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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.