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(UK) Jan 11th Parliament debate on SPED Needs funding

Updated: Jan 19

Jan 15, 2024, Devon Live: Devon in middle of 'special educational needs pandemic'

SW England

It's feared many children are not receiving the support they need and deserve Thousands of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being let down by a system that is failing to provide them with the support they need and deserve, MPs have warned.

A parliamentary debate on Special Education Needs (SEND) funding and reform took place in the Houses of Parliament on Thursday, January 11.

Selaine Saxby, the Conservative MP for North Devon, said that Devon was in the middle of a “special educational needs pandemic, unrelated to the (coronavirus) pandemic”.

She said that she was shocked by the number of children with SEND when she taught briefly before being elected, and that she had entire classes where every child had a special educational need.

She paid tribute to the parents, teachers and students who were “battling the system” to get the right support for their children, but said that her words were not about individual cases. “In Devon, we seem to have far too many children being given a label, rather than the help they need to fulfil their potential,” she said.

She cited an excellent report by the South-West Social Mobility Commission, which found that the South West had the lowest levels of educational attainment and progression for disadvantaged children and young people of any region. She said that Devon was an enormous education authority, and that the situation was worse in the northern part of the county, where social mobility was significantly lower than the south.

She said that Devon was diagnosing SEND and giving out Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) at twice the rate of neighbouring councils, and that the number of children and young people with an EHCP had grown by 126% since 2017.

Ms Saxby continued: “Families in Devon pursue an EHCP as they know that will gain them better support than being without one, but it is no wonder that budgets are under pressure given this explosion. I would like to see far more work being done to understand why that is the case, how we can reduce it and how we can raise the educational attainment and social mobility of our young people rather than increase the number of labels they carry.

“The situation in Devon has gone on for years. We now have a cohort of young people leaving school with few qualifications, a special educational need and limited support to move forward. The situation is so severe that a recently arrived academy trust has had to adapt its normal processes because of the level of SEN and the high number of pupils unable to cope with its discipline regime. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that regime, that things are so different in northern Devon from elsewhere in the country does ring alarm bells. That is particularly because, being so sparsely populated, it is not like a city where a child can switch to another school if something goes really badly wrong at school.”

She said that Devon clearly needed more funding, as it received below the national average per head, and that it budgeted too much for independent specialist providers, which were double the English average.

Kevin Foster, the Conservative MP for Torbay, said that he would focus on another aspect of the issue: the impact of delays in diagnosis and the wider opportunities for making an impact on it, which inevitably affected the funding of it.

He used the example of Barton Hill Academy in Torquay, and thanked the principal and the team for their work to inspire and educate the next generation, especially those with additional needs. He said that the academy had two classrooms for students with additional needs: one for younger students with issues such as autism, and another for older students with mental health and behavioural issues.

He said that it deployed several staff members to support those students, but that many were waiting for a diagnosis through the NHS.

“The delay in getting an assessment and a diagnosis through the NHS, which is not directly related to the education system, inevitably has an impact, because until there is a diagnosis there is not the ability to provide the service that is needed or, in some cases, to look at moving to more appropriate provision,” Mr Foster said.

He said that one key issue raised was that headteachers could be left with a difficult choice: “They can keep someone with them who is clearly having an impact on the wider school, when the type of resources they have available are not suitable for them. That said, they know that the issue is not so much behaviour as the fact that the pupil concerned has medical needs that are not being met and is awaiting diagnosis.

“That can lead to the unenviable process of deciding whether to exclude the pupil, which is far more suitable in the case of those with behavioural issues. In practical terms, headteachers feel that that is the choice they must start to consider, given the impact on the wider school and the fact that it is not set up to deal with that pupil’s needs, but in moral terms it is highly unlikely to produce the best outcome for the child.”

He said that this came back to the issue of getting the assessments done and ensuring that there was a clear link between an NHS service and the impact for SEND.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, David Johnston, said that the issues raised in the debate were very familiar to him, and that he had talked about parents having what they felt was a war of attrition with the system to get the support they needed for their children.

He explained: “I have talked about parents having what they feel is a war of attrition with the system to try to get the support they need for their children. That is a war that any parent would wage, but no parent should have to. We know the system is not delivering consistent support and outcomes and that there are significant financial pressures on it, despite considerable Government investment.”

He said that the Government had increased the higher needs budget and that in 2024-25, it would be £10.5 billion [$13.3B], which was 60% higher than the figure in 2020.

He said that the Government had two programmes supporting local authorities that faced financial pressure in their SEND system.

“The high needs budget has doubled since 2015, but even if a Government were able to triple or quadruple it, that would not by itself deliver the outcomes we all want to see,” he continued. “Parents and teachers know that and frequently say that the issue is not just about money.”

He said that the Government had set up a national taskforce to work with local authorities to improve their performance, and that they had also introduced a new legal duty on health commissioners to deliver the health elements of EHCPs.

He said that the Government were making a £2.6 billion [$3.3B] investment, of which £1.5 billion [$1.9B] had already been allocated, to create new school places and improve existing facilities for children and young people with SEND or those who require alternative provision.

He said that the plan would move towards a national system with national standards, which had never previously existed.


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