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Special Needs Education: Access

Volume 742: debated on Monday 11 December 2023

I wondered what was happening there, Mr Speaker.

As part of our £2.6 billion investment to reform the SEND and AP system, we have announced 41 new special free schools, with a further 37 in the pipeline. We have also set out plans for new national standards to make clear the support that should be available in mainstream settings for children with special educational needs.

Can I take this opportunity quickly to thank the Secretary of State, her junior Ministers and officials for all the help for the schools affected by RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—in my constituency?

Turning to SEN, demand in Essex far outstrips supply. The Secretary of State will know that just prior to the summer recess, I launched a campaign for a new SEN school in south Essex. I am delighted to tell her that we have a trust that is seriously interested, we may have a site and we may even have some money. On that basis, could I meet her or one of her junior Ministers—early in the new year, please—to update her on where we have got to and to ask for help to make this dream a reality?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his campaign, with which we are very familiar in the Department; we would be delighted to meet him. Where local authorities do feel there is a need, they can open a new special school through the free school presumption route, which I would be happy to discuss with him further.

The Minister mentioned the £2.6 billion that the Government have invested, but this is not filtering down. That is the key issue for parents accessing SEN provision, and so many parents are raising it at my surgery. One concerned mother told me:

“Parents and children are being put under intolerable stress and anxiety with a system which is inefficient and creating a significant mental health burden”.

The Minister mentioned the national standards. Will the standards include the fact that SEN children and children with autism are being arrested and their mental health is not being treated properly because schools simply do not have enough training and support? Will the Minister please address that?

I thank the hon. Lady. We are keen that schools are as inclusive as they say they will be when it comes to children with special educational needs. We have nine change programme partnerships to try to make sure that the system works a lot better. The money is given to local authorities, and we should already be seeing an improvement, but I would be happy to discuss it further with her.