In a written ministerial statement issued on 15 May, I published our plans to reform the current system for identifying, assessing and supporting children and young people who are disabled or have special educational needs from birth into adulthood, independent living and the world of work. We are testing our plans with 20 pathfinders across 31 local authorities and their primary care trust partners in readiness for introducing changes from 2014.
Uplands special school in Swindon, which has an excellent track record of providing education for young people from 11 upwards, is actively considering how to extend its provision in line with the Government’s policy of allowing extensions to 25. What measures will the Government take to encourage such excellent initiatives?
This is a very interesting idea. There are several practical matters to work through, but in principle the Government support this type of innovative thinking. Of course, the key is that any provision is not only about children staying on in school but about preparing them for independent living and ensuring that it is appropriate as young people move into adulthood. Our changes to funding for high-needs pupils should enable this kind of innovative thinking to take place.
All our plans are about trying to ensure that we can identify special educational needs much earlier. The Schools Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), has spoken passionately about systematic synthetic phonics—a policy that has been shown to be particularly effective in teaching dyslexic pupils—and he is working hard to ensure that all primary schools are confident to do this. Some 3,200 teachers have also completed specialist dyslexia courses approved by the British Dyslexia Association, and last week an advanced online module on dyslexia was launched by the Teaching Agency and the Institute of Education, so there is much activity in this area.
Around 60% of young offenders have speech and language issues, with an average speaking ability of an eight-to-10-year-old. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that schools address and assess the word gap for children at a young age—particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds—and to ensure effective English language support through schooling for those who do not have English as a first language?
That is an excellent question, and I agree that this is an issue. However, we have to start much earlier. This is not just about beginning at school. The changes that we have introduced in the new early years foundation stage, which begins this September, are partly about ensuring that we can look at early years language, right from the beginning, and pick up some of those gaps, because they arise long before children enter school. The check for two-and-a-half-year-olds, which we are beginning to integrate with the health visitor check, is key to trying to ensure that we can do that.
May I draw the Minister’s attention to the excellent experience of the pupils at Ysgol Bryn Castell in my constituency who attended a woodcraft course at EcoDysgu? While they were there, they used tools that they would not normally use and had the experience of building equipment, thereby learning communication and co-operation skills, and building up confidence. Will she look at whether we could use this innovative new idea of using sources outside schools?
It is important that we allow schools the freedom to look at the individual needs of the child and put in place the kind of support they need to address whatever is holding them back. Part of the point behind the achievement for all programme is to encourage schools to look at individual children and get behind whatever may be holding them back, which may be special educational needs or an issue to do with confidence, or even the interaction of the two, as the hon. Lady has indicated.
The planned education, health and care plans are not at all about downgrading legal protections, but about strengthening them. For example, we are extending protections from 16 right up to 25, giving young people protections in a way that they did not have previously. Similarly, there will be a new duty on the health service to work jointly in the commissioning and planning of services, not just for children with education, health and care plans, but for all children with special educational needs and disabilities.
22. The voluntary sector contains a great deal of expertise in supporting young disabled people, particularly post 16, but it appears that no new independent specialist colleges have been approved in the last two years, despite dozens of applications. Does the Minister agree that we must free up the third sector to register new services for young disabled people, and what steps will she take to ensure that this happens? (111854)
The voluntary sector has an enormous role to play, as do independent specialist providers. It is right and proper that we should have high thresholds, particularly in safeguarding, because a lot of the young people who need such provision will have complex needs, perhaps involving both medical and high personal care needs. However, I also recognise that the application process is complex. I would like to see whether we can do anything to make it simpler, because I am keen to encourage the voluntary sector to be more involved.