SEND: Carshalton and Wallington

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:07 am on 21st June 2022.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 11:07 am, 21st June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn for securing this important debate on special educational needs in his constituency of Carshalton and Wallington, and the London Borough of Sutton more generally.

I will start by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend when he says that every child deserves access to a good education—in fact, I would go further and say a world-class education. It concerns me greatly to hear how many parents in his constituency are having to fight the system just to get their child or young person the support they deserve. That is not right, and I will say more about how we plan to change the system, in particular the adversarial nature of it, which he pointed out.

My hon. Friend raised the poor implementation of the 2014 reforms in Sutton. He is right to do so, though it is sadly not an issue that is exclusive to Sutton. I will come on to that in a moment. He also referred to the work of local mum Hayley Harding, who is inspirational. I have had the pleasure of meeting her, and join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to her for the important work she does in supporting other parents and campaigning for change in this area. I can assure my hon. Friend that I have listened. I hope that the SEND Green Paper, which I will come to in a few moments, reflects that listening exercise.

My hon. Friend talked of the struggle to get education, health and care plans. He is right to raise that point, and I will say more in a moment about our proposed changes as part of the review. He concluded with a number of important questions about the SEND review and the Green Paper, which I will now address. Before I do that, though not wanting to embarrass my hon. Friend, I will say this. It is important that his constituents know how hard, and how passionately, he has campaigned on this issue. To be frank, I cannot walk down a corridor in Westminster and pass my hon. Friend without him raising either a local SEND case or this issue more generally. I appreciate that I am biased on the issue, but in my view a council’s greatest responsibility is to its children, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, which is why his testimony about Sutton depresses me greatly. We need to change the system.

I know how hard my hon. Friend works to ensure that every child in his constituency—as well as children across Sutton more generally, when he works with other MPs—has access to the world-class education they deserve. I commit myself to continuing to work with him to hold Sutton Council to account and to ensure that it treats the education of vulnerable and disadvantaged children as seriously as he does, and indeed I do.

Let me turn to the specific points and questions that my hon. Friend raised. First, I will cover funding. Although my hon. Friend, and indeed parents, will want to hear more about our ambitious plans for reform of SEND and alternative provision more generally in the Green Paper, I am conscious of the fact that they will also be concerned about the here and now, especially if they have children with SEND who are in the education system. Importantly, we are increasing the high-needs budget for children and young people with the most complex needs by £1 billion this year, 2022-23. That brings it to a total investment of £9.1 billion. That unprecedented increase comes on top of a £1.5 billion increase over the past two years.

Let me turn specifically to the London Borough of Sutton, which will attract an increase of 12.5% per head of its two-to-18 population this year, compared with the previous financial year’s allocation. That brings its total high-needs funding allocation for 2022-23 to £52.6 million. Alongside that is our capital investment programme. We very much recognise the need for more special school places, so we have secured £2.6 billion to build or create around 33,000 additional SEND places. We are pump-priming that by investing early, so £1.4 billion of that allocation will be spent this year. Although we do not have exact figures for Sutton, I am conscious of the fact that there is a need for special places across London. I will be able to update my hon. Friend at a later date as to those plans.

Let me turn to the SEND review and the Green Paper. I will briefly touch on why those reforms are so desperately needed. My hon. Friend has set out many of the reasons for them, but they are first about outcomes, which are just not acceptable at present. It is not acceptable that we have so many children and young people with SEND who are falling behind their peers.

When I meet with parents and carers, and with children and young people with SEND, they tell me that, too often, they feel unsupported by the system, locally and nationally and, as my hon. Friend mentioned, too many parents feel that they have to fight, fight and fight just to get their child or children the education and support they deserve. They tell me that the system is too adversarial, and that that is not helped by the culture in local authorities, which my hon. Friend mentioned in relation to Sutton, especially when it comes to tribunals, as he pointed out.

I am told of a lack of SEND support in mainstream settings, of needs not being identified and met early enough, of a postcode lottery and, as we know, of significant local authority deficits. There is a lack of join-up between local health systems and the education system, as well as insufficient clarity about what parents and children should be entitled to. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are poor accountability and redress mechanisms in the system, which means that parents feel powerless.

All the above and more are why the Government committed themselves to the SEND review in September 2019. Despite a delay largely caused by the pandemic, the Green Paper was published in the first quarter of this year. The consultation is now live, and we have extended the deadline for submissions to 22 July. I would encourage everyone to take part. Although we have set out a clear plan, and aspiration and ambition, we need those with lived experience and experience of SEND up and down our country to take part and ensure that we get it right.

Given the negative experiences of his constituents and the issues that he, and indeed I, set out, my hon. Friend rightly asked how the Green Paper and the review will bring about the change we all desperately want to see. My aim is to create a more inclusive education system, with excellent local mainstream provision, that will improve the experience and outcome for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and, importantly, those who need alternative provision.

How do we intend to achieve this? At its heart, it is about ensuring every child gets the right support, in the right place, at the right time, tailored to their individual needs. We will establish a single national SEND and alternative provision system, setting out clear standards that will be underpinned by the introduction of a national framework. We will provide targeted support for children and young people, where required. Using that £2.6 billion, we will make available excellent specialist provision and alternative provision support for those children who have more complex needs.

We will set out clear roles, responsibilities and accountability measures. We will standardise and digitise EHCPs, making them more accessible to parents and those who advocate for and support them. We will strengthen mediation arrangements so that individuals can work through disagreements with their local authorities at an earlier stage, trying to take the adversarial nature out of the system.

We will establish new SEND partnerships at a local level that will require local areas to co-produce an inclusion plan with parents locally. We will introduce new local and national inclusion dashboards that will strengthen accountability and transparency.

Importantly, we will improve initial teacher training, as every teacher teaches children or young people with SEND, but many tell me that they do not feel confident in that role. If we are to identify early and get children and young people the support they need as early as possible, that starts with highly skilled teachers who have the confidence to teach those with SEND. To help us with that, we will introduce a new SEND national professional qualification.

As I mentioned, these plans are backed up by our £2.6 billion capital investment programme and by learning from the lessons of the 2014 reforms. The ambition and aspiration of the 2014 reforms were right, but sadly the implementation was poor, as evidenced by my hon. Friend. We know that the implementation in Sutton was nowhere near as good as it should have been. Sadly, we see that replicated in other local authorities up and down the country. That is why we are determined to get implementation right as part of these reforms, and we are investing an additional £70 million specifically for implementation. It is important to repeat that the consultation is now open and live until 22 July. I encourage as many people as possible to take part, and it is available on gov.uk.

Finally, my hon. Friend rightly focused on accountability, especially by local authorities. With the support of the Department of Health and Social Care, we have commissioned the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted to develop a new area SEND inspection framework, which will be launched in early 2023. Its overarching aim is to give a greater role to the views and experiences of children and young people with SEND, their parents and carers. The public consultation for that is also currently live and can be found online or through Ofsted.

In closing, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for his support for this incredibly important agenda. He has raised important concerns, and I hope he knows that I and the Government are not just dedicated but determined to continue to listen to children and young people with SEND, their parents, their carers and all those who advocate for them in the system. I hope my hon. Friend feels assured that the work is under way and that he feels confident that we are committed to delivering changes within the SEND system, both locally and nationally, so that every child and young person across our country, regardless of the challenges they face, is able to achieve their full potential.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.