SEN Providers: Rural Areas

Education – in the House of Commons at on 27 February 2023.

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Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

If her Department will provide additional financial support to special educational needs providers in rural areas.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

I pay tribute to the life of the noble Baroness Boothroyd, who has sadly passed away. As the first and only woman Speaker, she blazed a trail for women, showing us that a woman’s place is not only in the House of Commons but at the top. Her legacy will live on and long be remembered in this place.

I know my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns is passionate about ensuring that people with special educational needs and disabilities get the support they need. I completely understand the complexities of a rural constituency, as I represent one myself, and it is why this Government introduced additional payments for small and remote mainstream schools, which are currently benefiting 23 schools in Rutland and Melton. More recently, in the autumn statement, we announced an extra £2 billion pounds for schools next year and the year after, meaning we will be spending more on schools than ever before, including £400 million to support high needs budgets from next April.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I thank the Government for that investment in 23 schools in my constituency. However, the families my team and I support are sometimes waiting 40 weeks for a special educational needs assessment, which is a far beyond the six-week statutory period. So may I invite the Secretary of State to meet my local councils and schools in order to understand why we have so many difficulties in rural and small councils?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

I thank my hon. Friend for that. All of us will be aware of the huge impacts that long waiting times for diagnosis for autism and for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can have on children in our communities; many of us will see such cases in our surgeries. To address this, last year we invested £13 million, with a further £2.5 million this year, to improve autism assessment pathways. NHS England is developing national guidance to improve access to autism assessments and we are also committed to looking at improving data on ADHD assessment waiting times to help improve access. I am sure that she will join me in welcoming my Department’s SEND—special educational needs and disabilities—and alternative provision improvement plan, which we will be publishing within the next week.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

A special school in Oxfordshire is one of dozens of schools that in the past few years have had to close because their buildings were deemed unsafe for pupils. Last week, it was revealed that 39 schools have partly or fully closed for that reason since the general election. With the House of Commons Library confirming that money to maintain school buildings has been cut by 4% in real terms, how will Ministers assure parents of children in both special schools and mainstream schools that their children are safe and that buildings are fit for purpose?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

Obviously, it is always important that our children are in safe schools, and we always take action as soon as possible if any concerns are raised within a school. £15 billion has been spent on the condition of school buildings since 2015, but there are also additional funds for adding capacity. We have a lot of work ongoing in this area—not only school rebuilding but condition assessments, with structural engineers in some schools right now, to make sure that we have all the information and data we need to ensure that all our schools are fit for purpose.