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Published on Monday 22 January 2024

You may have seen reports and stories in the media recently regarding the funding challenges we are facing around our Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services.

BCP Council is not alone in the challenges we face. Along with many other local authorities we are in conversations with government to look how we can address this issue. The well-being of our children and young people and the quality of their education remains our absolute priority.

We want to make clear we are not proposing to cut schools budgets by 11%.

For this last five years we have had an ongoing deficit in our allocated budget for SEND services. We are currently spending around £20million a year more than we have in the budget, and by March 2024 the deficit is likely to rise to £63million.

Legally we cannot fund this gap through our revenue fund or council tax.

We have been invited to participate in a government led programme designed to support local authorities facing challenges like us. We will not sign up to a plan that is undeliverable. We will not take forward proposals that would see our SEND service fall below the statutory requirements.

We want to provide clarity on this issue and have produced a set of Frequently Asked Questions under key themes which we hope you will find helpful.

This page was updated on Tuesday 2 April 2024 with details of the most recent Safety Valve proposal put to the Department for Education.


How are BCP Council’s SEND services currently funded?

Like other local authorities our SEND service is funded through an allocated Dedicated Schools Grant commonly referred to as the DSG fund.

The Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) is a ring-fenced grant from government that provides each local authority with an allocation of funding for schools and services for pupils. The DSG contains four blocks determined by a separate national funding formula which calculates the total funding that will be allocated.

What’s the situation with BCP Council’s DSG budget?

BCP Council’s has a high DSG deficit which outweighs the dedicated schools grant funding available. This deficit has grown rapidly from £3.6 million in April 2019 to £35.8 million by March 2023, with £63 million estimated for March 2024.

We estimate that it would take 15 years to balance the budget without a detriment to the support needed for our children and young people.

Why is the council’s DSG budget in this situation?

Like many other local authorities, BCP Council’s DSG budget has come under increasing pressure.

Over the last five years there has been an increase in demand and rising costs of provision for children with SEND far greater than the increase in funding provided by government.

Our average cost of specialist placements is high compared nationally due to the local pattern of provision and whilst a significant number of new local places have been created demand has grown faster.

Is this a national problem?

Yes, this is a national problem and like many other local authorities we are in conversations with government through the national safety valve programme to look at future funding. The challenges locally has seen costs escalate more rapidly over recent years than for others. We must address the local system to become more aligned with our funding levels.

Why hasn’t the council put more money into its DSG budget?

Local authorities have been prohibited by law from contributing additional funds to its DSG budget from their own resources.

Safety Valve Programme

What is the government’s safety valve programme?

The safety valve programme is a Department for Education (DfE) initiative focused to help local authorities tackle overspending on SEND services.

Local authorities are invited to take part in this programme if they have a high DSG accumulated deficit which has arisen typically due to high needs costs which outweigh the dedicated schools grant funding available.

Has BCP Council been invited to take part in this programme?

Yes, in July 2023 BCP Council was invited to be part of the programme to help manage and reduce the deficit in our DSG budget.

Participation in the safety valve programme usually lasts for four to seven years.

Due to the size of BCP Council’s annual funding gap and accumulated deficit, we have put a 15 year proposal to government. We are now waiting feedback from government on this.

What are the benefits of being part of the government’s safety valve programme?

The safety valve programme provides a range of support from experts to help the council implement more effective and sustainable services.

The DfE is expected to provide some additional funding as part of any safety valve agreement, profiled over several years and dependent on BCP Council making satisfactory progress towards achieving its targets.

Will this affect SEND funding in the future?

Where possible we need to reduce the amount that we are spending to avoid the deficit increasing year on year. Working with partners in health, schools and early years settings we are reviewing a more cost-effective approach which helps our funding go further whilst looking at new ways to provide this support. This includes the creation of new provision which is designed to reduce the cost of specialist placements. This programme of work is alongside the partnership’s early intervention approach to ensure the support is available as early as possible.

What are the next steps?

The council submitted a 15-year plan to the government last year.

We have recently been advised by the Department for Education (DfE), that they will shortly be announcing their latest round of local authorities who they will begin to support against their Safety Valve plans. We are not expecting BCP Council to be listed. We have been informed that Ministers have decided that the DfE could not enter into an agreement with BCP Council at this time, based on our most-recent proposal.

This does not mean BCP Council has been rejected from the Safety Valve programme. We always knew the council’s recent safety valve proposal challenged the DfE’s criteria and we have acted with integrity in making clear that we will not sign up to a deal that would see our services fall below the statutory requirements as set by government.

The department’s decision to not progress with our proposal at this current time does not change the council’s financial position in relation to the DSG deficit and we remain in discussions with the DfE as part of their Safety Valve programme.

The letter we received from the DfE can be read here.

How can I keep updated on progress?

We will provide updates to our partners, as well as through the council’s communications channels including the Local Offer.

Our Most Recent Proposal to the Department for Education

Why did you put forward a 15-year proposal?

The safety valve programme is designed to help manage and reduce the deficit in a council’s DSG budget.

Considerable work continues to be undertaken, supported by the Department for Education (DfE) to look at the implication of meeting the requirements of the programme, balancing our deficit, and meeting our regulatory and statutory duties.

The council submitted a 15-year proposal to the Safety Valve programme on the 15 January 2024. This is our most recent proposal.

Every council that has been invited to join the programme is different and it is important to acknowledge the local picture across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole when looking at this 15-year proposal.

The size of BCP Council’s annual funding gap and its accumulated deficit is significant and is growing.

These pressures are a result of changes in the law around SEND provision and the demographic changes we have seen in BCP. There is also an increasing level of diagnosed need in our area.

There has been a 33.4% growth in EHCPs in the years 2020-23​.

We have a high level of committed spend going towards maintaining children in their current placements.

We have also been clear that we would not sign up to an option that would not jeopardise the education provision for any of our children.

These challenges meant we cannot sign up to a proposal which seeks to balance our budget within the 5-year time period, as set down by the Safety Valve Agreement framework.

What did the 15 year proposal include?

The 15-year proposal was credible, child-centred and built around preserving our statutory provision.

It looked at changes over a period of time which would improve the landscape of provision across BCP and bring our SEND budget into a balanced position.

It did not include cutting aspects of our current service portfolio, but it did seek to increase the contribution to this spend from schools and to create a greater focus on early help and universal support to reduce the number of new plans.

The increased contribution from schools would be used to support inclusion programmes in partnership with them. Workshops are currently underway with schools to discuss options for these service developments.

The proposal also included an application for c£5m capital funding in order to support the creation of new specialist SEND provision for our children and young people.

This would reduce the use of costly independent provision and continue to meet children’s needs.

This application for the capital funding remains under assessment and we hope to hear the outcome in the next few weeks.

The 15-year proposal documents are available to view on our SEND Local Offer page at:

How did the proposal address the deficit?

The current SEND system sees a high use of Independent Non-Maintained Specialist Placements (INMSS) and a lower penetration of Education, Care and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) within the mainstream education system when compared the England average and South West profile.

Our proposal looked to support existing placements in specialist provision and improve Early Help and Identification systems to reduce the volume of new plans into the SEND system where appropriate.

In essence, we are looking to improve our early intervention, which would ease demand on the number of required specialist settings.

Would this proposal have meant cutting provision below statutory minimums?

No. We are committed to providing the best opportunities for our children and young people to grow and flourish. We will continue to work to ensure BCP’s children and young people with SEND have access to high quality education and training, whilst at the same time reducing the long-term cost with a view to balancing the budget.

This was the basis for the work we did to propose the 15-year plan.

What about Post-16 education for children and young people with SEND?

Currently there is a higher use of independent specialist provision for Post-16 students in the BCP area.

Our 15-year proposal looked at a reducing the costs of this. For example, the proposal identified £1m in savings from the ageing out of existing plans.

We also looked at new provision for the future Post-16 cohort. Building this early, would mean money is saved in the future.

Why did you not open this plan up to scrutiny before submitting it?

The 15-year proposal was only submitted in January.

The key assumptions of the proposal were shared with Headteachers on 12 January.

The document contains financial information about funds to providers and raised some concerns around the possibility of personal details being open to identification.

A decision was made by the council at the time that this data was sensitive, so could not be shared wider.

Why are you sharing it now?

If accepted by the DfE, Council had already resolved to debate and consider the 15-year Safety Valve proposal in public meetings prior to any agreement being confirmed.

It was always BCP Council’s intention to share the proposal publicly at the appropriate time.

Now that the DfE have confirmed they have not accepted this proposal, we are able to share the document with teachers, parents, children, and young people.

We remain committed to open and transparent communication with these groups as we work towards a solution that protects education provision for all going forward.

As part of this commitment, the 15-year proposal documents are now available to view on our SEND Local Offer page at:

A recent legal challenge and court processes around a potential Judicial Review has imposed a specific deadline which we have adhered to.

Will you do a full consultation with residents on the Safety Valve now?

Not at this time. We are still working with the DfE to discuss future plans and approaches to the Safety Valve programme. These plans will be shared and subject to consultation at the appropriate time.

Council Officers worked incredibly hard to produce a proposal which addressed the DSG deficit and ensured we met our regulatory and statutory duties.

Despite the final rejection of the plan, the initial feedback we received from the DfE stated that it was a diligent piece of work which explored all options without making implausible assumptions with unacceptable risks on delivery.

We will be taking this hard work and thorough knowledge into our future discussions with the DfE as part of their Safety Valve programme.

We are leading four focused workshops with schools around special needs provision and the outcomes from these will also inform our next steps.

Impact on schools

Is it true that you plan to cut mainstream schools’ budget by 11%?

There are no plans within the proposals to cut the budgets to this level. 

A significant part of the high needs budget is allocated to support pupils in mainstream schools. Mainstream schools collectively are able to contribute 0.5% of their DSG funding each year to support the local authority central budget for pupils with high needs. This is equivalent to £1.3m in 2024/25.

Any remaining funds - after all mainstream schools have received their DSG national funding formula allocations of £0.4m (which is equivalent to 0.1% of their funding) has been agreed can be used to support the council’s DSG high needs budget in 2024/25.

The council has made a request to the DfE for the full 0.5% contribution as part of the DSG management plan and safety valve submission, but no decisions have yet been made. In future years the maximum contribution requested would be 1%. It is entirely up to central government if they choose to move forward with this.

Are you planning to place a higher number of children with Educational Health Care Plans into mainstream schools?

We know that many of our SEND children enjoy and achieve in mainstream in education.  We want to ensure that those children who can enjoy and achieve in mainstream schools are able to do so, and that schools are able to meet those children’s needs.

BCP Council is working with schools to review the financial arrangements to support children in these settings; we are also seeking to build new provision to ensure that there are more school places with support systems in place.

What about independent specialist places?

We need to reduce the costs associated with independent specialist places. We propose to do this by increasing local mainstream provision for Alternative Provision, Social Emotional Mental Health Services and post 16 places.  Ideally, these provisions would be met through mainstream providers.

If schools become more inclusive will there be extra money or resource for schools such as Teaching Assistants or specialist provision?

We will be working with schools and further education colleges to review the current banding arrangements for support to understand how children can be better supported in mainstream education. 

Children and young people with SEND

What does the safety valve proposal mean for my child who already has an Educational Health Care Plan?

Your child will continue to have an annual review where their progress is discussed and any changes or amends to their plan will be dealt with under the existing processes.

My child is currently accessing specialist provision – will they be forced into mainstream provision?

Any child accessing specialist provision will continue to do so, with any amends to their plan being addressed through the annual review process.

I believe my child should be in specialist provision what can I do?

You should discuss this with your Case Officer and through the annual review process.

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