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Lib Dems announce plan to end postcode lottery of special educational needs support

  • Lib Dems call for a new national body to fund support for children with the most complex needs
  • Government urged to cut the amount individual schools have to pay towards supporting children with special educational needs.
  • Ed Davey will announce the new policy on a visit to a special educational needs charity in Essex

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey will today call for a new national agency for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), which would take responsibility for supporting children with the most complex needs.

This new “National Body for SEND” would pay any costs above a certain threshold, helping to end the current postcode lottery that is leaving parents in many areas struggling to access the support for their child they need. The extra funding would be determined by the child’s current needs, with the new body also overseeing SEND funding to ensure it is spent as effectively as possible to support each child.

Ed Davey will announce the new policy today on a campaign visit to Brentwood and Chelmsford, where he will be visiting a special educational needs charity.

Liberal Democrat analysis has revealed stark regional disparities in Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans – legal documents that set out the tailored support a child needs. By law, EHC plans must be issued within 20 weeks of a request for assessment, but in 2022 only 49.2% of children received their plans within the 20-week limit.

In Leicestershire, fewer than 4% of EHC plans were issued within the legal 20-week limit, compared to 99% in Calderdale. In 68 local authorities, less than half of children received their plans within the 20-week limit. Separate figures recently reported by the BBC showed that only 1% of children in Essex received an assessment for an EHCP within the 20-week legal limit.

The Liberal Democrats are also calling on the Government to cut the amount that schools pay towards the costs of a child’s additional SEN support – currently £6,000 per child. This would help to remove the financial disincentive that stops schools from identifying their pupils’ needs as early as possible.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: 

“Parents of children with special educational needs across the UK are facing a postcode lottery. The Conservative Government has woefully underfunded both schools and local authorities, meaning that many parents simply can’t get their children the support they deserve.

“That is unacceptable. No child, or their family, should have to wait so long or fight so hard to have their needs met.

“That’s why the Liberal Democrats are calling for a new National Body for SEND, to make sure children with the very highest needs are properly supported.

“We are facing twin crises in funding for special educational needs and local government, and it’s clear that Conservative Ministers can’t get a grip on either. Urgent action is needed to ensure that all children can access the tailored learning and support they need.”

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union, the NAHT said:

“There is no doubt the current approach to funding SEND isn’t working, and it’s letting down children.

“The idea of a national body to determine funding is an interesting idea – addressing the postcode lottery on how funding is allocated should be a priority for all parties. NAHT has always called for a need-led system to ensure funding and provision is provided in the right place, and at the right time for children and young people with SEND.

“A decrease in the amount of funding schools are expected to find themselves towards meeting pupils additional needs would also be welcome – we have long argued that the current level penalises the most inclusive schools.”

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