Research and evaluation

Research on funding for young people with SEN

“Staff from Isos accurately summarised multiple local contexts, leading to insightful questioning and comments.”
— Herefordshire Council


The brief

In 2014, the Department for Education (DfE) commissioned Isos to undertake research into arrangements for funding support for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) in England. The aim of the research was to analyse how effectively the current national and local SEN funding arrangements were working, and to make recommendations as to how they could be improved in the future.

What did we do?

Between autumn 2014 and spring 2015, we worked closely with a small, but broadly representative group of 13 local education systems. During our initial evidence-gathering phase, we engaged a wide range of leaders, practitioners and stakeholders in each local education system, including:

  • elected members, senior officers and practitioners from the local authority;

  • leaders and SEN leads from early years settings, mainstream schools, special schools, and post-16 institutions;

  • commissioners and strategic partners from local health and social care services; and

  • representatives of parents and carers of young people with SEN.

We drew on the evidence from our fieldwork to develop a set of key messages and recommendations, which we tested through a series of in-depth workshops with colleagues from the DfE, representatives from the 13 local education systems, and a small number of national experts. We also worked closely with our partners at Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion to analyse and model a formula-based approach to allocating the high needs block from national government to local authorities.

What difference did we make?

We developed a comprehensive report, detailing what we found was working well, the key challenges and the options for reform in each part of the SEN system. In the report, we made a series of 17 recommendations for national and local government for improving the effectiveness of SEN funding arrangements. These included recommendations relating to:

  • moving to a new, formula-based approach to allocating the high needs block to local authorities;

  • improving the consistency and transparency of funding for mainstream early years settings, schools and post-16 institutions;

  • reforming the way in which places in specialist settings (e.g. special schools, units, resourced provisions, and in post-16 institutions) are commissioned to improve local planning;

  • improving the operation of top-up funding and ensuring there is swift access to time-limited resources that are not dependent on the statutory assessment process; and

  • improving, and potentially piloting on a sub-regional basis, joint strategic commissioning of provision for children and young people with the most complex, low-incidence needs.

The report has been well-received by the sector and key SEN stakeholders, and has been used by the DfE to inform their decisions about reforming funding arrangements, including those for young people with SEN.

What did those involved say about the work?

“Staff from Isos accurately summarised multiple local contexts, leading to insightful questioning and comments. An additional benefit of involvement in the research was allowing us opportunity to learn from others, as well as providing protected time to reflect in more detail on our approach.” 
— Herefordshire Council

“Responding to insightful questions and knowledgeable observations provided for us a catalyst for reflection and self-evaluation. This was useful in both affirming certain aspects of practice, and stimulating further discussion and development of ideas for the future.” 
— East Riding of Yorkshire Council

“Participating in this research has enabled the local authority to get across some of the challenges and issues we are facing with the funding for SEN and we can see that some of this has directly influenced the thinking behind the current proposals for high-needs funding on which the government is consulting.” 
— Manchester City Council