How does SEN funding work for mainstream schools/academies?

1st March 2021

There is much confusion as to how school funding works and where the various funding streams for children with SEN come from.

It is fair to say this is not likely to be an article that is going to make the blood beat faster, but it is essential to understand the constraints within which schools work and how EHCPs are funded.

The good news! On 30 January 2020, there was a Department of Education press release which stated that every secondary school had been guaranteed at least £5000 per pupil next year (2021-2022) and every primary school would get at least £3750 per pupil, rising to £4000 the following year.

In August 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the budget for schools and high education needs funding would be increased by 6% in 2021, 4.8% in 21/22 and 7.1% in 2023. This funding includes an additional 780 million in 20/21 for children with SEND.

This is undoubtedly great news and goes some way, but does not fully redress, the shortfall in funding as a result of government underfunding since 2010.

Like any experienced observer of the education scene, we await to see the actual money that materialises and when.

SEN Funding received by mainstream schools and academies is divided into 3 sections

Element 1 Funding

The Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) – this money is given by the government via the Local Authority and pays for the basic costs for every child in the school regardless of any SEN. It’s normally said to cover staffing and premises costs. It is sometimes called the “bums on seat” money. Every October a school has to fill in an annual census and each child will get the age weighted pupil allowance funding. Historically the funding has varied across the country but the government announcement above appears to suggest that for a primary school that income will be a minimum of £3750 per pupil for financial year 20/21 and £5000 per child for secondary schools.

Element 2 funding

Each child at SEN Support can be allocated by the school up to £6000 per child to support their SEN. How that money is allocated is down to the school. For each child in the school with an EHCP the LA takes that £6000 as a contribution towards the cost of the EHCP. This money is known as the Notional SEN budget.

It is important to note that unless there is an agreement with a particular school to the contrary the school will always be required to fund the EHCP element first. Thus children at SEN Support will normally be a very firm second in the queue. 

This figure evolved as historically, there was much variation across the country as to how much money was devolved to schools. The DFE considered this and basically carried out a raid on school funding which was sold to schools on the basis that they had certainty of funding to meet the needs of children at School support and a £6000 contribution towards the costs of an EHCPs.  

The £6000 is made up of the following funding lines already allocated to the school:

  • 5% of the age-weighted pupil unit
  • Free school meals funding
  • Income deprivation affecting children index funding
  • The looked after children funding
  • All English as an additional language funding
  • Funding for low prior attainment.

If you are a school that is very pro-SEN then it is very easy to overspend on this funding. If as a school, you are not a great believer in inclusion then it is easy to use that funding in other ways.  What the Head says goes.

Thus, the DFE has given with one hand and taken away with the other. 

There is much debate over what £6000 actually buys. According to some local authorities, £6000 buys you 15 hours a week of one-to-one support which is interesting, as by the time you take the wages plus the earnings-related costs-employers National Insurance, pensions, holiday and sickness costs in many instances the hourly rate paid to staff members following this model comes to less than the national minimum wage!

The £6000 figure can be used to dissuade parents from requesting an EHC needs assessment to try and secure an EHC Plan for their child; we often hear parents are told that there is ‘no point’ to an EHC Plan because it won’t allocate any further funding beyond the £6000; this is simply not true! The funding for an EHC Plan must starts with the needs of the child, not a funding formula!

Element 3 funding

the High Needs Block – sometimes called the “top up funding”. This is the money paid by the Local Authority, in addition to the element 1 and element 2 funding to top up the support within the school to meet the funding needed for individual pupils with an EHCP. Depending on the school and the child’s individual needs this could be a few hundred pounds to £20/30,000. Or even greater amounts if the child needs an independent specialist placement or a residential placement.

Academies receive the same funding but from the Education and Skills Funding Agency rather than the Local Authority.

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A practical example;

The provision in part F of Freddie’s EHCP states that he will have 25 hours a week of 1:1 TA support from a teaching assistant who has skills, knowledge and experience of dyslexia and who has received at least 2-day training in the complexity of Freddie’s needs.

Freddie also receives an hour a week of speech and language and occupational therapy and 3 hours a week from a teacher who holds a post-graduate diploma in specific learning difficulties.  

In this example we assume that the SALT/OT is private as the NHS in that area can not provide the therapists. 

Section I of the EHCP identifies that Freddie will be placed at a mainstream secondary school.


  • 25 hours of TA support 1:1 including all employer-related | at a cost of £25,000
  • SALT 38 school weeks x 1hr x £70ph (private) | £2660
  • OT 38 school weeks x 1hr x £60ph (private) | £2280
  • SpLD teacher 38 school weeks x 3 hrs pw x £60ph (private) | £6840

Total: £47,780

  • Element 1 funding £5000 
  • Element 2 funding £6000 
  • Element 3 from the LA paid through the High Needs budget £36,780.00

Maintained SEN schools and academies/free schools and non-maintained special schools receive £10,000 per place based on the number of places to be funded as agreed with the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

School funding is a tricky area that changes every year. There are specific arguments that need to be deployed on a case-by-case basis about funding. With an EHC Plan, it is essential that the provision in Section F clearly sets out the specific provision that is required; without the specifics then the necessary funding will not follow.

If you have concerns about school funding, then contact for an informal conversation about the specifics of your case.

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