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Children: Special Educational Needs

Volume 791: debated on Monday 4 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of education, health and care plans on children with special educational needs.

My Lords, more than 98% of statements of SEN were reviewed by 31 March of this year, this being the deadline for introducing education, health and care plans. A survey of 13,000 people who received an EHC plan during 2015 found that 73% agreed that it led to the child or young person getting the right support. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission are undertaking joint SEND inspections in all local authority areas. These are providing evidence of progress, including positive feedback on the impact of these plans.

I think we all had high hopes when education, health and care plans were introduced. However, with vacancies in and shortages of educational psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and SENCOs—and, added to that, schools having tough budgets and spending less on educational needs—young people and children often do not get the support that they need. A family from Liverpool wrote to me about Eva, who is at nursery. The nursery staff think that she is autistic, but she will have to wait 12 to 18 months because there is only one occupational therapist at Alder Hey Hospital to put her on the pathway. What would the Minister advise on this?

My Lords, in 2018-19 the high needs block will rise by £142 million, to a total of £6 billion across England, which is up from £5 billion in 2013. Just last week we announced an additional £50 million of capital funding, bringing the total to £265 million of capital funding, to help build new places at mainstream and special schools. I would be happy to meet the noble Lord on the specific request he makes to discuss the case and, if necessary, I will ask the Minister for Children to write to the local authority.

My Lords, there is a group of children whose interests are hardly ever mentioned in your Lordships’ House, and those are the children whose mothers are being detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. How are these children being educated, and what progress is being measured in respect of their detention?

My Lords, I do not have that information to hand, but I am very happy to write to the noble Lord with it.

Does my noble friend agree that some of the reports last week of young children being badly educated in basic hygiene point to the need for parenting classes? What is being done to increase those?

My Lords, I cannot speak about the increase in the Sure Start programme. I am sorry to disappoint Members opposite me. We have made a huge investment in early years education, both for two and three year-olds and for slightly older children. This takes pressure off families from poor backgrounds, enables them to go to work and generally makes their lives easier. That is the policy that we are pursuing.

My Lords, in Cumbria where I live, a huge proportion of schools are classified as small and are often very small. Their funding, especially for children with special educational needs, is greatly limited by their ability to access economies of scale. Does the Minister agree that in smaller schools educational outcomes can at present be disproportionately affected by current funding models?

My Lords, as I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, we have increased the overall funding for children in need to £6 billion, up from £5 billion in 2013. When we brought in the specific changes to the SEN process in 2014, we allocated some £391 million to this programme, which includes the burdens on local authorities and help for other partners involved, including schools.

My Lords, I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties. Do the figures the Minister gave for those on plans include young people in custody?

My Lords, I cannot answer specifically for young children in custody, but I will add that to the answer to the other noble Lord.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it has been something like more than two decades since we brought in the statement system? The statements or plans often deal with very commonly occurring conditions which we know are going to be there. Why are we dependent on something outside the school to deal with a condition which we will know will occur? Should we not be investing in better teacher training and in support within schools?

To answer the first part of the noble Lord’s question, the changes we brought about were to join the system up so that we were not dealing in silos for children who often have complex needs. One of the most important changes was to ensure that there was cross-agency working, not just with education but with health and social care. The other important change was to be much more focused on outcomes for children in need of this sort of support with flexibility in, for example, being able to provide a personal budget for children and families who need this support.

My Lords, autism is the most common type of special educational need of children who have an EHC plan or statement, with 27% of those children having autism as their main need. Despite these numbers, too many children on the autism spectrum are held back from getting the support they need to succeed and 43% of appeals to the SEND tribunal are on behalf of those children. The Minister spoke earlier of the £50 million funding to create more places for SEND children. Capital funding is not the most pressing need. What will the Government do to ensure that the necessary staff capacity is provided to prevent so many children with autism falling through the cracks in the support system?

My Lords, we have introduced a number of improvements in teacher training over the past six years, including changes to teacher standards in 2012 to require that teachers have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with SEND. In 2016, we changed the content of initial teacher training to require training providers to include modules on specific types of SEND. Each school must have a SEND co-ordinator, who must hold qualified teacher status. They must usually undertake a master’s-level national award in SEND co-ordination within three years of being appointed. Awareness of these conditions is becoming much wider.