Tuesday 22 October 2019

It's going to take more than a 'golden ticket' to fund our kids education

An article recently published in The Times has received much backlash for suggesting that parents of children with high-needs SEND are taking resources away from the rest of the school population.  The article quoted a Head Teacher who suggested that EHCP's (the legal document stating the needs of and provisions required for a child with SEND) were seen as a 'golden ticket'.

It went on to say that to help get an EHCP, the school would withhold support a child needed and instead wait for the funding that would follow their failure.

This was certainly not our experience.  I believe that our schools did all they could to help.  However, almost all of the difficulties we had with our EHCP's were, in the end, down to a lack of funding.  So I thought to myself, how much was that famous Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka actually worth in money?

The Golden Ticket gifted you two things.  1) It was an access ticket to visit to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and 2) Potentially, a lifetime supply of chocolate.

So firstly, what monetary value can I attribute to the main gift of the Golden Ticket allowing a visit to the Chocolate Factory?  Challenging perhaps, but I've a couple of ideas. The first is that in the updated movie 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' a woman offers to buy Charlie's ticket for $500.  Allowing for inflation since the films were set in 1964, would give us a value of around £4K.  An actual Wonka Bar and Golden Ticket from the original movie in 1974, was recently sold at auction for just over £15k.

Personally I don’t think that sounds like a lot.   My son is into football at the moment and tickets to the see the game - access to a special event is perhaps more appropriate where only a handful of tickets were available.  According to one source I found the few tickets available ring-side for a specific sporting event in 2017 cost nearly $110K.  But let's think bigger - worldwide!

Six people can each purchase a ticket on the first commercial space flight with Virgin Galactic for $250K.  That's about £194K and this sounds far more along the right lines.

Now, as for the monetary value of a lifetime supply of chocolate.  I did a quick simple calculation (see the details of my assumptions below).

daily price of chocolate x number of days in life left to eat chocolate  
=   Cost of lifetime supply of chocolate 

80p x (365.25 x 69) 
= £20, 161.80

Therefore total monetary value of the Golden Ticket could be rounded to £215K.

So is my kids EHCP's worth this? 

Well, it may surprise you to know that before a parent or school applies for an EHCP they are expected to spend money supporting all the children in their school with special educational needs.

Even a child who naturally thrives in school and hits all their targets without additional support has an associated cost of £75K.  But on average, in each class in a school, there will be at least one child with an EHCP and between another 2-10 children who will also have special educational needs that are being supported by the school.  In fact schools are expected to spend up to £6K per year supporting a child with SEND before getting any extra funding.  So, a child who needed help but not eligible for an EHCP could still need the support provided by an additional £84K over their school years.

One of things most common for kids with SEND is for a Learning Support Assistant to support them in their regular mainstream class.  My eldest son was able to attend mainstream with this support.  On average this added an additional £15K per year to the cost of my son's education.  Along with the £84K that would already have been spent that's additional £294K over his school life.  And, that's before I've taken into account the costs of other services in his EHCP. My other son's educational needs are greater and so therefore is the costs associated with it.

So when it comes to money, my family's EHCP's are worth far more than than Charlie's Golden Ticket.  If only their needs could be supported by something as simple as visit to a factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

I'd like to say that this, money, is not the point. I'd like to say that the value of my son's EHCP's far out weigh anything that can write a check for.  That the change in my son's whole outlook on life changed when his school did. That the possibility of independence for my middle child mostly lies in his education.  In many ways I cannot put a value on what my son's get out of their EHCP.  But the truth is, that someone has to.

All our beautiful children cost money to educate.  And the school age population just keeps growing. The introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 set out the general principles that local authorities must have regard to when supporting disabled children and young people and those with SEN including supporting children and young people’s development and helping them to achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.  I don't think any parent would want any less for their child.  Under Section 23 of the Act, local authorities are responsible for all children and young people with SEN in their area.

I know that locally we had a huge high-needs funding block deficit. It was so big that the LA asked parents how we thought it could be brought down. One of the options suggested was to use money from the local schools budget to help bridge the gap.    This is exactly what The Times article was talking about.  The additional difficulty was that this budget was already smaller due to funding cuts. Our LA were 'lobbying government for more funds' but didn't have it.

The pots of money for education were simply too small.  I could ask how they ended up that way, where all the money went, but it won't solve the current problem.

Whilst calculating the cost of a golden ticket may seem like a bit of a joke or bad taste to many, it's not meant to be.  It's trying to highlight a serious issue.  Education is not a cheap business.  It needs serious funding for all kids.  Today, a report on the SEND reforms has been published by The House of Commons Select Committee.

"We are confident that the 2014 reforms were the right ones. 

We believe that if the challenges within the system—including finance—are addressed, local authorities will be able to discharge their duties sufficiently. We recommend that when the Government makes changes to address these challenges, it should avoid the temptation to address the problems within the system by weakening or watering down duties or making fundamental changes to the law. 

The Department for Education set local authorities up to fail by making serious errors both in how it administered money intended for change, and also, until recently, failing to provide extra money when it was needed. 

 The significant shortfall in funding is a serious contributory factor to the failure on the part of schools and local authorities to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND. However, unless there is a systemic cultural shift on the part of all parties involved, additional funding will make little difference to the outcomes and experiences of children and young people with SEND."

I hate talking about money. It's a means to an end only but somehow ends up being the focus.  The focus of course should be our kids. In addition to the right to education being provided for by the Human Rights Act, the Education Act 1996 places a legal duty on the parent or guardian of a child aged five to sixteen years (known as compulsory school age), to ensure that the child attends and receives full-time education, either in a traditional school or by any other means that is appropriate for their age, ability, and aptitude, taking into account any special needs they may have.

To be honest I think all the parents I know, both with children with and without SEND, are doing their legal duty. I'd like to see more funding to front line SEND so that our LA are able to do theirs.  Like the quote says, it's not simply about funding.  Pitching parents against parents is not the way to support anyone.  Neither is withholding support from a child to hit a magical line so a school can access more funding.

Making the pots bigger will only be a good start if there are both appropriate provisions and accountability for the spend.  After all it's not just a big pot of chocolate to be gorged on.  It's a child's legal right to education.

If you'd like to read the report - it's right here.

How I got my numbers to work out the cost of a lifetime supply of chocolate

A quick search to Google will tell me that a child around my son's age should have around a maximum of 24 g of sugar per day.  I’m not a nutritionist but I’m pretty sure there’s quite a lot of sugar in every bar of chocolate.  Our eldest son Anthony still likes chocolate buttons.  It was the first chocolate he tried and so it's a default for him.  A packet of chocolate buttons has 17g of sugar so I’m going to make the assumption that one pack should be enough for his daily intake.  That leaves  7g of sugar to be used up in the rest of the day but his various meals and drinks.

I popped into three shops on the way to school and calculated the average price of a packet of chocolate buttons was 79.89p. I’m happy to round that to 80p.

So lifetime supply of Cadburys chocolate buttons would be this amount, multiplied 365.25 days of the average year and then multiplied by the average life expectancy left.  

This bit can be a bit sad.  Although the average life expectancy of someone living in the UK is about 80 years, there is a good chance that at least one of my sons won’t live for this long. The truth is that many people who require extra support in their lives, such as those who have had significant special educational needs can often have lower than average life expectancy. This can be because they struggle to recognise when they need to or struggle to access the health service in a timely manner.  In fact according to some sources I read, it's likely to be 10 years than the average. Honestly though, I can't bare to think that.  I'm going to assume my 11 year old will reach 80 and simply subtract his age which leaves us with 69.

daily price of chocolate x number of days in life left to eat chocolate  
=   Cost of lifetime supply of chocolate 

80p x (365.25 x 69) 
= £20, 161.80


  1. Offering the 1:1 support before being eligible for financial support was one of the things I found hardest as a teacher. In my second year of teaching I had 11 SEN students in a class of 34 and I had to show they were all getting 15 hours of 1:1 and still not making progress to be eligible. It’s tough. Schools are drastically underfunded and it is only getting worse #kcacols

  2. The Times article was upsetting as it tried to play the blame game. The right to an education is basic and everyone deserves the support they need. The funding crisis is heartbreaking but I really believe the more we support children the less spend on support needed later in life. I think an education is far more valuble than a lifetime supply of chocolate and thats coming from a chocoholic! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time

  3. That quote about ‘golden ticket’ was so clumsy and ignorant. And I think The Times made a bad call on many points when publishing that article... I can’t see how they thought it helpful, for anyone. There are a lot of issues around education, SEND or not, and while it often comes down to money, I also think the management of how money is used, as well as the choice of staffing, level of traing, effort, understanding, care etc, all contribute towards the resulting education (or lack thereof). Certainly not a simple issue... x #KCACOLS


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