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

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.