Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, makes a statement to the House of Commons on the launch of a Green Paper and consultation on levelling up opportunities for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in England.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Review
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about our mission to level up opportunities for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in England. Before I do, I want to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), the fantastic Minister for Children and Families, who has been supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and for Wantage (David Johnston). I thank them for the level of engagement they have had with Members across the House, as well as with many wonderful people from across the SEND and alternative provision system. I also thank all those working in early years, schools and colleges, including specialist and alternative provision, for their dedication to service in the face of ongoing covid difficulties. I am sure my gratitude will be echoed across the House.
This review has been shaped by children with special educational needs and disabilities and in alternative provision, by their families and teachers, and by the committed workforce across education, health and care sharing their experiences and stories. I send them huge thanks for their openness in sharing emotional, and sometimes difficult experiences with us. We have listened, and in response today I am publishing for public consultation the Government’s “Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Alternative Provision Green Paper.”
In schools in England alone there are 1.4 million pupils with a diverse range of special educational needs, and too often they do not get the support they need. In 2014 we made far-reaching changes to support children with special educational needs and disabilities, and their families—indeed, in 2016 I was the Minister for Children and Families. Those reforms gave critical support to more children, but in reality the system is not working as it should. Too often decisions about support are based on where a child lives, not on what they need, and many have lost confidence in the system. On top of that, the alternative provision system is increasingly used to support children with special educational needs, but the outcomes for many of those children remain shockingly poor. We have therefore considered alternative provision within this review.
Despite unprecedented investment through a £1 billion increase in high needs funding, taking total funding to £9.1 billion in the coming financial year on top of the £1.5 billion increase over the last two years, the system has become financially unsustainable. Local authorities are in deficit and overspending on their dedicated schools grant, with total deficits now standing at more than £1 billion. The publication of the Green Paper is long-awaited, and I am proud to announce that our proposals will build a more inclusive and financially sustainable system, where every child and young person will have access to the right support, in the right place, at the right time.
To meet our ambitions, and the ambitions of so many children and their families, we propose to establish a new single, national special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision system across education, health and care, setting clear standards for how children and young people’s needs are identified and met. To enable effective local delivery, we propose establishing new statutory SEND partnerships, bringing together education, health and care partners with local government, to create a local inclusion plan. That plan will set out how each local area will meet the needs of children in line with national standards. We will also clarify the roles and responsibilities of every partner in the system, with robust accountabilities to build confidence and transparency.
Locally and nationally published inclusion dashboards will capture and track metrics to drive system performance, and mean that areas respond quickly to emerging local needs. Data and transparency are our allies on this journey. Parents should not need to fight the system; the system should be working and fighting for them. The proposed changes will help parents to know exactly what their child is entitled to, removing their need to fight and guaranteeing them access to mediation, leading to better, earlier and more effective interventions for their child.
I will always be on the side of children and parents. Wherever possible, I want our children to be educated close to home, near to friends and within local communities. Frustratingly for families, that is not happening consistently enough. Today, building on the schools White Paper published yesterday, we are committing to improve mainstream education through early and accurate identification of need, through high-quality teaching of a knowledge-rich curriculum, and through timely access to specialist support, where needed. Change will be underpinned by the increase in our total investment in the national schools budget. As set out in last year’s spending review, we will invest an additional £7 billion by 2024-25, compared with 2021-22, including an additional £1 billion in 2022-23 for children and young people with high needs.
I recognise the importance of a confident and empowered workforce with access to the best training to support this cohort of children, and many of my colleagues have made representations to me on that. We will consult on the introduction of a new special educational needs co-ordinator national professional qualification for schools and increase the number of staff with an accredited level 3 SENCO qualification in early years settings.
For some children and young people, specialist provision will be the most appropriate place for them to be able to learn and succeed. For those requiring specialist provision, whether in a mainstream or special school, we propose a simplified process. We will support parents to make informed choices by providing them with a list of appropriate placements tailored to their child’s needs, meaning less time spent researching the right school. To prevent needs from escalating, for children with challenging behaviour we want to use the best practice of alternative provision to intervene earlier so that children and young people are supported to thrive, and that the risk of these vulnerable children and young people being exploited or, sadly, involved in serious criminal activities is minimised.
At last year’s spending review, we announced an investment of £2.6 billion over three years, delivering tens of thousands more specialist places and improving existing specialist and alternative provision. Today, I can confirm that £1.4 billion of that funding will be capital spending for high needs for academic years 2023-24 and 2024-25, to help local authorities deliver new places quickly. We cannot wait for the Green Paper consultation; we need to do that now for those with additional needs. That means up to 40 new alternative provision and specialist settings. Taken together, these proposals will improve the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision system, delivering the right support in the right place at the right time for children and young people.
Today, I am launching a 13-week consultation on the proposals set out in my Green Paper. This is the opportunity for children and young people, their families, and those working across the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision sector to help shape the next stage. We will pay close attention to implementation so that the mistakes of past reforms are not repeated. These reforms are about outcomes, but they are also about fairness: fairness to families who have struggled to get support for their children, to the sector which has gone above and beyond for years, and to children and young people who deserve excellent support to achieve their ambitions. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Children with special educational needs and disabilities and how we support them are subjects close to my heart, as they are to so many of us across the House. I had sincerely hoped to speak today with optimism and enthusiasm about the review the Secretary of State has set out today, because one in six children in England have a special educational need or disability—five in every class.
Supporting children and learners with special educational needs or disabilities is at the heart of our education system and the work that teachers and school staff are doing every day, and it should be central to the work of Government too. But right now children are being let down. Needs are going unmet. Children are stuck on waiting lists, for occupation therapy to speech and language support. Thousands of families are waiting months for education health and care plans. Children and families are facing a postcode lottery in availability and quality of specialist provision, and parents are increasingly turning to the courts to get the support that is their children’s right.
The system is broken. Parents know it, teachers know it, children know it and the Government know it, too. But we have not got here by accident. The Secretary of State says he is ambitious for young people, but where has that ambition been for the past 12 years? Where was that ambition when he was Minister for Children and Families? The Secretary of State cannot disown the legacy of 12 years of Conservative Governments which has left us with a broken, adversarial and aggressive system that is letting down young people and leaving families in despair.
Against that backdrop, it is hard not to be optimistic about any changes to the system. Early intervention, support in mainstream settings, changing culture, supporting families and making the system financially sustainable—who could object to those ambitions? However, just as we saw yesterday, those ambitions remain sadly hollow: hollow because there is no plan to deliver; hollow because other Government policies are working against those aims; and hollow because children and families are still waiting on a pandemic recovery plan. Too many parents told us that during the pandemic support for their children was removed, was not available and to this day has not been restored.
When Labour says it is ambitious for children, it means every child. Labour’s children’s recovery plan sets out the support it would put in place for children and young people now: mental health support in every school, wraparound activities that support every child’s development, and targeted learning support for the children who need it most. The pandemic was hard on us all, but for children with SEND and their families it was harder still. The long shadow of those months in lockdown is holding children back, so I ask the Secretary of State again when will he finally give children and families the recovery plan they need and deserve? At every school I visit, teachers and staff raise as one of their biggest concerns the broken system facing children with SEND. That is why we all want reforms to succeed: intervention earlier, children’s needs identified sooner and support provided more quickly.
Under the previous Labour Government, children’s centres were also crucial. With millions of families accessing those services, children’s needs were identified quickly and support put in place, but more than 1,000 children’s centres have closed. The family hubs that the Secretary of State announced are a pale imitation of that network of services, yet the evidence is even clearer now than it was then that early intervention and co-ordinated support for families transforms children’s lives. As the Minister is keen to consider the evidence—I know he is—will he not look again at the much wider support and services that families across our country are so desperate to see? Many parents who have had to fight for their children’s support will today also want assurances from him that there will be no compromising on care to cut costs. Can he say when he expects promised additional educational psychologists to be in place supporting children and schools?
Families have had to wait almost 1,000 days since the SEND review was announced for the Government to launch the consultation. Families will wait another 13 weeks for that consultation to close. They will wait longer for a Government response and then again before changes are seen on the frontline. Years have passed since reform was needed and children’s time in the education system is slipping away. Nothing we do in this place can be more important than giving children support to thrive and opportunities for the future, but over the past two years of the pandemic, and the past 12 years of Conservative Governments, all too often our children have been an afterthought. When staff across our schools have been asked to do more with less, they have stepped in and stepped up. They have plugged gaps, taken on more, delivered time and again for the children they are desperate to see succeed. They have put children first and done everything they could. It is long past time the Government did the same.
The hon. Lady talked about recovery; she will know about the £5 billion announced for education recovery. We have consistently prioritised children and young people with SEND, including through additional weighting for specialist settings. The £1 billion of funding that was announced at the spending review to extend the recovery premium over the next two academic years—2022-23 and 2023-24—should be used by schools to prioritise support for children and young people with SEND.
The hon. Lady also spoke about family hubs. I am disappointed that she is not at least giving herself the opportunity to look at the evidence, which is clear, whether in respect of the Harlow family hub that I visited or the one not far from here in Westminster, where she can go—it is probably within walking distance—to see the great work of multiple agencies that are coming together to deliver the most important must-have services to the families towards whom we need to target help. That contrasts with the Labour plan, which sounded great on paper but did not work implementation-wise because it was obsessed with bricks and mortar rather than helping families.
I do not recall any other question from the statement that the hon. Lady made. Suffice it to say that, yet again, as she demonstrated yesterday, there is no plan from Labour.
I call the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon.
My father, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s, was an immigrant who came here with very little. He worked hard to send me to private school, but I spent much of my childhood having operations and not being in school. I know very well what it is like to be a child with special educational needs and to have a disability, and I care about this issue very deeply.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is getting a grip on this issue, but it is wrong that it has taken almost three years for this Green Paper to come to fruition. It is wrong that for so long parents have had to wade through a treacle of unkind bureaucracy and that, as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, they have been subject to this awful postcode-lottery provision, whereby they wait for months on end to get the EHCP that they should have. There are not enough trained staff—an issue that I recognise the White Paper looks at.
Our Education Committee report made two key recommendations: that there should be a neutral advocate for parents to help them to wade through the bureaucracy—an idea that I urge the Secretary of State to look at again, so that everyone has a fair chance—and that the powers of the social care ombudsman should be extended beyond the school gates, to make sure that children are properly looked after.
The test for us all will be whether parents soon come to our constituency surgeries—I wish it did not have to take more months of consultation—and we no longer hear the awful stories of the struggles they face, and they no longer have to appeal to their MP to try to navigate their way through the system. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to get this done as soon as possible and to sort it out once and for all, because it is a major social injustice in our education system that children with special educational needs do not have a level playing field.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Education Committee; I will always listen to what he and his Committee have to say, because his Committee follows the evidence and works on a cross-party basis.
My right hon. Friend raised a number of important points that the Green Paper attempts to address, although there is of course a consultation. One of his points was about clarity for parents. Our proposal to establish a single national integrated SEND and AP system in England will help to inform parents wherever they live. If they move house, they will be able to find out what they should expect from the system for their child. It will help them to make informed choices from a tailored list of settings. It will strengthen mediation arrangements so that they do not feel they have to go to tribunal and line the pockets of expensive consultants or lawyers. All these things are addressed in the important Green Paper. Part of the work is to ensure excellent provision from the early years to adulthood and to build inclusivity into the system. We will always listen to what my right hon. Friend has to say.
Following a number of emotional meetings with desperate families in Batley and Spen, I can confirm that the Secretary of State was absolutely right to say that people have lost faith in the system. Demand for EHCPs has soared, rising by 480% in the past five years, and almost half of all plans are issued outside the statutory 20-week period, which in my view is too long in itself. Why has increasing capacity and ending delays not been a focus of the review?
Increasing capacity came before the Green Paper, deliberately. I did not want to publish the Green Paper and come to the House and say we were going to wait another 13 weeks. Today’s announcement of that first tranche of funding—the £1.4 billion—is all about increasing capacity. There is also, of course, the safety valve that we introduced at the spending review to help local authorities to cope. Over the past three years, the SEND and high-needs budget has increased by 40%, including the £1 billion that we announced at the SR. It needs to be put on a sustainable footing and that is what the Green Paper will do. We will of course always listen to parents, families and those who work so hard in the sector.
I welcome the Green Paper, the new educational psychologists and the new SENCO qualification, but I was concerned to read that just 41% of regular teachers think they have adequate understanding to support young people with special educational needs. We need to make sure that every teacher has a base level of understanding of all types of learning disabilities and of how different brains work differently—as I know as somebody who is dyslexic and dyspraxic and generally a bit eccentric.
I welcome the fact that Ofsted will have a role in looking at the new local inclusion plans, but will the Secretary of State promise me that he will monitor the new Ofsted framework to make sure that it properly holds schools to account, and that if schools fail kids with special needs, that is reflected in their inspection reports?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of those with dyslexia and dyspraxia and has been a great advocate for the need to make sure that every teacher has the required knowledge. I visited Monega school yesterday; a school can be outstanding only if it is outstanding in all areas, including its SEND provision. I will always listen to what my hon. Friend has to say on that.
The White Paper that I published yesterday includes the parent pledge, which is that teachers will identify students’ gaps in reading and English language and share that with parents. That should get us to the place where my hon. Friend wants us to be: one where every teacher feels confident that they have the training to identify dyslexia and dyspraxia and deal with them in the appropriate way.
I thank the Secretary of State for finally publishing the Green Paper, which is long overdue. How will he ensure that when the system is standardised and simplified, standards improve and are not reduced and truly recognise the unique needs of children with complex disabilities?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that important question. We will make sure that the standards and the single national integrated SEND and AP system are co-created with families, specialists and the whole sector, to make sure we get them right.
My mailbag—much like, I suspect, the mailbags of many other Members—is full of tales from parents who have had difficulty accessing the right care for their children. They say that the process has taken too long and often reaches an unsatisfactory conclusion. Some parents have been pushed into home education to try to meet their children’s needs. Will the Secretary of State reassure me and the House that such things will not happen again once his plan is in place?
I had a similar experience with a parent in my constituency who got so frustrated that they chose to home-school. They do it very well, but nevertheless that should not happen. The single integrated vision for SEND and AP, the greater focus on the mainstream and the emphasis on early intervention should allow us to regain the confidence of parents. I hope that the ability of parents to navigate the system in a much clearer way, without having to research for themselves which provision is most appropriate for their child, will make that difference. Of course, the consultation means that we will continue to focus on parental rights, including through making sure that parents and carers will continue to express a preference as to which school—from a tailored list of settings, across mainstream, specialist and independent schools—they would like their child to attend.
The Green Paper is welcome; it is better late than never. The Secretary of State will know about my great interest as chair of the Westminster Commission on Autism and because a family member has still not had a proper assessment after 15 years. Families need action now and they need resources, because provision is expensive for local councils and schools. It is expensive, but we have to be willing to pay for it. We will work with the Secretary of State to make his proposals into the finest piece of legislation in this policy area for a generation.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he has always been a champion for those with special educational needs and disabilities, not just in his constituency, but around the country. We have continued to provide funding for autism training and professional development in schools and colleges throughout last year and this year. We provided a further £8.6 million to strengthen the participation of parents and young people, including those who are autistic. We are strengthening and promoting the pathways to employment. Supported internships have been a great programme—Premier Inn in my constituency does a brilliant job—with £18 million of investment over the spending review period to increase the number of those who are participating to 4,500 from about 2,500 at the moment.
If we were to read through the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the accompanying code of practice, we would see that that is a blueprint for the system that we all want. This review seeks to address the issues with the implementation of the Act and the code of practice. To that end, I suggest that the national standards, which I welcome, should be based around quality rather than a de minimis principle. On alternative provision, will my right hon. Friend say more about how he will use the excellence within alternative provision so that early intervention, which we want to see more of in mainstream schools, can work more effectively?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, we considered very carefully the recommendations from the Timpson review in regard to our recommendations for the AP system and, from that review, we developed our ambitious programme of reforms. The Green Paper sets out how we will improve early intervention and quality AP and learn from what is happening around the country, whether that is in mainstream schools, such as in Dixons City Academy in Bradford, or in some of the excellent work and case studies from the Green Paper of specialist AP that makes a real difference when it is identified early, and the help can therefore be put in early.
I put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for briefing me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) last week on today’s Green Paper and yesterday’s White Paper.
The Green Paper mentions that the SEND system is “bureaucratic and adversarial”, “not equally accessible”, and takes a
“heavy emotional—and sometimes financial—”
toll on parents. Parents in my constituency would very much identify with that. People have been waiting three long years for this Green Paper, which is a welcome step forward, but parents, school staff and children alike are dismayed that there will be a further 13-week consultation, with legislation some time after that. The Secretary of State has said that the review has been shaped by parents and teachers, so when will parents in Twickenham and across the country see the impact of the changes?
It was good to brief the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. The Green Paper has had a warm welcome from the unions the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers, with some challenges around implementation and how we do this well on the ground from the Local Government Association. Our work in early years and post-16 education has also been welcomed.
The hon. Lady asks when people will see the difference. The reason why I went to the Chancellor during the spending review and got the £2.6 billion, the additional £1 billion and the safety valve money is that I do not think we can wait until we have a consultation and get to a place where the whole Green Paper is a reality on the ground. That is why we are today announcing £1.4 billion—the first tranche of the £2.6 billion—for up to 40 new settings, which will see additional provision going into the system so that parents have the confidence that the provision will be there for their child. However, she is right: this has been a long time coming, and I will make sure that we move at pace on the further reforms that are outlined in the Green Paper.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which builds on the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and others in the Children and Families Act, in which I know the Secretary of State took a close interest when he was Children and Families Minister. However, is not the key point that without health in the room, everything falls down? Despite the best attempts to make that happen under EHCPs, that has not been happening enough, so I welcome statutory provision. Is not the other test that if the Secretary of State achieves anything, it must be a reduction in school exclusions? Too many young people with vulnerabilities and susceptibilities are exploited and end up in the system that I stewarded for a number of years. Can he make this as much an issue of justice as it is of education and health?
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is passionate about this issue. It is important to remind ourselves that the co-signatories on today’s Green Paper are myself and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and his ministerial team is here on the Front Bench with us. His pledge is that health will look at the local provision and local resources, and of course, we will publish the dashboard. I spoke about data and transparency, and the best way to reform complex systems is through data and transparency. However, we are going further by simplifying the EHCP process, because there is no consistency in that. That also needs to be identified and dealt with, and we will do that. My right hon. and learned Friend is also right to point out that we need to ensure that every school—this is what my schools White Paper dealt with yesterday—is a great SEND school, because we have an equal ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities as for all the children in our school system.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State is slightly divorced from reality and is seeing the school system for what he wishes it was, rather than what it is. In many schools, SENCOs are also full-time teachers, deputy heads, subject leads and, often, the safeguarding leads in their schools. Although the additional training and qualification is welcome, if the SENCOs do not have the time, they are not able to do justice to the role in the way it deserves. Where is the additional funding, resourcing and support to give SENCOs the time to focus as much as they need to on that crucial role?
I respectfully remind the hon. Lady that, in my opening remarks, I mentioned that, in early years, up to 5,000 new SENCOs will go into the school system to be able to do that work, and there is the support that we are putting in, including the £7 billion that is going into the school system, the £5 billion for recovery and the £2.6 billion in certain places. I also remind the House that change and change management are difficult. One area that I looked at, where we perhaps fell over in implementing the very good reforms that were introduced with the EHCPs, is how we deliver that change. I have £70 million going into change management to ensure that we have the resources in place, and I am confident that we can do this well.
I welcome the statement, and I have two points to make. First, the fight—time and again, parents talk about the fight that they have had to have with the system. Will the Secretary of State explain how these changes will bring transparency? Secondly, he mentioned that we cannot wait for the Green Paper process to finish, and I have read that he would like to build a further tranche of new special and alternative provision free schools. When will that take place and when can Leicestershire have its fair share?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The changes that I spoke about include the single national integrated SEND and AP system; excellent provision from early years to adulthood; building an inclusive system; a single integrated vision for AP; setting out clear roles and responsibilities; and accountability, because the fight begins when parents are confused, when they do not know who is accountable or where to go, and they feel alone. That is not the way it will be, because they will be able to see—we will co-create this with the sector—what they should be entitled to anywhere in the country. I will wipe out the postcode lottery, which is part of the issue relating to the fight, and set out plans to support effective implementation. One of the lessons that I learned in vaccine deployment is that however ambitious we are, if we do not have the team and have not thought through how we are going to succeed on the ground operationally, we will fall over, and I promise to think that through.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but as Members across the House have highlighted, this is an issue right across the country. I am contacted about it by Vauxhall parents, carers and teachers on an almost weekly basis. Just two weeks ago, a constituent contacted me about his two sons, who are 10 and 12 and have muscular dystrophy, physical disabilities and autism. They have been waiting for over 12 weeks to get support from the local authority. Many local authorities such as Lambeth are without funding.
The Secretary of State outlined in his statement that he is launching a consultation and wants the very same families, teachers and carers to engage with him. Does he appreciate that they are tired? I do not think that they have the energy to engage in yet another consultation, because they are still trying to provide a service for the very children we want to see flourish. How is the Secretary of State confident that he will get the right views to make sure that this works?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who I know is passionate about the issue and whose constituency I have promised to visit. She is absolutely right that parents are tired. My promise to them is that what we are doing here, and the consultation, mean that we will get this right—and get it right with them.
I urge the hon. Lady’s local authority to look around. Areas in London such as Barnet and Islington are doing incredibly well in local provision and in the ability to co-create with families what they need. Where the hon. Lady has a point is that that is not uniformly delivered across the country. That is what the Green Paper will do, but we are not waiting for it: in the meantime, we are investing £2.6 billion in thousands of additional places, both specialist and mainstream.
Publishing this Green Paper within six months of his taking office as Secretary of State demonstrates, alongside the resources that he won in the spending review, my right hon. Friend’s drive and determination in this critical area. I welcome the Green Paper’s focus on early identification of neurodiverse conditions and on the need for more initial teacher training, continuous professional development and support, but will he confirm that he believes that to get that early identification we need universal screening to get the data? It is only by basing decisions on data as well as on teacher observation that we can get the early identification that is so critical and is at the heart of the new Green Paper.
My right hon. Friend and I share a passion for data and transparency. I know that he is looking at the evidence of what really works in the early identification of and screening for dyslexia, about which he is passionate.
The Green Paper is about a whole system review and, together with yesterday’s White Paper and our parent pledge that teachers will identify the gaps in English language, reading and writing and share them with parents, it is our greatest lever to begin to look at how we do this well. I am looking forward to working with my right hon. Friend on the evidence of best practice around the world.
The request for diagnosis of special educational needs is the beginning of a long battle for far too many families. Local authorities with stretched resources are often pushing in the opposite direction; parents can wait years for EHCPs, and requests for specific schools are often denied by local authorities for financial reasons. That all points to the need for independent advocacy from the very beginning for parents of children with special educational needs. We cannot assume that every parent starts with the same capacity to deal with the minefield of taking their child through EHCPs, and requests for support in the classroom and other support with educational needs. Will the Secretary of State commit to creating an independent advocacy service that supports parents from the very beginning and holds their hand all the way through the process?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful question, which the Chair of the Education Committee also raised. Essentially, the Green Paper will make sure that we hold local authorities to account through the new funding agreements, through the local inclusion dashboard, which will provide transparency so that people can see how areas are performing locally, and through the new area inspection. As well as making sure that we do as the Minister for Children and Families did with the written statement of action in Birmingham, we want to learn from the best. Manchester is doing well; Dixons City Academy in Bradford is an excellent example of how this works well; Passmores Academy, a mainstream academy in Harlow, is doing incredible work. We learn from the best and scale it across the system.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his commitment to ensure that every child with SEND has the best opportunities and chances in education. Does he agree that many of those children’s needs are met well in mainstream schools by SENCOs and family support workers, but we have to go further and faster to ensure that every teacher has the opportunity, the skills, the support and everything they need to be brilliant teachers of all children with special educational needs?
I could not have put it better myself—my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our proposals include the national professional qualification, up to 5,000 SENCOs in early years, and getting early identification in place. The schools White Paper and the parent pledge will also drive the thirst for knowledge to ensure that every teacher is confident in identifying the needs of their students.
While this is a welcome move, I think that there is an issue with the maths. It does not seem that much newer money is coming in as a result of the Secretary of State’s announcement today. We know that there is an in-built cost to supporting our young people, so perhaps he could be very specific about the money for SENCOs and particularly for one-to-one support workers. Will more one-to-one support workers be recruited? They are critical for many children in making sure that their EHCP is properly implemented.
I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about maths. She will know that over the past three years the overall budget has risen by 40% to £9.1 billion—a pretty big increase. She talks about SENCOs; today we have announced training for up to 5,000 more SENCOs in early years. The important thing to remember is that much of what is in the Green Paper has been produced through consultation with those in the system, with parents and with practitioners. All I ask is that colleagues read it carefully and engage with us on the consultation. It is a true consultation, because I want to get this right.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Having been a special adviser in the Department when the SEND review was launched, I remember it well. I am really glad that the public consultation is happening. It has also been great to see extra funding in the past couple of years.
I recently visited Villa Real School, a special school in my constituency. One issue that the school faces is that it was built for a smaller number of pupils than it now has because of the rising need for special school places. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the school? Will he also look at the capital building programme? It is essential that as part of the review we deliver the places needed for children in the environment they wish to be educated in.
I will happily meet my hon. Friend. Today, we announced the first tranche of £1.4 billion out of £2.6 billion for up to 40 specialist and AP settings.
Parents and carers find it extremely stressful when there is a lack of school places, and a lack of choice of places, for children with special educational needs. In the meantime, it is the children who really suffer. It has been brought again to my attention that the exclusion rate for children with SEND is disproportionately high. That is just not acceptable. Can the Secretary of State say how that will be addressed in his review and what he will do?
The hon. Lady’s final point is absolutely right. The plans for supporting parents will lead to much greater transparency and improved choice through more local inclusive mainstream provision. The combination of the schools White Paper, the Green Paper and the children’s social care review that Josh MacAlister is carrying out for me will allow me for the first time, working with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to knit together a system that really delivers for parents and delivers clarity on what they should be getting for their child, wherever in England they live.
I am losing my voice—I apologise for that—but I wanted to contribute because these proposals are so important for parents in my constituency who have been battling for this, and also because our schools are so committed to children with special educational needs. I welcome the news that there is to be a new special school in Stroud.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will work to eradicate the various financial penalties that schools suffer when they take on more SEND children? Some of them constitute very strange and up-front costs. Will he look into the way in which the league tables are communicated, to ensure that schools that are looking after children with more complex needs are not treated unfairly for doing so?
thank my hon. Friend for making it here today, and I am glad that her voice is holding up. I can absolutely reassure her. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Highfurlong SEN school in Blackpool, a brilliant specialist school which is doing incredible work. Some of the children there have end-of-life EHCPs. Some came in unable to walk and are now walking, and, of course, learning as well. We will learn from the best, but we also want to ensure that schools are not penalised for doing the right thing.
A quick read through the Green Paper did not reveal much reference to higher education. I hope that that does not reflect a lack of ambition for these children. May I ask the Secretary of State specifically about the current procurement exercise relating to the disabled students allowance? How can he assure the House that it will not lead to a loss of expertise and understanding of the equipment and services needs of disabled students?
I hope to be able to write to the hon. Lady giving her those details about the Green Paper, but suffice it to say that we have tried to look not just at early years provision but at the whole system, including further and higher education. The increased investment in supported internships has worked very well. When I was Minister for Children and Families, I visited West London College, which was doing brilliant work with L’Oreal, and I spoke about my own constituency and the work that was being done there with Premier Inn. I want to see the number of enrolments rise from 2,250 to 4,500. Supported internships give young people a fulfilling career, and give employers great employees who are loyal and strongly committed to their businesses.
I thank the Secretary of State and his ministerial team for the emphasis that they place on this vital area. In Sevenoaks and Swanley—and in the rest of the country—EHCP referrals shot up during the pandemic, and the extra money will help greatly in that regard, but can the Secretary of State confirm that where backlogs remain he will consider providing extra resources, and that he will monitor the position centrally, so that I can go back and say to the families in my constituency that these agonising waits are over?
Part of the reason why the Chancellor was so committed to this area and made £2.6 billion available—as well as the £1 billion that took the budget up to £9.1 billion—is that we knew we needed to put additional capacity into the system now, rather than waiting until after the consultation and the Green Paper. We are also providing £300 million for a “safety valve” to help local authorities with a deficit of about £1 billion.
I am not going to join in the festival of patting the Secretary of State on the back at this stage—
I am disappointed.
After 12 years of Conservative government, we are seeing what is almost a scorecard of failure. Nevertheless, I will give the Secretary of State and his team the benefit of the doubt. What guarantees can he give that, for instance, a child with dyslexia who requires specialist equipment will be given that equipment quickly, that it will be fully funded and that it will not be about ability to pay?
The drive behind the Green Paper is to ensure that we deliver across the board for every child with dyslexia, dyspraxia or autism, and that the system is sustainable and works for both the family and the child. The national SEND and AP single system will enable parents to see what they will get if their child has dyslexia. That will, I hope, give them a much better experience than what they are having today—which, as we have heard from many Members, is a big fight.
Not surprisingly, there are some excellent proposals of real substance in the Green Paper. I think they will give people hope. I also think it important that the Secretary of State said people should not need to fight the system, but the truth is that, when it comes to access to child and adolescent mental health services in my area, people would love to be able to get hold of the system, let alone fight it. As a result, early diagnosis is often missing and children are falling further down the list, which means that the need for intervention becomes significantly more acute.
I am pleased to see that Health Ministers are present. The Government recently announced the My Planned Care website to keep patients up to date on their wait for NHS treatment. Many parents tell me that they are often instructed not even to ask about the wait that they face. Should not parity of esteem between physical and other conditions demand the inclusion of the wait for CAMHS on that site, not just so that parents can see what the national standard is, but so that they can see exactly where their child stands and how long they will have to wait?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristically thoughtful and well-evidenced question. The Green Paper contains a commitment from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to local inclusion dashboards, providing transparency so that parents can see the position locally. It is all well and good having a national view, but parents want to know how they and their child, and the rest of the family, are affected. This transparency will mean reform of the system, and CAMHS delivering what parents and children really need. Early identification is important. The long wait is adding cost to the system in many ways, and disadvantaging children in doing so. The Health Secretary has also given a commitment that those in the health system will look at resources and provision to ensure that we deliver consistency throughout the country.
I know from my own experience how important it is to receive the right support at the right time, and I hope that when the Secretary of State is carrying out his consultation he will make a special effort to engage with parents and families of children who are blind and partially sighted. Surely, however, the purpose should be to ensure that we get the decision right in the first instance. We know that, in 95% of cases that go to tribunals, the finding is in favour of the parents. The Secretary of State referred to a new system of local dispute resolution through mediation, but how will adding a new process make the experience of families simpler?
I know that the hon. Lady is a passionate champion for blind and partially sighted people. We will ensure that we consult them, as we have done already in formulating the Green Paper.
When things go wrong, parents will continue to have the right to redress. The proposals we have presented today are intended to resolve issues earlier. Parents will still be able to go to tribunals if they want to, but we are proposing to strengthen mediation overall so that we improve relationships locally and bring quick resolution. If we all agree that that early intervention is important, it is only right that we do this. We are of course consulting on mandatory mediation. There is evidence that all these measures work and that they improve the system, which is why I am launching the 13-week consultation.
I know from visits to primary schools in my constituency—and the Green Paper underlines this—that the most common special need that people have in respect of speech and language therapy is access. Given the importance of communication skills to young people’s development, may I ask how the proposals in the Green Paper will improve access to those vital skills?
As I have said, both yesterday and today, the combination of the schools White Paper and the parent pledge—whereby teachers identify gaps in reading, writing and speech and share that information with parents—will be the catalyst to ensure that early identification is working. Our work with the Department for Health and Social Care means we can create a system that, when it comes together, truly delivers for children and for parents.
I appreciate the Government’s honesty when they talk about the vicious cycle of late intervention, low confidence and inefficient resource allocation. Sadly, that is very much the experience of my constituents who have needed to access these services, so I appreciate the ambition to try to get away from that. My concern is similar to that expressed by a couple of Conservative Back Benchers about the lack of detail on the interaction with the health service, particularly when it comes to tier 4 CAMHS children who are in real crisis. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give us that those children will be helped as part of this initiative?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Part of my ambition and that of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is to ensure that we knit together a system that delivers both elements, and I hope that the standards will provide clear guidance on when a child or young person needs that EHCP. We are simplifying the EHCP process overall to ensure that we improve efficiency, make it frictionless if we can, and reduce waiting times, including through standardising and digitising the EHCPs. One thing parents have told me is that if they move address, they suddenly have to make themselves familiar with a whole other EHCP. The work with Health will, I hope, make a real difference.
Last week my constituent Holly and the National Deaf Children’s Society came to see me to discuss the need for better support for deaf children in school. In particular, they highlighted the incredible difference that their teacher of the deaf had made. Can my right hon. Friend outline how the Government will invest in teachers of the deaf, so that all deaf children can have more regular access to the brilliant support they provide?
I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of children who are deaf. When I was Children and Families Minister, I saw at first hand the incredible work that the stakeholders and charities do in this area. I want to see best practice, and we will ensure that we learn from the best and see how we can scale this up throughout the whole school system. The White Paper and the Green Paper will give us the opportunity to knit together a system that delivers for deaf children in our education system.
The success rate for parents at appeal is indicative of a system that is completely broken. Of course, parents should not have to go to appeal to get the education that their children deserve, and they should not feel that they have to fight every step of the way, so I hope that what the Secretary of State has announced today will begin to change that. I want to ask about getting children to school in the first place. The Secretary of State will be aware of reports over the weekend of a real crisis in special educational needs transport because of rising fuel prices. What will he do to address that issue?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the success rate at tribunals is symptomatic of a system that is failing, which is why this Green Paper is long overdue, as I said earlier. We are keeping a close eye on school budgets, because energy prices are volatile and transport costs are going up because of energy costs. Energy costs are about 1.4% or 1.5% of the budget—the big spend is obviously on wages—but nevertheless, if energy costs are going up by 100%, that will put on additional pressure, so I will keep that closely under review and ensure that we work with the schools system. We have the £7 billion funding, of which £4 billion is front-loaded for this year and next, but I assure him that I will keep a close eye on this.
As another dyspraxic Member of Parliament, I wholeheartedly thank the Secretary of State for his excellent Green Paper today. My constituency has many excellent mainstream schools, and also specialist schools such as St Giles in Retford. When parents choose a school for their children, they generally look not only at reviews from other parents but at the Ofsted reports. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that Ofsted will continue to play that key role in transparently assessing the performance of our schools, including SEND provision, so that parents can make an informed choice on what is right for them and their children?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of those who have dyspraxia, and he has real in-depth knowledge of the sector, as was discussed yesterday in the statement on the schools White Paper. He is right to say that Ofsted will continue, and from early years, all children will be taught a broad ambitious knowledge-rich curriculum and also have access to high-quality extracurricular activities. A school cannot be outstanding unless it is outstanding in its SEND provision as well.
The Secretary of State talked about the importance of early intervention, which many organisations that I work with, such as the Child Brain Injury Trust, are keen to ensure happens and that support is given. More generally, can he talk more about the local SEND partnerships and how parents can have a voice and a say in them?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. In that partnership, we are proposing to ensure that parents are an important part of the local SEND plan, as we have seen in the best co-created plans in those areas around the country that I mentioned earlier, such as North Tyneside and Manchester.
I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend for his work on this, and also to the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is unable to be here in the Chamber today. Too many parents in my constituency come to me broken by the system. They are tired of fighting and particularly tired of going to court. How will the system help with those issues? Will my right hon. Friend also take into account the difficulties of provision in rural areas and in small unitary councils, for which this can be a heavy and difficult cross to bear?
My hon. Friend speaks with passion and probably pain from having to consult those parents who have fought and feel that they are sometimes let down by the system. We have to ensure that the system works equally well in rural areas. Lincolnshire, for example, co-created the local system. It brought families and stakeholders in and said, “Look, we have got £50 million. How should we spend that to make sure the provision is the best we can make it?”
The Secretary of State has said that decisions about support are too often based on where a child lives and not on what they need. That is the problem facing children in St Albans and across Hertfordshire. The reason is that the Government’s flawed funding formula for SEND is based on historical spend, not current need. This has produced the problem that SEND people in Hertfordshire get only £549 per head, compared with the neighbouring authority of Buckinghamshire, where the figure is £823 per head. That is a whopping 50% more. I met one of the Secretary of State’s Ministers in December and he committed to look at the specific anomaly of Hertfordshire once the Green Paper was published. Now that it has been published, will the Secretary of State confirm that his Department will look at this specific issue in Hertfordshire, and will he write to me in the coming weeks to outline what steps the Department is taking to tackle this anomaly?
Yes, I will write to the hon. Lady. I also want to remind the House that the national funding formula is where we are moving to, to ensure that there is fairness in the system for all schools, including special schools.
Having the right support in the right place at the right time is undoubtedly the correct approach to this. As part of the welcome consultation that my right hon. Friend has announced, will he ensure that his Department reaches out to charitable and private sector providers such as Autism Early Support at the Circle Centre in Middle Claydon in my constituency, not just to look through the lens of the excellence in provision that they supply, but to learn about the challenges, particularly in getting the right support to children in rural communities, who often have to travel considerable distances to get the SEND support they need?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that we will reach out to them.
Parents are battling and children are struggling every day in York, in that tug of war between the services, the available funding and the available practitioners. I was disappointed that the proposals do not contain a workforce plan covering the comprehensive range of services needed, including speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychological services and CAMHS. In the consultation, can the Secretary of State put a focus on workforce planning and ensure that at the end of that consultation, a workforce plan is published alongside the Government response?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s characteristically thoughtful question. We made a commitment in the Green Paper, and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has also made this commitment, to ensure the workforce provision is adequate. The best way to ensure that is through the transparency of a local data dashboard so people can see their child has consistency of support.
The Green Paper highlights that many families find the current system bureaucratic and adversarial, which is exactly what I hear from incredibly frustrated local parents in Aylesbury. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how local parents can feel absolutely confident that these proposals will mean that everyone, whether in the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education or the local authority, is genuinely working together to secure one and the same thing: the best provision for children with SEND?
I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughtful question. He is right that we intend to make a number of changes after consultation on the Green Paper, whether it is a national system so that parents can see exactly what provision they should be getting so that their area is consistent with every other postcode in the country, or whether it is a local plan co-produced with all stakeholders around the table—including parents—a local dashboard and consistency on EHCPs. In many ways, it is frustrating when parents say, “My plan and this person’s plan are completely different.” There should be consistency across the board to make the system as frictionless as possible for parents.
I thank the Secretary of State for his positive statement. Covid-19 has been a big burden on pupils, and especially pupils with SEND. It is estimated that 25% of children are in that category. Our education system is incredible, but today’s statement is only the first step. Will the Secretary of State give a confirmed date for a review of the money put in to achieve the goal of giving that extra bit of help and, if necessary, a different way of working and delivering? Will the extra moneys, £2.6 billion plus £1 billion, be subject to the Barnett formula?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent question. He is right to say this is the first step. I can come to the House to share this Green Paper, but we have to make sure the consultation is delivered, and then we have to ensure the implementation is in place. I asked the Treasury for £70 million to support the implementation. When I look back at the lessons learned, we fell over because there was little money for the implementation to happen well. Of course, Barnett applies to the Chancellor’s announcement on the spending review in the usual way.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and particularly his reference to ensuring children are educated closer to home. The Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), referenced how his education was interrupted because of the constant treatment he required. Many young people go through that, and they reach the end of their compulsory education without achieving all that they could have achieved. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assure me that resources will be made available for them to catch up and to achieve all that they could achieve?
I certainly can. We are putting the best part of £5 billion into recovery.
The prize for perseverance and patience goes to Holly Mumby-Croft.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I recently visited St Hugh’s, an outstanding special school in my constituency. I was shown around by Thomas and Spencer, and I was incredibly impressed by both of them—they made a big impression on me. They are brilliant tour guides, and I hope to pay them back by giving them a tour of this place as soon as it can be arranged. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in thanking the staff and teachers at schools such as St Hugh’s for the brilliant work they are already doing, alongside the Government, to support our great young people like Thomas and Spencer?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in thanking them. They go above and beyond. It has not been easy over the past couple of years, when they have had to deal with a global pandemic and, of course, deliver care and education for these children. I express my heartfelt thanks and gratitude for everything they do, and of course for everything this sector does across the country.
That concludes the statement. I thank the Secretary of State for answering so many questions so thoroughly.