SEND Provision: Uxbridge and South Ruislip

– in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Steve Tuckwell Steve Tuckwell Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip 4:00, 7 February 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered SEND provision in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, in the second Westminster Hall debate that I have secured.

I am incredibly proud to be the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where I was born and where I have lived all my life. As I said in my maiden speech, I am determined to use this privileged position to champion all things Uxbridge and South Ruislip. That includes the good things, indeed the amazing things that make our part of the world one of the best places to live. In my first Westminster Hall debate, I championed our fantastic heritage assets, such as the Battle of Britain Bunker and the Crown and Treaty pub. However, I am more than acutely aware that my position affords me the ability not just to shine a light on what is going well locally but to draw Ministers’ attention to the issues that I believe require greater support or attention, in order to make Uxbridge and South Ruislip an even better place to grow up in and live in.

That is why, when I was elected, I draw up six overarching priorities to guide me and my team throughout my time in this place. The provision of special educational needs and disabilities, or SEND, is one of those six priorities and it is an issue that is incredibly close to my heart. As I said in a debate in the main Chamber, Britain has a proud history of universal education—or so we think. That is because even now, and especially for children with SEND, access to education is not as universal as we would like it to be. Education is the foundation of a person’s life. It gives them not just knowledge but skills that can help them throughout their life. Of course we mean reading, writing and other fundamental skills and lessons, including reasoning, critical thinking, discipline and routine. These are things that many of us take for granted, but they are essential for people to become productive members of society. Without them, it is not just the individual who suffers but the wider community, as the individual struggles to adapt and integrate within it. Indeed, although children make up only 20% of our population, they represent 100% of our future. That is why education is fundamental, as is educational provision for all, including for the 1.4 million pupils across England with a diverse range of special educational needs.

As I am sure I do not need to remind the Minister, multiple Governments have spent a huge amount of time and energy on SEND provision. Needless to say, I will continue to welcome any opportunity to work with the Government on this issue long after this speech is concluded.

On unveiling the SEND review in 2022, the then Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, confirmed that despite previous reforms, including those of 2014, which gave critical support to more families, the wider system was not working. However, since the release of that review and through the review itself, the Government have signalled that they are listening to education providers, to parents and, most importantly, to children and young people. It would be incredibly useful if the Minister updated me on the Department’s work to implement the proposals and aims of the 2022 review.

Unfortunately, for too long the system has neglected the importance of SEND provision and has instead fallen back on a blanket one-size-fits-all system that has failed to be effective. What is encouraging, however, is that the Government now understand that—rightly so for the constituents of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Figures from the 2021 census showed that the borough’s population grew by 11.7% in the previous decade. The under-18 population increased by 12.9%. Of the 71,000 children and young adults up to the age of 25 roughly 7,000, or 10%, have SEND. These figures confirm what we already know—that the need for SEND provision is becoming more and more pressing.

We know that because we are making huge strides in the early identification of SEND. Last week, I had the pleasure of supporting my hon. Friend Duncan Baker in proposing new legislation to look at early diagnosis of autism. The greater number of children and young adults with SEND being identified means that there is a greater need for all manner of support for local authorities and national Government.

It is important to ensure, as I have mentioned before, that we do not just retreat to a policy of one size fits all. Every child and young person must have their needs, experiences and situations evaluated as an individual. That holistic approach will take more time and resources in manpower and funds, but it is the right thing to do. Case study after case study shows that the earlier SEND is identified, the better that child or young person advances. That in itself can have positive benefits for that individual as well as the society they are part of. I would welcome the Minister going through some of the ways the Department is looking at replicating that “individual first” approach to SEND policy.

In the meantime, I want to spend a few moments touching on how Hillingdon Council, in its SEND and alternative provision strategy, is setting out its own approach. At the heart of that strategy are several ambitions. They are not lofty aspirations, but concrete practical steps that, when delivered together, present a real chance to make change happen for those children and young people with special educational needs in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

The first is establishing the right support at the right time. To achieve that, the council is reviewing and refining its early intervention offer. That is being done through steps such as increasing awareness of early help, intervention and inclusion across the borough, developing new collaborative agreements and ways of working with associated bodies, and ensuring pathways are clear and easy to navigate.

Secondly, Hillingdon Council wants to ensure a fully inclusive education for all pupils, especially those with SEND. By increasing the uptake in SEND reviews and peer mentoring, giving educational settings the ability properly to play their part in the system, developing training opportunities for all council staff, that ambition can be realised for all pupils.

It is important that once those first two ambitions have been launched, SEND provision is properly equipped so that it can meet the needs of those with SEND across Uxbridge and South Ruislip. It is incredibly important to ensure that all pupils do not just feel part of their communities but have a tangible control and input into their lives, including their education.

Hillingdon Council’s approach will equip children with the support and interventions to re-enter mainstream education where possible. This set of highly achievable ambitions is important because it ensures that children and young people across my constituency can lead happy and fulfilled lives, in which they are included in the community. That is not just a noble cause but a tangible outcome, which we all want for our children and young people. That is why it is one of my top priorities.

Taken with the ambitions that I have already mentioned, while developing further opportunities for those with special educational needs to take part in clubs and activities and developing opportunities with the council’s preparation for adulthood programmes, the council is consistently working with pupils to gather feedback on what is and is not working. Hillingdon Council is committed to ensuring that young people in the borough can live healthy lives and can have access to the best possible educational opportunities. It is also investing in a multimillion-pound project to build new spaces or expand existing buildings in mainstream and special schools, to ensure more availability of good-quality local school places for children with additional needs.

Special educational needs provision is complex, challenging and far from perfect. That is why I am pleased to have secured this debate today. I am looking forward to working with the Minister and his team, to champion further this vital subject. As I go through my list of asks for the Minister, I will also take the opportunity to ask if he will meet me, Hillingdon Council and some of the amazing hard-working SEND teams that do incredible work. I also thank those who work in special educational settings across Uxbridge and South Ruislip for their amazing and dedicated contribution. That is the thing: some fantastic work is already being done by our local communities. As a councillor, and since my election to this place, I have been lucky enough to see some of the work done by the council, providers, community groups and local charities, including the SeeAbility programme at Moorcroft School in Hillingdon, which I have mentioned in previous speeches. As I am sure the Minister is aware, SeeAbility works to ensure that children with disabilities do not miss out on eye care, and it has played a key part in championing the Government’s national scheme to bring eye care to all special schools.

I have had the pleasure of visiting an amazing special needs school— Hillingdon Manor School. It shared with me how its newly formed pupil parliament ensures that young people are involved in the decisions that shape their educational experience. I have also seen the work done by Wealdstone football club in its SEND sessions, which promote sport and offer respite to parents. In recognition of Wealdstone FC’s SEND support, Anita Kaye and Rob Davies recently received a community award at No. 10 Downing Street for their amazing work, ensuring that young people can feel part of the wider community.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, this work is being done under a great amount of strain. The Government have exciting things planned to revolutionise how local authorities deal with SEND provision. That includes the inclusion dashboards announced in the SEND review, whereby capturing and tracking metrics will allow areas to identify and respond more promptly to emerging needs. Local authorities such as Hillingdon are drawing up innovative, clearly defined plans that will once again put pupils first, treating them as the individuals they are. Success at any and every level requires adequate provision in terms of funding, logistics and other non-monetary support. I stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that everything is done to achieve that.

To those Uxbridge and South Ruislip parents, such as Kelly, who got in touch to share her experiences of navigating the process of accessing SEND provision, but especially the children and young adults watching the debate or reading about it afterwards like her daughter Darcie, I assure them that I hear them. What is more, I will continue to work with, champion and fight for them, their education and their future. I hope the Minister will reaffirm that the Department for Education and, indeed, the Government more widely stands with them.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 4:12, 7 February 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Tuckwell on securing the debate. The people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip could have no better champion than him. Improving the SEND system across the country is a priority for this Government, and it was great to hear what a priority it is for him, supporting people like Kelly and Darcie, to whom he referred at the end of his speech.

Our ambition for children and young people with SEND is for them to thrive, fulfil their potential and lead happy, healthy and productive lives. That means ensuring that they have access to the right support in the right place at the right time and intervening when a local authority is not providing that. I enjoyed hearing my hon. Friend describe the actions that Hillingdon has been taking in this area to identify children’s needs early enough, which is important in reforming the system.

As my hon. Friend said, last month we published our SEND and alternative provision improvement plan to ensure that children and young people get high-quality early support wherever they live in the country. He asked me to update him on the progress we have made since then, and that is what I will do for most of my speech. Since we published the plan, we have already opened 15 new special free schools and approved a further 40 special free schools, in addition to the 41 special and alternative provision free schools that are in the pipeline. We have launched a £13-million partnership for the inclusion of neurodiversity in schools, which will support up to 1,680 primary schools in better meeting the needs of neurodiverse children. More than 5,000 practitioners have registered for our early years special educational needs co-ordinator training to boost their knowledge and understanding of SEND in the early years so they can promote greater early years identification, which my hon. Friend touched on, and work collaboratively with parents, carers and other professionals.

We have announced a new initial teacher training and early career framework, which includes new and updated content on special educational needs and disabilities, to ensure that teachers have the skills and confidence to support all children. We are also introducing a new national professional qualification for SENCOs from this autumn to ensure that they receive consistent, high-quality and evidence-based training. In addition, we will be investing a further £21 million to train 400 more educational psychologists in the next two academic years. My hon. Friend knows how important access to educational psychologists is, so we are really pleased about that.

A big part of what we are doing with our reform plan is trying to create more places in specialist provision. We announced the allocation of more than £1.5 billion of high-needs provision capital in the past two financial years, including £17.5 million for Hillingdon. That funding will create hundreds of new places in mainstream special schools and other specialist settings, and will improve the suitability and accessibility of existing buildings.

Local authorities can also commission new schools via the free school presumption route, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware. Through the Department’s free school programme, Hillingdon has had two special free schools approved: Grand Union Village primary and Pinn River all-through school. More recently, a third special school was approved for opening.

In 2022, Hillingdon reported that 66% of new assessments for education, health and care plans were completed within the 20-week timeframe. That is above the national average of 49.2% and the London average of 54.7%, but clearly 66% is not where we want to be. We want 100% completed within that timeframe, so the Department continues to provide additional support where needed. We are also putting in place a range of measures to help local authorities deliver EHCPs in a timely fashion. Where they fail to deliver consistent outcomes for children and young people with SEND, we use a range of improvement programmes, including SEND advisers and other professionals who can support them in improving that.

The improvement plan to which my hon. Friend referred rightly committed us to delivering a nationally consistent EHCP system. Part of the problem is that there is huge local variation. We have never had a national system for SEND, so we are trying to create one with national standards that families trust in order to improve the quality of their experience.

The measures being tested include multi-agency panels to improve the quality of decision making as EHCPs are made, a single national EHCP template, the earlier resolution of disputes through consistent and timely decision making, and the use of strengthened mediation procedures. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, however, that although we want consistent standards, we do not want a one-size-fits-all policy.

As my hon. Friend doubtless knows, Hillingdon is part of our Safety Valve programme, which helps local authorities to pay down accumulated deficits and reform their SEND systems. It requires local authorities to develop substantial plans for reform to their high-needs systems, with support and challenge from DFE officials. By March 2025, the Department will have allocated nearly £900 million through that programme to support local authorities in eradicating their deficit.

I echo my hon. Friend’s tribute to Hillingdon Manor School, Wealdstone football club—especially Anita Kaye and Rob Davies—and SeeAbility for its work at Moorcroft School. Only a few weeks ago, I visited one of SeeAbility’s projects in my constituency—in Didcot, where I live—and I was very impressed with the work it is doing, so I was pleased that my hon. Friend highlighted the importance of its work.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward this incredibly important subject. He asked whether I would meet him, Hillingdon Council and the teams working locally on SEND. I would be delighted to do so, and I will ask my officials to set that up. I echo his thanks to all the people working across education, health and care in the interests of children and young people with SEND in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Hillingdon more broadly and across the country. We need to deliver the very best standards for children and young people with SEND. He and I share that passion.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.