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SEND Children

Volume 705: debated on Monday 6 December 2021

6. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure children with special educational needs and disabilities receive a quality education. (904566)

We established the SEND review because we are determined to help children with SEND to realise their potential and to prepare them for later life. We are increasing funding for SEND, including £2.6 billion over the next three years to deliver new places and improve existing provision for pupils with SEND.

I was pleased to celebrate with Carshalton and Wallington families the Second Reading of the Down Syndrome Bill—a legislative milestone that will require schools and councils, among others, to take account of new guidance. Unfortunately, in councils such as Lib Dem-run Sutton Council, which has been slammed by Ofsted for its diabolical management of SEND services, there is concern about the implementation of the new guidance. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that failing local authorities do not scupper the potential for this important Bill to unlock new opportunities for children with Down’s syndrome?

Sutton was revisited by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in 2020 and was found to have made progress in all previously identified areas of weakness. The Bill aims to improve services and life outcomes for people with Down’s syndrome, and we will support local authorities in the implementation of any future reforms. I know that my hon. Friend has concerns; I think that I am meeting him tomorrow to discuss the issue further. I look forward to it.

Prior to the pandemic, there was a crisis in SEND provision, and it has only got worse—from bureaucratic hurdles to children having to face long delays before being assessed. It is having a devastating impact: 27% of families waiting for an education, health and care plan assessment are waiting for more than six months, despite the legal deadline of 20 weeks. I am sure that the Minister agrees that this is wholly unacceptable, so what action is he taking to ensure that children are assessed within the legal deadline and provided with the appropriate support that they need in school?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I will tell her exactly what we are doing. We have increased the high needs funding budget by £750 million a year for each of the previous three years. The spending review of 2021 provides a further £1.6 billion to that budget, an extra £2.6 billion in capital funding, an extra £42 million—but the hon. Lady is right: it is not just about money. That is why we have the comprehensive SEND review, which will report in the first quarter of next year.

The past two years have been incredibly difficult for children with special educational needs and disability. While the Government continue to delay the publication of the long-awaited SEND review, families are suffering now. Some 15,000 children with an education, health and care plan are still waiting to receive the provision specified in their plan, and more than 40% of plans are not issued within the statutory 20-week period.

Can I press the Minister again? Families up and down the country with children with SEND are losing confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver. What is the Minister doing now to support children with SEND and their families who are suffering while this Government continue to let them down?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I agree with her that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on young people with SEND and their families, and we are committed to helping pupils, including those with SEND, to make up for lost learning. We have provided additional uplifts for those who attend specialist settings; we have invested that extra £42 million. I accept that the SEND review is taking longer than we wanted it to, but it is a priority for me and for the Government, and there will be a report in the first quarter of next year.