Nadhim Zahawi answers questions to the Department for Education.
The special educational needs reforms of 2014 were the biggest in a generation. In December we announced a further £250 million in high-needs funding over the two years, bringing the total to £6.1 billion this year and £6.3 billion in 2019-20. We announced today that 3,500 extra school places will be created for pupils facing the biggest challenge in their education, with 39 new free schools to support children with special educational needs or those who have been excluded from mainstream schools.
I appreciate the Minister’s response and announcement, but it does not yet recognise the reality that schools are facing. One of my primary school teachers told me last week:
“SEND funding is in crisis. We have pupils who have been promised a place at schools with a special educational needs base, but due to a lack of this specialist provision, pupils have had to remain at our school. We cater for their needs as much as we possibly can.”
The reality is that those pupils are not getting the care that they deserve. We have only one chance of giving our children the best start in life. Minister, will you look again at the needs of all pupils being met, particularly those with special needs?
That is exactly what we are doing. Today’s announcement of 37 special free schools is on top of the 88 special free schools and 54 alternative provision schools that are already either open or in the pipeline The announcement today is in addition to that provision, which is why we are doing that. Additionally, we have put £100 million into increasing capacity in mainstream schools as well as increasing the high-needs funding for local authorities.
The Federation of Heathfield and St Francis Special Schools provides invaluable learning opportunities for more than 200 children with special educational needs in Fareham. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the inspirational head, Steve Hollinghurst, whose record of service spans 36 years, and will he set out what further support there is for these essential schools so that they can continue providing this support for our most vulnerable children?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising Steve for the work that he has done. Today’s announcement provides a portfolio of provision in local areas. Almost every local authority will benefit from this increase in provision.
This morning, I met students on the foundation skills course at the excellent Stockton Riverside College, which also operates in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). What is the Minister doing to support colleges to deliver foundation skills courses to young people with high needs such as learning disabilities, including those whom I met this morning?
Colleges do absolutely critical work, and they do brilliant work with special needs children. I have seen it for myself at Hammersmith and Derwent colleges, and we continue to support those colleges.
Parents of children with SEN very rarely welcome the closure of their schools, and I say respectfully that we must treat the parents in Chippenham and Trowbridge with great sensitivity. None the less, does the Minister not agree with me and welcome Wiltshire Council’s great vision in spending £20 million on building a state-of-the-art school at Rowdeford, which will bring children from across the whole of North Wiltshire to an absolutely superb facility?
I agree with my hon. Friend that Wiltshire is doing a tremendous job in SEND provision. The inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission has been exemplary. There is a legal challenge to the investment of £20 million and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that. I know that neighbouring colleagues take a different view as well.
Restraint and restrictive practices in schools and healthcare settings carried out by adults on children as young as two with SEND have caused bruising, black eyes, carpet burns and post-traumatic stress disorder. Guidance promised half a decade ago has yet to materialise, and the Department does not count these complaints. Fed-up parents are preparing to take legal action against the Government. Despite today’s announcement of placements for children with complex needs, should not the Minister be focusing on the fact that, on his watch, some schools are no longer a safe place for children with SEND?
I had hoped that the hon. Lady would commend today’s announcement and confirm that she takes a different view from her Front Bench on abolishing free schools. If we abolished these very good free special schools, we would actually put more children with SEND at risk. We are undertaking a root-and-branch review of restraint with the Department of Health and Social Care, and we will be reporting back.
We conducted a national survey of mental health provision in schools that showed that most take action to support their pupils’ mental health. Schools need specialist support, so under the NHS long-term plan we are introducing mental health support teams as part of a major investment in children’s mental health.
During my annual community consultation, I met students from secondary schools right across my constituency. In every school, they raised the difficulty in accessing mental health services as a top priority. The Minister said that he is encouraging schools to offer counselling. Schools want to do that, but the funding crisis is preventing them because they do not have the resources. Next Tuesday, I am hosting a delegation of headteachers from every Sheffield constituency. Will he meet them to discuss this issue?
I would happily discuss the issue. I am very proud to share with this House the fact that the funding that we are increasing to £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24 would mean that funding for children’s and young people’s mental health services will grow faster than overall NHS funding, but also, more importantly, faster than total mental health spending overall.
Saxon Hill Academy in Lichfield, like many other schools that look after severely disabled children, has a programme of sleepovers for the children. That benefits the children, and it is great for the parents because it gives them respite, but the school is now having to discontinue it because of local funding issues. Is there anything the Government can do centrally to help Saxon Hill and similar schools?
Saxon Hill does a tremendous job, and respite is incredibly important. Part of the reason we have increased the funding, with £250 million over the next two years, is that we are very much cognisant of the fact that there are funding pressures on local authorities’ higher needs budgets.
The online game “Doki Literature Club!”, which is available as a free download, promotes self-harm and has been linked to the suicides of several young people. What steps are being taken within schools to raise awareness of such dangers? What steps are being taken with the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to tighten the regulations that currently allow children and young people to download such harmful games?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The relationships curriculum addresses these online harms directly. We also have the online harms White Paper that is to be issued imminently.
I commend Peartree Way maintained nursery school. Maintained nursery schools do a brilliant job because they cater for the most disadvantaged children in our communities. That is why we have provided the additional £24 million that has been mentioned many times today. What happens next obviously depends on the spending review. We are working with the sector, which I want to thank for its hard work in allowing us to understand the additional costs so that we can put our best foot forward in the spending review.