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

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been an assiduous campaigner on this issue, as well as others. Of course it is important that we get the right resources and funding into areas, including Suffolk, so that they have the tools and ability to ensure that SEND children have the same opportunities, choices and chances in life.

I recognise that there have been problems in Suffolk, but I want to reassure the hon. Member for Ipswich that, despite what he said, we are monitoring progress closely. This remains a key priority for our Department. We will hold a formal progress review meeting later this month, to which stakeholders and parents will be invited. Despite what he said, Ofsted and the CQC highlighted several improvements since the original inspection, particularly in the area of governance and leadership, from which one would expect the rest to follow. Improvements were also found in access to speech and language therapy; positive work by outreach and inclusion services; activity to reduce exclusions; and the active role and contribution of the Suffolk parent carer forum in shaping the development of services.

Many areas are facing pressure on their high needs budgets, which the hon. Gentleman stressed. That is why we recently announced £780 million in additional high needs funding for next year, which is an increase of 12% compared with this year, bringing the total amount for supporting those in need to £7.2 billion. Every local authority will see an increase in high needs funding of at least 8% per head of population aged two to 18, with some seeing gains of up to 17% per head. In Suffolk, the provisional high needs funding allocation for 2020-21 is £75 million—a 17% per head increase, and a staggering amount, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome. In May 2019, we launched a call for evidence on financial arrangements for SEND and alternative provision. We are currently considering the responses and will look at the high needs formula in due course, to consider whether any changes are needed.

Creating the right number of school places in the right settings is a challenge. That is why I am pleased that Suffolk County Council is developing more than 800 new specialist education places between 2020 and 2025. That will include the establishment of three new specialist schools, up to 36 specialist units attached to mainstream schools and an in-county specialist setting for children with the most complex needs. As part of the capital programme, Suffolk will open a social, emotional and mental health school in Bury St Edmunds, which I know my hon. Friend Jo Churchill was instrumental in ensuring. It is expected that those schools will open across the next two to three years. Alongside Suffolk’s capital programme, through the DFE scheme, it is opening two special free schools in Ipswich.

The hon. Gentleman has raised some important concerns today, and I once again thank him for securing the debate. The Government have invested heavily in reforms of the system for SEND support, and local areas are all working hard to ensure that they are a great success. However, we know there is further to go, and we remain determined to tackle the issues that exist. That is one of the reasons why we announced the SEND review. The review will consider how the system can provide the highest quality of support to enable children and young people with SEND to thrive and to prepare for adulthood, including employment. It will ensure that quality of provision is the same across the country and that there is joined-up thinking across health, care and education services. Finally, it will ensure that public money is spent in an efficient and effective way to deliver for all children.

Mr Speaker, I am delighted to have the final word of this Parliament on my passion for education, which I have always said has the ability to transform lives for all children, including those with special educational needs. I must stress that I am committed to work relentlessly with my colleagues across the Government to ensure that the system delivers for all children—those in Suffolk and those up and down the country.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.