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School Places: Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Volume 723: debated on Monday 28 November 2022

5. What steps her Department is taking to increase the number of school places for pupils with (a) special educational needs and (b) disabilities. (902431)

7. What steps her Department is taking to increase the number of school places for pupils with (a) special educational needs and (b) disabilities. (902433)

21. What steps her Department is taking to increase the number of school places for pupils with (a) special educational needs and (b) disabilities. (902448)

We are making a transformational investment in SEND places by investing £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025 to help deliver new places and improve existing provision for children and young people with SEND or who require alternative provision as well as up to 60 new special and AP free schools.

I welcome that news and investment. Wiltshire Council has a policy of investing, particularly in mainstream places for children with special needs, and I applaud that. Does the Minister agree that that means parents need proper accountability for the performance of the schools their children are going to, and will she encourage Ofsted to do more to appraise mainstream schools on the support they give to children with special needs?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for Wiltshire and I applaud the council on the work it is doing. Ofsted is revising its framework on this area, which was set out in the Green Paper earlier this year. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that we are also looking at better local and national dashboards to improve local accountability.

I thank the Minister, who has already said that the consultation results will come out in January, but day in, day out in Leicestershire we hear cases involving parents who have had to struggle and fight to get SEND support, which is one of the biggest problems they face. Will that be put at the heart of the review? Secondly, the Minister talked about the £2.6 billion. How can the likes of Leicestershire get hold of some of that cash to improve one of the biggest areas of struggle in SEND provision?

My hon. Friend is right that many parents find the system adversarial. That is one of the key things we are seeking to address by making what parents can expect much clearer and by simplifying and digitising their EHCP—education, health and care plan—application process, among our other measures. Meanwhile, Leicestershire will continue to be supported through its delivering better value programme, among other things.

Since I was elected in Ipswich we have had two new special schools, the Sir Bobby Robson School, which now has 60 pupils, and the Woodbridge Road Academy, currently in temporary buildings and moving into permanent buildings in 2023, with 16 pupils going up to 60 pupils. However, the Sir Bobby Robson School is already very over-subscribed and I imagine the same will be the case for the Woodbridge Road Academy. Will the Minister visit Ipswich to meet me and the heads of both schools to discuss how the funding formula could be tweaked to ensure that Suffolk SEND is fairly funded and that we have more top-quality places in special schools for the wonderful neuro-diverse thinkers in Ipswich?

My hon. Friend has spoken to me multiple times about the excellent school provision in his area, and I would be delighted to visit and see more for myself.

I welcome the Minister and the whole Front-Bench team to their new roles. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that children from low-income backgrounds are more likely to have a special educational need but less likely to receive support or interventions that address their needs. I note the comments the Minister has just made, but given that Barnsley has one of the highest numbers of EHCPs in the country, can she guarantee that she will move heaven and earth to make sure schools have the resources they need for this specialist provision?

We absolutely need to address the plight of low-income families struggling with the system when their children have SEND. The amount of funding that has gone into the SEND high needs block has risen by 40% over the last three years, so we are putting the funding in, but we absolutely need to ensure that it is going to the right families.

Teaching assistants providing one-to-one support are vital for children with additional needs to succeed in the classroom, but many are leaving because the pay is too low for them to survive during the economic crisis. What steps are Ministers taking to improve both recruitment and retention rates for SEND teaching assistants?

I point to the £2 billion extra funding that is going into the schools system next year and the year after as well as the huge increase of funding that I just mentioned going into the SEND sector.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and indeed the whole ministerial team. I acknowledge the extra money going in from the autumn statement, but when I met the Hoyland Common Academy Trust, I was told that its energy bills are going up by 400% and that budgetary pressures mean that support for all pupils—including those with SEND—will be affected. I have written to the Secretary of State along with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), so will she meet us to discuss that further?

As I have mentioned, there is extra money going into the schools system, which was set out in the autumn statement. The energy relief scheme, which is helping schools with their energy bills, will also last throughout the winter.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. High needs pupils need

“the right support in the right place at the right time”.

Those are not my words but those of the Government’s Green Paper, and yet BBC local radio in Worcestershire is reporting today that a nine-year-old with autism missed a year of education because our specialist schools are full and he could not get the support that he needed in mainstream. Instead, he was offered a placement 110 miles away, but that fell through. What progress has been made in spending the billions of extra high needs capital announced at the spending review? When can we expect more provision in Worcestershire?

It is absolutely tragic that anyone might spend that amount of time outside of school. In March we announced £1.4 billion of high needs provision capital allocations, of which Worcestershire is receiving just over £10.7 million between 2022 and 2024 to help create new places in both mainstream and special schools. It is up to the local authority to determine how best to use that funding. However, the practice of sending children very far away is one thing that we would like to address in our response to the Green Paper.