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Special Educational Needs — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 20th March 2019.

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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.