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Special Educational Needs

Volume 516: debated on Monday 11 October 2010

To deliver the Government’s commitments on special educational needs, I am publishing a Green Paper later this year to look at the wide range of issues concerning children with special educational needs and disabilities. To inform this important work, I have issued a call for views and have met parents, teachers, local authorities, charities and other groups. I am also considering the findings of recent reviews, including the recent report from Ofsted.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and I congratulate the new Opposition Front Benchers on their appointment.

In some schools, support staff provided for statemented children are being redirected to other children by head teachers who use such staff almost as a floating resource. Can the Minister assure me that she will look into that matter as a great priority?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I understand from my discussion with him prior to questions that a specific issue is concerning him and has led him to ask that question. I wonder whether he will be good enough to write to me because it would concern me greatly if schools were redirecting to other children resources that were supposed to be allocated to children who have a statement in special educational needs. It would be useful to have his feedback in advance of the Green Paper.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to children with special educational needs. My constituency has schools with well in excess of 50% of pupils on the special educational needs register. How will the Minister encourage Ofsted to look at the bigger picture when it comes to its assessments, because the problems are often complex?

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the problems are complex. It is absolutely right that school inspections take account of how well pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are provided for, as well as how well they learn and progress. That will be an important consideration for Ofsted as it develops new inspection arrangements focused specifically on the core areas of achievement, teaching, leadership, behaviour and safety.

Does the Minister agree that there has been a serious improvement in SEN children’s facilities and support up to the age of 16? However, does she further agree that the real challenge, as anyone who has looked at the matter in detail will know, is provision from ages 16 to 18, and that things get even more challenging for parents when their children are 18?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have discussed this matter before. I want the Green Paper to look specifically at that. He will be aware that there are a wide range of reports on what happens in schools and special schools, and on support for children in mainstream schools and in special units that are attached to them. However, there is very little research on transition. If one issue has come out clearly from my meetings with parents and voluntary sector organisations, it is the need to think about the whole of a child’s life—all the way through.

In my constituency, many parents, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds, fight hard to get their children’s special educational needs recognised. Will my hon. Friend guarantee that she will look carefully at that?

My hon. Friend is correct to say that many families feel that they have had to battle to get their child’s needs recognised, let alone catered for. That is very much why we will produce the Green Paper later this year. We are looking at how we can make the system less adversarial and how we can focus more, for example, on outcomes, and how to make the process more transparent. I hope that any parents of SEN children in her constituency who have strong views will respond to our call for views. They can go to the Department’s website and submit them now to help to ensure that we frame the questions in our Green Paper correctly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am delighted to address you from the Dispatch Box for the first time.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to SEN provision. However, there is significant feeling among the SEN community that the whirlwind pace of change within the Department for Education has left little time to consider the effect that the changes will have on SEN provision, and particularly the effect that academies and free schools will have on funding from local authorities. Will she reassure the House that those ideological experiments will not take money away from council budgets for providing support to the one in five children with SEN?

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Lady on her promotion? It will be a great pleasure to debate these issues with her. I am aware that she has a long-standing interest in special educational needs—she was responsible for the passage of the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008. I am sure she will be a knowledgeable opponent over the next few months, which I look forward to.

On the hon. Lady’s specific question—[Interruption.] I am being heckled when I am trying to pay a compliment. Labour Members cannot even let me be nice to Opposition spokesperson. Goodness gracious! They should wait till next week—[Interruption.] There’s always a last time. I should like to answer the hon. Lady’s question. On academies and free schools, she would be aware, if she had been in the Chamber for the debate on the Academies Act 2010 before the summer, that an advisory group is looking specifically at funding issues.