Special Educational Needs and Disability Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 12:00 am, 25th April 2016

What steps she is taking to improve special educational needs and disability services.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

The 2014 special education needs and disabilities reforms represent the biggest change to the system in a generation, helping to transform support by joining up services across education, health, and social care, and focusing on positive outcomes for education, employment, housing, health and community participation. We have invested heavily in practical and financial support for implementation, including an extra £80 million in 2016-17, and from May 2016, all areas will be inspected by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I have been contacted by a constituent who has raised concerns about the potential effect that forcing schools to become academies will have on her autistic son in terms of him being marginalised. Will the Minister tell me what assessment has been undertaken of how forcing schools to become academies will affect disabled children?

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to give her a lot more detail about exactly how the system operates. I can reassure her that, under the Children and Families Act 2014 and the new special educational needs system, academies have exactly the same duties for pupils with special educational needs as all other schools, and must co-operate with their local council, whether in developing their local offer or publishing details of their SEN provision. That will not change. We are confident that it is the right approach so that every child gets the right school with the right support for them, irrespective of what type of school that is.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Does the Minister agree that one of the most egregious elements of today’s unfair and broken school funding system is that which affects children with special educational needs, and will he confirm that, in the way that the schools block is, the special needs block will be part of the review, so that we can have a transparent and fair system for all children?

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

My hon. Friend, the former Chair of the Education Committee, is right to point out that the high needs funding element of the dedicated schools grant has, over time, become extremely skewed with regard to finding the formula to distribute that important money for the support of children with special educational needs and disabilities. In December 2015 we announced an additional £92.5 million for the high needs element, but we need a fairer system so that every child has their needs met, irrespective of where they are in the country. That will be part of the consultation.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

The ring-fenced nature of the schools block under the London schools funding proposals needs no flexibility. This year, the Hounslow schools forum agreed to transfer £7 million to the high needs block to address the needs of vulnerable children. The Secretary of State’s proposals for London will result in a huge funding shortfall for special needs. What will the Secretary of State do to address the very great concern of parents and headteachers?

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

I reiterate that we want a funding system based fairly and squarely on meeting children’s individual needs. We have consulted widely right across the sector, as well as through the public consultation, to ensure we achieve just that. I will certainly consider what the hon. Lady says about London—as well as the situation across the country—so that every child can benefit from the new system as we move forward.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

If I may pick up on funding for special schools, Wyvern Academy in my constituency looks after children who are particularly physically and mentally disabled; so much so, in fact, that other schools that do the same work pass them on to this school. The funding, however, does not recognise the high level of care that is needed. Will the Minister consider this matter in any funding formula reform? If I write to him, perhaps he could help me to find out whether there is a pot of money somewhere to help this excellent school to continue to do a wonderful job.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

We know that many children have profound needs. In making sure we have educational excellence everywhere, we must ensure that they have the opportunity to learn, grow and develop into successful adults. To do so, we need to ensure that they are well supported. That is why, through the new education, health and care plans, it is clear there has to be co-operation right across education, social care and health to provide the money and support those children need. I am, of course, happy to talk further with my hon. Friend to establish how the system is working in his constituency and how we can make it work better in the future.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education)

Ever since the Government announced the ham-fisted academisation of all schools, there has been growing opposition, as we have heard, from parents, teachers, SEN charities, Tory council leaders, such as the leader of the West Sussex Council, and even Mr Goddard from “Educating Essex”. The plans will adversely affect the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities. Will the Minister further explain what the Government are doing to alleviate those concerns? Will he go as far as to say that parents of a child with an education, health and care plan will be able to name their school, and ensure that children with SEND do not go on to be excluded or fall through the gaps in the increasingly fragmented school system the Government are creating?

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Lady knows I have a real fondness for her. We enjoyed our time together on the Children and Families Bill in those halcyon days of 2013, but I have to say—I suspect she has been put up to it—that this does not sound like her question. I am confident, as she will be, that the law we both helped to take through this House reflects properly what I gave in an earlier answer: that academies have to abide by the same rules as other schools when it comes to children with special educational needs. The law is clear. This is why we are bringing in, for the first time, an inspection regime for special education needs, so we can see a really clear picture of how they are performing.