The goals of the SV and DBV Programmes
The SV Programme
The DBV Programme
DfE guidance for local authorities
Issues, questions and action
Other action for NASUWT Representatives


This briefing is aimed at:

  • NASUWT Regional Organisers;

  • National Executive Members (NEMs);

  • Local Negotiating Secretaries (LNSs);

  • Representatives of Joint Consultative and Negotiation Committees (JCNCs) or Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs);

  • NASUWT Representatives who attend the School Forum;

  • NASUWT Representatives participating in headteacher networks;

  • Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) participating in SENCO networks.

The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) Safety Valve (SV) and Delivering Better Value (DBV) programmes target the local authorities with the biggest Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) deficits. [1] These deficits arise because of the high spend on their high needs budgets.

The SV programme targets the authorities with the highest percentage deficits. The DBV programme targets authorities with slightly smaller deficits. In addition, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is working with the remaining authorities that have DSG deficits. The purpose of all three programmes is that participating authorities will establish sustainable high needs budgets.

Participation in the SV and DBV programmes

Participation in the SV and DBV programmes is voluntary. Local authorities receive additional funding as part of their agreed plan, but this is provided in increments and is subject to the authority making satisfactory progress towards achieving the targets set out in their plan.

In May 2024, 38 authorities were participating in the SV programme.

While 55 authorities were participating in the DBV programme, four of these authorities have now joined the SV programme.

The DfE has indicated that it will invite some more authorities to join the SV programme in 2024/25. However, it will not reveal which authorities are being invited to participate as this information is only made public when plans have been finalised and approved by them.

Engaging stakeholders in the development of plans 

The DfE says that authorities should engage with stakeholders when they develop their SV and DBV plans.

Local authorities will be making decisions about provision and support for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including what is provided in mainstream schools. Therefore, it is essential that they identify the views and needs of teachers and school leaders in mainstream and specialist settings, and that these views and needs inform decisions and are reflected in the resulting plan.

The goals of the SV and DBV programmes 

The DfE has identified two principal goals that are critical for local authorities’ ability to reach sustainable positions: 

  • appropriately managing demand for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), including assessment processes that are fit for purpose; and 

  • use of appropriate and cost-effective provision. This includes ensuring mainstream schools are equipped and encouraged to meet needs where possible. [2]

The DfE says that these objectives should be achieved while maintaining high standards for all pupils.

DfE guidance on sustainability in high needs systems draws directly on ten recommendations from research into the features of effective high needs systems. [3] These recommendations are: 

  1. local authorities should invest properly in SEND leadership; 

  2. local authorities should review their joint commissioning arrangements; 

  3. local authorities should ensure joint accountability for those with SEND and finance responsibilities; 

  4. local authorities should review their capacity for SEND support; 

  5. local authorities should review their current staffing levels and structures for SEND casework; 

  6. local authorities should review and further develop their approaches to partnership with key stakeholders; 

  7. when creating new specialist provision, local authorities should be clear about the expected range and levels of need that this will cater for; 

  8. investment should be targeted at strengthening inclusion in mainstream provision; 

  9. local authorities should set out more clearly their expected pathways for young people; and 

  10. local authorities should learn from positive examples of innovative approaches to mainstream funding. 

The ten recommendations provide a useful framework for establishing effective practice. However, you will need to pay particular attention to how the DfE’s goals are reflected in plans.

The SV programme 

Local authorities participating in the SV programme will have a published plan that has been agreed with the DfE. Plans are published on the web page Dedicated schools grant: very high deficit intervention.

Participating in the SV programme means that a local authority will have agreed to undertake reforms to make their budget sustainable. In return, the DfE will provide the local authority with additional funds to clear the authority’s high needs deficit. The published plan sets out how the authority will do this.

Continued funding is subject to the authority making satisfactory progress against their plan.

The length of time for reaching a positive in year balance ranges from four to nine years. In a number of cases, local authority agreements have been updated and the period for reaching a sustainable budget has been extended. This is significant because it indicates the financial challenges that local authorities are facing.

The DBV programme 

The DBV programme was announced in March 2022. [4] Fifty-five local authorities were invited to participate in the programme in one of three tranches. The first tranche of 20 local authorities began phase one of the programme in June 2022. A further 20 joined in Tranche 2, and the final 15 in Tranche 3. A number of DBV authorities have also since moved to the SV programme.

Phase one of the DBV programme involves the local authority undertaking a diagnostic to identify the changes they can make that will have the most impact on improving the outcomes for children and young people with SEND. This first phase lasts six months and results in the development of a plan which sets out how the local authority will reach a sustainable financial position. The local authority will then receive funding from the DfE and support from DfE officials and their SEND advisors to implement their plan. [5] The second phase of the programme lasts 18 months.

Further information about the DBV programme can be found on the Delivering Better Value in SEND Programme website.

DfE guidance for local authorities 

The DfE’s Guidance on our intervention work with local authorities sets out the arrangements for both the SV and DBV programmes. The guidance also includes some questions that local authorities are invited to consider (see Annex 3).

These questions are helpful for understanding how local authorities should be considering reforms to make high needs funding more sustainable. None of the questions posed imply that local authorities should introduce reforms which cut or reduce the quality of provision. The questions also make it clear that local authorities should actively engage stakeholders, including schools, in decisions about the development and delivery of SV and DBV plans.

Issues, questions and action 

Engaging stakeholders and consultation 

NASUWT Representatives in local authorities with large DSG deficits should seek to establish whether the local authority is in discussions with the DfE about participating in the SV programme. If it is negotiating its involvement in the SV programme, then please let us know. 

Local authorities should consult their Schools Forum as they develop and implement their SV and DBV proposals. They may consult local headteacher groups. However, consultation should extend beyond this. In particular, representatives on JNCs and JCCs should ensure that they are consulted as part of the planning and decision-making processes.

The NASUWT would expect local authorities to consult local SENCO networks. Representatives should identify NASUWT members involved in SENCO networks and seek their feedback on SEND-related issues and check that these are reflected in the plan. 

Representatives should seek to engage in stakeholder consultations that take place during the diagnostic phase of the DBV programme.

Ensuring that SV and DBV plans are appropriate 

The SV and DBV programmes see reducing demand for EHCPs and reducing the use of very high-cost specialist provision as key to achieving sustainable budgets. Reducing demand for EHCPs effectively means that children and young people with SEND should have their needs identified early and that support is provided promptly so that needs do not escalate. Schools need to be resourced and teachers supported appropriately so that needs can be identified and met. 

Any plan to increase the support provided to children and young people with SEND in mainstream schools, including through SEN support, must acknowledge and address the barriers to schools and teachers providing effective support. This might include addressing issues such as access to specialist advice, support and expertise, staffing, and training and professional development. It would not be acceptable to expect schools and providers to do more without clarifying the additional resources and support that may be needed.

You should challenge proposals where the local authority does not adequately address the resource and support needs of schools arising from the proposals. 

Local authority SV and DBV plans may focus on reducing the use of very expensive out of area provision for children and young people with very specialist and complex needs.

Cheaper provision of similar quality may be available, and reports indicate that some authorities are also paying a provider more than another authority for the same or broadly similar provision. The intention to reduce costs in such instances is legitimate. However, you must be assured that this does not: 

  • result in cuts to services; 

  • lead to a reduction in the quality of provision and support; or 

  • increase pressures on parts of the school and education system. 

Evidence from NASUWT members indicates that some local authorities use bureaucratic application arrangements, systematically refuse initial applications for assessments and support, or request additional but unnecessary information before accepting a request for assessment. [6] Such approaches are likely to be unlawful and should be opposed. ‘Delivering services more efficiently’ must equate to earlier support and intervention, and avoid the risk of support needs escalating. 

Schools, local authorities and specialist services are under huge pressure following more than a decade of cuts and underfunding. However, this does not permit the local authority to introduce plans that will cut services or reduce the quality of provision and support. If a local authority uses the pressures of austerity and underfunding to justify cutting provision and services, you should challenge the practice.

Questions that may be useful when judging whether SV or DBV plans are appropriate 

There are a number of questions that may help you to judge whether a local authority’s DBV or SV plan is appropriate: 

  • Do the authority’s proposals shift the focus from plans that will lead to greater efficiency to plans that seek to cut services and/or reduce the quality of provision? 

  • Will the proposals increase pressures on other parts of the school system? 

  • In particular, is the focus on early intervention accompanied by plans to adequately increase resources and support to mainstream schools and to the services that will support or provide that early intervention? 

  • Is decision-making based on a holistic view of the pressures on schools, service providers and the local education system more generally?

Other actions for NASUWT Representatives 

Regional Organisers should use this briefing to consider the potential impact of proposed changes on special needs schools and services in their regions. They should also consider the role of regional multi-academy trusts (MATs) and how this affects special needs provision within mainstream schools across the area. 

NASUWT National Executive Members (NEMs) should use this briefing to support discussion with Local Branches about SEN provision in both the special and mainstream sectors, including pressures on schools and wider services and the barriers to accessing and providing appropriate support. NEMs should also use the briefing in their work with the District MATs. 

Local Negotiating Secretaries (LNSs) or other NASUWT Representatives attending the Schools Forum or other strategic meetings with the local authority, such as JCNC or JCC meetings, should use this briefing to support discussion at those meetings, including ensuring that the SEN provision in both the mainstream and special sectors is discussed at those meetings. Specifically, they should also ensure that the SV and DBV proposals are discussed at those meetings and that the plans acknowledge and address the issues raised.

Suggested specific actions that LNSs, NEMs and NASUWT Local Secretaries should take: 
  • place school funding on the agenda of the next local branch or committee meeting and provide members attending the meeting with a copy of this briefing; 

  • arrange a meeting for SENCOs to discuss their experiences, to identify the pressures they are facing, to establish what is working well, and to consider SV or DBV plans; 

  • seek specific feedback on issues affecting specialist support services, including barriers to accessing assessments and/or support, waiting times for assessments and waiting times to access support; 

  • seek specific feedback on the role of health and carer services in supporting CYP with EHCPs, including whether health and social care are meeting the financial costs of health and care provision agreed in the EHCP; and 

  • provide the NASUWT with feedback about issues that are identified as a result of these discussions via email.

Additional questions that NASUWT Representatives attending Schools Forums should ask 

The following questions focus on the high needs budget and funding that the authority is receiving as a result of participating in the SV or DBV programme: 

  • How much extra funding is being provided if your local authority is in part of the SV or DBV programme? 

  • Are transfers taking place or being recommended from the DSG to the High Needs Block? 

  • What financial contribution is the NHS making to the EHCPs of children in mainstream and special schools? 

[1] The DSG is the funding that local authorities receive for their spending on schools, early years and high needs. It is a specific grant which must be spent on education. The DSG is split into a Schools Block, an Early Years Block, a Central Services Block and a High Needs Block (which also includes funding for PRUs, AP and hospital education). Local authorities have very limited flexibility to move funding between Blocks.
[2] DfE (October 2022), Guidance on our intervention work with local authorities. Available at: (Accessed 7 May 2024).
[3] DfE (June 2022), Sustainability in high needs systems: Guidance for local authorities. Available at: (Accessed 7 May 2024).
[4] Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care (March 2022), SEND Review: Right support, right place, right time.
[5] £85 million has been allocated to the DBV programme. It is not clear how this will be assigned among the participating authorities. However, if split equally among the local authorities, each authority will receive just over £1.5m of additional funding.
[6] NASUWT (2018) Special Educational Needs (SEN), Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Additional Support Needs (ASN): Survey report. Available on Special Educational and Additiional Educational Needs.