24.In September 2019, the Department announced a review of the support system for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The review aimed to improve services for families who needed support, equip staff to respond effectively to children’s additional needs, and end the ‘postcode lottery’ that families often faced. In May 2020, we concluded that many children with SEND were being failed by the support system, and recommended that the Department should, as a matter of urgency, complete and publish its SEND review.
25.In March 2021, the Department told us that it planned to publish a Green Paper towards the end of June 2021 with its proposals for improving SEND support. Consulting on proposals for change will be only the first step towards providing children and families with better services. Supporting the growing proportion of pupils with education, health and care plans is a significant cost pressure on mainstream schools. In its written evidence, the National Association of Head Teachers emphasised that the factors underpinning the growing demand on SEND funding, including a shortfall in funding of the health and social care sectors, were likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and that this situation required more than a review of how existing funding is distributed.
26.In July 2021, the Department wrote to tell us that it had decided it should take more time to ensure its reform plans could deliver the systemic change needed, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had materially altered the context for reform. It said that it would use the additional time to make certain its plans complemented the wider work being done on recovery and school reform, and that they had the longevity needed to offer stability to the sector.
27.The Department recognised that the review process was taking much longer than it had wanted, but explained that, as it had started to test its emerging proposals, the risk had become clear that the review would not be as effective as intended, because the early stages of the work had taken place before the impacts of the pandemic were clear. The Department had therefore decided that it would be appropriate to spend longer on the work to make sure that its conclusions and proposals were robust.
28.The Department highlighted three key things that it was doing while it worked on the SEND review. First, it had increased high-needs funding by about £1.5 billion in two years and made available £300 million of capital funding in 2021 for school places for children with SEND. Second, it was offering targeted intervention for the local authorities that had the most challenging situations. And third, it was focusing on children with SEND in its thinking about catch-up learning and recovery.
29.We pressed the Department on the projected timeframe for the review to be completed, asking if it might be autumn 2021, the end of the calendar year, or the end of the 2021–22 financial year. The Department would not commit to a date, saying only that it would finalise the review as soon as it could.
30.The school funding system currently involves local discretion in that local authorities and academy trusts are free to vary the allocations that the Department calculates using the national funding formula. The government has said that it intends to move to a ‘hard’ national funding formula, where the Department would set schools’ budgets directly.
31.The Department explained that it had begun a consultation process about moving to a hard funding formula on 8 July 2021. Ultimately, its goal was to allocate funding consistently across the system as whole, so that schools with the same characteristics and pupil needs would be funded at the same level wherever in the country they were located. The Department said that it had not committed to a specific timetable for implementing the hard formula, because this was a complex reform that would take time to get right. The consultation proposed progressively bringing local authorities closer towards the national funding formula and evaluating the impact at each step. The Department told us that 73 local authorities were already mirroring the national funding formula almost exactly.
32.In September 2019, the Government set out its intention that salaries for new teachers would rise to £30,000 nationally by September 2022. It stated that this increase would make teacher pay among the most competitive in the graduate labour market. However, at the 2020 Spending Review, the Government announced that pay rises in the public sector would be restrained and targeted in 2021–22. The Department said, in evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body, that it had paused planned pay rises for teachers in 2021/22, and that the move to increase teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 would no longer be achieved by 2022/23.
33.In its written evidence, the National Association of Head Teachers emphasised the need to improve salaries for teachers and school leaders as a critical element of any strategy to resolve the “longstanding recruitment and retention crisis”. It said that schools did not have the fiscal headroom to reverse the real-terms decline in the salaries of teachers and leaders, and that all future employer costs, including salary, National Insurance and pension contributions, should be fully funded by government.
34.In the three years from 2018–19, the Department gave grants towards teacher pay increases, and to meet the full cost of increased pension contributions. From 2021–22, the Department will incorporate most of this additional funding within the dedicated schools grant instead of giving it as separate grants, which will make the funding less transparent. The Department told us that the extra money for pay and pensions would be maintained in the short term, but could not give this assurance for future spending review periods.
35.The Department said that it remained committed to the £30,000 starting salary for teachers. It explained that it had had to adjust the rate of progress towards this based on conversations with HM Treasury and on the wider context. It stated that pay increases in September would represent an average rise of 3.1%, but this would be significantly weighted towards starting salaries, with 5.5% going on salaries for new teachers. The Department said that the question of when it might implement its commitment on starting salaries could only be answered after the next Spending Review.
36.The Department plans to provide funding of £3.1 billion between 2020–21 and 2024–25 to help children and young people catch up on learning lost during the period of disrupted schooling caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the money is expected to be spent by the end of 2022–23, and funding is projected to fall significantly after that. In addition, the funding that the Government has committed falls well short of the proposals totalling around £15 billion that were recommended by its Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins.
37.Sir Kevan resigned as the Education Recovery Commissioner in June 2021. In his resignation letter, he said that he did “not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support this size”. The Department said that it was very grateful to Sir Kevan, who had made a number of propositions across a wide range of areas. Collectively with HM Treasury and Number 10, it was taking forward much of what Sir Kevan had recommended around investment in tutoring and teaching quality. The Department said that there was a strong evidence base around both of these areas and, in response to feedback from the sector, it was introducing a new programme that would allow schools themselves to train tutors.
38.The Department noted that a large part of the additional funding that Sir Kevan had recommended had related to suggested changes to the timing of the school day, which had met with a mixed reception among schools and teachers. It had therefore decided to take more time, ahead of the Spending Review, to consider the evidence base for such a large investment. It was looking at exactly how extra time in school might be spent and what happened already within the sector.
35 HC Committee of Public Accounts, Support for children with special educational needs and disabilities, First Report of Session 2019–21, HC 85, May 2020
36 HC Committee of Public Accounts, Oral evidence: COVID-19: Education, HC 944, 25 March 2021, Q 80
37 C&AG’s Report, para 9
38 SCF0005 National Association of Head Teachers submission, page 3
39 Letter from Department for Education, 6 July 2021
40 Qq 4, 6–8
41 Qq 4–5
42 Qq 9–10
43 C&AG’s Report, paras 2.24–2.25
44 Q 18
45 Qq 18–20, 88
46 , 18 September 2019
47 C&AG’s Report, para 1.18
48 SCF0005 National Association of Head Teachers submission, page 4
49 C&AG’s Report, para 1.17
50 Q 47
51 Qq 23–24
52 Qq 25, 29
53 C&AG’s Report, para 10
54 C&AG’s Report, Figure 5
55 HC Education Committee, Oral evidence: Education Recovery, HC 452, 29 June 2021, Q 10
56 Letter from Sir Kevan Collins to the Prime Minister, 2 June 2021
57 Qq 103–104
58 Qq 103–104