Special Educational Needs — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer 9:30 am, 20th March 2019

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.