National Audit Office report 'Support for pupils with SEND in England'

News - 11 Sep 2019

This comprehensive report makes sobering reading - everyone interested in SEND should read the summary, if not the whole report. You will not be surprised at many of its findings; it lays out starkly the current situation with regard to funding, the SEND system, and the quality of support for pupils with SEND, and makes several recommendations to the Department for Education about what should happen to improve the situation.

If you would like to read the full report (55 pages) or a summary (9 pages), visit the NAO web page; you can also watch a short video on this page, and look at images of some of the data, which can easily be shared on social media.

The report is divded into three sections: the SEND system, the quality of support, and recommendations. We provide a brief summary.


The SEND system

  • The Department for Education does not know the impact of support for pupils with SEND (in 2018, they commissioned research into the how they can obtain better data into impact)
  • In 2018-19, 24% of the Dedicated Schools Grant was spent on support for pupils with SEND (£9.4 billion): £3.8 billion via the schools block (the 'notional' SEN budget, which is not ring-fenced) and £5.6 billion via the High Needs block
  • Increase in funding has not kept pace with the rise in numbers - High Needs funding fell by 2.6% per pupil in real terms (from an average of £19,600 to £19,100)
  • 81.3% of local authorities overspent their SEN budgets for High Needs pupils in 2017-18, with a net overspend of £282 million
  • Spending on independent special schools has increased by 32.4% in real terms from 2013-18
  • The DfE did not assess the financial consequences of the 2014 reforms, and expected the benefits and savings to outweigh the costs; however, for example, the number of cases going to tribunal had increased by 80.5% from 2014-18
  • The ways in which the DfE and local areas are responding to over-spending are not making the system sustainable
Quality of support
  • The DfE does not really know enough about the quality of support for children with SEND in mainstream schools, as nearly 50% of short inspections do not refer to SEND (the new Ofsted EIF, implemented September 2019, should help with this)
  • Exclusion rates for pupils with SEND are much higher than for pupils with no SEND
  • In CQC inspections, 50% of local areas inspected so far have 'significant areas of weakness'
  • There is considerable unexplained local variation, across numbers of EHC plans, numbers on SEN Support, numbers of pupils attending special schools etc
Their conclusions on value for money are:
  • Some pupils with SEND are receiving high-quality support that meets their needs, but many are not being supported effectively, particularly those receiving SEN Support
  • The system for supporting pupils with SEND is not financially sustainable. Pressures are making the system less, rather than more, sustainable. The DfE needs to 'act urgently to secure the improvements in quality and sustainability that are needed to achieve value for money.'
Recommendations (these are all for the Department for Education):
  • Make an evidence-based assessment of how much it would cost to provide the system created by the 2014 reforms
  • Set quantified goals for 2020-21 onwards, including outcome measures such as metrics relating to preparation for adulthood
  • Review the incentives in the funding arrangements and the accountability system, and make changes that encourage mainstream schools to be more inclusive 
  • Identify and share good practice on how mainstream schools can effectively meet the needs of pupils receiving SEN Support
  • Set out publicly the circumstances under which it considers public money should be used to pay for independent provision for pupils with SEND
  • Work with Ofsted to identify what more can be done to make inspections of mainstream schools, in particular short inspections, provide more assurance specifically about SEND provision
  • More robustly investigate the reasons for local variations 


Related resources

  • Graduated approach prompt

    Tool - 30 Aug 2019 Silver AND Gold Member Only

    A useful tool for silver and gold members in the EYFS, primary, secondary and post-16 settings. This resource is designed to help teachers work their way through the graduated approach for those pupils that haven’t necessarily yet been identified with SEN but for whom there are initial concerns.

  • Ofsted Education Inspection Framework

    Information - 29 Aug 2019 Silver AND Gold Member Only

    Available to silver and gold members, this information based resource will be suitable for SENCos and leaders in Early Years settings, Schools and Colleges. The resource can be effectively used as part of the self review and improvement process, key benefits of this resources is to gain a concise overview of the Education Inspection Framework and implications of practice.

  • Pupil Passport

    Tool - 29 Aug 2019 Silver AND Gold Member Only

    Available to silver and gold members, this useful person centred working tool is suitable for those supporting pupils in Early Years, Primary, Secondary and post 16 settings. The resource can be used to outline a pupil’s key strengths, needs and the strategies and key adjustments to teaching that are needed every day. It can provide a useful vehicle for meaningful discussion around learning between the teacher and the pupil, involving them positively in discussing effective approaches to enable better engagement. Working in a person-centred way (across the whole setting), including the use of person-centred tools, is essential for not only populating the passport but also for getting the most from using it.