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How to fix disadvantage funding - David Holloway

21 July 2022

David Holloway, AoC senior policy manager – SEND

More than a quarter of young people at college have special educational needs or disabilities. College is a lifeline for these students, as it is college that prepares them for their next phase of life, whether that means getting a job, going to university, or moving into adult social care.

Earlier this year, the government published its SEND and Alternative Provision green paper, explaining its ideas about how to reform the SEND system across the country. Unfortunately, but not entirely surprisingly, most of the green paper is about changes they want to make to the set up in schools. The green paper is also concerned with those children and young people described as having “High Needs” – meaning that their support costs more than £6000 a year. But this has left a whole group of young people out of the conversation: college students who need support for their SEND but don’t have what is known as High Needs.

These are students who do not need specialist SEND provision with an adapted curriculum, or even a one-to-one learning assistant. They may just need to share an assistant with their peers, or to have some extra mentoring out of class. They may be students who have been identified as having dyslexia, or ADHD, or anxiety conditions. Their needs may not be “high” but their needs are very real, and a little bit of support can make a gigantic difference to their learning and their outcomes.

Last year, the government was asked how it will make sure that these students receive the same level of support they received at school. The government said that their support should be paid for from disadvantage funding. This is a particular pot of funding for 16- to 19-year-olds which is supposed to help students from lots of different disadvantaged groups, including those with SEND, but also those from economically deprived postcodes.

AoC has now carried out research to see if this type of funding really gives college students the same level of support as they would have had at school.

Our research has found huge disparities in the amount received by colleges for each student who has SEND but not High Needs, turning a spotlight on the fact the bottom tenth of colleges receive only a twelfth as much as the top tenth. Although disadvantage funding may be helping to redress disadvantage arising from economic deprivation, the measures it uses are failing to predict the locations of students with SEND. This leaves many colleges wondering how they can possibly support their students.

We also found that for learners without High Needs, schools have 11.1 per cent of their budget set aside to support 12.6 per cent of their pupils – those with SEND but not high needs - whereas disadvantage funding in colleges provides 12.6 per cent of budgets to support that group of learners – who make up a total of 23 per cent of students. So even if colleges were funded as well as schools and even if disadvantage funding was used entirely for SEND, the amount to support each college student is barely more than half of that available to those same individuals when they were at school.

This means that changing the way that disadvantage funding is calculated, without changing the overall quantity of funding, would not be enough to create consistency between schools and colleges.

The way that disadvantage funding is calculated has not changed for nearly a decade. The solution is to create an additional block within disadvantage funding, specifically for students with SEND, while at the same time lowering the £6000 threshold that defines which students are said to have High Needs.

The green paper proposes that here should be national standards for delivery across a 0-25 SEND system. But national standards of delivery are impossible with national standards of resourcing.

All our young students are on a journey towards adulthood and on that road, some need extra support. It is illogical and unfair to support students only on the part of their journey that takes place in school. Some of the reforms suggested in the green paper have the potential to make a positive difference so now is the right time to reform disadvantage funding too.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.