Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:35 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 1:35 pm, 29th March 2018

I am hugely grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I again congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan on her work in this area. I particularly want to pay tribute to the work of organisations that support autistic people, such as PACT for Autism in my constituency of Harlow. It started off as a small charity, but has now become a national one, and it has done so much to educate me about autism and to support families with autistic children across my constituency and elsewhere.

Ensuring that all children are able to access supportive, high-quality education and post-16 opportunities is essential for their life chances and for enabling them to climb the education ladder of opportunity. Our Education Committee is currently holding an inquiry into alternative provision, and we are likely to do an inquiry in the future into the role of special needs in education.

Children in alternative provision are the most vulnerable children. Compared to their peers, they are seven times more likely to have a special educational need, 10 times more likely to have a recognised mental health problem and, as I said to my right hon. Friend earlier, four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than any other child. We have a real problem with the number of exclusions in our country. We are excluding a classroom-plus—35 children—from school every day.