Limited funding commitments for pupils with special needs ‘poses serious threat’

Limited funding commitments for pupils with special educational needs by political parties “poses a serious threat” to provision, a think tank has warned.

Schools, local authorities and some of the most vulnerable children “are at risk” if the next government fails to tackle the challenges of the special educational needs and disabilities (Send) system, according to analysis.

The report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) analyses the plans for education in the manifestos of five main political parties in England – the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Reform UK.

It said the wider situation of government finances – and a position from the main parties not to increase some of the main tax rates – has resulted in an offering that is “exceedingly limited” and does not address the funding challenges that schools and colleges in England are facing.

The analysis, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published ahead of the General Election, said the “glaring omission” in the Labour party manifesto was a commitment to protect school funding, and it added that per pupil funding commitments by the Lib Dems and Tories are “at best modest”.

“In all cases it makes the overall funding package for schools very unclear,” the report said.

On high needs funding for pupils with Send, EPI said commitments from the political parties are “limited” or do not set out what they will achieve and how.

It added that no single party addresses the challenges of the Send system holistically.

The report said: “Given the highly perilous state of high needs funding there is concerningly very little from any of the main parties by way of commitment to either the level of funding offered, or how it is distributed.

“This poses a serious threat to both specialist provision and the financial sustainability of local authorities as a whole.”

The analysis also suggested that the scale of challenges around teacher recruitment has not been meaningfully addressed in party manifestos.

It said: “Stronger commitments on pay are required to ensure teaching remains competitive in both schools and colleges.”

Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the EPI, said: “Our analysis raises serious questions about whether the plans set out in the manifestos of the main parties will deliver the action that is required to support our education system.

“With a lack of clear funding commitments made by the two main parties, there is a genuine risk that policies will fall short in key areas of need.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “There are some significant differences but overall there is disappointment that none of the parties has pledged the necessary funding to address the overwhelming educational challenges awaiting the next government.”

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, said: “The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers continues to widen, whilst schools and colleges across the country face a shortage of teachers and increasing funding pressures.

“There remains a genuine risk that the most important challenges facing education will not be addressed with sufficient urgency, given the wider economic issues and demands on public services that an incoming government will face.”

On Wednesday, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggested that Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats do not offer “significant extra levels of core funding” to help schools and colleges.

The briefing note said: “In schools, the commitments made by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would be consistent with cuts in total funding as pupil numbers fall, whilst Labour have left schools even more in the dark about how their budgets might evolve over the next parliament.”

It added: “In further education, neither the Conservatives nor Labour have provided information on future funding levels for colleges and sixth forms.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “Our plan is working, with school standards up across the country, school funding at record levels per pupil, and children named ‘best in the West’ for reading.”

A Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “From providing tutoring for disadvantaged children to having a plan to fix our crumbling schools, Liberal Democrats are offering ambitious, fully costed solutions for our education sector.”