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Children and Families Act 2014: Education, Health and Care Plans

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 8 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to amend the Children and Families Act 2014; and in particular, the eligibility requirements for obtaining an Education, Health and Care plan.

My Lords, the special educational needs and disabilities system, established in the Children and Families Act 2014, does not consistently deliver for children, young people or their families. This is why the Government established the SEND review, which will consider all elements of the SEND system, including the effectiveness of education, health and care plans. We intend to publish proposals for full public consultation in the first three months of 2022.

My Lords, attention has rightly been paid over recent days to the disappeared children, who have not attended school or anywhere else in the last 18 to 20 months. One of the worst aspects of this is that tens of thousands of children with special educational needs have disappeared because they do not have the support necessary. We have had an NAO report, and a Commons Select Committee report two years ago; we have had an internal review going on for two years. Is it not time that the Government accepted that the simple truth is that, while capital spending is very welcome, what is needed is cash to fund the EHCPs, to make certain that young people can get to school, stay at school and have a decent education at school?

The noble Lord is right to remind the House of the tragic events of the last few days. I think there are different aspects to addressing this. He is right that the Government have announced £2.6 billion of additional capital funding to provide more places, and those are much needed. The Government are also providing considerably more revenue funding to local authorities—an increase in 2022-23 of £780 million. The review will also focus—I am sure the noble Lord will agree with this—on earlier intervention wherever possible.

My Lords, I declare my interests in this field. The process of getting an EHCP is one in which you are advised to have lawyers with you, and often you have to go to appeal, where you are opposed by lawyers. How does that suggest that the system is anything other than a failure, or is it designed to be something that supplements the legal system?

It is certainly not designed to supplement the legal system. The noble Lord is right to raise the issue of tribunal hearings, but I remind the House that in 2020 only 1.7% of all appealable decisions resulted in an appeal to the SEN Tribunal.

My Lords, my noble friend’s predecessor said on 4 March last year that the special educational needs and disabilities review was

“an absolute priority for the Government.”—[Official Report, 4/3/20; col. 694.]

We heard yesterday that the Government have some difficulty in defining the word “priority” with any precision. Why, apart from Covid, has this review, which began in 2019, taken so long?

I understand my noble friend’s diplomatically put question. He is right to raise the issue of Covid, but he will also know that this is an incredibly complex area. We have set up a steering group that includes families, schools, local authorities and other independent organisations. We are committed to the deadline, which has now been announced, of publishing the Green Paper in the first quarter of next year.

My Lords, the Minister referred to early intervention. Does she agree that one of the difficulties with this area is that families with children who appear to be needing assessment —for example, for autism or learning difficulties—find it very difficult even to get the assessment, never mind the care plan that would come from it? Can she say how that problem is being addressed? How should families who cannot afford to spend money on private assessments conduct themselves?

The noble Baroness raises an important point. I feel I cannot comment in detail ahead of the Green Paper, but those are exactly the sorts of issues we are working with families, local authorities and other professionals to address.