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Pupils with SEN and Disabilities

Volume 742: debated on Monday 11 December 2023

8. What steps her Department is taking to support pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. (900561)

We want all children to receive the right support to reach their full potential. That is why, since March, we have opened 14 new special free schools, with 78 more approved; we have launched our £70 million change programme, benefiting every region in England and testing key SEND and alternative provision, including innovative approaches to speech and language therapy; and, to help young people with special educational needs into work, we are doubling the number of supported internships to 4,500 by 2025. By next year, we will have increased high-needs funding by 60%, to over £10.5 billion, in just five years.

Last year in Buckinghamshire, one in three education, health and care plans were issued outside the legally required 20-week timeframe. Will the Secretary of State outline what concrete steps the Department is taking to improve access to educational psychologists and reduce waiting times for EHCPs?

I know how hard parents fight to get the right support for their children. Sometimes that takes too long, and I am determined to make that easier, which is why we are simplifying and standardising the EHCP process. However, to deliver that support, we need our fantastic teachers, teaching assistants and specialist SEND teachers; without them, we could not provide children with the support they require. That is why we are boosting training opportunities through a new national professional qualification for special educational needs co-ordinators, which will be launched in autumn 2024, and investing a further £21 million to train 400 more educational psychologists. We are also training up to 7,000 early years specialists, over 5,000 of whom have begun their training. We now have 280,000 teaching assistants in our schools, an increase of over 60,000 since we have been in office.

One in 10 children in education in my constituency receives special educational needs support. Thanks to the Department for Education, we have had a new special school, the Austen Academy—that is a free school—and significant increases in budgets, but can we also ensure that teaching children with special needs is a mainstream part of teacher education? Supporting children with special educational needs every day is now a mainstream part of school.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. That is exactly why we are developing a new NPQ for SENCOs, which will launch in autumn 2024, and are inputting into the standards for teacher training to ensure that everybody has an understanding of how best to support children. There are now a lot of children with special educational needs, and we all need to know how to support them better.

From my citywide consultation of parents of children with SEND, it came to light that the particularly harsh and punitive disciplinary processes being exercised in schools are having a very harmful effect on many of those children. Will the Secretary of State or the Schools Minister meet me to discuss a particular multi-academy trust in my constituency where those processes are having a very negative impact on young people?

I am very happy to confirm that the Minister for children and families will be happy to meet the hon. Lady.

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking Julie Nixon, head of the Spectrum of Light charity in Rossendale and Darwen, for the work she did on Saturday by bringing together parents from across Lancashire and Rossendale and Darwen on a Zoom call? Those parents were exactly the same as me, in that they all had an autistic child, and I was appalled to hear from them about the time they are having to wait to see an educational psychologist. Will the Secretary of State agree to write to Lancashire County Council to find out what the heck is going on with those parents whose children are missing school and are unable to access an education, health and care plan?

I am very happy to work with my right hon. Friend to improve things in Lancashire. Spectrum of Light sounds like it is doing an amazing job—there are many people who are looking to better support our children with special educational needs. Of course, we recognise that we need to improve aspects, which is why we published an improvement plan in March this year.

Would-be educational psychology trainees for September 2024 have been left in limbo because of delays in the Department confirming the available funding. The number of educational psychologists has fallen since 2010, despite requests for education, health and care plans increasing every year. That national shortage of qualified practitioners is contributing to the crisis in SEND that is affecting so many families across the country. Does the Secretary of State agree that this uncertainty about Government funding for educational psychology training is unacceptable, and when does she expect it to be resolved?

We announced in November 2022 that a further £21 million was going to be spent to train more than 400 educational psychologists.