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Special Educational Needs

Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017

The Children and Families Act 2014 heralded a transformation in support for children and young people with special educational needs. The transition period between the old and new systems, from statements to education, health and care plans, will end in March 2018.

In my area, there is a chronic shortage of special needs school places. In Kent, nearly 7% of students with statements or EHCPs are not educated in the school setting, which is well above the national average. Does the Minister agree that every child in the UK is entitled to a school education, and will he instruct the Department for Education to support local authorities who are struggling to meet that need?

I absolutely agree; we are on the same page on this. In Kent, schools have not been experiencing any reduction in high needs top-up funding in respect of pupils for whom they are receiving funding in the last academic year.

It is over three years since the Minister’s Department introduced significant changes to the special educational needs system. Two reports in the past month provide a damning indictment of how these reforms are going: Ofsted says there are significant areas of concern in one third of areas; and the local government ombudsman says families are suffering long delays in getting the right support. Does the Minister accept that these reforms are not working, and what does he intend to do?

The hon. Lady must have been looking very hard indeed to find a parent who does not welcome these changes. Unlike statements and learning difficulty assessments, the new plans run from ages 0 to 25 where appropriate, and bring together in one place an assessment and details of planned provision for a child or young person’s education, health and social care needs. The plans are driven by outcomes, have a strong focus on preparation for adult life, and include a section describing the views and aspirations of the child or young person themselves and their parents or carers.

One child in 100 is on the autistic spectrum, and 70% of those children will go to mainstream schools. The Government have a proud record in supporting autism; what more can be done to encourage best practice across the mainstream school sector?

Schools receive up to £6,000 for each child as part of their funding formula, and if they need to apply for additional money, that money is forthcoming. We are keen to ensure that children with particular problems, including autism, are quickly identified and given the help they need, and the new scheme does that.

Extracurricular activities including sport ensure a well-rounded education for all our students, and this is particularly important for those with special educational needs. Can the Minister tell me what support schools can get to provide those extracurricular activities?

It is absolutely true to say that all children benefit from better access to sports provision, not only physically but academically. I am pleased that we have doubled the primary sport and PE premium using money from the soft drinks levy. I am also a big fan of cadet forces, and we have used £50 million from the LIBOR fines to fund that activity. I would like to see more state schools with cadet forces.

We all support and recognise the need for additional funding for high needs grants and special needs. In Stoke-on-Trent, we have received £4 million under the review of the funding formula, but Stoke-on-Trent City Council has written to the Secretary of State asking for £3 million of that to be clawed back to fund high needs grants, taking it away from the schools it has been designated for. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) to discuss this? We have both written to the Minister asking him to ensure that the schools that desperately need that money can retain it.

Local authorities, including Stoke-on-Trent, can apply to disapply 0.5% of their funding and deploy it in that particular way.