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Lamb Inquiry

Volume 502: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009

Today I welcome the publication of the final report of the Lamb inquiry on parental confidence in the special educational needs (SEN) system.

The Lamb inquiry was established as part of the Government’s response to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee report “Special Educational Needs: Assessment and Funding”. The inquiry, under the chairmanship of Brian Lamb, the chair of the Special Educational Consortium, was tasked with investigating a range of ways in which parental confidence in the SEN assessment process might be improved. We specifically asked that the inquiry:

commission and evaluate innovative projects;

draw on the evidence of other work currently commissioned by the Department; and

take into account the evidence of the submissions to the two Select Committee reports in 2006 and 2007.

The inquiry began in March 2008, and has made a range of recommendations, which we have accepted and acted upon. In December 2008, in response to early findings calling for a greater focus on outcomes achieved by children with SEN and disabilities (SEND), we announced a £38 million package of measures aimed at addressing this. At the heart of that was Achievement for All pilots, which are now taking place in 10 areas, involving 460 schools to demonstrate how to: raise achievement for children with SEND; better engage their parents; and address issues such as bullying and participation in school life1. In April, I committed to ensuring that our 21st Century Schools White Paper mainstreamed the needs of parents of children with SEND. Since the inquiry’s two reports in August, the Children, Schools and Families Bill has been introduced to Parliament. It proposes a new duty on Ofsted to report on the progress of children with SEND in school inspections, now and in future, and gives parents who have had their child’s statement reviewed but not amended, an additional right to appeal.

The Government welcome the inquiry’s final report. The inquiry has found that, whilst the SEN framework functions well for the majority of parents, within the same legislative framework there are parents who have been poorly served and have had to battle to get the needs of their child identified and met. This varied picture must be redrawn so that it is common practice to have access to skilled professionals who understand the needs of children and who have high expectations of what children can achieve.

I have written to Brian Lamb today to thank him for the inquiry and to outline the Government’s immediate response, which focuses on the concerns of parents who have least confidence in the present system:

Work will begin immediately on establishing a national special educational needs helpline which will provide independent, expert advice and information to parents directly over the phone and through dedicated online support.

The Government will move quickly to strengthen parent partnership services by ensuring all advisors are trained in SEN and disability law. We will work with the national parent partnership network, based at the Council for Disabled Children, to deliver this training in 2010.

We will work with professional bodies to make clear that the advice professionals provide to local authorities should not be fettered because of concerns about capacity to deliver.

Start-up funding will be provided to the local government ombudsman, to take on parental complaints on SEN about local authorities from January 2010.

Statutory guidance to governing bodies and independent appeals panels on exclusions will be strengthened to require a review of whether the head teacher had regard to the guidance on special educational needs and disability.

Tomorrow, we are inviting local authorities and voluntary sector organisations to bid for a further round of innovative projects to improve parental confidence. These will include more transparency in LA decision-making and greater independence of assessment, using different service models for providing educational psychology advice.

The inquiry makes a number of recommendations about strengthening the operation of the first-tier tribunal (SEN and Disability). We agree that guidelines should be issued on the provision of professional and expert evidence by March 2010. It is important that we improve access to justice and so we will work with the Ministry of Justice and key stakeholders to review the exceptional funding scheme for providing legal aid for tribunal hearings and will also aim to re-launch this scheme by March.

We know that bullying is a particular issue for children with SEND and we have published guidance on how to prevent and tackle it. We will be investing further in a project starting early in 2010, led by the Anti-Bullying Alliance and working with key organisations, to identify best practice in tackling SEND-related bullying and how schools can be supported to address it.

In total the inquiry has made 51 recommendations; the implementation plan which we will publish in the new year will set out a full response to each of these recommendations and provide details on how the Government will take them forward. The implementation plan will say how we will be:

Putting Childrens Outcomes at the Heart of the System

The inquiry is clear that parental confidence is strongest where aspirations for children are high and there is a real focus on progress and outcomes. Our implementation plan will show how we will help schools develop skills and capacity within their workforce and parents will be able to access specialist expertise. The Government’s pupil and parent guarantees will also make a commitment to all pupils and their parents, including those with SEND, that their schools will have effective policies in place to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying.

Ensuring a greater voice for parents in the system

The importance of good communication is well evidenced by the inquiry: communication between parents and schools and better partnerships between parents and professionals. The implementation plan will explain how the principles of the Aiming High for Disabled Children Core Offer will be further embedded for children with SEN and how we will see improvements in the information that parents can expect to receive from all levels of the system.

Establishing a local system in tune with children’s needs

The Inquiry has shown that local authorities can and do make a difference to outcomes for children with SEND. The system works best where schools, local authorities and parents operate in a true partnership. We will build on this good practice. Our implementation plan will detail how we will build the system’s capacity to provide this level of partnership with all parents. This will include further training for children’s services leaders and support for better models of commissioning services. We will also offer guidance and training to those drawing up statements to help build partnership and trust with parents.

Building accountability around childrens progress

The final report is clear about the importance of accountability in ensuring parental confidence in the system. Our implementation plan will explain how guidance and training for school governors, school improvement partners and appeal panel members will be taken forward. I am committed to ensuring that we bring about an end to systematic failures to fulfil statutory duties and will work with bodies who have information on non-compliance to take firmer action to address failure.

The implementation plan will also detail how the tribunal will review and develop the information that it gathers and publishes and arrangements for the guidance and training for tribunal chairs on telephone and face-to-face hearings.

The inquiry has recommended remedying the exclusion of schools from the duty in the Disability Discrimination Act to provide auxiliary aids and services. We accept this in principle and will look for a suitable legislative opportunity.

I am immensely grateful for all that Brian Lamb and his expert advisers have achieved through the inquiry. I would also wish to thank them for the thorough way in which the inquiry has consulted a wide range of experts and practitioners and for the way in which the voice of parents and children and young people has been brought to the fore. I also note the knowledge that has been developed through the innovative projects and thank the local parents, teachers and officers who have been testing out new ways of ensuring greater parental confidence.

I have asked Brian to monitor progress against the actions we have announced today, and those in the implementation plan we will publish in the new year, and report back to me in April 2010.

The Government share the inquiry’s call for much greater ambition for the nation’s most vulnerable children and the best possible engagement with their parents. Through our response to the inquiry, and the implementation plan early in 2010, I am committed to ensuring all parents have a shared experience of a system that operates in partnership for the benefit of their children.

I am placing a copy of the report and our response in the Libraries of both Houses.

1Your child, your schools, our future: building a 21st century schools system (CM 7588), DCSF, June 2009