Government Petition
Sign Our Petition! Suspend the Safety Valve programme and provide funding to cover SEND deficits

Why you need to know about the Safety Valve scheme

Parents, carers, teachers, school staff - this programme affects us all. Learn more, and sign our petition

Why you need to know about the Safety Valve scheme
By: Rachel Filmer  | 

Right now, I’m getting the same question every day: what the hell is Safety Valve, and why should I care?

Safety Valve is a Department for Education scheme which forces cash-strapped councils to severely cut their spending on special educational provision, take money from mainstream school budgets towards these increased costs, and place more disabled children in mainstream schools without the support they need. This obviously has a giant impact on all schools and all children, not only those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Please take a few minutes to read more and sign our petition.

Education has been underfunded for many years and this has led to huge debts within many local authorities (LAs), which puts them at risk of bankruptcy. Most of this debt has come from trying to meet their legal obligations to disabled children. Local authorities are stuck: legally they must provide what disabled children need, but they don’t have enough funding or resources to do it - so even while the debts have increased, there’s still not enough provision for children with additional needs.

The Department for Education has targeted those councils with the biggest or fastest-growing deficits (debts) and “invited” them into the secretive Safety Valve scheme. 38 LAs have signed agreements already. The Safety Valve agreements state that the LA must cut their spending and meet targets for doing so - in return, they’ll get a contribution towards their overspend each year of the agreement.

The only way to cut spending enough to meet the targets is to deny children with SEND the support they need. Although the agreements themselves are hidden from the public, the information we do have shows plans to significantly reduce the number of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) issued, place many more children with SEND in mainstream schools, and end support at a younger age.

LAs will only get the money if they meet the targets for cutting their spending. Several agreements have already been suspended or extended because what they’re being asked to do is not possible, and often not lawful. LAs can’t control the need for EHCPs - the right to this support is set out in law, and LAs lose appeals 98% of the time because their decision making is so often not lawful.

Worse still, these LAs have to take a percentage of their mainstream schools budget to use towards their “overspending” on SEND provision. If schools say no, the Department for Education approves it anyway. Some schools have been cut below the minimum funding they are supposed to receive per pupil when they’re already struggling to function. That obviously has an impact on every child in the school.

Asking mainstream schools to meet the needs of more disabled children with EHCPs, and more disabled children who’ll be denied EHCPs, while also cutting their funding is an impossible ask that will have huge repercussions in every classroom. Headteachers have been speaking out against this but the DfE are unmoved.

You might wonder why LAs are signing agreements that will force them to fail children and behave unlawfully, and it all comes down to those giant debts. The government has allowed those debts to be placed off the books until 2026 but, when that ends, many LAs would go bankrupt.

The threat of bankruptcy is hanging over them, and the DfE are holding them to ransom. Rather than fixing the underlying issue and funding education properly, they are placing the burden on to our children and schools. These agreements don’t address the debts local authorities already have, so they won’t prevent bankruptcy anyway, but LAs feel this is the only option to reduce the size of their debts.

We need to act together to stop this damaging scheme, which is causing vast and growing harm to our children and schools. This is an issue that needs to be resolved by central government, with enough funding for what’s needed. Early investment means the best outcomes and reduced costs longer term. Instead, our children and schools are taking the hit. This has all been done quietly with little awareness from the public, but awareness is growing.

Please help us tell the government that we won’t stand for this. Sign and share our petition now.