Special Educational Needs — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West 9:30 am, 20th March 2019

A large number of Members wish to speak, so after the main speech I will straightaway impose a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. People may take their clothes off—within reason.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered SEN support in schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, I think for the first time. Before discussing the policy that I wish to address, I will take a moment to emphasise why special educational needs support in schools is such an important topic. I secured the debate because of a number of constituency cases that have come through my surgery. Constituents have raised the issue with me and brought me to the point at which I felt the need to discuss it in Westminster Hall. I will not talk specifically about constituency cases, because I want to speak to the wider issue, which affects not just cities such as York but the whole country. That is reflected in the number of Members attending the debate this morning.

I will touch on the importance of SEN and why it is worth taking the time to ensure that the system of support works for all children with SEN. Our starting point should therefore be to see SEN as something that informs mainstream education policy, rather than a specialist area relating to a minority of pupils. More than 1.2 million pupils in England—that is 14.6%—have an identified special educational need, of whom 250,000, or one in five, have either a statement of SEN or an education, health and care plan in place. We should also be conscious of the fact that the SEN of many more students are likely to remain unidentified. For me, that is the wider issue of real concern.

New research by Professor Lucinda Platt at the London School of Economics and Dr Sam Parsons of University College London has helped to inform us about the short, medium and long-term effects on people’s lives of being identified with SEN at school. While the findings are alarming, they serve to underline the obligation on us all to ensure that the next generation of children do not experience their special educational needs as something that impacts negatively on their prospects at school and future life chances.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this incredibly important debate. SEN support has an impact on children throughout my constituency. I am outraged on their behalf and that of their parents when I hear that some students who have an EHCP are left without any education, some for up to a year, or just having it for an hour a week. He mentioned the long-term impact of an SEN diagnosis and schools that cannot cope with the needs of those children, and that is incredibly important. I look forward to hearing him expand a little on that.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The hon. Lady makes a good point. Members will mention different examples of constituency cases in the debate, which shows that this is a wide issue. However, I completely accept the point that it is about not just diagnosis but the next steps. I will come on to that, and I will put a few questions to the Minister. I hope that she will be able to respond to them accordingly.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for leading this incredibly important debate. Does he agree that mainstream schools must be supported as much as possible to educate SEN children in that setting? If they cannot and they exclude children, that in turn puts huge pressure on special schools, which cannot then cope, increasing the risk of exclusion into incredibly expensive independent provision, which drains the budget.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I entirely agree. There is also a wider issue: it is important for children to be taught together with their peers—I want to come on to this, and the study I mentioned talks about it—because of the potential stigmatisation of being taken out of mainstream education and the consequences that can have for all the students. I completely accept the importance of that.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I am listening with interest to his analysis, and I look forward to his further comments. I welcome the extra resources that the Government have given, but real issues and concerns remain. Is he aware that in my borough the high needs in Bexley meant a 14% increase in the number of education, health and care plans during the 2017-18 academic year, but with only a 1.9% increase in the high needs block allocation this year? Bexley works hard to ensure that needs are met, and has agreed a contribution with the schools forum given the schools’ own high needs funding cost pressures, but the increase in demand is letting down our children.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I was not aware of the specific percentages and increases in my right hon. Friend’s local borough, but I accept them completely—I think they mirror what we see across the country, and certainly in my region. He makes the point very well, and I am sure that his council is working hard with the resources available to it to ensure that those children get the best education possible.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. I want to develop the point a little. The reports that I get back from schools in my constituency indicate that the knock-on effect of pressures on local authority funding for such children is on mainstream school budgets. Increasingly, schools have to fund special educational needs from their mainstream budgets in order to make up for the local authority shortfall. That therefore impacts on the wider educational opportunity, not just that of those who need the specific funding.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which I accept, and it is certainly what I have seen in the evidence before me. I will develop this further, but the wider point is about schools and local authorities actually identifying all children with SEN—if they identified them all, there might be a financial impact on those specific schools. For me, that is the wider concern in the process.

The study by LSE and UCL found that children with SEN at school are three times more likely than their peers to lack a close friend and to experience bullying most days. Sadly, problems experienced at school have long-term consequences, and the study found that by the time those children are young adults, those with SEN are nearly twice as likely to see friends only once or twice a year and to feel that they have no one to listen to their problems. There is also an impact on relationships and family life in middle age. Adults who had SEN at school are four times as likely to be single and twice as likely not to have children.

The report also suggests that the pressure that children with SEN face at school to perform socially and academically is having a detrimental impact on their long-term mental health and wellbeing. They are twice as likely as their non-SEN peers to feel that life’s problems are too much. There is also a significant concern that a disproportionate number of those caught up in the criminal justice system have a special educational need—the relevant studies find that they represent between 25% and 50% of offenders. All that is extremely alarming.

Addressing the disparity in outcomes for SEN children has been a priority of successive Governments of all political persuasions and colours. There is evidence that policy changes have made a positive impact on the lives of a new generation of SEN children. The reforms brought in by the Children and Families Act 2014, and the introduction of education, health and care plans—touched on already by hon. Members—were welcomed as positive step towards providing more reliable and individually tailored support for those with the greatest needs.

Last week the Government talked about creating 37 new SEN schools. Although I welcome the 3,400 extra high-quality school places that could be created, I am not convinced that will address the need for early intervention in mainstream schools, as other hon. Members have mentioned. It is possible that will further contribute to the social marginalisation of SEN children.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

What does the hon. Gentleman think about the role of teaching assistants in schools? For children with SEN or EHCPs, one of the fundamental support mechanisms in school are teaching assistants, but their numbers have been drastically reduced; they are often the first to lose their jobs when there is restructuring and school budget cuts.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The hon. Lady makes an important intervention. Teaching assistants and teachers have a huge role to play—I will touch on that later in my speech—because it is about spotting SEN at an early age. If we can tackle it at the beginning, it will be easier to tailor support for those children. The first port of call has to be teachers and teaching assistants at school.

The Government’s announcement last year that they would invest an additional £365 million from 2018 to 2021 is to be welcomed. However, I am not convinced that funding alone can address the disparities that children with SEN face. Far-reaching policy changes are required. The first of those that I want to touch on is exams. By far the largest query that I receive from constituents in relation to SEN is about assessment concessions—extra time in exams. Although I understand that the recent move towards an exam-based system in schools, from the perspective of academic rigour, is probably the right way to go, I am concerned that has had the undesirable side effect of limiting the potential of SEN students.

Constituents tell me time and again that their children’s two biggest problems in exams are the anxiety that they inevitably generate and the unfair concentration on one small aspect of that child’s ability: namely, the ability to memorise facts. The GCSE religious studies exam includes a requirement to learn 64 quotations. I do not think I could do that; perhaps a number of Members could, but it would be beyond my ability. The GCSE physics exam requires the ability to memorise 24 formulae—I might find that slightly easier.

The default response to the disadvantages that SEN students face in exams is to offer extra time, but no amount of extra time will address the fact that exams as a means of assessment are intrinsically unsuitable for some types of students and learners. The solution has to be to revisit the place of coursework, which once made up 40% to 50% of GCSE assessment. Coursework does not discriminate against SEN children with high cognitive ability but for whom memorising facts does not come that easily. Coursework has the additional benefit of alleviating the anxiety of one assessment and spreading the pressure throughout the year, rather than concentrating on the examination period.

Photo of James Frith James Frith Labour, Bury North

The traditional argument has been that we need coursework for people who cannot do exams, and that those who can do exams are fine, but that binary choice is unhelpful. The parent of a child with autism in Bury spoke to me about his daughter’s ability to take the new times tables test that has been introduced. In fact, she is really good at maths; what she struggles with is the speed at which an immovable testing mechanism is applied. Although her ability to calculate is not a problem, she is expected to answer questions that move on at a fast rate. We must not fall into the trap of suggesting that those with special educational needs are somehow non-academic or unable to perform in mainstream education, because all they need is a better, more dynamic service.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I entirely agree; the hon. Gentleman makes the point very well. Many of those children have really high ability, but their ability needs to be managed so that they can get through the system. The point I want to make, as he mentioned, is that ultimately we need a balance to be struck. It is not all about the individual exam, and it is not all about a shift to coursework. When major changes such as moving from coursework back to exams are made, there will be consequences. The system has to recognise that a balance has to be struck.

Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot

Does my hon. Friend agree that regarding the education of those with special educational needs, we need to look longer term to career prospects? I find it fascinating that some employers specifically look for those with autism because they are better at dealing with computer challenges than others. Those with special educational needs have some strengths that those without them do not. Surely, the education system should recognise that and take it into account when developing programmes, so those children can take advantage of their employability when they leave school.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

That is a fair point, but I reiterate that this is not about compartmentalising individuals; it is about making sure they are kept in mainstream education and have the ability to thrive and prosper, as everyone should have. The system has to allow that.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about spreading the pressure throughout the course, but he mentioned children being included in school. Does he agree that we really need the Government to look at the exclusion policies adopted of late by academies? Many children are excluded just before the exam and never get the opportunity to sit it.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

Is the hon. Gentleman’s point about exclusions that are to do with targets?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

That is very much the case in some instances, but there are also children who misbehave or get into trouble towards the end of their academic course and find themselves excluded from the exam altogether.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

That is a really important point. Where that happens—I know it does in certain circumstances—it hugely impacts the life prospects of the student involved. Ultimately, this is about ensuring that young people have the best opportunities in life, and that we harness their individual skills—they all have them—and maximise their life prospects. We must ensure that we do not in any way damage them or, ultimately, exclude them from the system or from society as a whole.

This point has already been raised in interventions, but another thing I believe can make a real difference is the professional development of teachers. Research by the Children’s Commissioner in 2013, and the Salt review in 2010, found that training does not always adequately prepare teachers to teach pupils with SEN. That has contributed to pupils with SEN not being identified and supported sufficiently early in their education, which can have huge implications later on. Catching children at an early age can make a real difference. Such awareness is vital if we are to increase early intervention for students with SEN. That is important for literacy skills, which are more challenging for older children and adults to acquire. If children with SEN are not identified early enough, the problem gets worse.

Mainstream schools have taken to relying exclusively on SEN co-ordinators, or SENCOs. Valuable though they are, SENCOs are often overstretched, as demands on their time and resources increase. The British Dyslexia Association recommends that the Government should consider an integrated approach instead. Training existing teachers would result in more responsive early interventions and allow SEN support to be conducted without compromising course delivery. That has the potential to reduce costs and, really importantly, to ensure that those children do not feel marginalised from mainstream education. I have already touched on some of the hidden consequences of that; we must not forget that really important point.

Teachers need to be trained to an appropriate level to teach children with the full range of SEN that they may encounter. I am not a professional in this, but I am told that three levels of SEN professional development are available to teachers: accredited learning support assistant; approved teacher/tutor status; and associate membership of the BDA. The first qualification entails 24 hours of contact time and 20 hours of monitored support, all integrated within the teacher’s work in school. I suggest that directing money to such professional development may result in significant savings and improve the prospects of children with complex needs. Fundamentally, though, my constituents tell me that the way we approach SEN funding for schools has to be reconsidered.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

The contributions we have heard will make a real difference, but on the hon. Gentleman’s point about somebody being responsible, our constituents often tell us that they always seem to have to fight the system, which never delivers for them just as a matter of public policy. That is not out of any lack of desire in the system; it just seems that everybody is responsible but nobody is. Parent after parent tells me, “This is what I’m entitled to; I can’t get it,” or, “This is what I need; I can’t get it.” Their child’s plan says they should have it, but it just does not happen. It just seems that the system does not work, even though everyone is trying to make it work. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, and does he find that the fact that parents have to fight the system is one of the frustrations we all share?

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I entirely agree. That is what drove me to bring forward this debate. Constituents come to me to say exactly those things. I will touch on this in my conclusion, but we have to remember that there are parents out there—I do not blame parents—who are prepared to go out and fight for their children, get them in where they need to be and get the right support, but there are also disadvantaged children who may not have parents who are prepared to go and fight for them. They are the ones who fall through the gaps.

Photo of James Frith James Frith Labour, Bury North

This is about parents’ ability to go out and fight, not their preparedness to do so. Again, please let us not fall into thinking that the parents who reach our door are those who are prepared to. They are simply the ones who are able to. Someone who faces changing shift patterns and has to use public transport, for example, may be prevented from reaching our door. The fact that we hear so much about these issues from parents who are able to reach us shows that there are great swathes of parents who do not speak to us directly about them but very much face the same, if not worse, issues.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I accept that. That is a very important point. The point I was making is that there are parents from all backgrounds who, if I am brutally honest, will not know that their children might need support. As I said, it is those children with unidentified needs who fall through the gaps and do not get that support. That goes back to what I said about the whole system and the need for early identification. Schools and teachers need to be able to work with parents so they get that support. We should not have the problem, which Vernon Coaker identified—I entirely agree with him—of parents having to go to their local MP or their local councillor, or to the different voluntary associations that work with parents, to try to break down barriers or get through doors to get that support for their children. That is the wider problem. I think everyone present would agree that parents should not have to do that.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

The Education Committee is conducting an inquiry into this hugely important subject. The Committee heard that most people accept the positive intention of the policy introduced in 2014—the education, health and care plans and so on, which my hon. Friend has covered. In theory, that policy puts more power and control in the hands of parents, but does he agree that it is impossible to deliver what is supposed to be a needs-based system with a finite budget? Problems are created because the things pupils need are not deliverable on the budget available.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

Absolutely—that is a very important point. I will touch on some of the Select Committee’s findings, but I entirely agree.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

My hon. Friend Ben Bradley makes a really important point about the extent of the budget. Do we as a community not have to recognise that needs are much higher than they were even 20 years ago? The special schools in my constituency—whether it is Belmont, Bettridge or Ridge—increasingly deal with medical issues that impact some of these children’s ability to learn, yet those medical needs have to be funded from the education budget. That simply adds to the strain on that budget.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

That is a good point and I am glad I took the intervention, to which I hope the Minister will respond. I did not want the debate to turn into one about CAMHS referrals but I am sure all Members have experienced frustration over the referral time lag. I have raised questions in the House and it is immensely frustrating—and part of the reason is that it is a cross-departmental matter, between education and health. However, as my hon. Friend pointed out, a lot of the money comes from the schools budget.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. Does he agree, on the issue of school budgets, that there is an inequality between schools? The fact that schools are forced to pay for the first 11 hours of meeting an EHCP from their own budgets disadvantages those that do the right thing and take significant numbers of children with special educational needs, and inadvertently helps those that do not. Would it not then be wiser for the Government to agree that EHCPs should be directly funded so that the money follows the pupil entirely, instead of penalising schools that do the right thing?

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Order. Before you respond, Mr Sturdy, may I just say that if your speech ended now I would, given the number of Members wanting to speak, have to impose a three-minute limit? Perhaps you would bear that in mind.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

Thank you, Mr Davies. I will try not to take any more interventions, and to bring my remarks to a conclusion, but the point that Tim Farron made was the one I wanted to go on to. There is genuine concern that the system provides a perverse incentive to schools not to rigorously identify and protect children with special educational needs. Schools are not provided with straightforward per pupil funding. Rather, a notional proportion of their overall budget is earmarked as SEN funding. Crucially, however, that is not ring-fenced, which means that by identifying more children with SEN, and funding them, schools will allocate up to £6,000 per pupil that they could potentially have spent on other areas. That is exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

Schools have access to additional funding from local authorities for children with especially complex needs, but my concern is the effect that that has on children whose SEN provision schools have to fund in its entirety. Alarmingly, the percentage of pupils with identified SEN but whose needs are not complex enough to qualify for a statement or EHCP reduced from 18.3% in 2010 to 11.7% in 2018, while the proportion with complex needs remained static. I do not want to prejudge the reason for the reduction, but it is certainly a dramatic one. Surely it does not reflect an actual reduction in the number of children with SEN, but rather a reduction in the number who have been identified. In the absence of a proactive approach from schools, parents tell me they have to fund diagnoses for their children privately and are becoming frustrated with schools that are failing to investigate their concerns properly. As we have heard, Members across the House face the issue regularly in their surgeries.

On the other side of the matter are local authorities, who have also complained about pressures on the high needs funding block. The National Autistic Society has raised concerns about the wait that children face to be provided with appropriate support, and a worrying increase in the number of requests for EHCP assessments that are refused by local authorities. In November, Mr Dave Hill, the executive director for children, families and learning at Surrey County Council, told the Education Committee that SEN funding was approaching a “national crisis” because of

“all the money being spent on firefighting and no money being spent on prevention.”

Indeed, North Yorkshire County Council’s high needs funding has increased by only 0.75% at the same time as demand has risen by 10%. Councils are now liable to fund children with complex needs from the ages of nought to 25 under an EHCP.

As I mentioned earlier, the introduction of EHCPs is to be welcomed and indeed they have proved popular with parents, providing both certainty and individual flexibility. However, councils have expressed concerns that their high needs budgets are becoming increasingly committed to the funding of the 20% of SEN pupils who qualify through having an EHCP, leaving little to spare for the remaining 80% of SEN students who do not qualify. That is an important point. It is particularly frustrating for the parents of children with complex needs who just fail to meet the threshold for EHCP qualification. The concern is that that is creating an all-or-nothing system, where a dramatic difference in support results from the fine margin on which someone does or does not qualify for an EHCP.

I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion because I know a number of Members want to speak. We need to look at the exam assessment concession system and whether it adequately addresses the disadvantages that SEN children face.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Order. Perhaps you can try to bring your remarks to a close in a moment. I am already down to two and a half minutes each for other speakers. Carry on—you are entitled to speak as long as you like, but be aware that there are eight speakers, plus the Front Benchers.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I will take 30 seconds, Mr Davies. I have obviously taken a lot of interventions, which have affected what I wanted to say.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I appreciate that advice, Mr Davies.

We need to review the perverse incentives that result in schools failing to identify children as SEN, and the controversy between parents and local authorities over EHCP qualification. We need to prioritise teacher training, so that all teachers have basic skills for working with children with SEN, creating a more integrated approach. I have questions as to whether the policy of new SEN free schools is the right way of addressing the underlying issues, as I have mentioned.

Finally, we need to look at the effectiveness of education, health and care plans, especially in regard to the proportion of local government higher needs SEN funding spent on those plans at the expense of the 80% of SEN children and students who are not on the plans or who just miss out on qualifying for an EHCP. Ultimately those children are falling through the gaps, and the consequences for their future development and potential opportunities are huge. We Westminster politicians must not forget that, and must face up to it and react. I hope that the debate, given the number of colleagues present from across the House, will mean that we can try to move things on. I look forward to hearing what the Minister and other Front-Bench speakers have to say.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

I was going to call the Front Benchers at 10.25 but I will now call them at 10.30, and give them eight, eight and 12 minutes. Other Members will have two and a half minutes.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 10:08 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I want to start by mentioning two incredible young people whom the Education Committee met yesterday. One young man called Ben said

“we are not…SEND. We are human beings, the same as the rest of you…remember that fact...We are…not a problem...Work with us”.

Another wonderful young woman called Eva said SEN children have dreams and ambitions too.

That should be at the core of everything we talk about and what makes and shapes our policy decisions—the children at the heart of it.

I agree with many things that Julian Sturdy said, including about the tension—I say conflict of interest, but other people say tension—between a needs-based system and a finite budget. If we truly wanted all our young people to have those dreams and ambitions, to be seen as capable individuals who are able to achieve and just need that extra support to get there, we would not have a finite budget. We would genuinely match the needs of every individual child.

There are many problems on the way, and in the few moments I have left I want to mention some of them. There is currently no audit of the notional SEN budget. There is the £6,000 that schools are supposed to spend, but there is no audit of how they spend it or what they spend it on. There is a lack of consistency in SEN support, including for pre-EHCP children, where there is no consistency in what the support should look like, what they should have and what the standard should be. There are issues with teacher training, in that not enough time is spent on SEN. That has been an issue since time began and a conversation that schools have been having ever since.

The therapy services that should be offered to support children are missing from local government, particularly those relating to speech and language provision. As Alex Chalk pointed out, that is an issue for schools because teaching assistants have to deliver it and so it comes out of the education, not the health budget.

I would like to say one final thing: our SEN children are fundamentally underfunded and there is a fundamental lack of recognition of the issue’s importance and of what these children can achieve. I plead with the Government to change the accountability system and give our schools the money they need.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 10:11 am, 20th March 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy on securing this debate on a hugely important issue. SEND provision touches on every part of education, from early years all the way through to further education and higher education—not just for the vulnerable children who need the support, but for everyone else, as it has an increasing impact on schools’ core budgets and spending.

In the very limited time available, I will touch on one specific issue; I will use my own council in Nottinghamshire as an example, but it is a wider issue. Nottinghamshire County Council has a good reputation for SEND support, but there are growing problems and it loses out on funding compared with the national average, making it impossible to sustain that level of support.

Compared with its statistical neighbours, the council receives £7 million less for providing the same services. It is punished for having historically been inclusive, keeping children with SEND in mainstream schools as far as possible and pushing the money down from its own budgets into those of individual schools. That means that the council has historically spent less, which works against it in the funding formula—having taken the right educational decisions for pupils, it now receives less funding. That is not right and it is not sustainable.

As I have said, SEND funding has an impact on all areas of education. There has been a lot of talk about school funding, but of course increasing proportions of those budgets are spent on topping up gaps in SEND support. I welcomed the announcement at the end of last year that there would be more money over the next two financial years, but we need to do more. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister knows that and that she is making that case. Everyone in this Chamber has a duty to ensure that the Chancellor understands the storm brewing in SEND funding.

Nottinghamshire County Council has taken the right approach: it aims to be inclusive and to give the funding and autonomy to schools wherever possible, because they are best placed to understand their pupils and to give them a voice and a say in the care and support they receive, as well as to reduce costs and bureaucracy. It is therefore all the more frustrating that it and many other councils like it around the country are now being hit financially for taking the right educational decisions.

I urge the Government to ensure that this issue is treated as a priority. The Minister will be aware of stats showing that SEND spending, particularly in post-16 education—which is her own area of responsibility—is growing in huge numbers that will simply not be sustainable without more help. The spending review is hugely important, and I urge her and everybody in this Chamber to make the case to the Treasury. Over the coming months we must ensure funding for the long term and that we invest properly in SEND provision.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:13 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank Julian Sturdy for covering so many points in his introductory remarks.

I have just two simple requests for the Minister, which I have raised with the Minister for School Standards and with the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago. Alex Chalk will not be surprised to hear what I have to say. My first request relates to the point made by the hon. Members for York Outer and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron): the £6,000 is a completely perverse incentive. It is unfair. It is effectively a tax on inclusive schools: they are trying to take pupils and help them, yet they are being hammered by that £6,000. If the Government could do something about that by losing that £6,000, that would be the fairest thing of all.

My other point is that much of the deficit for schools in Gloucestershire is now due to the fact that the additional needs element is not reaching those schools but getting stuck somewhere in the system. If the Government could ensure that the additional needs element reaches the schools so that they are able to defray the expenditure in the most appropriate way, it would make a dramatic difference and stop some of the deficits that are beginning to rise.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 10:14 am, 20th March 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy on securing this fantastic debate.

The Children and Families Act 2014 refers to identifying children and young people with SEN, assessing their needs and making provision for them, but if that were happening, we would not be here today. We are asking schools—we are talking about mainstream schools here, not special schools—to provide special learning programmes; extra help from a teacher or teaching assistant to work in smaller groups for the children concerned; observation both in class and at break time; help with class activities; encouragement to participate in questions and other activities; and help with their communication and physical and personal care.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I will not, because we are really short of time. There is no getting away from it: this is about funding. My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer was right to talk about policy change, and I agree with that, but right now this is about the urgent need for funding. The level of support required cannot be achieved unless we provide that money.

The truth is that, if we do not get this right, the outcome will be a breakdown in the relationship between parents and teachers—we never want that; that is not the best way to support a child in education—and a number of children will leave school altogether. The Ofsted report shows that they simply disappear. We do not know where they are. These are children with vulnerable lives ahead of them. We have situations where the education of the whole class is unfortunately compromised, because teachers, however hard they try, cannot give their full attention to the whole group.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

No, honestly, I am not going to give way. I have seen difficult situations and the real challenges that children, parents and teachers face. We have a decision to make, as a Government and as hon. Members. I believe we are failing children with special educational needs. We have a cohort of people who have their whole life ahead of them, and it is for us to ensure that they have a full life. If we get SEND provision wrong, they will have a whole lifetime of missed opportunities. If we get it right, they will have life chances and opportunity. It is urgent that we get the money where it is needed, right now.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:17 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

It is no coincidence that I also speak on behalf of the city of York. The council’s estimated spend on the high needs budget is £1.15 million, yet the Government’s high needs funding is just £393,000, leaving a shortfall of £760,000. However, we know the need is much greater, as many children do not get diagnosed early enough and often wait years for diagnosis, and many children do not reach the levels for which funding is awarded.

Those shortfalls are experienced throughout the education system, from nursery school—nurseries now have to subsidise childcare costs—to primary and secondary school. I know, from a visit I made to a secondary school in York, that children are sometimes placed in isolation. That causes some of them emotional harm, but the school does not have the capacity to support them. Often, the stigma stays with them all their lives.

Some children are moved to other schools, but that does not address their special educational needs. I am sure if research was undertaken on off-rolling children, it would show that a high proportion have neurodiversity-related needs. Those children become more vulnerable, more at risk of exploitation and more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Those children are failed.

If I may say it again in this debate, York schools are the worst funded in the country. We have the worst attainment gap in the country. We have the highest rise in class sizes. SEND is seriously underfunded. Children with SEND in York experience among the longest waiting times for diagnosis, and our SEND budget deficit is three quarters of a million pounds. I ask the Minister to pause for a moment to make the correlation between those statistics.

Next year, the overspend on the budget will be £1.3 million, and the following year it will be £1.9 million. Although the education, health and care plans have been extended to the age of 25, no additional funding has been put into the budget and there are no additional resources to support the 51% increase in demand. I ask the Minister to review the budget and ensure that schools are adequately supported to provide vital support for those young people right through their schooling and also in early years, through children’s centres and Sure Start schemes.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 10:19 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Julian Sturdy on securing the debate. I declare an interest: my wife is the Cheshire West and Chester Council cabinet member for children and young people.

As we have heard, all hon. Members hear from families who have great anxiety about what is going on. Too often there are delays in agreeing that an education, health and care plan is needed at all, and when those plans are finally put in place, they are too often not delivered in full because schools face funding pressures elsewhere. If a child is in only their fourth of fifth year of education and waits a year for a plan to be put in place, that means that 20% or 25% of their entire education up to that date is put on hold at an absolutely critical period of their development. All the while, parents try their hardest to resolve things, but because overstretched schools and councils can only do so much with the resources they have, no matter how hard they try, things cannot move any faster.

A year’s delay might not actually be the worst of it. A 15-year-old boy with autism was featured in The Observer last Sunday because he has had to fight for six years—more than half his educational life—to get his education properly funded. However, getting a plan is not necessarily the end of it. The Government’s own figures show that, last year, 2,060 children with EHCPs were found to have received no educational provision at all. That is more than 2,000 children getting no education. Is it any wonder that pupils are unnecessarily admitted to special schools or excluded when mainstream schools no longer have the capacity to meet their needs?

Exclusions among children with SEN continue to rise, with Department for Education figures showing that they are up to six times more likely to be excluded, accounting for half of all permanent exclusions. Is that why home schooling figures have gone up by 40%? Are schools perhaps suggesting that particular children might be better off at home in order to avoid an exclusion? In short, the system hopes to absolve itself of any responsibility by ignoring this rise in home schooling.

Home schooling is not the only issue; the courts are also involved. Many parents of children with SEN feel that the only way to ensure that their child receives the specialist education to which they are entitled is through legal action, with a staggering 89% of cases successful. Such a high appeal success rate across the whole country says to me that the system is broken and needs an overhaul, but the Government seem unwilling to even question why this is happening.

Education is a fundamental right for every child. Every day lost because of a failure to support a child with SEN is another day where that child loses the chance to fulfil their potential. They deserve better, and they deserve action.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 10:22 am, 20th March 2019

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of primary school headteachers in Stockton. We talked about the challenges they face and how school is not only about learning but about supporting young people through their challenges and their opportunities.

We also discussed how schools deliver quality SEN support. Those headteachers are finding it tough. They lament that 14.6% of the school population have special educational needs—a number that is often higher in areas like mine. We agreed that such support should be provided within a mainstream setting, so that all children can be educated together. However, instead of addressing problems that make integration difficult in mainstream schools, such as funding issues, the Government have announced plans to open 37 new special free schools. That goes directly against efforts to promote and encourage integration among children, casting some as different and moving them away from their peers, as Julian Sturdy spoke about.

Teachers want integration, and those headteachers in Stockton want more than that. They want the Government to do more to encourage parents to play a full and proper role in the general and even special needs education of their children. I promised those headteachers on Friday that I would raise this issue in the House in my next speech on education, and I am pleased to fulfil that promise today.

Some of the children that those headteachers receive into their schools do not have the most basic of skills, including being able to get dressed or go to the toilet, or simple language and numeracy skills. These children will probably need special educational needs support throughout their schooling, although the heads were at pains to tell me that some of these children come from more privileged backgrounds.

Teachers feel that the responsibility for picking up this personal and special education is being dumped on them—parents just pass it on and expect schools to pick up the pieces. I know that it would not be easy to implement, but those Stockton headteachers like the idea of a parents charter outlining their role in working with the school in the best interests of their children. I am interest in the Minister’s views on that.

Another area I have been involved in recently is kinship care—family members taking responsibility for children who are not their own, almost all of whom need special educational needs support in school. However, support for kinship carers is not sufficient, with many left isolated and knowing that the children in their care need extra support but not knowing how to get it.

I am pleased to serve on the cross-party kinship care taskforce set up by my hon. Friend Anna Turley. I have heard many horror stories about the problems that children and their kinship carers face. When Ministers get the report—they might not include this particular Minister—I hope they will act on it.

Photo of James Frith James Frith Labour, Bury North 10:24 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. As has been mentioned by my colleagues on the Select Committee on Education, we spent yesterday morning in the presence of the RIP:STARS, who describe themselves as children with disabilities for children with disabilities. Ben, who has also been quoted by my Committee colleague, my hon. Friend Emma Hardy, told us that he is not a “jigsaw” or “puzzle” to be solved—all they want is an education.

In fact, their report concludes with a series of recommendations for schools, including that they should focus on inclusion; involve the child in the provision, not just the co-production of providers; meet holistic needs; personalise provision; and that provision should bear a resemblance to the world and life after school. The list goes on, but surely those are exactly the same principles that we should want to apply to mainstream education, for all our children.

It is becoming clear, however, that parents and children with SEND are being pushed out of mainstream schools, too often because there has not been an increase in personalised, inclusive, contextual learning that gives second chances—because that comes at a price. The Government’s response to date does not go far enough. Independent research commissioned by the Local Government Association predicts a £1.6 billion black hole in high-needs funding for councils.

I say to the Minister this is not just about getting more money but about moving money. Tribunals find in favour of the parent and child nearly 90% of the time, costing authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds—wasted money that could have been moved upstream and spent earlier. Some 70% of all exclusions involve a child with SEND.

Schools that I spoke to in my survey last year came back to me yesterday with a series of comments, including:

“We can no longer afford to purchase necessary resources”.

Photo of Thelma Walker Thelma Walker Labour, Colne Valley

I thank my hon. Friend and Committee colleague. The capacity of professionals to support SEND pupils in schools is at its absolute limit. A special educational needs co-ordinator may also be a class teacher and in charge of inclusion and, perhaps, safeguarding. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is too big a role to be able deliver full provision and support for SEND children?

Photo of James Frith James Frith Labour, Bury North

My colleague makes an excellent point. I enjoy serving alongside her on the Committee. Punishing school budget cuts have resulted in the loss of teaching assistants, removing capacity from the classroom. In every other walk of life, specialist provision is viewed as additional support that is scalpel-like in its focus, or as enhanced provision, but SEND provision in school classrooms is viewed as low-hanging fruit to be cut, owing to the increasing demand on budgets. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Teaching assistants have gone. One school I represent has lost six and another has lost four. One of my schools told me:

“We can no longer afford to provide additional elements not covered by the statement…with the result that our more vulnerable pupils find it really difficult to cope at lunchtimes. My High Needs budget is actually ALL spent supporting pupils in my school with EHC plans and SEN hours as school has to provide the first £6,000 from its own budget.”

That needs to be looked at. Another school said:

“The numbers of SEND cohort have increased significantly in terms of social, emotional and mental health”,

which has been touched on. Health absolutely needs to be at the table; it too frequently is not. I urge the Minister to look at the issue and to work cross party and on the findings of the Committee’s ongoing SEND inquiry when we report in the summer.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

I call Marion Fellows. It would be helpful if you keep your remarks to about eight minutes.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation) 10:29 am, 20th March 2019

I will make every effort to go faster, Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate Julian Sturdy on securing the debate.

It was a real privilege to listen to the powerful evidence of the young people who spoke to the Education Committee yesterday morning. They forcefully and movingly shared their experiences of school, college and university. Representatives from RIP:STARS talked about the research they had carried out with Coventry University into EHCPs and their experiences of them. Young people who are supported by my AFK and who have experience of accessing further education and employment focused on their experiences of post-16 provision. And young people who are supported by the National Deaf Children’s Society and who have current and recent experience of secondary school spoke about their experiences of school.

I ask the Minister to view the footage of yesterday’s evidence gathering session and not to wait for our report, which is due to published just before the summer recess. The footage is moving and could be fundamentally life changing if we address the issues those young people raised by telling us about their experiences.

In Scotland, the Scottish National party believes that all young people and children are entitled to the support they need to reach their full learning potential—education to go out and lead forth. Scotland has a system that focuses on overcoming barriers to learning and getting it right for every child. About 16,000 school-aged children in Scotland have learning disabilities. Education authorities have statutory duties to ensure that pupils with additional support needs who are due to leave secondary school are supported in making that transition. I am not going to pretend that everything in Scotland is perfect—it is not—but we have the advantage of a Government who promote collaborative working among all those supporting children and young people at the heart of the system, and an Act that sets out the rights of young children and parents.

In addition, through the national implementation of their action plans, “Getting it right for every child” and “Delivering excellence and equity in Scottish education”, the Scottish Government are working to improve outcomes for children and young people with special needs. The Scottish Government have published an implementation framework for the delivery of the Scotland learning disability strategy, which outlines the vision for children who have learning disabilities. The Scottish Government also work closely with Dyslexia Scotland and others to produce resources for schools and to ensure that children and young people with dyslexia are able to realise their potential. Similarly, they support pupils with autism, and, working with Autism Network Scotland, have produced an autism toolbox that provides information to help the identification, support and planning of learning for pupils with autism, as well as helping teachers with their professional development.

The Scottish Government are investing to ensure that the resources are in place to deliver on their commitments to all pupils, including those with special educational needs. One of the challenges we face in Scotland is that a no-deal Brexit would have a catastrophic effect on staffing levels and EU grants, which are vital to our education system and help children and young adults.

I hope the Minister will look at the recent footage of every evidence gathering session held by the Education Committee. I think we can all agree that all children should receive the best possible education that not only prepares them for academic success but fits them to be the citizens of the future. No matter what our Government or party allegiance, we should all seek to give our children the best education we can.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 10:33 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate Julian Sturdy on securing this important debate. Today we have here both Rachael Maskell, or inner York—their constituency names reflect their Brexit politics, in a way. Who says nominative determinism is dead?

York has lost £9.9 million of education funding since 2015-16. That is one reason why MPs across the country are seeing their Friday surgeries full of parents who are stressed and worried about their children not getting adequate SEND—special educational needs and disabilities—provision. We have heard some great speeches today, from my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Dr Drew), for York Central, for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Bury North (James Frith).

Interestingly, the Minister has already talked about this subject in the House, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend Emma Hardy in an Opposition day debate. This is what the Minister said at the time, in relation to evidence on children getting SEN provision in our schools: “In some special schools 100% of the children attending are there only because their parents were able to fight through tribunal. She said”—she continued—“that is actually a class issue, because it is white, middle-class parents who are able to go to a tribunal and know how to work the system and where to get support.” She herself said: “What about all those children whose parents do not have the same cultural capital and do not know how to go out there and fight for them? They are not in these residential special schools, so where are they and what is happening to them?” That is the state of this Government and of our SEN provision, with the Minister herself admitting that the system is absolutely broken.

Children with special educational needs or disabilities are bearing the brunt of the Government’s continued cuts to our schools and our local government budgets. This Tory Government have cut more than £1.7 billion from school budgets since 2015. We recently had a three-hour Westminster Hall debate on a petition—I think you were in the Chair, Mr Davies—during which dozens of Members highlighted the cuts to their local schools. Local government is warning of a shortfall in SEND support of over half a billion pounds this year. These punishing cuts have consequences.

In 2017, over 4,000 children with SEND were left without a school place. In 2016, for the first time in 25 years, more children with SEND were educated outside the mainstream, some because they were subject to informal exclusions and some because they were being home-schooled. The stark fact is that this Government have not bothered to keep track of these children, so we do not know where they are or what support they are getting. Over 9,000 children were off-rolled from our school system last year, many of whom had disabilities and special educational needs.

We have a Prime Minister—this makes me angry—who has said that there is no link between police cuts and the rise in knife crime on our streets, and that there is no link between off-rolling in our schools, so not knowing where our children are, and the rise of knife crime in our society. Most people with common sense will think that is ridiculous. Our police forces are talking to MPs not about child sexual exploitation, but about child criminal exploitation. When we do not know where these children are, that provides a fertile breeding ground. The Government will not match Labour’s commitment to make sure that children have to stay on the school roll, so that we know where those children are. No wonder we have the problem of county lines, drug mules and all the other things that go with that.

The crisis in our education system, in recruitment and retention, and in funding cuts across the board has led to a situation in which the number of SEND children facing fixed, permanent or even illegal exclusions remains totally disproportionate compared with their peers, with three quarters of the pupils in pupil referral units having special educational needs, and children with SEND accounting for around half of all permanent exclusions in 2016.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

I have a number of pupils in my constituency with SEN who have EHCPs. The schools are not sticking to those plans, making it dangerous for them to be in school and making parents feel that they have to withdraw them. The schools do not have the resources and cannot follow the plans.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I taught in a school and I know that the plans cost money, but that money is not there. Schools are worried about employing cleaners and, according to The Times last weekend, we have headteachers cleaning the loos. I had a delegation from a special school for children with autism in Sheffield yesterday, and they are having to reduce the number of assistants and the ratios of children to people providing support are getting bigger. There is very little they could do.

At one point in their lives, more than 2 million children in England will have some kind of SEND, but shockingly only 3% of children in England have SEND statements or education and health care plans.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

In Plymouth and across the country, schools are closing early on Fridays. I have heard parents of kids with SEND saying that the disruption to schedules for kids who require structure and support during school hours is especially hurtful. Does my hon. Friend agree that this type of funding cut is really affecting some kids and that we need to ensure that schools are funded properly to give SEND kids, especially those who value structure and support during school hours, the support they need?

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Our hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle referred to a finite budget. There are limits to resources, but what are we doing? We are creating a lost generation. In 20 or 30 years’ time, we will say that this is the generation that went through the school system on this Government’s watch. It will be the lost generation: 10,000 children a year are off-rolled, and kids with special educational needs are not getting the assistance they need.

Local authorities have overspent their budgets over the past four years and, as has been highlighted, there is a catastrophic shortfall of more than half a billion pounds this year. The mantra from Ministers that more money than ever before—record investment—is going into education not only rings hollow, but shows a total disconnect between reality and rhetoric. As a further shocking indictment of the Government’s complete failure to provide adequate SEND support in schools, a UN report in 2016 concluded that the UK was guilty of

“grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”.

I came into politics because I was inspired by my MP, Alfred Morris, who introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 as a private Member’s Bill. That was the first legislation recognising the human rights of disabled people in any legislature on the planet, and Alf Morris became the world’s first Minister for the Disabled. He would be spinning in his grave if he could see what state we have come to in this country and how we are now treating pupils with SEN and disabilities.

The Government must get a grip and fully fund and implement suitable SEND support in schools. Labour would do things differently. We have already said that we would give—[Interruption.] I am hearing muttering from the Government Benches, but Alex Chalk needs to hear this message, because things do not have to be like this. We would fund local government services adequately. We pointed that out in our manifesto. We would also replace what has been taken in cuts to our schools. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Ten years of this Government has completely overturned the investment that we saw in schools in the 1990s in particular. Our national education service—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Cheltenham want to intervene?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

I am really disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s speech, because normally he makes such helpful contributions and this one is not that. The fact is that we now spend, as a nation, £50 billion a year on debt interest, which is more than the £43 billion schools budget, and that is in no small part because of the historic failings of the Labour Government.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Oh my word. Ten years of this Government, and they are about to drive us off a cliff with Brexit, and that is the best the hon. Gentleman can come up with.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I am sorry, but the argument made by Alex Chalk, for whom I normally have a lot of respect, would feel a little more truthful were it not for the fact that the Department for Education spends an awful lot of money on its own ideological pet projects. An example is the £4.6 million spent on Troops to Teachers, which has resulted in only 69 teachers.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

We also have to say that there was not austerity up to 2015, because the education budget was protected. What is happening is actually ideological, because the Government do not want to see that amount of GDP spent on schools in our country. We are going back to the 1980s—we all see it.

The national education service that Labour proposes has at its heart the guiding principle that access to education should be a fundamental right for all, no matter who they are, where they are from or what their circumstances are, because a good education can make a difference. The hon. Member for York Outer pointed this out most eloquently. For too long, SEND provision has been seen as an add-on; as an extra. We are committed to a truly inclusive education system, based on choice, where children, parents and adult learners with SEND alike can attend mainstream or specialist provision and achieve their goals. It is simply not right that a child should lose out because of the circumstances into which they were born or because they have special needs. I and my party are determined to change that for good.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

We have caught up on time, so the Minister has almost 15 minutes.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education) 10:44 am, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Davies. I will not rise to the speech by Mike Kane. I am disappointed. He is a good man, but it is a shame that he said what he did, because this had been a good debate. We know that there are problems in the system, and we can argue about budgets, but I say to him that a lot of the problems that we face in the House today are due to party political posturing. We can have arguments about money and budgets, but today was not the time to have that argument. What we wanted to do today and what right hon. and hon. Members did do was raise real concerns about provision for children with special educational needs.

I could easily respond to what the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East said. I could give him back a party political rant if that is what he wants, but I do not believe that my job as a Minister and as a Member of Parliament is to do that. I am going to make some progress, but let me say that when I came into the House in 2005, the very first thing I did was to set up a drop-in day for parents of children with special needs, because under every Government, we never quite get things right. Humility is not in ample—

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I will not for the moment; sorry. Humility is not in ample supply in this place, but we on the Front Benches on both sides should have some humility and accept the fact that Governments—Labour, Conservative and coalition Governments—do not always get it right. What we need to do, in a cross-party—

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I will not give way for the moment, because I have not yet even thanked my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy for securing the debate. What is important is that we try to get the system to work. I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on securing the debate. He knows that we have made significant reforms to the special educational needs system in recent years. There are real pressures on the budget—I accept that—and there always have been, but much can be done within the current budgets to make the system work better.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I agree with the Minister that this has been a good debate. At the time of Tony Blair’s Government, I was a council cabinet member for children and young people, and I saw the massive investment. I acknowledge that the three Governments since the Labour Government left office have built on that, but there remain major issues in relation to special educational needs. I think that the Minister is acknowledging that, and Tory Members are telling her that, so we now need some real action, not just talk.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to work together on this. In a previous debate that I covered for the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, I said that Sir Edward Davey was very welcome to work across the House to ensure that the system works.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer referred to a mental health crisis. This did not get much attention, but the number of pupils with SEN is rising quite rapidly. We did not get many contributions on the number of offenders who have dyslexic difficulties; a lot of people in prison have such problems. Another issue is the bullying of children with SEN. Coursework was also mentioned. My hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris referred to employers valuing the skills of people with special educational needs, and she was right. I have seen absolutely excellent work by employers in my role as the Minister with responsibility for apprenticeships.

James Frith made a very good point about flexibility. That is the trouble, is it not? We swing from one side right over to the other. Particularly for children with special educational needs, we need to be flexible in the way we assess them in schools. Additional flexibility, adequate adjustments—

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

On the issue of flexibility, will the Minister encourage the Minister for Schools to reconsider insisting that 95% of children sit the EBacc, because it is not really suitable for 95% of children?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I am sure that the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb, will take that up. We continue to have discussions about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer talked about parents having to privately fund the diagnosis of children. We have talked about the battles that parents face. I repeat what I said in a previous debate on that matter: parents with sharp elbows battle through the system better, but even those with sharp elbows have a difficult fight. The hon. Member for Bury North raised the fact that that money is wasted, and it should be on the frontline. We still have a lot to do.

I will come on to the issue of teacher training. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk raised the important issue of the need to help mainstream schools include children with SEN, and I will say a bit more about that in a minute. My hon. Friend Ben Bradley mentioned FE briefly, but, as the Minister for FE, it caught my ear. Further education colleges do a fantastic job with young people with special educational needs, who often have not succeeded at school or had their needs met. I was recently at a college where they have 400 children with special educational needs, one of whom would not come into the college at all, but stood outside. That child is now thriving, doing well in his qualifications and is about to go on an apprenticeship—absolutely brilliant work.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

The Minister is absolutely right about FE colleges, but in Cornwall we have found that they have had to reduce the days for young people with special educational needs from five to three, which has not only caused real difficulties for the families, but created discrimination and division between children who are fully able and those with special educational needs. Could the Minister look at that issue in her role as Minister for FE?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I am happy to look at that. Emma Hardy talked about the evidence given by one person who said, “I am not a person with special educational needs; I am a normal person.” It has to be normal, and we have to adapt the system to make every child and young person in an FE college feel normal.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

The Minister is making a constructive and excellent speech. Will she praise the teachers in the colleges and schools for their work in SEN, because they have a difficult job, and I think they are working really hard and well?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the teachers do a fantastic job, in circumstances which are—certainly in further education—quite difficult. He also mentioned funding. He never hesitates to mention the particular issues facing Bexleyheath and Crayford. Through the Children and Families Act 2014—I sat on the Committee considering the Bill—we made big changes to strengthen SEND, including £391 million given to local areas to support implementation, £252 million of which was provided directly to local authorities.

We have approved 125 new special schools spread across the country, including 37 extra ones. A number of hon. Members have also raised the need to have inclusion, as well, so we have provided an extra £100 million of capital funding to create more places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools for children with SEN, bringing the total capital investment since 2018 to £365 million. The line between inclusion and special schools is very wavy. We must be guided by which setting best suits the needs of the child, though there is sometimes a discrepancy with parents, who want one or the other.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I have two quick points. One issue with the changes to the 2014 Act was that they raised the expectation of parents about raising the funding that went with it, and it continued provision through to the age of 25, without providing that additional funding for 18 to 25-year-olds. That has caused some difficulties. As some of my hon. Friends have mentioned, we cannot talk about inclusion without talking about the need to change the accountability measures and the ways that schools are judged, because I think that drives some of the off-rolling and exclusions that we see.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I will say a little bit more about that. There are perverse incentives. The hon. Lady talked about an audit of the spend, which I think is an important issue. I should also mention—I think it was mentioned already—the £4.6 million that is going into parent-carer forums and the £20 million going into advice, information and support for children and young people with SEND, and their parents, which lasts until 2020.

We are aware of those incentives in the current system—that £6,000—as was mentioned by Dr Drew. We intend to gather more information about the way the funding system operates in a call for evidence that we will launch shortly. I am sure that the Education Committee will be involved in that.

I must not forget that my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer secured this debate, so I will mention funding in York. We have announced £250 million additional funding for higher needs across England over the next financial year. Yorkshire will receive £785,000 on top of the increases already promised, bringing City of York Council’s higher needs funding to over £90 million next year. However, we recognise that budgets are facing pressures. The Secretary of State is very aware of that.

On educational psychologists, our plans include ensuring a sufficient supply of educational psychologists, trained and working within the system. We said that we would train more to meet increasing demand. Today I am pleased to announce funding of over £30 million to make that happen.

On teachers, briefly, we talked about the need for teachers to be able to recognise and help children with special educational needs. We have developed a range of specialist resources for initial teacher training, including on autism and dyslexia. We are reviewing SEN provision in initial teacher training to inform case studies of good practice. We are taking a range of measures to make that better, which I would go through, but time does not allow.

Photo of James Frith James Frith Labour, Bury North

Will the Minister indicate when we can expect the Timpson review? It is now a year since it began. In February, we heard mood music on what it is likely to say, but when will the Timpson review conclude and report?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise date. As a Minister, I could just say, “Shortly”, which is what Ministers say, but I know that right hon. and hon. Members are keen to see that review—so, soon.

The Government are doing much work, but we know that there are gaps in provision. Needs are not met and families are having battles—those that can—that they should not have to fight. Everyone in this debate wants to make education work for those very special children and their quite extraordinary parents, so that every child gets the opportunities that I have seen some get. I mentioned apprenticeships, and through the apprenticeship diversity champions network I see employers recognise the amazing skills that young people have even without qualifications. That must be no longer be an exception but the normal course of events.

We need a seamless education and training system which is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is determined to achieve. The debate has raised exactly the issues that need to be resolved in order to meet the needs of those children and young people with special educational needs.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer 10:59 am, 20th March 2019

I thank the Minister for her response and Members in all parts of the Chamber for their contributions. It has been a very good debate, especially among Back Benchers. I have a huge amount of respect for the Minister, and I hope that she has listened to the contributions from across the Chamber, because very little disagreement has been expressed in speeches and interventions across the parties. As has been said, ultimately the issue is a ticking time bomb, and of real concern to many constituents who knock on our doors and come to our surgeries. We cannot allow the life chances of some of those children and students to be detrimentally affected by it because, ultimately, we are failing them.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered SEN support in schools.