17 Apr 2019

Is SEN funding available for private schools?

EHCP plan for children at school image

Many parents ask us this question. With thanks to the Good Schools Guide and information provided Douglas Silas Solicitors, we offer a synopsis of advice on applying for SEN funding for independent mainstream schools.

Step 1: Get your child an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC)

Parents need to show their Local Authority that the independent school they have in mind can meet their child’s needs; that the alternative state school is unable to meet the child’s needs, and therefore it would not be ‘unreasonable public expenditure’. If the Local Authority agrees with these grounds for gaining funding, it will write the preferred school into the young person’s EHC plan.

Our source article states: “Arguments are also often more successful when parents can evidence that they have already tried to make their child’s placement at a maintained mainstream school work, but this has not happened, even with additional support, despite ability and potential. Some other things which parents successfully argue are:

  • School size – maintained mainstream schools are often larger than independent ones, which may be important for the ability of a child or young person to attend school (for example, they may have organisational or sensory issues);
  • Class sizes – mainstream independent schools usually have smaller classes than their maintained counterparts (so, for example, if a child or young person has attention difficulties, or perhaps a hearing or visual impairment, they may need to be educated in smaller classes);
  • Environmental/peer group – parents sometimes argue that placing a child in a wrong environment/within an inappropriate peer group can have a significant impact on their self-esteem and emotional well-being and evidence that the child needs the social aspect and academic challenge of being in a mainstream school, but also needs environmental/peer group features described above.

Step 2: Be aware of some flexible approaches to funding

Parents sometimes successfully persuade an LA to come to a Contributory Funding arrangement. For example, the LA might be more likely to agree to pay for SEN provision if parents agree to pay for the school fees and transport costs at their preferred independent mainstream school. Another route is through personal budgets (PB) and direct payments. PBs are where the LA equates the provision in a child’s EHC plan to a sum of money. Direct Payments are where the LA provides the money for their child’s support directly to the parents and they can then choose the support. However Direct Payments cannot be used for school fees. They are only for specialist therapies, and the parents would remain responsible for school fees.

Step 3: Know what the SEN Code of Practice permits

The SEN Code of Practice (CoP) 2015 replaced Statements with EHC Plans. Some may incorrectly believe that under this CoP, contributory funding agreements are ‘unlawful’, however this is not the case. According to Mr Silas: “There is nothing in the Children and Families Act 2014 or the CoP 2015 which prevents an LA from reaching a contributory funding arrangement with parents. In fact, the CoP actually makes reference to such arrangements being possible!”

“The CoP even states that, if the LA is not satisfied that the alternative arrangements are suitable (for example, if increased specialist support is needed to be brought in for the child, such as weekly occupational therapy sessions), then the LA can ‘choose to assist the child’s parent or the young person in making their arrangements suitable, including through a financial contribution’ (although they are under no obligation to do so).”

Step 4: Appeals to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal

Contributory Funding agreements can also be reached before or during an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. Tribunal panels cannot order contributory funding arrangements, but there are times when in the approach of a Tribunal hearing, or during the course of an appeal, the parties do succeed in making such an agreement.

Acknowledgements:  www.SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk ; https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/special-educational-needs/help/funding-independent-place


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