BLOG: Under pressure – a call to pause financial interventions with local authoritiesIn the last of our series of six blogs looking into the key themes that will frame our manifesto for special schools, Mari Davis, NASS Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer considers the reality of the Department for Education's (DfE) Safety Valve programme.


Introduced in June 2022, the Delivering Better Value (DBV) and Safety Valve (SV) programmes promised extra funding to local authorities (LAs) that were facing the greatest financial challenges. The SV programme aimed to target LAs with the highest percentage Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) deficits, while the DBV programme targeted LAs with slightly smaller DSG deficits.

Within the SEND and AP Improvement Plan, published in March 2023, the government noted that “if a local area’s leadership work together, it is possible for even those areas facing the most acute challenges to create innovative and viable plans to reach a sustainable position and maintain a focus on high-quality provision for children and young people with SEND”. But is this really the case in reality?

Reality bites

Recent evidence suggests that across the SV programme, there are several LAs that are already having to renegotiate their plans because they are not meeting the key performance indicators. It has also been reported that some LAs are returning to DfE to ask for extensions to their five year ‘deals’ to make them eight to ten year ‘deals’.

More recently, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council highlighted that the programme is not ‘supportive’ and is difficult to align with the council’s priority of ‘putting the children and young children first’. We have heard similar concerns from within the wider local government family, that the SV and DBV programmes are just not hitting the mark. Unfortunately, there is little evidence or any apparent robust review of the SV programme, but what we do know is that several DBV LAs are now being invited to join the SV programme. It isn’t therefore too much of a leap to assume that the DBV programme may not have achieved what it originally set out to do – to reduce unmitigated growth of spend.

Targets that aren’t targets (but secretly are targets)

Our concerns are shared by many across the sector. There is a lack of transparency, clarity in scope, purpose and targets. There is seemingly little in the way of checks and balances in place to stop LAs breaking SEND law in order to hit those arbitrary targets to get access to that much-needed cash bonus.

Most concerning of all is the unacceptable price to be paid for both programmes: the destabilisation of education for children and young people with SEND, many of whom have already experienced significant disruption in their lives.

Cast your mind back to September 2023 when it emerged that DfE’s £19.5 million contract with Newton Europe included targets with a minimum 20% reduction in the issuing of new education, health and care plans (EHCPs), reducing the number of placements to independent and non-maintained special schools by 20% and also reducing placements to special schools by 5%.  What followed was very strong denials by DfE and Ministers that these targets were not actually targets. With the above denials in mind, the recently made public draft BCP Council SV agreement makes for quite an interesting read!

Yes, you’ve guessed it, the draft agreement clearly outlines the level and situation they wish to achieve in terms of a reduction of new EHCPs and a reduction of children and young people attending non-maintained and independent special schools. What is also concerning is the ‘targets’ around ceasing placements in special schools as children ‘age out’ at 16, with little regard to the suitability of their destination.

It is important to note that the BCP SV draft did not receive approval from DfE. BCP are in the process of ‘further discussions’ with DfE about the timeline, having requested a 15-year programme. My gut feeling however is that the actual targets and thrust of the draft we have seen would be replicated across other SV plans.  Plans that prioritise financial targets over helping children and young people with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.

Unfortunately, a veil of secrecy still shrouds all the other SV agreements from public view.

Our plan of action

Firstly, we want answers. NASS has drafted several Written Parliamentary Questions on the issue of SV and DBV programmes that we hope will be tabled once the house returns from Easter recess. We are also joining forces with other key stakeholders on this issue.

We have voiced our concerns in numerous national-level meetings, drawing attention to certain actions by LAs that we find questionable and potentially unlawful, whilst noting their involvement as part of the programme. These actions include introducing a blanket 0% fee uplift for schools, effectively expecting schools to continue to meet the needs of their students with reduced funding despite rising costs. Additionally, some LAs have adopted new SEND transport policies that are not in the spirit of DfE guidance and have removed SEND transport to 16-19 SEND pupils. We are keen to hear from special schools if they are witnessing an increase in placements being reviewed or challenged by SV LAs as part of the annual review process.

Finally, we are tackling this issue in our manifesto by asking the next government to take swift action. Within their first 100 days in office, we are asking the next government to pause financial interventions such as the SV and DBV programmes, that risks LAs breaking SEND law.

NASS will be launching its manifesto for special schools ‘Removing Barriers’ on Wednesday 24th April. To read the other five blogs in our series outlining the vital action that is needed to help build a better SEND system, please visit: NASS Manifesto 2024 | NASS (

If you are interested in finding out more about our manifesto or would like to support our work to bring about positive change, please do get in touch –