Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Funding

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 3:04 pm, 12th February 2019

I commend Sir Vince Cable for securing this debate and giving us the opportunity to speak on such an important issue. On most Fridays, I take the opportunity to visit a local school. Across west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, I see great schools. Among those are schools that excel because of their support for SEN. As a result of doing such a great job—we have heard this already—they find themselves attracting more and more parents and their children, and they are then presented with all sorts of funding issues.

There are two things that I want to bring to the Minister’s attention—things that I have raised before, but to which I have not had satisfactory responses. First, we have heard about the £6,000 that needs to be found once the educational plan is in place. Secondly, there is a bizarre situation in which a school will be counted—the register will be taken after 1 October, and this will settle the funding for the following April. For a time, a school that has taken in new children will not have any funding for those pupils, but will still have to find the £6,000. If children arrive after 1 October, there will not be any funding for them until up to 18 months later, and the school will still have to find the £6,000 as well as pay for the normal education costs that are incurred. I have asked the Department over and over again to look at how that funding follows the individual child, whatever their needs might be, so that schools really can provide the very best education and the best start for their children.

There are arrangements in place with local authorities and with those who support the funding of academies, but schools are not fully aware of them. I know that schools are not getting the funding to which they are entitled when new children arrive. We must simplify the way that school funding is distributed, particularly for children with special needs. Despite tremendous effort from our schools, I fear that we are at risk of failing many children. They will not be able to live full lives, and their life chances will be curtailed. As others have said, funding for schools and for this aspect of school education should be addressed properly and enthusiastically by the spending review when the opportunity arises.

I want briefly to mention some positive signs of movement towards a proper, sensible approach to the education of children with SEN. Ofsted recently launched a consultation and said that it is now prepared to look more at teaching rather than school results. The consultation finishes on 4 April. I encourage everyone to take part, so that Ofsted can genuinely recognise good schools, even though their attainment might not be quite as good as it could be, due to the children that those schools support.

The 10-year health plan commits to accelerating assessments for children with SEN. Can the Minister provide us with more detail about that? We would appreciate more detail about how it can be delivered. The 10-year plan also says that there will be the right care for children with learning disabilities. Again, we would appreciate a bit more detail from the Minister about how the 10-year plan will be able to deliver that and what resources can support it.