Special Educational Needs - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 26th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 2:52 pm, 26th March 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the average time without appropriate special educational needs support spent by students who have successfully appealed a decision to have an education, health and care plan.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I remind the House of my declared interests.

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

My Lords, local authorities are required to carry out any tribunal orders within specified time periods. Data is not collected to demonstrate compliance. However, all local authorities are subject to local area inspections. Children and young people continue to receive support during tribunal appeals. A local authority cannot cease an EHC plan for any young person under 18 unless it determines that it is no longer necessary for special educational provision to be made in accordance with an EHC plan.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that reply. However, often it takes people years to get to the process of making an appeal. According to the British Dyslexia Association, if you do not have a lawyer it can then take up to three years to get through, but much less time if you have a lawyer supporting you. How have we got to the situation where the basic government support is available for those who have lawyers and are capable of handling the system? What chance does a dyslexic child with a dyslexic parent stand?

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

My Lords, it is important to stress that about only 1.5% of all EHC plans are appealed to tribunal. Of those who decide to appeal, 60% fall away and do not go to tribunal, because their issues are resolved. The other important point is that if a local authority loses a tribunal case, it is not because it has lost the whole case; it is just that the tribunal has taken against one element of the case. That is not commonly understood.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, there is no doubt that there is a serious problem across the country. Has the Minister had a chance to talk to the Secretary of State and his colleagues about holding a round table with local authorities and other stakeholders to try to get to the bottom of the disparity between areas of the country where this is working well and those where it is working extraordinarily badly?

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

I certainly take the noble Lord’s suggestion on board and will recommend that to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, because we are in a learning period. This is a new and fundamental change to the way that the process is handled. Again, I reassure noble Lords that the process is not dramatically worse than it used to be. It is a huge change. One reason for increasing the number of appeals was that in April last year we extended the scope of tribunals to include health—until then, only education was covered. Before the new regime came into place, between 2008 and 2014 the number of tribunal cases went up every year, except for one year when it dipped by just five.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

My Lords, the Government seem to be taking comfort from the fact that the majority of appeals are dealt with, but the Question was about the minority who wait up to three years. Should we not address that straightaway?

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

My Lords, as I said in my Answer, the local authority cannot withdraw support during an appeal period.

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

My Lords, the Minister said that compliance data is not collected. Why? Nothing will improve unless the data is collected.

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

My Lords, when these reforms came in, we initiated local area inspections. The noble Lord may be aware that we carried out a number of these in combination with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. They are shining a light on both good and bad practice in the sector and, where a poor inspection result comes up, they are asked to provide a written plan for correction. That is how we are gradually improving the system.

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

My Lords, the Minister may be aware that we are also seeing a rise in legal services offering a no-win no-fee system for parents wishing to appeal. That is likely to add further pressure to already hard-pressed local authority budgets. Actually, when all the costs of one case are taken into account, it can cost up to £80,000. Given that it costs only about £3,500 to train a specialist teacher, does the Minister agree that we should try to prevent this no-win no-fee system from taking off?

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

I certainly support the noble Lord’s suggestion and will take that back to the department. I see no benefit in ambulance chasers benefiting from these cases. It is also worth pointing out that we support the charity Independent Parental Special Education Advice, which provides advice to parents going through the tribunal process. There is no absolute need to use lawyers, which is why IPSEA is an important path for parents to consider.

Photo of The Bishop of Ely The Bishop of Ely Bishop

My Lords, I understand that the purpose of the 2014 set of reforms was to ensure a holistic approach by health, education and social care services in the support of children with special needs and of their families. But when appeals take place, I understand that it is not uncommon for social care services to say that they do not know the child. Are the Government ensuring proactive co-operation between health, social care and education services in supporting such children and their parents?

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

To reassure the right reverend Prelate, I can say that we are learning from the process. I mentioned earlier the area inspections being carried out. Indeed, a number of inspection reports have required improvements. I shall give a recent example: Rochdale was inspected and asked to provide a written statement of action only in January. An update report showed improvements including educational outcomes, timeliness of response to children and young people, and promotion of understanding of services provided by the LA to those with SEN.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My Lords, I declare an interest: I have a grandson affected by this. Will my noble friend take account of what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said? I think that I am reasonably sophisticated in dealing with complicated issues, but what is going on here is a rationing of resources. It takes ages for people to get an assessment. If you can afford to pay, you can get a private assessment. If you can work your way through the system, you eventually get a result, which I am pleased to say we got. But people who do not have the resources or the experience and ability to work the system are completely shut out. That is what my noble friend needs to look at.

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

My Lords, we have consistently increased funding to the high-needs block and in December last year announced an additional £250 million for high-needs funding. I understand and accept that there is demand here, but we are listening and improving the system all the time.