Special educational needs (SEN) funding - How does it work?

We’ve been asked to clarify how special educational needs funding (SEN funding) is handled in schools. We are told that some local authorities (LAs) are ‘deducting’ the first £10,000 and others are ‘deducting’ the first £6,000. Which is it?

The place-plus system of funding for provision in special schools from 1 April 2013

The place-plus system was brought in to move to a fairer, more consistent SEN funding system across all LAs. Mainstream and special schools are funded differently.

Mainstream schools

SEN funding consists of three elements:

  1. The Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) – this is the basic/core sum that all schools receive per child, regardless of their SEN. The total sum a school receives is dependent on the total number of students in the school. It is generally thought that the sum equates to  between £2,000 to £4,000 per student, with primary schools receiving the lower end of funding. This is the core budget per student and is used to make general provision for all students in the school.

    It is important to remember that special educational provision is any support that is additional to or different to provision that is provided for all students i.e. provision that is expected to be provided from the core AWPU.

  1. Additional support funding (ASF) – schools are given an additional sum to meet the needs of children with SEN. ASF is based on a formula agreed between schools and the LA. The formula is based on various criteria including a social deprivation index which includes the allocation of more funding to, for example, schools with more children on free school meals. ASF comes from either the ‘designated schools grant’ or ‘schools block’ and forms part of the school’s ‘notional SEN budget’.  All these terms could be used to describe this element of funding. Currently, the government suggests that schools use up to £6,000 for a pupil with SEN. Schools can choose to spend this money as they think best to meet the needs of all their children with SEN. The LA can set out what it expect schools to provide from this funding but it is unenforceable.

    ASF is given to maintained schools by the LA and to academies and free schools by the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

  1. Top-up funding – if a student with SEN requires funding over £6,000, then schools (maintained, academies and free schools) can request additional funding from the LA’s high needs block. If agreed, the school must use this funding for the individual student.

Special schools

Special schools (maintained, academy and non-maintained but not independent schools) are provided with base SEN funding of £10,000 per student (the total sum based on an estimate of the predicted number of places in the next academic year). If required, schools can request top-up funding from the LA (if a maintained school) or the EFA (if an academy or free school).

So, under place-plus, mainstream schools are expected to provide the first £6,000 of additional educational support required by a student with high needs, regardless of the AWPU/core funding.

Alternative provision

Pupil referral units are funded similarly to special schools, but with a base funding of £8,000 per place.


SEN funding will include funding for the base programme/course  according to the national 16-19 formula, with an additional £6,000 for each planned high needs place.

So, to clarify, the £6,000 element is funding for support that is additional to support that is available for all children (including non-SEN children). This means that when schools are considering whether they can apply for top-up funding (and when LAs are considering applications for top-up funding), they need to account for £6,000 worth of additional support provided to the child.

The place-plus system of funding was supposed to make it fairer for all schools and children with SEN. This was achieved in part through the funding formula via the additional support funding element. But it’s questionable whether it truly achieved fairness on all fronts.

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James' mother, Boyes Turner client

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