Children: Special Educational Needs - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 22nd January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 2:36 pm, 22nd January 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the resources allocated in the October budget to support children’s services will provide sufficient additional funding to meet the needs of children with special educational needs who are not currently in receipt of support through Education, Health and Care Plans.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, the resources allocated in the autumn Budget for children’s services support were not intended to make specific provision for children with special educational needs. We provide funding for local authorities to support such children through the dedicated schools grant. Core schools funding will be more than £43.5 billion next year. The national funding formula uses a range of factors which estimate the number of children with additional needs to allocate this funding.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, I welcome the £350 million over the next two years, which the Minister decided not to mention—God bless him. But when we think back to the passage of the Children and Families Act under the coalition, there was all-party and no-party support for the idea that those who did not actually need to get a statement would be supported both in open education and in special schools. Now we have a position where people are desperately struggling, including a blind child going to court here in London this week who is struggling to get into open education. In Sheffield there is an effort to get 18 and 19 year-olds through the barrier that stops them carrying on receiving funding. Surely now it is time for all of us to require the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the forthcoming spending review to meet the £1.6 billion shortfall and ensure that children and parents do not have the fear and the struggle they have at the moment to get the support they need to be properly educated.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, first I compliment the noble Lord on all he has achieved in his career, starting with a disability. It should be an inspiration to all the children in the system at the moment. I can confirm that the Government are completely committed to helping these vulnerable children. Spending plans beyond 2019-20 will be set at the next spending review, but we are committed to securing the right deal for education, including for those children and young people with special educational needs. More specifically, we are providing education, health and social care teams with legal training. SEND inspections are identifying good practice and where improvement is needed. Parent/carer forums are promoting the engagement of families and putting them at the heart of this issue.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the vast majority of those with special educational needs should not be considered for education, health and care plans because they have moderate or lesser degrees of difficulty? These can be dealt with only by making sure that school staff, teachers and teaching assistants, are properly trained. That will save money all round and make the young people’s lives better. What are the Government doing about continual professional development for those people already in the system so that we can meet their needs without their having to go to court?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I completely agree that the first priority is to try to keep children with special educational needs in mainstream education unless they have very severe challenges. To give an example of what we are doing to improve that, we are funding the Autism Education Trust to deliver awareness training for education staff, and we have trained 195,000 people in this programme.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, there appears to be particular difficulty in funding places for children with special needs at special schools—above all when they are residential and may be more expensive. Would the noble Lord not agree that it is vital that funding should be found so that children with special needs receive the most appropriate education?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with the noble Lord that residential special education is extremely expensive. One of our current problems is that local authorities tend to send a lot of children out of area to expensive residential solutions. We are trying to deal with this by increasing the number of specialist free schools around the country; we announced a £50 million capital funding pot in May of last year, bringing the total to £265 million, and in March we announced sponsors for 14 new special schools. In the announcement in December, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred, we also agreed to remove the cap on applications for new special and alternative provision free schools.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, the Minister will perhaps know that up to 2,000 young people on education, health and care plans have received no provision at all. Increasingly, parents are taking legal action against local authorities. Are we not in danger of replicating what is happening in the National Health Service, where litigation costs have become astronomical?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord is right that we are concerned about tribunal costs—indeed, he has asked a Question on this subject that will be taken in a couple of weeks’ time, so we will be able to deal with it in more detail then. Last year, we introduced a new measure to see how many appeals were going to tribunals: it showed that, of all the decisions made in the year by local authorities, only 1.5% were appealed by parents, and a number of authorities are seeing zero or near zero appeals. So the challenge for us is to spread the good practice of those local authorities that have very low levels of appeal, to ensure that those which are less good are learning.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, it is no surprise at all that the Minister did not refer in any of his replies to the fact that the Ofsted annual report, published last month and looking at SEND provision, painted a bleak picture. It said that children were being failed by the education system. Amanda Spielman, the Government’s own Chief Inspector of Schools, said:

“One child with SEND not receiving the help they need is disturbing enough, but thousands”— which is the case—

“is a national scandal”.

And yet the Minister makes no response. At least she provoked the £350 million that my noble friend Lord Blunkett mentioned. But, as he also mentioned, the local authorities are in no way assuaged by that. They have estimated that that amount is less than a third of the deficit in special needs funding which they will be facing by 2021. At least this dysfunctional Government will be history by then. My question for the Minister is this: what would he say to the families of the 2,000 children to which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred, who have EHC plans but who are still not receiving any provision from them?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord is taking a figure rather out of context. It is simply wrong to suggest that they are not receiving education; this category is used for several situations, such as when pupils are already in one school but waiting for a place in another, or are over 16 and waiting for a place at a college or sixth form. Some of those deemed to be awaiting provision may also be older and have recently taken up employment, and a decision to end their EHC plan is in the process of being made.