the public service ethos in this respect;

  • emphasises the particular importance of the public service ethos in the organisation of provision for pupils with special and additional educational needs;

  • explains that current policy priorities undermine the public service ethos dimensions of special and alternative provision, particularly in respect of the partnerships and collaboration that characterise systems founded on this ethos; and

  • considers the negative impact of current policies for the efficient use of money and other resources in the education system.

Policy context

The NASUWT is clear that the funding, resourcing and organisation of education should reflect its status as a human right and a public good.

The human rights dimension of education is about ensuring that every individual child and young person can achieve, succeed and be the best person they can be.

The public good dimension of education is about recognising that a high-quality education system generates benefits that go beyond those that accrue to the individual. Public education is established, in large part, to secure important social, economic, cultural and civic benefits for the wider community.

Both these dimensions are at the heart of the NASUWT’s understanding of the public service ethos critical to the effective provision of state-funded education.

These considerations mean that education cannot be regarded as a commodity that is provided through markets or market-like mechanisms. Approaches based on the view that public education can be bought and sold, or organised in a way that seeks to replicate the way in which commodities are bought and sold, undermine the universal entitlement of every child and young person to a high-quality education. Such approaches fail to recognise that every member of society on a collective basis benefits from the maintenance of effective public education.

Because resources to provide public goods will always be scarce, it is important that they are used efficiently so that the maximum benefits for learners, their teachers and wider society can be secured from them. Also, because these resources are derived from the public through taxation, it is vital that in a democracy, they must always be allocated in a way that is transparent and equitable.

These considerations have particular consequences for the way in which public resources for education are distributed and used. In particular, they mean that efficiency, transparency and equity in public education have the best chance of being secured when:

  • individuals and organisations are given incentives to collaborate rather than compete with each other, so that resources can be used in ways that maximise economies of scale and allow for the development of coherent national, local and setting-level strategies that ensure that all available resources can be used to the best possible effect;

  • the use of market or quasi-market mechanisms, such as traded services and competition between providers, is avoided;

  • accountability regimes reflect the collective nature of educational provision rather than encouraging wasteful and destructive competition; and

  • the use of scarce public resources is open to external scrutiny so that all stakeholders can be clear that funding is used to the best possible extent for the purposes for which it is intended.

The organisation and sufficiency of funding for special and additional needs

The importance of giving practical effect to the public service ethos is emphasised especially in respect of supporting children and young people with special and additional educational needs.

These children and young people are among the most vulnerable members of the community. Meeting their needs and ensuring their rights are respected is a hallmark of any civilised society.

To meet these basic expectations, it is evident that adequate levels of overall funding and resources must be made available. The NASUWT remains clear that current levels of resourcing for special and additional needs in the UK are not adequate and need to be increased as a matter of urgency.

To consider this issue coherently, it is important to recognise the most important features of current special and additional needs funding arrangements.

Currently, funding for special and additional needs is derived from two distinct funding streams:

  • the ‘notional’ SEN budget; and
  • the high needs block.

The notional SEN budget is an additional element of funding included in the money that mainstream schools receive to meet their costs and is derived a funding stream known as the schools block. The Government expects that schools should make use of this notional budget to support up to £6,000 of provision for pupils with special and additional needs. However, schools are free to determine how much money they allocate in practice for this purpose.

The notional SEN budget is an additional element of funding included in the money that mainstream schools receive to meet their costs and is derived a funding stream known as the schools block. The Government expects that schools should make use of this notional budget to support up to £6,000 of provision for pupils with special and additional needs. However, schools are free to determine how much money they allocate in practice for this purpose.

If pupils have needs that are likely to require more than £6,000 of funding, schools can receive funding from an additional stream of funding, known as the high needs block. The high needs block is also used to provide basic funding of £10,000 per place in dedicated alternative provision, including special units or resourced places within mainstream settings. This per-place funding is also augmented where necessary with additional resources drawn from the high needs block. Some high needs funding may also be retained by local authorities to pay for special and additional needs-related central services.

Overall allocations to the schools and high needs blocks are determined by the DfE according to the provisions of the National Funding Formula.

Local authorities continue to have some discretion to develop local funding models, amending the ‘hard’ template formula for the distribution of money between schools set at a national level. It is understood that approximately half of all local authorities make use of this discretion currently. Local authorities may, after appropriate local consultation, re-allocate some funds between their schools and high needs blocks, although in the case of transfers to the high needs block from the schools block that amount to more than 0.5% of the value of the latter require the permission of the Secretary of State.

Local authorities may, in some, cases augment funding for pupils with special and additional needs from their general revenue sources or from their reserves.

  • the overall sufficiency of special and additional needs funding;

  • how resources are allocated between local authorities;

  • how available resources are distributed between, and within, schools; and

  • the extent to which the organisation of the education system promotes the efficient use of resources.

Overall levels of public investment in high needs funding reached £5bn in 2012/13. However, following reports of significant challenges in accessing support from this funding stream, the DfE increased spending on high needs to £6bn in 2018/19. An additional £250 million of funding for high needs was committed across the period 2018 to 2020 with further increases of £780m in 2020/21 and £730m in 2021/22.

Nevertheless, local authorities continue to attempt to re-allocate resources from their schools blocks to their high needs blocks. The NASUWT understands that approximately 60 local authorities applied to the DfE to reallocate more than 0.5% of their schools block in this way during 2018/19. These attempts suggest that in many cases, local authorities do not regard the levels their allocated high needs budgets as sufficient to meet local demand.

As noted above, a significant portion of special and additional needs funding is derived from schools' notional SEN budgets. However, schools are held to account for the amount of money they have spent on special and alternative provision. As a result, it is not possible to determine the extent to which schools allocate resources sufficiently to their special and additional needs provision.

Current arrangements for the accountability and oversight of schools' allocation of the resources devolved to them create difficulties in evaluating the overall sufficiency of this element of funding, how effectively it is spent and the extent to which notional budget underspends result in otherwise avoidable pressures on high needs budgets. It is for this reason that the DfE has announced that it intends to investigate the use of notional SEN budgets. The NASUWT will press for this investigation to take full account of the significant financial reserves left unspent in school balances. More broadly, the DfE has set out proposals for reforms to high needs funding from 2022/23.

It is evident, however, that demands on high need resources continue to increase. Between 2015 and 2018,average expenditure by local authorities on high needs increased from £38m to £45m per authority. In part, while these increases can be traced to factors including the increasing number of children with complex and life-limiting conditions and rising levels of exclusion, it is by no means clear that these factors alone explain increasing demands on available resources.

This view is supported by evidence that the failure of arrangements for the provision of special and additional needs to reflect the principles underpinning the public service ethos continue to have demonstrable and adverse consequences for the use of public resources allocated to schools and local authorities for this purpose. This issue is explored further below.

The public service ethos and special and additional educational needs

The NASUWT is clear that simply putting more money into a system that does not reflect the public service ethos will only ever be, at best, a partial solution. Such a system can provide no guarantee that any additional funds allocated to it are used efficiently, equitably and transparently in all circumstances.

It is evident, as considered below, that current Government policy on the allocation, use and oversight of funding for special needs is at sharp variance with the principles that underpin the public service ethos.

These policy failures continue to impact negatively on the educational experience of children and young people as well as the working conditions and professional lives of their teachers and members of the wider school workforce.

A special and alternative needs system developed and sustained in ways that give effect to the public service ethos would be characterised by strong and enduring partnerships at all levels, underpinned by an understanding of the human right and public good dimensions of state education. Effective collaboration would be evident between:

  • the education sector and other services for children and young people with special and additional needs;
  • local authorities across regions;
  • local authorities, schools and other service providers; and
  • schools in a local area.

It is evident that current policy frameworks that fail to reflect the public service ethos adequately have resulted in circumstances where relationships in all these dimensions are often dysfunctional. The impacts of these dysfunctions on the use of public resources and their implications for children and young people and members of the workforce are summarised below.

Relationships between the education sector and other services for children and young people

Securing effective collaboration between education and other services for children and young people with special and additional needs was a core element of public policy before May 2010. The development of statutory Children’s Trusts, Children and Young People‘s Plans and other relevant structures sought to take forward a collaborative approach across different children’s services sectors in accordance with basic, common national standards that continued, nevertheless, to permit an appropriate degree of local flexibility.

A fundamental rationale for this approach was that the pooling and sharing of resources across service boundaries would not only enhance the quality of provision for special and additional needs but would also support more efficient and coherent use of available resources.

This framework has been progressively dismantled since 2010. While some localities have sought voluntarily to sustain the inter-sectoral relationships developed previously, such practices have deteriorated in quality and scope across much of the children and young people's services landscape. In those areas where some degree of co-operation continues, the nature and form of this co-operation varies to an objectively unjustifiable extent. Overall, it is evident that joint working across sector boundaries is now the ‘exception rather than the rule’.

While the Children and Families Act 2014 established a statutory requirement for different agencies to collaborate in the area of special and additional needs, the approach to be adopted in each locality has been left to various services to establish between themselves. There are no meaningful arrangements to ensure compliance with legislative expectations.

Evidence is clear that in many localities, relationships between agencies for children and young people with special and additional needs are marked by deep disagreement, with time, effort and funding intended for the provision of services being wasted on disputes between the education, health and social care sectors on the distribution of responsibilities and the sharing of costs.

In circumstances where the quality of inter-agency partnership working is poor or non-existent, wasteful duplication of provision by different services is evident. The lack of co-ordination between services too often results in the omission of critical provision, particularly that related to early intervention, resulting eventually in increased costs, as well as adverse consequences for children and young people, that result from a failure to ensure support and care at the earliest possible stage.

Lack of inter-agency co-ordination results in ineffective decisions about how available resources should be deployed. In addition, the relatively low level of joint commissioning in many localities results in the availability of less, but more expensive, provision available to meet children and young people’s needs.

The impact on funding in the education system of inconsistent and inadequate partnership working across sector boundaries has particular implications for the ability of schools and local authorities to access the level of resources required to meet their statutory responsibilities. It has become increasingly clear that where disputes between sectors arise, resources available within education budgets to meet high needs are regarded as a source of ‘funding of last resort’, resulting in provision that should be met from health and care funding pots being resourced from the education sector instead. These arrangements deprive pupils, teachers and schools of support that would otherwise be available and result in spending decisions being made by staff without experience or expertise in non-education-related fields, risking the ineffective use of scarce public resources.

Collaboration between local authorities

In the clear majority of cases, single local authorities are too small to organise and provide efficiently the often complex and expensive range of services required to meet the full range of special and additional needs that children and young people may present.

For this reason, prior to May 2010, national policy was increasingly directed towards the development of sub-regional partnerships of local authorities to establish and coordinate special and alternative provision. As these systems emerged, local authorities were increasingly expected and, in some respects, required to collaborate to secure economies of scale and coherent patterns of provision across sub-regions from which all local authorities could benefit.

The benefits of this approach for the effective, equitable and transparent use of resources across the system were considerable. An independent evaluation conducted by the NFER found that partnerships made a ‘substantial and marked contribution' to securing high-quality provision for pupils with special educational needs. Particular emphasis was placed in the evaluation on the ability of sub-regional partnerships to ensure more effective use of resources than would have been possible otherwise.

The development of sub-regional partnerships was halted by the Coalition Government, reflecting an ideology based on the principle that competition between local authorities would drive up standards of provision and overall performance across the system, notwithstanding recent, but limited, interest on the part of Government in seeking to address widespread concerns in this respect.

As with inter-sectional partnerships, what collaboration remains between local authorities is often ad hoc in nature, although some subsisting arrangements appear to be effective, but clearly operates in spite, not because, of the way in which local authorities are held to account.

It is clear that sub-regional commissioning would help to ensure that local authorities could make more efficient use of scarce resources and co-ordinate the establishment and sharing of provision between themselves. Arrangements established on this basis would also limit the increasingly extensive reliance across the system on highly expensive, and often inappropriate, out-of-authority residential provision.

It is often the case that individual local authorities are in a relatively weak bargaining position with external providers of special and alternative places and services. There is compelling evidence, considered below, that local authorities often secure provision at an unacceptably high cost. Examples from practice indicate that where local authorities are able to combine to negotiate collectively, they can secure better value and make more effective use of their resources.

Existing barriers to inter-authority collaboration also prevent the development and implementation of other innovative practices that could secure the more efficient and effective use of resources. For example, local authorities face difficulties in managing acute variations in demand on their resources in respect of supporting pupils with low-incidence, high-cost needs. It should be noted that an increase of just four pupils falling within a local authority’s responsibility within a single year can lead to hundreds of thousands of pounds in increased costs.

The introduction of pooled insurance schemes across local authorities would allow such spikes in costs to be mediated across local authority budgets, providing greater cost predictability and thereby permitting more effective strategic planning within and across local authority boundaries.

Relationships between local authorities, schools and other providers of educational services

As noted above, many local authorities are dependent, often for historical reasons, on out-of-authority residential provision, much of which is located in the independent and non-maintained sectors.

It is essential to recognise that the teachers and other staff that work in such settings have high levels of skill and experience and have a critical role to play in meeting some of the most complex needs that children and young people can present. The NASUWT is clear that there is an important role for residential special and alternative provision within the context of a genuinely inclusive education system.

However, local authorities are often required to secure out-of-authority or residential places on a traded service basis, in which fees and other costs are unregulated and are the subject of bilateral negotiations.

It is evident that there can be significant variation between different providers in the fees they charge for comparable places. There is also evidence that individual providers charge different fees to different local authorities for the same provision.

As a result of this system, it is often clear that the fees charged by some out-of-authority providers do not always reflect the demonstrable costs of provision but, instead, reflect the relative bargaining positions and negotiating skills of the different parties involved in agreeing fees.

For example, a recent independent review of residential special and alternative provision cited two ‘excellent’, residential special schools, both of which had very similar provision for pupils with low-incidence needs. However, notwithstanding the comparable costs of provision in both settings, one charged a basic annual fee of £60,000, while the other charged almost £200,000 per pupil for a virtually identical care and education package. The review was able to find no acceptable explanation for this discrepancy in costs.

The review also found evidence of out-of-authority providers seeking to exploit weaknesses in local authorities’ willingness or capacity to negotiate effectively:

While independent providers are free to set fees at whatever level they’d like, high fees are contributing to LA [local authority] reluctance to place [pupils with such providers] which, as we will come to discuss, is helping to cause negative experiences for families. It’s also causing conflict with LAs. One provider we spoke to seemed to revel in this, telling us they were happy to name their price without justifying it, refuse to negotiate, and support the parents to bring the LA to tribunal…More transparency and flexibility on fees would boost these relationships significantly, and defuse much of the hostility and mistrust we saw during the review’.

It is worth noting in this context that the amount of money allocated from local authorities’ high needs budgets to paying fees for places in the independent and non-maintained sectors has increased considerably. Between 2013/14 and 2017/18, such spending increased from £816m to £1,120m, with a significant increase in spending per pupil over this period.

Such practices are entirely inconsistent with the public service ethos that should underpin relationships between local authorities and schools and, therefore, result in profoundly inefficient use of public money. Instead of all providers and commissioning bodies operating in a context in which they recognise that they have shared responsibilities to ensure that available resources are used as effectively as possible, current frameworks create incentives for such relationships to be characterised in too many cases by a lack of co-operation.

Relationships between state schools and their local authorities in the management of resources to meet special and additional needs also often fail to reflect the public sector ethos effectively.

This concern is often reflected in disputes that can arise around local level arrangements for the allocation of resources for children and young people with high needs. Specifically, circumstances can occur in which local authorities seek support from schools to transfer funding from money allocated to general schools budgets to those dedicated to resourcing these needs. It is apparent that in many cases, agreement between local authorities and schools is difficult to reach and that relationships are frequently marked by conflict and significant levels of mistrust.

The NASUWT’s engagement in such processes indicates that it is often the case that the respective positions taken in such discussions reflect the narrowly self-identified interests of participants in these discussions rather than the interests of all local children and young people with special and additional needs. The former chair of an independent Government-commissioned review into special educational needs and disabilities has characterised the relationship between schools and local authorities in this respect as increasingly ‘decoupled’.

Such circumstances are a direct result of the absence of meaningful arrangements to secure joint responsibility and accountability between schools and local authorities for meeting local-level special and additional needs. As a result, it is increasingly difficult to develop the forms of local-level joint working that would allow all available resources to be used for the benefit of all children and young people with special educational needs, regardless of the identity of the school they happen to attend. Specifically, retention by individual schools of resources that might be better pooled and used more widely across a local area, so that support might be accessed at a local level at the earliest possible stage, is a significant barrier to efficiency and effectiveness in the use of limited funding. Removing barriers to local authorities and schools taking greater collective responsibility for the distribution of resources and the joint strategic planning for special and additional needs would support the more efficient and equitable allocation of resources.

Relationships between schools

As noted above, an education system that operates on the basis of principles that reflect the importance of the public service ethos would encourage, and expect, schools to collaborate in the interests of all local children and young people. Current models of accountability and school organisation militate against achievement of these aims as a deliberate intention of policy. As with other forms of collaboration, schools working together, sharing resources and expertise, can generate the most efficient and coherent use of scarce resources.

However, previous systems and structures in place to promote and, in some respects, require collaboration between schools have been weakened or removed entirely. Current incentives in the system and the responses of many schools to these incentives, lead to circumstances in which schools are liable to act self-interestedly rather than in the interests of all children and young people in their local area.

The current school accountability regime prompts some schools to focus on ensuring that they can secure a pupil population that will maximise their chances of meeting externally-established measures of effectiveness based on pupil assessment outcomes. This approach leads to schools seeking to exclude, off-roll or fail to admit pupils with special and additional educational needs, leaving others in the system, including other schools, to ensure that these needs are met. The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently described such practices as a ‘failure of moral leadership’.

In respect of funding, many schools often perceive little incentive to pool resources and expertise. Instead, they seek to game the system by minimising the number of pupils with special and additional needs that they have on roll. The current system of notional funding for special needs means that these schools suffer no significant financial detriment for acting in this way towards children who do not attract substantial additional funding.

It is important to recognise that there are significant policy challenges associated with all of the credible options for allocating funding to schools to support pupils whose needs are such that they do not meet the thresholds for attracting high needs funding. However, current arrangements are marked by a significant lack of transparency that impedes the ability of stakeholders to identify ways in which available resources are used in practice.

As a result, elements of budgets that should be used to meet special and additional needs are difficult to identify and can be deployed for other purposes in a way that fails to meet basic tests of transparency and accountability. In these circumstances, pupils and the teachers that work with them can be denied the support and resources required to remove the barriers to achievement and progress that they can face.

A comprehensive survey of teachers working with pupils with special and additional educational needs undertaken by the NASUWT in 2018 underlines the scale of the issues. In particular, more than two-thirds of teachers reported that they never, rarely or only sometimes receive the support they need to teach pupils with special and additional needs effectively. Teachers also report that staffing and support for SEN have reduced, while access to special and alternative needs-related training and support has also declined.

The survey also highlighted the implications for the workforce of inadequate allocation of resources to meet special and additional needs at school level.

The statutory framework for special and additional needs makes clear that effective practice in schools requires high-level strategic leadership, management and oversight by a suitably trained and supported qualified teacher. However, evidence gathered by the NASUWT indicates that many schools are not resourcing such teachers adequately. For example, 24% of special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) did not possess, or were not working towards, the mandatory National Award in SEN Co-ordination.

While SENCOs have a statutory and contractual right to additional leadership and management time to undertake their duties, a third of respondents to the NASUWT’s survey reported a timetabled teaching commitment of 21 and 30 hours per week, in many cases severely constraining their ability to conduct their responsibilities effectively and without serious adverse implications for their workload.

The expected duties of SENCOs as set out in statutory guidance involve sustained additional responsibilities and should, therefore, be reflected in post holders’ remuneration, either through receipt of a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment or payment on the leadership scale. However, almost three-in-ten (29%) of SENCOs receive no additional payment for undertaking this role.

For teachers in specialised settings who are entitled to receive enhanced pay for their additional SEND-related skills and responsibilities, almost a quarter (23%) reported that they received no such payment.

Many schools continue to highlight global funding pressures as a key reason for the under-resourcing of special and additional provision. It is also the case that local authorities’ local funding formulas can vary significantly in terms of the designation of notional SEN funding within general school budgets.

However, the lack of transparency about how schools use delegated funding means that it is difficult to establish precisely the full extent to which under-resourcing of special and alternative provision is a result of poor use of funding at school level. However, in light of the NASUWT broader work on the misuse of school budgets, it is likely that its relevance in this respect is likely to be significant. The incorporation of notional funding into general funding and the lack of transparency about how it is used can also prevent schools from working collectively to secure cost-effective, collaborative approaches to special and alternative provision across schools.


It is evident that overall levels of investment in the special and alternative education system are not adequate to ensure that the needs of children and young people can be met fully in all circumstances. Overall reductions in education funding, highlighted by the NASUWT, have continued to place significant pressures on this system, partly driven by increasing demand for services. The Union will, therefore, continue to press for significantly increased funding.

However, the analysis above makes clear that the failure of current systems and structures extent to reflect the public service ethos critical to the efficient, equitable and transparent use of public funding is exterting a powerful and negative effect on the ability of schools and local authorities to meet children and young people’s needs.

As noted above, a system built around an understanding of education as a public good and a human right, and, therefore, one best placed to make effective use of resources, is marked by meaningful and sustainable partnerships at all levels.

While there is evidence of effective collaboration in the area of special and additional needs, it is clear that meaningful co-operation occurs in spite, not because, of current national policy. The NASUWT will maintain its call for the reinstatement of arrangements for the provision of special and additional support for pupils based on the public service ethos values of partnership and collaboration at all levels of the education system.

Such a recasting of national policy would include the introduction of accountability and regulatory regimes that encourage joint-working and disincentivise organisations from acting only in ways that advance their narrowly-conceived self-interest.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the failure of national policy to promote effective use of available resources, existing evidence of good practice indicates that schools, local authorities and other organisations in the wider children and young people’s sector have significant scope to work collaboratively in respect of special and alternative provision. The NASUWT will continue to draw attention to good practice and, where necessary, will challenge decision-makers to make better choices about how available resources are used.