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School Places: Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Volume 721: debated on Monday 24 October 2022

21. What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of school places for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. (901789)

We are making a transformational investment to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, investing £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025. That investment will deliver new places and improve existing provision for children and young people with SEND or those who require alternative provision, as well as establishing up to 60 new special and AP free schools.

Over the last few months, I have been working closely with schools in some of the most deprived areas of Blyth Valley. Although schools are doing an amazing job, there is a need for increased special educational needs provision to support the most vulnerable young people. While a new special educational needs school is to be built in Blyth Valley, progress is slow, and I feel that more could be done to address the situation. Will my hon. Friend please meet me to see how we can progress this matter?

I share my hon. Friend’s commitment to improving special educational needs provision in Northumberland, particularly in his constituency. The Department is working closely with stakeholders to develop a sustainable solution. The opening of the new free special school has encountered several challenges, but we expect to deliver the school places in the 2023 academic year. As part of our investment in school places for children and young people with SEND, Northumberland is receiving £3.7 million from the fund between 2022 and 2024. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.

I recently held a roundtable of headteachers in my constituency. We talked for almost two hours but, sadly, very little of the conversation was about teaching. Instead, we discussed serious issues around recruitment and retention of staff; inadequate funding and severe pressures on budgets; online safety; mental health—theirs and the children’s—and SEND pressures. What are the Government doing to ensure that all schools have the resources they need to provide pupils with special educational needs and disabilities with the support they need while also being able to maintain high-quality teaching and manage the huge range of other pressures that they face?

As I mentioned, we are investing £2.6 billion over the next three years in new spaces for SEND and alternative provision. We have also implemented £1.4 billion in high-needs provision capital allocations for local authorities, and £9.1 billion—an increase of 13%—in high-needs funding. The hon. Lady will know that we launched the Green Paper on SEND and AP back in March. We are currently looking at the responses and we hope to respond by the end of the year.

I welcome the Minister to her place. She inherits the Government’s SEND review, which has caused widespread concern among parents of children with SEND that the Government are seeking simply to reduce expenditure and erode the rights of parents and children to access the support they need. As the Chancellor trawls for departmental cuts to pay for the Government’s reckless economic experiment, can the Minister confirm that the SEND review will not be used as an excuse to erode further the resources that children with special educational needs and disabilities rely on?

I can confirm that the SEND and AP Green Paper—the SEND review—was not and is not an opportunity for us to reduce the support that children with special educational needs require in this country. As I have already outlined, we have increased our high-needs funding by 13% to £9.1 billion, and we have also designed a package to support the delivery of any of our reforms. That is a £70 million programme that will test and refine measures in order to ensure that children get the support and education they need, and that parents feel that they have a choice in the matter and are well supported.