Last Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of primary school headteachers in Stockton. We talked about the challenges they face and how school is not only about learning but about supporting young people through their challenges and their opportunities.
We also discussed how schools deliver quality SEN support. Those headteachers are finding it tough. They lament that 14.6% of the school population have special educational needs—a number that is often higher in areas like mine. We agreed that such support should be provided within a mainstream setting, so that all children can be educated together. However, instead of addressing problems that make integration difficult in mainstream schools, such as funding issues, the Government have announced plans to open 37 new special free schools. That goes directly against efforts to promote and encourage integration among children, casting some as different and moving them away from their peers, as Julian Sturdy spoke about.
Teachers want integration, and those headteachers in Stockton want more than that. They want the Government to do more to encourage parents to play a full and proper role in the general and even special needs education of their children. I promised those headteachers on Friday that I would raise this issue in the House in my next speech on education, and I am pleased to fulfil that promise today.
Some of the children that those headteachers receive into their schools do not have the most basic of skills, including being able to get dressed or go to the toilet, or simple language and numeracy skills. These children will probably need special educational needs support throughout their schooling, although the heads were at pains to tell me that some of these children come from more privileged backgrounds.
Teachers feel that the responsibility for picking up this personal and special education is being dumped on them—parents just pass it on and expect schools to pick up the pieces. I know that it would not be easy to implement, but those Stockton headteachers like the idea of a parents charter outlining their role in working with the school in the best interests of their children. I am interest in the Minister’s views on that.
Another area I have been involved in recently is kinship care—family members taking responsibility for children who are not their own, almost all of whom need special educational needs support in school. However, support for kinship carers is not sufficient, with many left isolated and knowing that the children in their care need extra support but not knowing how to get it.
I am pleased to serve on the cross-party kinship care taskforce set up by my hon. Friend Anna Turley. I have heard many horror stories about the problems that children and their kinship carers face. When Ministers get the report—they might not include this particular Minister—I hope they will act on it.