The money can be used by councils in early years settings, mainstream schools, including academies and free schools, as well as special units and special schools, and further education colleges.
The DfE said it would be up to local authorities as to how they use the money and said it could help create 740 more special school places, and provide new specialist facilities to support children with complex needs, such as playgrounds with specialist equipment or sensory rooms.
Other suggestions include building new specialised classrooms, expanding existing classrooms for children using mobility aids, purchasing mobility equipment, and creating storage facilities for wheelchairs.
Local authorities will have to submit their plans to the DfE for approval.
The DfE said that more than half the councils in England will receive more than £225,000 to increase places or improve schools for children with special education needs and disabilities, and every council would receive at least £115,000.
The £50m fund follows an announcement last year of £215m in Government funding for new school places for children with additional needs.
Children and families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said, ‘All parents want to send their child to a good local school, one that meets their individual needs and supports them to achieve their full potential, regardless of the challenges they may face. This funding will help to create thousands more school places across the country, with a clear focus on transforming the experience of education for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).’
Contact, the charity for families with disabled children, said it welcomed any increase in funding that would help inclusion of children with additional needs in mainstream schools.
Gail Walshe, head of parent carer participation at Contact, said, ‘Schools have a duty to be accessible, but we know from calls to Contact’s helpline that this is not always the case.
‘Some schools lack capacity in their specialist units, or do not have a quiet room for children with sensory issues or adequate changing facilities for children with personal care needs. We hope that this top up funding together with the £215m announced last year will help make a visible difference.’
She added that parent carer forums, networks of parents across the country, could help ensure this happens by working strategically with local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to make sure families’ views directly impacted on services.
Maureen Morris from the National Network of Parent Carer Forums said, ‘The National Network of Parent Carer Forums are pleased to see the announcement from the Department for Education regarding an increase in the capital spending to increase places or improve facilities in schools for children and young people with SEND.
‘Specialist provision continues to be under great pressure across the country and it is vital this money makes the greatest impact. We are pleased to note that local authorities will need to work with parent and carers to determine how it is most effectively spent.’
Teaching union NAHT welcomed the extra capital funding to create more specialist places in mainstream schools, as the educational and social benefits to inclusive education are well evidenced.
However, it said that creating extra SEN places must be matched with sufficient funding and resources.
Valentine Mulholland, head of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said, ‘School leaders are warning that the education of pupils with special education needs is at risk due to cuts to both school revenue funding and to the services supporting pupils’ needs in local authorities. The increasing struggle to support pupils with special education needs in a mainstream setting is leading to more and more pupils being educated in special schools.
‘But this must be matched with sufficient funding for schools and more investment in the health and social care services available to schools and families. Simply creating additional SEND places won’t help much if schools don’t have the funding and resources required to provide the right education and care.’
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said, ‘Our schools’ finances are approaching breaking point, yet the Government can only re-announce old policies and old funding
‘To offer £50 million for children with special education needs, after cutting billions from school budgets since 2015, is utterly derisory and will not reverse the damage that years of cuts have inflicted on the life chances of our children.’
- Alongside the SEN funding, the Government has also announced £680 million to create 40,000 more school places in primary and secondary schools.