There are three main funding streams to support special educational needs in schools.

Notional SEN funding

Notional SEN funding forms part of a mainstream schools’ budget share and derives from the schools block of a local authorities’ dedicated schools grant. A schools’ notional SEN funding is not calculated in relation to particular pupil but the overall population of the school, using factors such as income deprivation, numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals and a lump sum calculation.

Mainstream schools are expected to use their notional SEN funding to meet the first £6,000 of additional support for every additional needs pupil. This is a crude measure and many Schools find in practice that their notional SEN funding is insufficient. Influencing the factors used by the LA to calculate notional funding is therefore critical, and the Schools Forum still has a significant role to play in practice despite DfE moves to standardize these factors to an extent

Place funding

Place funding is received by pupil referral units, alternative provisions, specialist provisions including special schools, and resource provisions and SEN units within a mainstream school. Funding is based on the number of pupils to be funded and is paid from the high needs block of a local authorities’ dedicated schools grant whether or not the places are occupied. The LA has a significant influence on the number of places allocated through the annual return it makes to the DfE for SEN place numbers in all types of school and alternative provision which attracts place funding.

Top-up funding

Top-up funding is the funding required to enable a high-needs pupil to access education and learning in addition to per pupil funding and notional SEN funding (for mainstream schools), and place funding. Top-up funding is paid from the high-needs block of a local authorities’ dedicated schools grant. Local authorities have autonomy to determine how top-up funding is allocated and commonly require a mainstream school to apply for top-up funding on an individual pupil basis. In relation to other types of provision, the practice of allocating top-up funding varies, but many local authorities pay top-up funding as an additional figure per institution. The amount of top-up funding is often based on historic figures (e.g. the cost of running the institution) and there isn’t always a clear route for a school to agree an alternative figure.


Despite their considerable powers over SEN funding (including in relation to academies) LAs must use a reasonable process and make rational decisions in exercising those powers and can be subject to challenge, which we are seeing with increasing frequency. If you have a query about your school’s SEN funding please contact us to discuss it further.