It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Melanie Onn, who painted a disturbing picture but one that I very much recognise from my own constituency experience. I want first to pay tribute to Oxfordshire’s headteachers for all the work that they are doing to gather information about the situation facing local schools, which is very similar to the picture painted by Layla Moran.
Time is very short, so I want to focus my remarks specifically on provision for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. The Secretary of State shied away from offering us much detail on provision for children with special educational needs, beyond saying that we need a balance between mainstream and special school provision. Obviously we would all agree with that. He did not say anything about provision for children with social, emotional and mental health needs, so I hope that the Minister will come to that when he winds up.
SEND provision in mainstream schools in Oxford is under enormous pressure. Specialist resources have been cut in the majority of local schools in my city, and many of my constituents are telling me a very similar story to that outlined by my hon. Friend Anna Turley. Many families are having to home educate their children because they have no other choice now that that support is no longer available in mainstream schools.
Special schools are also under strain. That is being exacerbated by the free schools system, not solved by it. The Secretary of State found the time to write a very partisan letter to me—and, I presume, to other Labour MPs—to ask if I supported my local free school. Of course I support local parents, local teachers and local educationists, but what I do not and never will support, and what he should not support, is a situation where our local authorities are not able themselves to assess the need for new educational resources in their areas. The only possibility of getting new provision is by chance: it is all dependent on whether there happens to be a free school sponsor available, and on where they want to put the new school rather than on where the need is.
A very good example of that is what has happened to Northfield School in my constituency—a special school for boys with social, emotional and mental health needs. It is falling apart. Half the boys from that school are now being educated in Portakabins; the other half are being educated at an outdoor education centre while their school is patched up for the short term. In any rational situation, the local authority would be funded so that it could rebuild the school. Instead, we are in limbo, hoping that a free school sponsor might come along and help to provide a new school in Oxford for children who need that support. It is not good enough for those boys, and it is not good enough for the hard-working teachers who are trying to deliver them a decent education.
The Government have got to get a grip on this, otherwise a whole cohort of children with social, emotional and mental health needs will miss the education that they deserve. There are now families in my constituency who cannot find a single school that is willing or able to educate their child who has social, emotional or mental health needs. I am sure that other Members have spoken to similar constituents. The lack of accountability in our education system is massively failing those children, who are among the most vulnerable. This has got to change, and I hope the Minister will deal with it in his remarks.