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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: Covid-19

Volume 679: debated on Monday 7 September 2020

What steps his Department is taking to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in returning to school as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (905504)

The pandemic has been challenging for all families, but it has been particularly challenging for children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families. We have published a range of guidance to support children, families, carers and educational settings, and I wrote an open letter to all children and those who support them last week. We are increasing high-needs funding by £730 million next year on top of this year’s £780 million, which is an increase of nearly a quarter over the two years, and providing additional catch-up support on top of that.

Special schools for physically disabled children, such as the superb Pace centre in my constituency, have faced especial challenges over the past few months. How will my hon. Friend ensure that, as term gets under way, they receive advice and support that is tailored to the specific physical needs and circumstances of their pupils and the wider circumstances of their families, so that all children, whether they are disabled or non-disabled, can benefit from a full and varied education?

I thank all the staff at Pace and special schools across the country for all that they do. We have worked with the sector to provide detailed guidance, which we continually update as needed, and we will continue to do so going forward. Those who need tailored support will be glad to hear that specialist therapists, clinicians and other support staff can attend school sites and provide those interventions as usual. In terms of our £1 billion of catch-up funding, there will be three times more going into special schools than into mainstream schools.

Many children with special educational needs and disabilities will find their return to school after a prolonged period of absence extremely challenging. The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that Government guidance on school exclusion could encourage a zero-tolerance approach to challenging behaviour that may result in children with SEND who are struggling to readjust being excluded in large numbers. Can the Minister reassure me that she will not allow this to happen, and will she commit to reporting to the House the number of children with SEND being excluded from school as the term progresses?

Permanent exclusion should only ever be used as a last resort and must be lawful, reasonable and fair, and that is why we have already asked all schools to be understanding of the needs of all children and young people, including those with SEND, especially as they return. That is exactly the point I covered in my open letter last week to all children with SEND and their families. Off-rolling is never acceptable and will be monitored by Ofsted.