Skip to main content

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Volume 731: debated on Monday 17 April 2023

15. What steps she is taking to help improve support for children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families. (904511)

21. What steps she is taking to help improve support for children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families. (904518)

I want every child and young person, regardless of their special educational need or disability, to receive the right support to enjoy their childhood, succeed in their education and feel well prepared for their next step. The SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, which was published last month, sets out the next steps that we are taking to deliver a more positive experience for children, young people and families.

Today’s Guardian front page and our own House magazine lay out the disabling effects of severe mental health crisis among our young people. What urgent action will the Minister take to ensure wider access to crucial child and adolescent mental health services so that talking therapies can be delivered on time and be effective, and so that children can retake their learning and get on with their studies?

We are working closely with our counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care, which is investing billions to ensure that 345,000 children can access CAMHS support. We are also rolling out mental health support in schools and are setting out best practice guides this year on a range of SEND issues. One of the first will be mental health and wellbeing, so that all teachers in all settings can ensure that they are doing the right thing.

The Children and Families Act 2014 sets out national standards in legislation for children with special educational needs and disabilities, but those legislative safeguards have not succeeded in delivering appropriate support for children and young people. Special needs school staff in Putney are excellent, but they have highlighted to me that the lack of funding or link-up to social care services—and to mental health services, as the Minister has highlighted—is the major barrier to providing the care that is needed. Why does the Minister believe that having new standards in the plan, but no new legislative underpinning, will deliver better outcomes?

One thing that we have tried to do in the reforms is get under the bonnet and find out why local authorities are struggling to deliver. That is why we are setting out a specialist workforce strategy and looking at initial teacher training: to ensure that we can catch things early and address them. I reassure the hon. Lady that we published the strategy in tandem with the Department of Health and Social Care, because we know that it is critical to achieving that.

It was recently proposed that the caretaker’s bungalow at Bridgewater Primary School in Berkhamsted was to be used for adult social care purposes, against the wishes of the school and many parents, who wanted to use the space to provide wraparound care provision. Of course I recognise the need for adult residential care, but does the Minister agree that we should be jumping at such opportunities to provide on-site provision for SEND students?

That particular decision will be one for the local council, but one thing I will say is that we are asking areas to set out local inclusion plans, not only so that they can assess all the need in their area, but so that we can assess whether they are meeting it.

While we all recognise the importance of increased maths, which has been much discussed today, it is vital for children’s life chances that literacy continues to improve. The only way to achieve that is by having better provision for children with special educational needs, including dyslexia, so will the Minister ensure that that continues to get the drive that it needs? Will she update the House on where she is up to with the improved teacher training that was committed to in the excellent paper earlier this year?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that literacy is one of the major priorities for the Department. We will be setting out best practice guides on early speech and language. In tandem with the phonics tests, they will be a really good way to screen children for dyslexia and make sure that with our initial teacher training improvements we are capturing and helping children who are struggling with things like dyslexia, as soon as possible.