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Special Educational Needs

Volume 584: debated on Monday 21 July 2014

2. What steps she is taking to reform the support available for children with special educational needs in (a) Peterborough and (b) England; and if she will make a statement. (904949)

Our SEN and disability reforms are the largest for 30 years. They place children and families at the heart of a single, more integrated birth-to-25 system which focuses on improving outcomes for children and young people.

Last month we announced further substantial funding for local areas to deliver the reforms from this September: £45.2 million, on top of the £70 million that has already been provided this year. Peterborough’s total share is more than £500,000.

I pay tribute to John and Louise Ravenscroft of the charity Family Voice for their wonderful work in Peterborough. What assurance can the Minister give that parent carer forums will receive core funding from the Department for 2015-16 and beyond, so that they can continue their work in facilitating parent participation? Will he mandate local authorities to provide top-up funding beyond 2016?

We recognise the important role played by parent carer forums. We have therefore increased the funding for each forum from £10,000 to £15,000, which amounts to a total of more than £2 million for 2014-15. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, we have not yet made any decisions about funding beyond that time frame, but, in his customary manner, he has made a strong case for support for their continued work by citing the work of his constituents.

I am very pleased with the additional £10.4 million in funding the Government are providing to Shropshire schools. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who has spearheaded the caucus on the funding issue. What further steps will the Government take to help parents with children with special educational needs? I still receive a lot of correspondence on the issue from constituents. I hope that, as the economy improves, more attention and focus can be brought to bear on the issue.

The reasons why my hon. Friend is receiving correspondence about the current SEN system are also why, under the Children and Families Act 2014, we are bringing in substantial changes to introduce, from September, a single SEN system that puts families at the centre of decision making right at the start when they require extra support. Over and above that, we are also providing an additional £30 million of new funding so that parents can have independent supporters to assist them in navigating themselves through the system, which, in the past, too many of them have found too difficult.

The Minister is aware that there is a crisis up and down the country—whether in Peterborough or Huddersfield—as many schools do not have the capacity for early diagnosis and treatment. When will he ensure that there is such capacity in every school in our country?

The hon. Gentleman, as the former Chair of the Select Committee on Education—which I had the pleasure to serve on during his tenure—is acutely aware of the importance of early identification in our schools for a whole host of reasons. That is why the new code of practice that underpins the Children and Families Act 2014 makes it clear throughout that early identification must be at the centre of the work that schools do on behalf of their pupils. We are providing additional funding to support those endeavours—I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more details—but many of the decisions will be made at a local level and will be made far more transparent through the publication of a local offer in every council.

18. Will my hon. Friend say what more specific support his Department is providing for parents who suspect their children may have dyslexia and be in need of such an assessment? (904965)

The number of children with dyslexia in this country has grown, so it is even more important that we recognise how we can support the many excellent organisations that are out there. That is why we are funding the Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulty Trust to the tune of £1.5 million over two years to help provide it with a range of special services so that it can increase the support available to children and young people with dyslexia. We are also funding the British Dyslexia Association’s primary literacy project, which is training over 3,000 teachers who have obtained specialist dyslexia qualifications. Ultimately, however, it is the changes we are introducing in our SEN reforms that will make a difference to families.

Let us hope that Peterborough can become a beacon of progress.

Many families will be greatly encouraged by the store the Minister places on the local offer as a means of driving up standards and improving services for children and young people with special needs and disabilities. If I were the Minister, I would organise an annual assessment of the local offer so that, across the country, we can see exactly what is working and what simply is not good enough. What will the Minister’s approach be?

As the Minister, I think I can do better than the suggestion the hon. Gentleman has made, and that is to have a constant review of the formulation and implementation of local offers. Of course every council will have to publish and review them, and to consult local families and young people so that they have an input into ensuring that the services they require are available when they need them. Ofsted also plays a role in trying to understand the impact of the reforms, and I am looking forward to seeing its response.

Many schools, such as St Paul’s in Withington, have an outstanding reputation for supporting statemented children, and therefore become a school of choice for many parents of SEN children, but do not receive the necessary resources. What can the Minister provide for such schools that end up with a higher than average number of children who have a statement?

It is important to remember that the amount of money being made available to schools for SEN children is the same this year as it was last year, and so this is about how we allocate those resources. In addition, those on statements will in future be on education, health and care plans, whereby there are additional duties, not just on schools, but on health providers, where schools sometimes complain that there is less co-operation and less endeavour to ensure that the required support is made available. That extra duty on the health providers is a big step forward, and people have been calling for it for a considerable time.

22. In the light of those new EHC plans, will the Minister continue to ensure that specialist services such as speech and language therapy, and child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—are available in our communities? (904969)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that those are key services for many families where there are children with SEN and disabilities. Through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, we have made much more money available—£54 million, I believe—to provide better services. I also know that work is going on in the Department of Health to look more widely at the role of CAMHS, as we know that provision has been patchy for too long. Although there are good examples in places such as Liverpool, where it is functioning well, it is falling short in too many parts of the country. As I say, there are greater duties on health services to make sure that what is in an EHC plan is provided, but of course we need to ensure that that remains the case right across the board.