Survey highlights lack of funding for SEND childcare

A survey on special needs support for childcare shows that many providers are struggling despite increased demand and a lack of extra funding.

reviews of policy following the general election result.


Less than half of childcare providers receive additional funding for children with special needs [SEND], despite increased demand and 87% who don’t receive additional funding say that the funding they do receive isn’t enough to provide the quality of care for children with SEND that they want, according to a new survey.

The survey of 1,331 early years settings by the Early Years Alliance comes as figures show how special needs childcare has been affected by the pandemic. Sixty per cent of respondents delivering places to children with SEND said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their ability to deliver care and education to those children and around one in six (17%) described that impact as ‘very negative’.

It shows 40% of early years providers providing care to children with SEND don’t receive any additional funding specifically to support SEND provision and that, of those providers that do receive additional funding for SEND, 87% say that the funding they receive isn’t enough to provide the quality of care that they want. 92% have had to fund additional support for children with SEND out of their own pocket. 56% have experienced delays in receiving SEND funding.

The survey also highlights increasing demand: 74% of respondents reported an increase in the number of children with formally-identified SEND at their setting over the past two years, while 82% reported an increase in the number of children who they felt may have SEND who have not yet been formally identified over the same period.

The survey comes as the government publishes its long-awaited SEND Green Paper. Measures in the Green Paper include setting new SEND national standards, creating a simplified and digitised Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and increasing the number of staff with an accredited level 3 qualification in early years settings.

The paper also states that the government “will work with local authorities, providers and stakeholders to establish whether changes to the SEND Inclusion Fund or the current early years funding system more widely are needed”.

The Early Years Alliance says the plans outlined are ambitious, but need to be properly funded. It is calling on the government to commit to a substantial increase in both early years and high needs funding levels. The organisation has also made a number of recommendations to help tackle the issues raised in the report in the shorter term, calling on the government to ensure that children with SEND receive additional funding for all the hours that they take up at an early years setting, not just a proportion; create a faster, simpler and more consistent process for applying for SEND funding to minimise the administration burden on early years providers; ensure that SEND funding is backdated to cover the cost of providing care during the often-lengthy funding application process; and improve the clarity and transparency of the funding system, so all providers are clear about what funding is available to which children in their care.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “While we welcome proposals to boost the number of Sencos in early years settings and review how SEND inclusion funding is structured, without a significant and targeted increase in targeted SEND funding for the early years, it’s hard to see how providers will be able to offer the kind of support that the government is arguing all children with SEND should be able to access.

“Nurseries, pre-schools and childminding professionals are committed to delivering quality care and education to children with SEND, and yet, as our research shows, far too many are struggling to do so while remaining sustainable, because the levels of funding they need simply aren’t there…

“We know that early years funding rates are wholly insufficient and have been for many years now. Add to this inadequate funding to support SEND provision, and you have a recipe for disaster.”

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