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SEND Delivery: Rural Areas

Volume 723: debated on Monday 28 November 2022

All local authorities, including those in rural areas, are subject to robust special educational needs and disabilities inspections, and Ofsted will shortly be announcing plans for a strengthened inspection framework. This is an area that both the Education Secretary and I are incredibly passionate about, and one which she knows from her time as a Health Minister and I know from my time as the Minister for disabled people. Today, my right hon. Friend has sent letters to those in the sector confirming that we will publish a full response to the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper, with an improvement plan, early in the new year.

Many of my secondary school heads believe that, with the further devolvement of responsibility away from local education authorities, they could significantly enhance provision in their rural area. Would my hon. Friend agree to meet my school heads to discuss their ideas?

I would like to thank my hon. Friend for a productive discussion last week. I absolutely agree with her—I know she is a former teacher—that empowering schools is crucial to ensure we have the right provision for SEND children in rural areas. The SEND and AP Green Paper proposed new standards based on the evidence of what works to make sure that local schools feel the sense of empowerment she so rightly talks about. Of course, if her heads write to me, I would be happy to respond.

The excellent community-run Ted Wragg Trust, which runs all the secondary schools in my constituency of Exeter, recently wanted to take over a failing local school—it started as a Steiner school, was then pushed on to another provider, which failed, and it has now been pushed on to another one—but the Government have decided not to allow that to happen. Could she explain—if not now, then perhaps in writing to me—why the Government did not listen to this very good idea to expand and improve local special educational needs provision in my constituency, but stuck to their ideological obsession with privately-run academies?

I will be happy to look into that in detail and write to the right hon. Gentleman further about it, but I would say that the Department is working to improve all schools in terms of SEND needs across different sectors and we are working with all of them.

While this Government have been preoccupied with their own internal disputes, the trashing of the UK economy and an endless merry-go-round of ministerial reshuffles, children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families are left to suffer. It is now eight months since the publication of the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper and more than four months since the consultation closed. The Minister’s predecessor had promised a response to the consultation by the end of the year. Can the new Minister confirm when the full results of the consultation and the Government response will be published, because children with SEND and their families have already been waiting for far too long?

If the hon. Lady had been listening, she would know that I just said we will be publishing early in the new year; if she was not just reading out a scripted question, she might have cottoned on to that point. This is an important area. I have many affected constituents so have seen all of this first hand, as I have in previous roles and from talking to parents across the country. We want to make sure that we are delivering for parents and children with SEND. We will set out that paper early in the new year addressing many of the challenges they are currently facing.