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Special Educational Needs

Volume 808: debated on Thursday 26 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made (1) in developing the SEND Futures initiative, and (2) in their internal review of special educational needs provision.

My Lords, we are determined to deliver lasting improvements to the SEND system, taking into account the impact of Covid-19. We remain committed to the cross-government SEND review and intend to publish findings early next spring. The SEND Futures research study is progressing well. The value-for-money feasibility study was published on 5 November and fieldwork for the longitudinal study, which will track the outcomes and experiences of children, is set to commence in March.

My Lords, before Covid there was a welcome in this House for the capital spend on additional physical places for special educational needs, but a deep worry, which has been reinforced by Ofsted’s most recent report and by the knowledge we have across the country, that young people with special educational needs and disabilities are the ones who have lost out most during the Covid crisis. Surely the Government will now come forward with programmes that will use the existing £350 million for tutoring, but without the charge on schools of having to find a quarter of the cost, which is making it prohibitive in terms of being able to deliver the kind of support that all of us would wish for.

My Lords, the Government absolutely recognise that children with special educational needs have been hard hit by the Covid crisis. We are pleased that the vast majority of them are now back in school. I say to the noble Lord that in the other part of that catch-up package—the £650 million to support schools to make up for lost teaching time—specialist settings are getting £240 per funded place in comparison with mainstream schools, which get £80 per pupil. That additional weighting is to reflect the higher costs of specialist settings.

My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests in the register. Will the Minister assure the House that the outcomes of the review will not lead to any dilution or reduction of those rights and protections for children and their parents that are provided for in current legislation?

My Lords, without pre-empting the results of the review, I can give the noble Lord that reassurance. The aim of the review is to improve outcomes for children and their families across the country, deliver on commitments that we have made in legislation and improve value for money for the investment that we are putting in.

My Lords, following the recent, welcome feasibility study and its conclusions, is it not nevertheless now even more difficult to design comparable but specific plans everywhere for individual children and young people with EHC needs?

The feasibility study findings re-emphasise that there are diverse levels of support needs and differing approaches to meeting these needs. The challenge that this presents is something that the SEND review is addressing. The findings confirmed that it is feasible to undertake a value-for-money assessment in the near term, and also outlined how to fill existing evidence gaps in order for the department to complete more value-for-money assessments over the longer term.

My Lords, will the Minister please tell the House whether government provision includes young offenders with special educational needs?

My Lords, the Government have a commitment to deliver for young people with special educational needs, regardless of the setting that they are in. That includes young offenders.

My Lords, the SEND review is most welcome and urgent. Charities such as Sense are fighting for families to get special needs recognised and addressed, particularly at this time of Covid crisis. Often, complex needs such as autism might not be recognised for a long time, if ever. Will the Minister say how the review is addressing such complex needs and what extra support is needed?

One of the key principles of the review is co-production with parents, families and carers, so that they can input into that review their diverse range of experiences. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that review, but I can tell the noble Baroness that we are already putting additional resources into the system, with £730 million going into high needs next year, which is a 10% increase.

My Lords, I remind the House of my declared interests. Does the Minister agree that many parents have to fight to get their child recognised as having special educational needs? We simply do not train our teachers sufficiently to spot even the most commonly occurring conditions, such as dyslexia, which affects about 10% of the population. Does she agree that, unless this is dealt with, there will always be problems later on when people try to catch up when problems are spotted?

My Lords, since 2018 the department has funded the National Association for Special Educational Needs on behalf of the Whole School SEND Consortium for a programme of work to embed SEND into school improvement practice and equip the workforce to deliver high-quality teaching across all types of SEND, including dyslexia.

Does my noble friend agree that the enormous difference between local authorities in the rate of giving EHC plans, the huge variation in schools in the percentage of children labelled as having SEND, and the variation in SEND by birth date all indicate that we have serious problems in both diagnosis and definition? Does she agree that, unless these are sorted out first, any data that we collect is going to be seriously compromised?

My Lords, one of the things that the SEND review wishes to address is the differing experience across the country. It is looking at ways to ensure that people receive consistently high-quality services across the country, regardless of where they live.

[Inaudible] Labour has managed to identify that £300 million will be spent in 2021-22 on children with special educational needs and disabilities. Can the Minister confirm that this is all new money and advise the House as to how many new places that will support? How will the Government ensure that we have an integrated strategy across the education, health and care sectors and what further thought have they given to ensuring that poorer-performing authorities level up so that young people with special educational needs and disabilities have fair access to services, regardless of their postcode?

My Lords, I am afraid that I missed the beginning of the noble Lord’s question, but I believe he may have been referring to the £300 million that we are investing in capital projects to support the creation of new high-needs places and improve existing provision across a range of settings, including mainstream and special schools. On support for local authorities that may be struggling with the delivery of their support services, we have started a programme of visits by Ofsted and the CQC, working with local areas to understand the experiences of children and young people with SEND and their families during the pandemic and to make recommendations for improvements.

My Lords, SEND pupils comprise a whole spectrum of children with widely varying behavioural and medical problems, requiring individually tailored intervention to maximise the education and life chances of the child. Does the Minister agree that close liaison with parents or carers is key both to combating behavioural problems before these become entrenched and to understanding and meeting medical needs?

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord about the important role of parents and carers; that is why we have put co-production at the heart of our work on special educational needs.

My Lords, delays in education, health and care plans—worsened by Covid—are hindering children with 22q and 3q29 and other genetic disorders from accessing either places at special schools or additional support in mainstream settings. I have familial experience of these genetic conditions, but they are largely misunderstood, making EHC plans particularly essential for accessing timely help with disabilities, which are often hidden. What are the Government doing to reduce delays and heighten awareness of the myriad complications arising from genetic disorders?

My Lords, as I said in an earlier answer, we have started a programme of visits by Ofsted and the CQC, working with local areas to understand the experience of children and young people, and helping local areas prioritise and meet their needs where, for example, there might be delays in producing education, health and care plans. The Government have also made more resources available: £4.6 billion has been made available to councils to respond to the pressures of Covid, including funding for children’s services.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now lapsed. I apologise to Baroness Hussein-Ecce, as we did not have time for her question.