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.