Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Funding

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 3:08 pm, 12th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Gary. I congratulate Sir Vince Cable on securing this debate. It is an important subject and has not had enough attention in the House in recent times. I declare my interest in this matter, as my wife is a cabinet member for children and young people on Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Like other hon. Members, I know how much anxiety this issue causes the families who I see in my surgeries. Too often there is a delay in agreeing that an education, health and care plan is needed at all. When it is finally put in place, too often the plan is not delivered in full because the school has funding pressures elsewhere. The situation is distressing for all parties. Parents feel like they have to fight to get a plan for their child and then, once it is in place, fight again to ensure that the funding and support is adequate to meet the needs of their child, which is simply not right. It worries me even more that there are probably other parents out there who do not have the time, money or information that they need to keep fighting for the support for their child, which means that there are vulnerable people across this country who are simply not getting the support they need.

Not every child with SEND has an EHCP; the proportion of children with SEND who have an EHCP remains low. Hon. Members have already talked about Ofsted. I do not always agree with everything that it says, but given that the chief executive acknowledged last year that something was deeply wrong when parents were repeatedly telling inspectors that they had to fight to get help for their children, we know that we have to act. Ofsted concluded that support for children with SEND was too disjointed and too inconsistent, and that diagnoses were taking too long and were often inadequate.

As we have heard, the number of exclusions among children with SEND continues to rise, with the Department reporting that pupils with SEND are up to six times more likely to be excluded, accounting for almost half of all permanent exclusions. That should be a mark of failure. The number of pupils with SEND without a school place has more than doubled in recent years, up to 4,050, whereas it was only 776 in 2010. Perhaps that is why, as Members have asked, more children are being home-schooled—up by more than 40%. Are schools perhaps suggesting that a particular child should be home-schooled to avoid an exclusion or that the school environment might not be the best place if the child has SEND? In short, are parents being forced down that route because they have no real choice? It is a serious question because we now find ourselves in a situation in which many parents of children with SEND feel that the only way to ensure that their child receives the specialist education that they are entitled to is through legal action.

Thousands are taking their local authority to tribunal. In a staggering 89% of cases, the tribunal found in favour of parents, costing local authorities around £70 million since 2014. Such a high success rate at appeal throughout the country ought to send a warning to the Government that something is fundamentally wrong. The situation has got so bad that one group of parents has now launched a High Court legal challenge against the Government’s SEND funding policy, demanding that children have access to the specialist educational provision that current budgets are simply not able to fund. There can be no greater indictment of the crisis than the fact that legal action has been sought and a judicial review commenced.

Education is a fundamental right for every child. We should not aim for anything less and should not accept anything less, but I fear we are doing that by default. When will the Government take action and ensure that all our children are able to benefit from a full and inclusive education?