Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I thank those happy few who have put their names down to speak in this debate. It behoves me to tell the House why I have tabled this debate now. First, we had the opportunity and, secondly, there is huge reform going on in the schools system and a great deal of work going on about how special educational needs are addressed in the classroom. The Carter review is going on and we are creating more academies, so I thought it was time we had a little look at this situation.
Why has this come about? The Government have decided that they want a structure where schools are more independent and are not talking to groups outside local education authorities in the same way they did before. This means that you have something that stands much more by itself, at least in theory, than it has done before. The structures that have been developed, and indeed are still being developed, tend to refer back to something where the local authority or the local education authority is there as effectively a baseball catcher or a wicket-keeper to catch what is going past. It is the block. It will not always get it right but it has been there. Key to this is the educational psychologist. This highly trained individual who provides structure and help, and the relationship—what are they going to do? Indeed, in the individual school, how are they going to deal with the SENCO? But how is the rest of it—this structure and this idea that goes on outside—going to work in future?
When I first tabled this debate, I was not quite as aware of how the Government seem to be restructuring and going forward with the idea that the education authorities are now going to concentrate much more on special educational needs. But we still do not know exactly what that means. How is this interaction going to take place? What is the level of involvement in a school that is run individually or as part of a chain, or by the Church of England or any other religious body? How is that relationship going to develop? What is going to happen? How do we get through?
We have also heard that school places are not going to be totally removed from the educational authorities. I appreciate that this is something of a moving target for the Government but I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to give us an idea of how thinking is developing at the moment. This is something that we can genuinely expect from the Minister. What do the Government think will be the situation in a couple of years’ time? If by, I think, 2022 everything is going to be an academy or something like it, there should be something in place that reflects these duties. How are we going to get through? Indeed, what are we ruling out? The idea that a local authority is going to provide for special educational needs or be the main backstop suggests that we might be instituting more special schools.
If we want a hardy perennial of discussion in your Lordships’ House, special schools is an extremely good one. There are those who think they are the wonderful answer to all problems, and those who think they are effectively a form of apartheid in which you take somebody with a disability away from the rest of society. It is a long, well-established argument which predates the noble Baroness’s arrival in the House, but I assure her the scars are there on many of us who have been through it. How do you get in there and involve these two—at times, childishly—competing ideas?
I have always felt that education is the most important thing and should be done in a way that prepares you for later life. Being taken and locked away with a selective group of people that does not give you that cross-reference is a bad start, but occasionally it will be necessary—very occasionally and I hope increasingly infrequently, but the need will be there. How is this being looked into? The learning pattern of the individual, and whether it interferes with the learning pattern of others, is probably the only real way of justifying that exclusion. How are we going to look at that?
Those who are excluded from school tend to have a very high number of special educational needs. If you want to follow this through, look at the prison population. What happens there? You can find groups of prisoners who have incredibly high levels of functional and indeed total illiteracy. When you look at most of the people in prisons, the fact that they have been effectively been excluded from school by the age of 14 is one of the most common denominators. How are we getting on? How are we developing and structuring this?
Then there are the individual schools themselves. It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness and many of my noble friends that I am very concerned that we improve the knowledge and preparation of the average classroom teacher for dealing with the commonly occurring special educational needs—I say commonly occurring, because anybody who deals with this will know that certain needs and groups of disabilities are very infrequent. Even if they are well known and obvious, how do you deal with the normal occurrence that you expect to find in a classroom?
It is about time I declared one of my very obvious interests in that I am president of the British Dyslexia Association. I am dyslexic and have used assistive technology for nearly 20 years. People with dyslexia are going to be a part of the career life of any teacher, as 10% of the population, or three in a standard classroom, will be on the dyslexia spectrum. We use a low definition internationally—America goes with 20%.
That is just one of the conditions. I congratulate the autism lobby on getting its briefing out on time, given only a week’s start. Autism generally affects only 1% of people, but many of those will be in the mainstream. There is a degree of argument there with high-functioning autism, or Asperger’s, but many of those will be in a mainstream classroom. You will come across them, although as opposed to three in every class you will meet one person in every three classes.
You can then go into dyscalculia and dyspraxia. I hope I get the figures the right way round; I think it is 3% and 5% according to some estimates. Then you have all the other conditions, for example those relating to speech and language. There is some debate whether there is a higher number of people suffering from speech and language problems than those with dyslexia, but there ain’t much in it. It will depend on which bit of teaching you are doing—that is, which age group—as to when you will hit these things hardest when you are going through. How do you deal with these problems?
The Answer we got at PMQs saying that the Carter review is going to have a look at this and do something about it is reassuring, but Carter is not the first review into teaching. Lamb and Rose come to mind as fairly recent examples. We can have reviews and make recommendations, but unless we are prepared to implement them it means nothing. Are we prepared to implement? In the new structure suggested in the recent White Paper on teacher training, how do you get a sufficient level of awareness or specialism to catch the vast majority of students going through the system and give the correct support?
In the current environment, let us face it, we have put a great push on things such as spelling. The British Dyslexia Association’s helpline had a rare experience recently: we had lots and lots of inquiries from teachers asking: “How do I get my dyslexic student through their spelling tests for SATs?”. The answer was: “We cannot help you here now”. Remember that these are disabilities which mean that you will always have greater difficulty—you always will. It does not matter how wonderful your phonics teaching. A dyslexic, with the language processing problems you have and the short-term memory, is always going to be worse at spelling.
If you sit them down and say simply, “Do more”, do you know what you are doing? It is the equivalent of taking a weak man or a small woman and saying: “Carry sacks of coal, and if you can’t do it, let’s make sure you do some more” and then, when they collapse in a heap, saying, “You didn’t try hard enough”. You are cutting that person off from the entire learning experience. We would not do it to somebody in a wheelchair. We would not say to them: “Go and do the cross-country course”. Well, we might, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, would have got round, but it would not do her any good. It would not have helped anybody. Most people would have been left behind; most would have failed.
Are we going to get the expertise into the classroom with the freedom to change the way they teach, the freedom to say: “This is not appropriate”? Let us remember, for many years we have given a legal responsibility to educate these groups. They have different learning patterns; they will not be able to learn in the same way. That is recognised in law, but we are not equipping teachers to do the job. That is a ridiculous situation, one where we are frequently contradicting ourselves in legislation. In the previous Parliament, I spent a great deal of time pointing that out on one issue.
If we are to carry on encouraging schools to go their own way, what support can they get? Will we appoint more educational psychologists—those people with six years of training? It was pointed out to me in conversation that at the moment, there is generally about one of them to between 25 and 30 schools. With the best will in the world, that is not a great resource. Each one will be dealing with at least 10,000 pupils, perhaps half that number again. How are we going to make sure that teachers in the classroom are supported, that the normal—run-of-the-mill, if you like—teacher, will be able to say to someone: “I think you have a problem here; I think it is X”, and then inform the parents of that child? At the moment, as I have said before, the normal pattern is that an interested parent batters away, identifies what is going on, does some research, gets in touch with a charity and then goes to the teacher. That is ridiculous.
Then we talk about raising standards. We are going to have to prepare the classroom experience to be one where teachers can work smarter: identify, support and help appropriately. That is what is required. Unless you have an intervention structure where you can find out who is there, go to outside structures and be guaranteed that they exist, you will get a degree of failure, or at least underachievement. Surely we do not want this. Surely, this is utterly counterproductive.
I shall pull my comments and arguments together, I hope. Where will we take the necessary action to make sure the situation is better in this brave new world of independent schools? If we are giving the ultimate support responsibility to those outside, what are going to be the links? What are we going to do to make sure that people are not forever fighting over whose budget it will come out of? How are we going to progress here?
I could think of several more questions, but I think noble Lords have probably heard enough from me for today. However, I hope that we get a better idea of the rate of travel and the commitment from the Government to make sure that, with teacher training, something actually takes place, as opposed to simply having another review that sits in a big pile while people say, “That was a good idea—we’ll get round to it someday”. Unless we take action now, we are in real trouble—or we will continue to be in trouble.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to congratulate, and follow, the noble Lord on securing this debate on a subject that is too often out of public awareness and under the political radar. He has been a stalwart champion of people in these groups and regularly draws our attention to the shortcomings of many of the services in responding to their needs.
I shall focus my remarks on the autism spectrum and the children on that spectrum. Here I declare an interest as the grandfather of a six year-old diagnosed with Asperger’s and sensory processing disorder. I should make it clear that, for the most part, the support that he has received from the local authorities and from the school involved, which is an academy, has been excellent, so whatever I say today is going to be not about him but about the people who have not received the kinds of services that he has received. There are very many families and carers up and down the country who are struggling to interrelate with public services when their children are on the autistic spectrum.
We know that autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people. If that condition is overlaid, as it often is, with other conditions, as my grandson’s is, when children go to school they will not relate to that school environment in anything like the same way as the vast majority of children. Their spatial awareness may be very different, the noise and bustle of the school may be very frightening, and they may well be highly restless and unwilling to sit and obey instructions. Indeed, they may well not understand the instructions. They may interrupt and disrupt lessons because they do not understand how to behave and how to relate to their environment. I could go on with many other examples. If the school and its teachers have little or no understanding of the possible behaviour of children on the spectrum, the stage is set for conflict between the educational system and the child and his or her family. It is only a short step then to educational failure for the child, and another disadvantage to be added to those that he or she already has.
There is no objective test for autism. A diagnosis is made by observing behaviour, but that diagnosis may still not settle the full scope of the child’s condition, and continuing observation of the child’s behaviour may well be very important in determining how best to respond to the child’s needs. School is a very important part of that observation process, and teacher awareness and responsiveness is critical to the autistic child’s development. If their initial training does not cover adequately the special needs of these children with developmental problems, they are far less likely to respond with understanding and compassion when they encounter these children in their classrooms. Indeed, they are much more likely to do harm to that child, because they are unaware of what the consideration should be.
The excellent briefing from the National Autistic Society tells us that there are an estimated 120,000 school- age children on the autism spectrum. That is more than one child in 100. The vast majority, more than 70%, of these children are in mainstream education, like my grandson, who, I have to say, has so far flourished for nearly two years in a mainstream school, so it can be made to work when the staff are trained and aware and the support systems are put in place.
This means that every teacher is likely to have children with autism in their classes at some time in their career. It is therefore no surprise that teachers say that they need more training. A survey by NASUWT in 2013 found that 60% of teachers believed that they did not have enough training in autism to meet the needs of the children they teach. Without that understanding, classroom conflict is almost inevitable, because the child with autism is almost certain at some stage to behave in some way that the teacher does not expect. I have to tell your Lordships that my grandson regularly surprises the teachers. Government figures show that children with autism are four times more likely to be given a fixed-period exclusion than pupils with no special educational needs. That is massive discrimination. The inadequacy of the coverage of autism in initial teacher training is clearly causing significant problems for children and parents, as the NASUWT briefing shows. In a survey conducted in 2015, 58% of children on the spectrum said that the single factor that would make school better for them was “if teachers understood autism”. In the same survey, parents overwhelmingly rated teachers by good autism knowledge, felt that training was the most important factor in their child’s school experience, and reported improvements when a teacher received training.
Clearly I welcome the announcement yesterday that the Government have encouraged Stephen Munday, who is conducting a review of initial teacher training, to include a recommendation on autism in his report on the reform of initial teacher training. However, this is only a tentative first step, so I have some questions for the Minister. First, when can we expect the report to be published and there to be an announcement by the Government of their response to Stephen Munday’s recommendation? Secondly, what is the earliest date that the framework for initial teacher training could be amended and training start to be changed? Thirdly, and perhaps as significantly, what are the Government going to do in respect of teachers who are already in place and who will not be going through initial teacher training? Finally on this issue, what can the Government now say about putting funding in place to make implementation practical?
I shall now make a few remarks and observations relating to the new EHCP system and the role of local authorities. First, I draw the Minister’s attention to the content of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s powerful letter of 10 March to the Education Secretary about the poor performance of some academies in multi-academy trusts, the inflated salaries of their chief executives and their large cash reserves. Sir Michael makes very clear in that letter that disadvantaged children are making poor progress in English and mathematics—and here, let me say, without being accused of being a proud grandfather, that my grandson is making better than average progress academically and that I am not opposed to academies where appropriate.
However, the parents of any child with autism attending some of the academies criticised by Sir Michael would have little confidence that their child’s needs could be met, so I have another question for the Minister: what is the Secretary of State going to do in response to Sir Michael’s letter of 10 March?
I have another couple of points to keep the Minister interested and gainfully employed. She may have seen the results of the survey by the National Autistic Society last January on the operation of the SEN system in England. This survey, of over 1,400 parents and carers of children with autism, showed a nearly 50% dissatisfaction rate with their experience of the new system. What are DfE Ministers doing on the NAS’s recommendation, as a result of that survey, that the Government should conduct and publish a review of the implementation of the new system?
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made graphic mention of the position of educational psychologists. These people are critical to making the new system work and helping both schools and parents to use it. The staff shortages of educational psychologists, with over 200 vacancies in England, is damaging the new system’s operation. Given the parlous state of local government finances in many places—largely, I have to say, the result of actions by the current and previous Governments, especially, if we were being unkind, some of the actions of the Chancellor in relation to local government—what is the Education Secretary going to do to ensure that there is sufficient educational psychology capacity available? As more schools cease to be the responsibility of local authorities and it becomes her responsibility, what can we hear from the Minister about how the Government are going to tackle the serious problem of a shortage of educational psychologists, as more and more schools move to academy status and outside the remit of their local authority? I think there is enough of an exam paper there to keep the Minister interested.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing the debate today, which strikes me as a very timely one for us to have. I declare an interest as the special educational needs governor at a local primary school in Guildford.
Nationally, something like 15% of pupils in schools, 1.3 million, are classed as having special educational needs. Of those, 2.8% are classed as having quite substantial special educational needs. It used to be that when they were given special treatment it was called being statemented, because the statement of their needs identified the support that they needed. The Children and Families Act 2014 changed the concept of statementing to one of producing an education, health and care plan—EHC plans, as they are now called—although in many senses the process is very similar, in the sense that once a child is identified as having quite substantial special educational needs there is an assessment that involves, among others, educational psychologists with specialisms in particular areas, and the needs of the child and the support that is needed to help them are identified. The school has to provide that support although, as before, the cost of it is met by the local education authority.
The SEN part of the Children and Families Act was very much the brainchild of a colleague of ours in the House of Commons at the time, Sarah Teather. She was concerned to ensure that the care given to those with SEN cut across the various services provided and that there was joined-up thinking on the part of the Government. Frequently it was found that it was not just a matter of educational needs; that need would often spill over into social need, not only the child’s family background but also housing and similar issues. Sometimes social services were involved, and it was necessary to have the social services input and to have the health input from the NHS. As things stood, the emphasis was very much on the provision of educational services but there was not nearly enough joined-up work across the services to provide the necessary support for the child. As I said, much of the thinking that lies behind the concept of the new education, health and care plan was that there should be co-operation, in statute, between these various services so that you can get the joined-up working that is necessary to make sure that the child gets the support they need.
The other thought behind the Act was that perhaps too many children were being statemented. I know that, when she was a Member, Baroness Warnock believed that many schools pushed for children with autistic tendencies, for example, to be statemented, partly because the schools could then get enough resources to provide the necessary support. If truth be told, the figure has been at 2.7% or 2.8% for some time now, and there is no indication so far that there will be a reduction in the number of those put forward for the new EHC plans.
However, one should bear in mind that a very large number, some 15%, of young people with special education needs of one sort or another are looked after by schools and not by special provision. A very small proportion, some 3%, receive this special provision, but 15% of young people in schools need some sort of attention. This used to be called school action or school action plus, according to how serious the need was judged to be. That assessment is now entirely up to the school. In my own school, children’s needs are assessed when they come into the reception class. Although our school has links with the nursery school that feeds into it, not every child who comes to our school is from that school. We serve an area of relative deprivation so are slightly above the national average in terms of the number of children with special education needs as a whole, and we are very much on the national average as regards those who need special plans. The current arrangements emphasise the role of and provision made by the school as well as the point that my noble friend Lord Addington made—that the ordinary classroom teacher needs to be trained to cope with special educational needs. As I say, in the school where I am a governor we have a special educational needs co-ordinator, a SENCO. She has a number of higher-level teaching assistants whom she has largely trained to cope with particular areas. One is concerned with speech and language and another with behaviour. We also have a home liaison team and a home/school link worker who works very closely with the SENCO. That provides us with much of the social care element that is often necessary as well as with a link to the home.
The school is backed up. It is an academy, but we still use the local education authority when we need special services. For example, quite a few children come into the school with behavioural problems so we look to the local education authority when there is a need for a behavioural specialist. I believe that we buy in the services of that specialist. That emphasises both the importance of the special educational needs co-ordinator—every school now has to have a trained SENCO—and the role that she plays in co-ordinating services across the school and training the classroom teachers. In my school, there are sessions after school when she runs through the special educational needs issues. She also runs a surgery for classroom teachers between 8 and 8.30 in the morning. The school opens at 8.30 am and any teacher who has a particular problem can pop in to talk to her about it. She, together with the deputy head and the small team with whom she works, assesses the needs of every child coming into reception. The classroom teacher is obviously part of the group that makes the assessment and he or she can look to the specialists among our teaching assistants to come in if they need extra help. We also make assessments on a one-to-one basis of those with special educational needs and, if necessary, we put them forward for education, health and care plans.
I want to talk a little about the difficulties that we run into at that level. There has been the switch from statementing. Every child who had a statement has had to be reassessed, and that has created something of a backlog. It is up to the local authority specialists to conduct this reassessment and, as I said, by next year every child has to have an education, health and care assessment and plan.
In that regard, we are very dependent on being able to pull in the services of the local authority. Getting these local authority specialists to find the time to come in is very difficult, and I know that that is a problem that arises not only in relation to the school where I am a governor but to schools across the country. A child with autism coming into a reception class sometimes needs one-to-one support. In the last year we have had a couple of cases of children coming in with very real problems. They have not been able to settle into the classroom environment and have needed one-to-one support within the class. However, it has taken about a year to get statements for those children and, in consequence, the school has had to pay for a teaching assistant at a cost of about £16,000 a year. The cost of providing two one-to-one teaching assistants for a year in a relatively small primary school is substantial.
The key issue here—it has been noted by both my noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Warner—is educational psychologists, and I have a question that I would like to put to the Minister. At the moment, the training period for educational psychologists is long—it takes six or seven years—and people will also be working in a classroom during that period. They get a bursary for the first year but, after that, I gather that they are employed by local authorities in an apprentice capacity, so to speak. However, they are not paid for the first year of their more specialist training. These are what are called “commissioned” places for educational psychologists.
At present, the Government provide 150 commissioned places but we desperately need more. Quite a number of vacancies across local authorities cannot be filled. There is a high turnover, partly because the young people who go into it are not particularly well paid. Even when fully qualified, they earn only just over £30,000, so it is not very well paid after six or seven years of training. They move from one job to another, and sometimes of course they move for other reasons—for example, their husband may have changed jobs. Can the Minister tell us why the number of places cannot be increased, given that there is a very real bottleneck in a lot of schools? There is the whole question of getting an educational psychologist to find the time to help with assessments of one sort or another or, for that matter, of getting support within the school when the SENCO needs help in coping with problems that arise from time to time. Why can that not be increased? The Association of Educational Psychologists feels that we need 200 places. Could not that be done?
I am quite impressed by the degree to which, in “good” schools—our school now is recognised as a “good” school—the children are not only assessed when they come in but there is careful monitoring of how they are proceeding, whether they are exceeding their age-related expectations and how they are doing in relation to other children in the class. It is good to see the attention that is being given to this, how carefully the SENCOs work with the classroom teachers, and how the classroom teachers respond. However, it is necessary that those teachers are properly trained. Again, this point was raised by both previous speakers. It is also necessary that more time is given in initial teacher training to identifying particular special educational needs. As my noble friend Lord Addington said, quite a number of children suffer from dyslexia and it would be sensible if those training to be teachers were more knowledgeable about it.
Classroom teachers face a diverse number of young people with whom they have to cope. The outside services are often overstretched and cannot meet the deadlines required, leaving a backlog of work to be done, assessments to be completed, education, health and care statements to be negotiated and agreed, and tribunal hearings to attend. One recognises how pushed many of the local authority people are in their jobs. All this reverberates back on the school, the SENCO and his or her staff, and the classroom teachers who have to cope with running the class—and that class is often made up of a diverse group of young people with diverse needs. They need to be properly trained to cope with these demands. Increasingly in our schools we have well-trained specialists in terms of the SENCOs and their support staff. However, they in turn depend upon the classroom teachers to recognise and understand the specialist needs that emerge from the diversity that they find among the pupils in their care.
My Lords, I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for securing this debate. Our schools prepare young people for our communities and are committed to seeing that all children are valued and respected, which serves to build a society where all know the fullness of life. Last week in this House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely reminded us:
“Life in all its fullness means being exacting, rigorous, ambitious and having appetite for all that excellence demands”.—[Official Report, 19/6/16; col. 63.]
He added in another speech that,
“we cannot allow our commitment to academic rigour blind us to the fact that we are teaching people, not subject matter”.
This is core to the Christian idea of education as a matter of mutual flourishing, of which academic achievement is only a part, albeit an important part.
Schools should not accept underperformance, but reaching one’s potential does not look the same for all children. Our schools must be supported in the important work of ensuring that children with special educational needs and disabilities reach their potential. It is not enough for them merely to fit into the system. Moreover, a child with special educational needs is a positive gift to a school, bringing a different sensibility and outlook that can both challenge and enrich the whole school community.
Jean Vanier, who founded the L’Arche communities and has done so much to transform the way that people with learning disabilities are understood and valued, says, in Becoming Human:
“Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered, is at the heart of belonging, so it is at the heart of communion with another”.
The weakness of which he speaks is something that we all share, not just those of us with learning disabilities. But it is perhaps a distinctive ability of a child with special educational needs to offer this transforming gift of weakness to a school community with greater frankness. Such children are an opportunity, not a problem.
As well as recognising what they have to offer, it is also, of course, vital to provide for their particular needs. How we do this is part of a much larger picture of community health and disadvantage. For example, Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy or Roma pupils are overrepresented among many categories of special educational needs, including moderate and severe learning difficulties, and behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Good SEN provision is part of building communities where we are all welcome and provided for.
The White Paper’s suggestion that,
“a pupil’s mainstream school will retain accountability”,
for the educational outcomes of excluded children when they have not,
“subsequently enrolled at a different mainstream school”,
is a good example of the Government attempting to ensure that,
“the needs of vulnerable pupils are met”.
We must show that we consider children with special educational needs and disabilities to be integral to the community. Their success, whatever that may look like, is vital to the health of the whole school.
A particular example of how this is being done well is the Northumberland Church of England Academy. This school provides for those with moderate learning needs up to 19 years old and has a centre for those with more severe needs or profound, multiple learning difficulties. The centre offers each learner an individualised curriculum drawn from the national curriculum, and an essential curriculum that covers all aspects of personal and social education. There is recognition that all children deserve a high-quality education but that this looks different for each child.
Turning to the bigger picture, my concern is in part one of capacity. With the shrinking of the role of local authorities, some academies may lack outside monitoring and support. As we move further away from local authority oversight, schools must be confident that they will be supported in having effective provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. They cannot be held accountable if they are not also given the capacity to do this. Capacity includes having effective training for staff so that they are confident in what they do and can identify areas for improvement—a point that has already been made.
Special educational needs and disabilities are often associated with shame, humiliation and a lack of self-worth. Good SEND provision must also include tackling the bullying and other diminishments that children with these needs can encounter. Again, central to success is to help pupils, staff and the whole school to recognise the distinctive and valuable contribution that SEND children can make to the life of the school and the development of their peers. As I said before, a SEND child is not a burden but a gift. While the White Paper signals a desire to support vulnerable pupils, noble Lords need to insist on clarity about what will be the impact of academisation and what will happen to funding for special needs pupils, especially those excluded from schools. This is key.
Church of England schools are keen to play their part in SEND provision, but the lack of clarity in this area creates a barrier to those planning to open a SEND free school. It must be addressed as quickly as possible to ensure that the best provision is available. Many diocesan boards of education own small school sites which might be highly suitable for special school provision and would be willing and enthusiastic to expand into SEND schools if the funding risk can be allayed. It is a matter of deep regret that one of the Church of England’s most outstanding special schools, St Francis School, in Hooke, west Dorset, was closed some years ago because of the high cost of different services to fit the curriculum and restrictions on local authority funding. So there are lessons to be learned from recent history about managing the funding risk appropriately.
Schools are not the only SEND providers facing uncertainty around their capacity to continue providing high-quality education and an environment of mutual flourishing. Hereward College is a college for young people with disabilities and additional needs based in Coventry. It offers inclusive provision and specialist facilities for day and residential learners with complex disabilities and learning difficulties. Its principal has said that the college wants its learners “to make the most of their skills and abilities, have increased choices and make more of their own decisions about work, education, health and living”.
Again, there is a concern about funding here. Funding for high-needs provision has been cut significantly and many specialist colleges could go out of business. The choice for disabled students has been severely restricted and in some cases they do not have access to suitable provision. This needs to change if we want them to live full lives and be inspiring and contributing members of our community, and if we want the whole community to flourish by embracing the distinctive sensibilities of every member.
To conclude, improved school capacity to deal with commonly occurring special educational needs and disabilities is not a small part of our school system but a crucial signifier of our vision for education and what it means. Education is not just for those who perform well and easily in a system that suits them. It is for everyone, and those with special educational needs and disabilities have gifts to offer without which the entire community is poorer. Our SEND capacity is one indicator of how much we believe that and reveal it in the daily lives of our schools.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Addington for securing this debate. His tenacity and perspicacity in this area knows no bounds. I also want to thank those organisations which have sent us briefings; they are very important. I have listened to and been moved by all the previous speakers and I agree with what they have said. I guess that this is a debate in which we may all say the same things, but sometimes I have to say that I am a little disappointed. If this was a debate on international affairs, military affairs or even, dare I say, Europe, the Benches would be packed, but when talking about our children with special needs, there is a handful of people here. However, I hope that they can read the debate in Hansard and that our wise words will have a profound effect on them.
When I started my teaching career in the 1970s, there was no such thing as special educational needs—there were slow learners. Those slow learners might have been put in what was called a remedial class, or as the cleaner at my first school referred to them, the “ready meals”. Teachers had absolutely no training at all. Again at my first school, a Church of England primary school, the enlightened head teacher decided that these slow learners would go into a separate small classroom, a remedial room, and that they would do all their learning with one teacher in there. As I say, the teacher was not qualified. The effect on those children was not what he hoped for. Imagine children with a whole host of learning difficulties being kept together in a mixed age group in one classroom. That is not the way to deal with special educational needs. But, of course, he did not know that. Teacher training did not equip teachers for this responsibility and area of concern.
When we move the tape forward we can see that successive Governments came to realise, to their credit, how important this issue is. Schools have co-ordinators—SENCOs—with particular responsibility for special educational needs. The whole landscape over that period since I started teaching has changed dramatically.
I particularly want to note the work of the coalition Government—I would say this, wouldn’t I?—on the Children and Families Bill, because for the first time, SENCOs had to have the correct qualifications. It was a bit daft to have someone responsible for educational needs who had no official training or qualifications. We introduced the all-important code of practice, which has been a milestone in this area and, of course, we brought in the education health and care plans. I remember that a number of us at the time raised concerns. Before the health and social care plans there were statements, and pupils with special educational needs had a formal statement. What was written on the statement had to be carried out but the new care plans were a more joined-up approach.
We were promised that there would be a review of how the care plans mechanism was working, particularly the appeal system. There is concern about how the appeal system is working in respect of parents. However, there is still much to be done. I said that SENCOs in schools are qualified, but only newly appointed SENCOs have a qualification; the existing ones do not need it, but they can decide to get one. We should be saying bravely and boldly that every SENCO—past, present and future—should have a qualification.
The 2014 Mencap survey of 1,000 parents found that 66% who have a child with a learning disability are not confident that teachers at their child’s mainstream school understand how to teach pupils with special educational needs. That was presumably of concern to the Government. The Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training, published in 2015, which we have heard about from a number of Members, identified special educational needs as a significant gap in many teacher training courses and recommended that it should be included in a framework of initial teacher training content. I would go further and say that all teachers, whatever route they go through to be a qualified teacher—Teach First, for example—should and must have a special educational element in their teacher training. Further, teachers should be provided with regular and continuing professional development opportunities.
We know that under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, SEN children have a right to be educated at their mainstream school if they wish. Many mainstream schools are simply not viable options for SEN children as a majority of teachers there do not have the vital base level of educational needs understanding. I very much support the other recommendation in the Carter review: that trainee teachers should have opportunities to undertake placements in special schools or in mainstream schools that have a specialist provision. But why just trainee teachers? Why not the leadership team of a school, or indeed why not a rolling programme of all teachers? I would be grateful if the Minister told us where we are up to on some of the important recommendations of that review.
Local authorities are responsible for the funding of children with special educational needs and are tasked with ensuring that all students, including special needs students, have a place. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, rightly pointed out, as the number of free schools and academies grows, there is a danger that there will be a disconnect between the responsibility of local authorities to support children with special needs and the level of control that local authorities have over schools in their area. It is likely that more funding will go directly to academies and free schools, meaning that the LAs will have fewer funds at their disposal to meet their responsibilities. How does the Minister see LAs carrying out that responsibility in an ever-changing schools landscape, with fewer and fewer resources for them?
I turn to funding, which is complicated. At times I struggle to understand how we make the funding work. I will give two examples. We know that the high- needs funding block is the money given to local authorities to manage and develop local SEN provision. It provides top-up funding for education settings to help them support pupils with high-level needs that they cannot reasonably expect to meet themselves. A friend of mine has a daughter who has mild cerebral palsy. She is also on the autistic spectrum and dyspraxic. That family, along with the local authority, has struggled to get the support she needs. The authority is pressurised because of its budget constraints, so it looks at every application very closely. The family had two formal interviews. That seems to me the wrong way to do it. The pressure put on that family did not seem right.
Yesterday, I went to visit Tower Hamlets FE College. It has a very successful special needs department, but it has also built a special needs unit in the basement of the FE college. I visited that unit and was amazed by the love and care of the staff there. What I did not realise was that the pupils in that unit come from a local special school. Why? It is because we have to make provision up to the age of 24, but a special school gets funding only when the pupil is 18, even though the mainstream special school might have capacity. The special school has had an arrangement with Tower Hamlets College whereby it can send its post-18 students and its teachers to Tower Hamlets because the college can access the post-18 funding, whereas the school cannot. That seems a strange way to deal with funding. If a mainstream school has the capacity to continue supporting special needs students, that should be how it operates.
At the beginning I mentioned the importance of teacher training in special educational needs. The other issue is early identification. If a teacher is trained they can identify where problems occur. As a head teacher, for me, one of the most important resources was the school psychological service. It was the gem for giving support. A bit like with funding, I gradually saw the educational psychological service resource decline, not in quality, but in the amount of time I could have with it. To take the example of a young boy, the ed psychs, as we called them, would come in, help to identify problems and put together an action plan or a statement —now, it would be an education healthcare plan. But there was always a long gap between visits because their time had to be given out sparingly. Mine was a 600-place primary school; we ended up seeing the ed psych maybe twice a month if we were lucky.
A boy with adoptive parents who had been battered as a baby showed all sorts of emotional and behavioural problems at school. He would come into school and just want to escape. When he was settled, suddenly, there were problems again. His parents were so supportive. We tried everything to work out the issues. Of course, the ed psych identified them—and the solution—but that process seemed to take for ever and a day. If we are genuine about dealing with this issue, we must make sure that that resource is supported. As both the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and my noble friend Lady Sharp said, we should not drip out ed pyschs’ time but make sure they are there as often as needed. How do the Government intend to deal with the shortage of EP support in schools? What plans do they have to recruit more educational psychologists? How can we ensure a more seamless service?
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, talked a lot about autism. Last year, I was privileged to visit Treetops School, which is ambitious about autism. Again, I was stunned by the quality of the provision there, and how caring and supportive they were. That made me think: why cannot that provision be available for all autistic children? On Tuesday, I met a boy called Alex. He was a pupil with special educational needs who struggled with mainstream schooling. He left school and applied to the Salvation Army’s step-up programme. There, he was given specialist support. I was shown some examples of that support, focusing on what is important to Alex, what those who know Alex say and how Alex can best be supported. He was given the specialist support he needed, completed the course and now has a job as a barista. The course gave him the interpersonal skills needed for the world of work.
We have made great strides in the provision of special educational needs, as I said at the beginning, but there is so much more we can do, equipping all teachers with the knowledge and training they need, and ensuring that the resources, funding and regimes for special needs are provided equitably and do not become a constant struggle to access. We need to realise the importance of the educational service. The support Alex got should be available for all pupils. We should champion the importance of educational needs, which I know is something all of us in this House feel strongly about.
My Lords, there should never be any doubt over whether there are sufficient places for children with special educational needs or a disability. Societies are surely defined by how they care for their most vulnerable members and if children are unable to access the educational support they require they will be seriously hampered—perhaps permanently—in fulfilling their potential.
On the face of it, the mere fact that the number of academies and free schools has increased exponentially should not mean that there is greater need for additional school capacity for SEND children. In fact, given that free schools are by definition additional schools, and that there are now more than 20 special free schools, logically the pressure on such places should have decreased. However, it seems that is not the case and so we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for bringing this important subject to your Lordships’ House for consideration.
What is not logical is the Department for Education continuing the responsibility of local authorities for ensuring adequate school places for all who require them yet denying local authorities the ability to tell academies that they must expand to meet demand. That situation surely must change because, as the title of this debate suggests, in some places the increasing number of academies and free schools has made it more difficult for SEND children to gain access to the school named in their education, health and care plan. Other noble Lords commented on evidence that this is the case. Indeed, an article in the Independent in January this year quoted the chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau on anecdotal evidence that had reached her to the effect that academies were often reluctant to accept children with special educational needs unless they had an EHCP already in place.
Under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice, parents are asked to express a preference for a school as part of the process for agreeing an education, health and care plan for their child. Of course, academies are under the same duty to admit a child if he or she is named in an EHCP care plan as any local authority school. In practice, I suspect that only a few do not comply, even though some may initially be inclined otherwise. If an academy is determined to avoid admitting a particular child, it has the option—which maintained schools do not—to refer the admission directly to the Secretary of State: a step that rightly is very rarely taken.
But what is the situation for children with special needs who do not have an education, health and care plan? The School Admissions Code should ensure that academies operate a fair admissions policy for all SEND children. In a reply to a Written Question in another place from Cat Smith MP on 27 April, the Minister, Edward Timpson, outlined the various requirements placed on academies. He also highlighted the fact that parents had the right of recourse to the Schools Adjudicator, the First-tier Tribunal and also had the right to bring a complaint under the Equality Act. All those options are available, but why should parents who may already be facing significant challenges with a child with SEND have to go down these routes to get what is theirs by right? Quite apart from the cost and time implications, it is intolerable that this should be the result of academies dodging their legal responsibilities.
Each academy—or, at least, academy trust—will have its own distinct philosophy and operating practices. Some will be highly inclusive—some have special schools as part of the trust—and some will be less inclusive than they should be, though that may well involve more than SEND children. We know that some academy trusts have opened pupil referral units which are used to “move out” children with special educational needs, without actually excluding them. Some academies—and, probably, some maintained schools—would rather not take special needs children who may lower their academic results. Where that can be identified, it should result in decisive—indeed, punitive—action from the Regional Schools Commissioner or the Secretary of State herself, because it makes a mockery of the philosophy of all the main political parties, which is that while all children must be valued equally, even more should be done for those who have special educational needs.
Does our education system value all children equally? The charity Alliance for Inclusive Education does not believe that is yet the case. It has issued a persuasive six-point plan which, if she has not already done so, I urge the Minister to read. I will mention just two of the points. Currently, SEND children do not have an absolute right to mainstream education. I think this is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark meant when he talked of all children being integral to the community. Discrimination can, and does, continue under the guise of “parental choice” and “reasonable adjustments”. Sometimes SEND children are excluded from a school because of the presumed “negative effect” their inclusion would have on able-bodied children. Equally, with an increasing premium on building space, inclusive design can often be neglected in education building projects. These are not situations which should be tolerated in the 21st century and the Government should consider what steps they can take to bring them to an end.
For children with SEN, those who exhibit challenging behaviour and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, there is some evidence that as they approach GCSEs they are removed from school or academy rolls. The Guardian in January this year reported concerns that league table pressures were acting as an incentive to moving students unlikely to perform well off the school roll. Some schools are thought to use “unofficial exclusions”. The number of pupils educated in both pupil referral units and special schools is on the rise and special school numbers have risen by more than 13,000 in the last five years. What drives that? We have a system which incentivises schools around the attainment of their pupils and not on their progress or the difference schools make to children’s lives over time. This is non-inclusive in itself because it values higher attainment and places greater value on children who achieve higher results.
Academies and academy trusts are coming under particularly strong pressure in this regard. There is a constant message that results alone determine their success or failure. It is therefore no surprise that some schools and academies, and some academy trusts, might engage in non-inclusive practices and it is right that the issue should be acknowledged, not least by the DfE.
Many children and young people with SEND also have other forms of disadvantage. Specifically, there is a direct link with children in care. Government figures show that just 12% of looked-after children achieve five or more good GCSEs or equivalent, and two-thirds of looked-after children have SEND, compared with less than 20% of the general population. Earlier this year the Prime Minister acknowledged that,
“some people get left behind … They haven’t been equipped to make the most of the opportunities presented to them—and a chasm exists between them, and those who have been able to take advantage”.
Legislation in the Queen’s Speech promises a number of changes, perhaps the most important being that the Children and Social Work Bill will introduce new “corporate parenting principles” to govern support for looked-after young people, and duties on schools, including academies, to designate a member of staff for children who have been adopted or live with a special guardian, which already exists for looked-after children. The forthcoming “education for all” Bill will include fundamental reforms to alternative provision for excluded pupils, which is overdue when it is considered that children with SEN are seven times more likely to be permanently excluded from school.
However, the White Paper published in March offered little for SEND children. For instance, in Chapter 3 on leadership, SEND does not even get a mention. SEND leadership is ignored in terms of advanced career development, and there is no mention of SEN co-ordinators, which every school is obliged to have. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, highlighted, more training for so-called SENCOs is much needed. In many schools the SENCO is merely a volunteer—perhaps the only member of staff willing to take on the role. While they will get training as deemed appropriate, they cannot be equipped to deal with each child’s individual needs. I certainly endorse the assertion by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that each SENCO should have an appropriate qualification.
The Children and Families Act introduced significant SEND reforms which will better support children and young people with autism in the education system, including the publication of local offers of SEND services by local authorities, but the funding to support the changes is widely regarded as inadequate, despite an additional sum being announced by the Government recently, which I acknowledge. Local area SEND inspections are due to begin this month yet their scope remains unclear and it remains to be seen whether they will have the necessary bite to make a difference to education, health and social care provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, outlined clearly and movingly the needs associated with children with dyslexia. His analogy with a frail person being asked to carry a bag of coal made a deep impression on me and, I am sure, other noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, reminded us that autistic children are also in need of greater support, and while the small number of special schools specifically for children with autism that have opened recently are welcome, many more young people could be properly supported were more teachers adequately trained to provide that support.
Of course, this impacts on initial teacher training so it was encouraging, as other noble Lords have said, to hear the Chancellor outline in another place yesterday the fact that the importance of ensuring that teachers are properly trained to support young people with special educational needs, specifically autism, would be a central tenet of the review of ITT that is currently taking place. That is welcome, as is the fact that the announcement has featured prominently in today’s media but, beyond autism, it is to be hoped that the way will now open up towards a significant proportion of initial teacher training content being allocated to support the full range of individual needs of children and young people.
As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, also outlined, educational psychologists play a key role, providing an essential contribution to the assessments for education, health and care plans. They also give strategic advice to head teachers, governors and SENCOs on support for all children with SEND, with or without an education, health and care plan. Ideally, there would be a weekly visible presence of educational psychologists in all schools, working with staff and children, to avoid the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred to. But the opportunity to provide strategic advice is limited by insufficient numbers of educational psychologists. More than 60% of secondary schools have access only one or two days a month; just 1% of schools have access every day.
This links in with the question of increasing school capacity. It is about brokering multiagency support. For example, it is about increasing the number of speech and language therapists, especially in primary schools, and mental health specialists, especially in secondary schools. It is about joining up health and education to support these vulnerable children. Can the Minister say how the Government expect the recent and projected reforms to improve educational outcomes for children with SEND? How will improvements be measured and how will schools, including academies, and local authorities be held to account?
There is a clear need to support children with social, emotional and mental health needs. A Department for Education pilot project is running which paired an NHS mental health worker with a nominated mental health lead in 200 schools across the country. Initial reports from this have been very positive. Can the Minister say whether the pilot will be rolled out across the country to benefit many more children?
An issue that gets very little consideration, or at least coverage, concerns the need to protect children with special educational needs and disability from sexual exploitation and abuse. A crucial aspect of this is ensuring that there is appropriate sex and relationship education for children with SEND. We have gradually become increasingly aware as a society that all children can be at risk of child sexual exploitation. However, research by Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and other organisations last year revealed that many children with learning disabilities or difficulties are not receiving adequate protection. This is often the result of false assumptions that they do not need sex and relationships education, as they are not considered “sexual beings”, or because accessible information about staying safe online and in the community is not available to them.
The report emanating from that research contained this telling comment:
“We don’t want to think that disabled young people have sex; we don’t want to think that disabled young people can be exploited and be exploitative. Professionals find it hard to accept this happens to children with disabilities”.
This surely highlights the need for accessible, relevant sex and relationships education, which is particularly important because children with learning difficulties are likely to be at a greater risk of exploitation and abuse. The report called on the Government to ensure that accessible and relevant sex and relationships education is made available to children and young people with SEND. Given that the duties outlined in the Children and Social Work Bill extend to academies as well as maintained schools, can the Minister tell noble Lords whether the Government will consider extending requirements in relation to sex and relationships education to academies as well?
Equally, if the forthcoming education for all Bill is to live up to its name, in addition to looking at academic education, the Government should consider how they can improve access to lessons on subjects such as sex and relationships for children with SEND, which are essential for keeping them safe. I urge the Minister to give an undertaking that she will consider this.
Finally, one of the central themes of the Government’s new legislative agenda is improving the life chances of the most vulnerable children and young people in the UK. Education is at the heart of this, as we know that those who lack good qualifications—five A* to C grades at GCSE—will be disadvantaged in later life and will struggle to access opportunities such as apprenticeships and to make the transition into sustained employment. Children with special educational needs and disability will need additional support to achieve positive life outcomes, educational and otherwise, and a key test of the action the Government take will be whether it leads to real change for this group.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for initiating this debate and echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, in admiring his tenacity in returning to this issue on a number of occasions. It is an extremely important one, so I am delighted to be responding. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed today.
This Government’s vision for pupils with SEND is the same as for all pupils: we want them to achieve their full potential and make a good transition to adulthood. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark that we are committed to inclusive education of pupils with SEND and to the progressive removal of barriers to learning and participation in mainstream education, where appropriate. To achieve this, we are transforming the system, improving teacher training and empowering teachers through our school reforms.
The Children and Families Act 2014 is delivering the biggest change to the SEND system in a generation, but it is only the start. We are aiming high. All children and young people should have an excellent education that equips them to have fulfilling lives. The legislation is of course only the start. We have invested heavily in practical and financial support for implementing the reforms, including an extra £80 million in 2016-17.
It will inevitably take time for the new system to bed down, but we are already seeing examples of good practice and getting positive feedback from parents of pupils with special educational needs.
We have set out clear expectations of schools in our revised SEND code of practice. Excellent differentiated classroom teaching is key. Schools should provide a graduated approach to assess, plan, deliver and review what works best for each individual pupil by way of support.
That is the theory, but how are schools supporting children in practice? As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, schools are now required to work with families to publish a school information report, setting out how they value and support pupils with SEND. They have risen to the challenge. The students at Ninestiles Academy in Birmingham, for instance, have put together a video showing what is on offer at their school, while St George’s Beneficial primary in Portsmouth has developed an engaging report covering every aspect of the support available in the school—from what to do about initial concerns, to the curriculum, teaching, specialist services, and even how children will be included in school trips.
Providing the best possible training is at the heart of our drive to improve standards. As all noble Lords have said, classroom teachers must be equipped to identify and respond to special educational needs. To make this happen, we have made improvements to initial teacher training and CPD, and all these changes have a special needs focus.
In addition, we have funded disability groups to produce good practice material for teachers on meeting particular needs. We have awarded contracts totalling more than £2.5 million a year to a number of sector specialists, including the Autism Trust and the National Sensory Impairment Partnership, to support the implementation of the SEN reforms and to provide information and training to schools and teachers. In 2016-17, we are continuing to provide a similar sum for organisations to provide workforce support for dyslexia, autism, speech, language and communication needs and sensory impairment. We have also funded Nasen to develop a free universal offer for SEN CPD for teachers, including those working in the early years and post-16 sectors, which will meet the requirements, providing high-quality teaching as described in the code of practice.
Currently, all ITT courses must ensure that trainee teachers can meet the teachers’ standards. Standard 5 specifies that teachers must,
“adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils; and have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs”.
As several noble Lords have said, following the Carter review in 2015, we commissioned an independent expert group, chaired by Stephen Munday, to develop a framework of core ITT content. The Carter review had found variability in the quality of course content, with SEND being one area for improvement. The group has looked very closely at these issues and I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has also met Stephen Munday. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that the group has now submitted its report to Ministers for consideration. The report will be published shortly and the Government will also be publishing a response that directly addresses its recommendations.
As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, also said, staff already in post need to be equipped to support children and young people effectively, which is why we are raising the bar for awarding qualified teacher status. In future, teacher accreditation will be based on proven practice in the classroom and assessed on the basics of the teachers’ standards, including responding to the needs of pupils with special educational needs.
In addition, we will shortly be publishing a new standard for teachers’ professional development, which will set out a clear description of what makes for effective professional development. We hope this will be used to challenge ineffective practice in the classroom now, and to improve quality.
Schools need to keep a close eye on the effectiveness of their support for pupils with special educational needs, and we have invested several million pounds in programmes to support schools. We are currently considering tenders for a further six contracts worth more than £3 million to support the implementation of the reforms. The largest of these is a contract to provide strategic support for the schools workforce on special educational needs, and to consider how it can best work in a school-led system.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, asked about reviewing the success of implementing the 2014 Act, and we are keeping the situation under review through a number of measures. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentioned the independent inspection of local areas by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. This is an innovation and the first reviews are due this month. We are also conducting surveys of local authorities and parent and carer forums.
Several noble Lords mentioned the issue of exclusion of those with special educational needs. We believe it is right for heads to take the decision whether to exclude. Schools need to be safe places for all learners, and poor behaviour cannot be tolerated, but it is of course important also to recognise that some poor behaviour may relate to an underlying special educational need—for example, the pupil is disengaged from learning because their needs are not being met. So, we have clear statutory guidance for schools on exclusions and special educational needs, with a number of safeguards. For instance, parents can request that a SEND expert sit on the review panel for a permanent exclusion, and when a pupil has a statement of SEND or an EHC plan, permanent exclusion should very much be the last resort.
In our recent White Paper, we set out our vision to continue the rise in educational standards—a school system in which every school can adopt the benefits of academy status, which give excellent leaders and teachers the freedom to run schools as they see best and ensure that every child gets the education that they deserve. Multi-academy trusts are key to this. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, mentioned concerns expressed in a letter from Sir Michael Wilshaw. The Ofsted report to which that refers was based on seven MATs that Ofsted had specific concerns about and did not look at the excellent practice going on in many MATs around the country. For example, the Community Inclusive Trust is a multi-academy trust in Lincolnshire that has a strong focus on inclusive education and aims to develop a mixed MAT of special and primary academies. CIT consists of six academies, meeting the needs of some 800 pupils in mainstream and special school environments. Academies work together to share staff expertise and resources.
The free school model is also providing opportunities for excellent new provision. The Churchill Special Free School, for instance, is an eight-to-18 all-through school in Suffolk. Opened in 2013, it is rated outstanding by Ofsted, caters for young people with speech, language and interaction needs and is part of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust, a partnership of schools in Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.
In future, local authority duties will fall in three areas, one of which is ensuring that the needs of vulnerable pupils are met, including children with special educational needs, so the existing legal responsibilities will remain unchanged in the new system. Local authorities are already providing these functions in an increasingly autonomous school system. For example, Blackpool is implementing the reforms effectively in partnership with its high proportion of academies. We heard first-hand experience from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the academy for which she is a governor, which continues to work closely with the local authority and uses its specialist services to support its pupils with special educational needs. Indeed across the country, local authorities are working effectively with autonomous schools; they work with SENCO forums, representing all the schools in their area. They provide support, advice and challenge to schools to help them to improve the offer for children with special educational needs. Developing and reviewing the local offer for SEND involves the full range of schools and other provision locally. There are strong working relationships with local schools forums. Local authorities also support local parent carer forums and provide information, advice and support services to parents locally.
All noble Lords mentioned the important role of educational psychologists. Local authorities will retain important functions in relation to them, and continue to provide services to support those functions, including educational psychology. In the planned changes to the funding system, we will make sure that authorities are funded so that this important work can continue. We recognise that there are pressures on these services and will continue to keep the situation under review. I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about her question around commissioned places.
We want all schools to be supported with a fair allocation of funds, so we are protecting the national schools and high-needs budget and proposing a national funding formula, to bring a more equitable distribution of funding to schools and academies, and to local authorities for those with high needs. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, rightly highlighted, local authorities have a finite budget for high needs, which they are responsible for managing and distributing, so they can meet their statutory duties and use the funding at their disposal where it has most impact. We know that some local authorities have found it difficult to manage with the level of funding that they get, which is one reason why we are planning for a better way in which to distribute that funding. We have started a process of consultation and will continue to consult further, because we realise that it is critical to get this right.
Finally, on capacity in schools, we announced in the White Paper that at least £200 million will be assigned for special places to expand existing schools and create new special schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, specifically asked about sex education and academies. I am afraid I will have to write to him with a full answer.
This Government are committed to educational excellence for everyone, everywhere. Identifying and meeting pupils’ special educational needs and disabilities is at the heart of that commitment. I am proud of what we are doing to deliver that, and I assure noble Lords that it remains a priority to ensure that all young children get the best chance of the best education that they deserve.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and I thank the Minister for what was as good an attempt as I have had at answering my questions—of late, certainly. We had a great deal more clarity about the role of the local authority. The Minister said that teachers have a duty to teach everyone, but she did not say what that duty involves in terms of training for specialist teaching. The learning process of those we are talking about is going to be different, which means that what comes out of Carter is going to be important. Unless you get that straight, accessing support becomes almost irrelevant because you are unable to identify the problem. I talked about dyslexia and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, spoke about autism. My noble friend has shown me a list of other conditions set out in two nice long columns on a piece of A4. I identified some of them as subsets of other conditions. This is complicated and difficult, and I am talking about commonly occurring conditions only. Unless you get into initial teacher training, CPD or something a good base of awareness about the types of problems so that every teacher will get it, you are going to miss large numbers and put a great deal of stress on your support structures. There is no other way around it.
Therefore, before I thank everybody, I shall say that unless we all commit to making sure that the Carter review is converted into real, solid action, we will miss a huge opportunity. I give formal notice that I will not be letting this go, and I will continue to press it. I have a Private Member’s Bill on this subject. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than not to have to introduce it or not to have to bring it back next Session if I do not get enough time now, but I will unless we get something that says that we are going to address this in the near future, because we have waited too long already. Carter is merely following up the work of Lamb, Rose and dozens of other academic studies.