Funding for special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools

Where does SEN funding come from?

All mainstream schools receive money for special educational needs support and resources. Schools can decide how to spend this money. This is called “delegated” funding because it is given (delegated) to schools by Local Authorities or the Education Funding Agency from money they receive from central government. The SEN part of the school’s income is sometimes called the “notional” SEN budget because it is not based on the school’s actual numbers of pupils with special needs, but on a formula.

Funding for SEN provision is from three sources (“elements”):

Element 1

Schools get money for each pupil, based on actual pupil numbers. This is called the Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) and it is part of schools’ delegated funding. Some of this money is for general SEN provision. This might, for example, include the cost of providing the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) and some other resources.

Each Local Authority sets the AWPU for their schools, and the Education Funding Agency sets the AWPU for academies and free schools. The AWPU differs according to whether the school is primary or secondary, etc.

Element 2   

Element 2 funding is SEN-specific and is to provide SEN support for children who need it. This is support that is additional to or different from the support that most other children get. SEN support is for children who used to have help through School Action and School Action Plus.

The Local Authority provides this funding for schools, and is responsible for using a formula that determines the amount of money each school gets. The formula gives more money to schools that in the past had more children on free school meals and more children who were not doing as well as others in English and Maths. The Education Funding Agency provides this funding for academies and free schools. Element 2 funding is also part of schools’ delegated budget.

Government guidance says schools should provide up to the first £6,000 (on top of the AWPU) of additional or different support for those children who need it, including those with an Education, Health, and Care Plan. This does not mean that the school will spend £6,000 on every child with SEN. Sometimes schools use funds to help groups of children. Some children will need less help – and some children may need more.

You can ask your school how it uses its SEN budget to support your child and whether it has enough to make all the provision it needs. The Local Authority also publishes a Local Offer that explains what type of resources this money might be spent on.

Element 3   

Where a school has children needing very expensive provision which might absorb a lot of the SEN support funding, the school can request additional funding. The Local Authority is responsible for managing Element 3 funding (sometimes called the ‘high needs block’), which can be used to make specific provision for an individual child or a group of children, if the school or academy can show it is necessary.

You can find details of how this funding is allocated in the Local Offer.

These funding arrangements do not override the Local Authority’s duty to your child to ensure they receive any necessary provision that the school itself cannot make. The law says that the Local Authority must find out via an EHC needs assessment whether an EHC Plan is needed when a child or young person may have SEN that may need the Local Authority to secure provision. So, if your school is unable to make all the provision your child needs, you have the right to ask for an EHC needs assessment.