Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Suffolk)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 7:24 pm, 5th November 2019

Congratulations on your new position, Mr Speaker. I also congratulate Sandy Martin on securing this important debate.

Supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is one of my key priorities, so let me begin by stressing that I know and recognise that some families and teachers are unhappy, and both I and the Department are committed to listening to them. While I am pleased that we have been able to secure an additional £780 million in high-needs funding for next year, we do realise that this is about much more than just money. I want to ensure that children and young people with SEND have the best chance in life and that the system supports them to do this. That is why we have recently launched the SEND review, which will look at how the system has evolved since 2014 and how it can be made better for all families.

About 1.3 million children have special educational needs. In Suffolk alone, 4,735 children and young people have education, health and care plans, and a further 11,369 are in receipt of SEND support for Suffolk schools. The Government are clear that our ambition for these children is exactly the same as it is for all children: we want them to reach their full potential in school and college and to find employment and lead happy and fulfilled lives. I have seen this happening in my own constituency. The 2018 Ofsted-CQC SEND inspection report for Wiltshire said:

“Young people are increasingly well supported as they move into adult life.”

In 2014, we introduced major reforms of the SEND system to improve and streamline the support provided to children and young people with SEND, and to put their needs, and those of their families, at the heart of the SEND system. Local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and education, health and care providers have all been working hard to implement the reforms, and we recently heard from the Education Committee that they remain “the right ones”. But it is important to note that most parents think that they get a lot of support through parent carer forums, which are providing a crucial voice in local SEND decision making.

The Ofsted and CQC inspections of SEND services will see all local areas in England inspected by 2021, and they have identified a range of strengths in the way that local areas are delivering the reforms. The reforms made it clear that SEND decision making must be informed by, and co-produced with, children, young people and parents, and we have played our part in securing that. We have invested heavily in the development of parent carer forums in every local authority, and forums have received £2.3 million in grant funding each year since the reforms were introduced. Every local authority has in place an information, advice and support service that provides impartial, free advice for families. We know from SEND inspections that in most local areas families really value that advice and support.

We know that most children with SEND are educated within mainstream schools and colleges, and we have committed to maintaining and developing still further an inclusive mainstream system. This really can work, as I have seen in my own constituency, where Abbeyfield School’s latest inspection showed that the experiences of their children are proving effective for all. So to support inclusion, my Department has awarded a two-year contract to the National Association of Special Educational Needs and University College London, on behalf of the Whole School SEND consortium, to help to embed SEND in school improvement and equip the workforce to deliver high-quality teaching across all areas of SEND.

As I said, I know and appreciate that there are concerns, particularly from parents, about the way that the reforms have been delivered across the country. While strengths have been reported in every local area, SEND inspections have also identified weaknesses in many local services. This does include Suffolk, whose inspection report was published in January 2017, as alluded to by the hon. Gentleman. That report identified issues with SEND leadership and governance, the timeliness and integration of needs assessment systems, and the poor quality of the local offer. Nobody, for one minute, is denying or underestimating the importance of those grave concerns. Where there have been concerns, we have worked with partners, including NHS England. Support and challenge are offered to all areas required to produce an action plan through regular advice and monitoring from the Department for Education and NHS England advisers and through access to funded training opportunities and resources.