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Special Educational Needs and Funding

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 6 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of concerns raised by Ofsted about the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND); and what steps they will take to improve the funding and delivery of SEND services in the light of those concerns.

My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I remind the House of my interests with the British Dyslexia Association.

My Lords, we are working to improve quality and services for children with special educational needs and disabilities. We are listening to parents and we have introduced new SEND inspections. We are investing to embed SEND in school improvement. We have commissioned an external review of exclusions. High-needs funding has risen by £1 billion since 2013, but we recognise the pressures on budgets and are monitoring the impact of the national funding formula on local authorities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that, when those in the biggest group in this category have not received a plan and, Ofsted says, struggle to receive the appropriate help, there is something fundamentally wrong? Does he also agree with the next page of Ofsted’s report, which says that when you have a special school with structured lessons, you get good results? Is this not an example of how we should invest more in support in the mainstream classroom?

My Lords, we have done an enormous amount for this category of vulnerable children over the last few years. One of the most important introductions was that of education and healthcare plans, supported by inspections of local authorities by Ofsted and by the Care Quality Commission. We now have increasing visibility of where good service provision is occurring and where it is not. We will continue to pursue that.

My Lords, I support the thrust of the Question and ask the Minister whether the department could be proactive in two ways: first, on the back of the local government settlement and the Chancellor’s Budget at the end of October, in relation to additional money for children’s services; and secondly, in trying to get the education and health services to join up, so that, in particular, young people transitioning from school to college and from college into adult life are able to access the funds they need and parents are not put through the nightmare, as many are, of battling day in, day out to get their rights.

My Lords, I think there are two questions there. Perhaps I may address, first, the post-19 phase for young people migrating from education into the world of work. We are now providing supported internships. There were 1,200 in January last year, an increase of 700 on the year before. We have also legislated to promote the joint commissioning of services. This means that children’s services funded primarily by education funds should be able to work effectively with adult services to support young people as they transition. Secondly, on overall funding, we are very conscious of high-needs pressures. We made available £130 million of high-needs funding in 2017-18, and the high-needs block will rise by £142 million next year.

My Lords, what can be done to reduce the cost of going to appeals tribunals, which deters many parents from asserting their rights in the face of obstruction from local authorities, and what can be done to stop local authorities telling parents—quite wrongly, as some do—that a local independent school cannot be named in an education, health and care plan?

My Lords, this is a new provision. We have radically changed the way that support is provided for vulnerable children. Although no one is happy to see money wasted on expensive tribunal proceedings, the percentage of tribunal cases is relatively consistent with the increasing number of education, health and care plans awarded. We will obviously challenge local authorities where too many tribunal cases occur but they are still learning about this.

My Lords, I welcome the investment that the Government are making, but is the Minister concerned about the rising number of children with SEND being excluded from school? Does he recognise that high-quality early-years education can moderate behaviours, which will then be improved in primary and secondary schools? Is he concerned that, despite the welcome investment from the Government, families who can benefit from such funding to access high-quality childcare for their children with SEND say that they need more money to be able to do so, pushing the figure towards £300? Will he look at the funding for childcare access for families with children with SEND?

My Lords, we have certainly kept this matter under continual review. I mentioned some sums of money a moment ago and, as I said, the amount of overall funding for the high-needs block has increased by £1 billion in the last five years. However, we also accept that early interventions can have a very advantageous impact on young people with disabilities. For example, having a clear focus on literacy is helping children with dyslexia, and we are improving initial teacher training and continuing professional development to raise awareness.

My Lords, how do the Government intend to address the training needs of staff in education and the capacity for improvement, as identified in the report, given that over half of teachers say that they have received no training on dyslexia?

My Lords, we are introducing more training on SEND issues in the initial teacher training modules. For example, we are including the subject of mental health generally as a voluntary rollout from September next year and it will become compulsory the following year. We have also provided funding to the British Dyslexia Association to deliver training to teachers to support the early identification of learning difficulties.

My Lords, in his question a moment ago, the noble Earl referred to the fact that a very high proportion of young children with special educational needs are excluded from school. More than a quarter of those with an SEN designation were excluded last year, and it is five times the rate when it comes to permanent exclusions. Can the Minister tell us why that is and whether the Government are happy with that situation, or are they content to allow schools to get rid of pupils whom they find slightly inconvenient to improve their overall results?

My Lords, I can categorically assert that we are not happy with that, and it is one reason why we have commissioned a report by Edward Timpson to look at the whole issue of exclusion. The noble Lord is quite correct to say that the percentage of vulnerable children being excluded is too high, and it is worth saying that a school will not get a good or better rating from Ofsted until it can justify any level of exclusion beyond what might be the norm. We are also dealing with this by increasing the level of provision for special education and AP schooling. We have already opened 34 special free schools and a further 55 are due to be opened to help this vulnerable group.