A generation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities #SEND is failing to receive the support it deserves, with poorly implemented legislation leaving families facing a nightmare of bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion.
Today’s (23 Oct) report from the Education Committee follows an 18-month inquiry into Government reforms aimed at placing children and young people at the heart of the SEND system. The Committee heard from more than 70 witnesses and received more than 700 submissions of written evidence.
The Committee concludes that while the reforms to the support for children and young people contained in the Children and Families Act 2014 were the right ones, poor implementation has put local authorities under pressure, left schools struggling to cope and, ultimately, thrown families into crisis.
The Committee heard overwhelming evidence that the reforms were letting down young people who need additional support with their education. It heard from young people that poor support can result in them being isolated in school, unable to access the curriculum and find it hard to make friends. As adults, the training and employment opportunities were found to be poor, deriving from a fundamental lack of ambition for young people with SEND across the country.
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:
“Despite the good intentions of the reforms, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down day after day. Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support.
"Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision. A lack of accountability plagues the system as local authorities, social care and health providers too frequently seek to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for providing support.
"Children and parents should not have to struggle in this way – they should be supported. There needs to be a radical change to inspection, support for parents, and clear consequences for failure to ensure the 2014 Act delivers as the Government intended.”
Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“This devastating report exposes a system on the verge of breakdown. Even a senior Conservative MP is now warning that parents have been ‘let down’ and left ‘in despair’ without the support they and their children need.
“It is the latest evidence that the most vulnerable children are paying the highest price for this government’s cuts.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Today’s report is a stark lesson for Government in the consequences of short-termism and buck-passing. The culture this creates is an incubator for further difficulties in later life.
“Schools and local authorities want to provide the best possible support for SEND pupils, but the tools needed are generally no longer available due to cuts to local services. Fundamentally it is a question of central funding which has simply not kept up with demand. 93% of local authorities have lost out on SEND funding since 2015 because of Government cuts to special needs provision. The recent announcement of an additional £780 million for SEND is clearly inadequate in the face of a £1.7 billion shortfall.
“The wider picture is that the real-terms funding crisis in schools and colleges has damaged the support available to SEND pupils. It has resulted in the letting go of teaching assistants and specialist staff. Meanwhile, the number of children with Education Health and Care plans increases.
“Children have one chance in education, and SEND pupils need the right levels of funding right now.”
Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary Layla Moran MP said:
“Children with SEND have borne the brunt of the schools funding crisis. Teaching assistants and other support staff have been sacked. Meanwhile, parents struggle to get the support their child needs as schools, healthcare providers and local councils squabble over who should pay.
“The Conservatives have left local councils floundering. Councils cannot provide support on time and are unable to create the new specialist school places that some children with the most complex needs require.
“Liberal Democrats demand better for our children. We will give councils thousands of pounds a year extra for every child with the most complex needs, so they can deliver the support children deserve on time. And we will create a new National SEND Strategy, stopping councils from cutting corners and getting our public services to work together in the best interests of each child.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
“No child should be held back from reaching their potential, including those with special educational needs.
“That’s why we recently announced a £780 million increase to local authorities’ high needs funding, boosting the budget by 12% and bringing the total spent on supporting those with the most complex needs to over £7 billion for 2020-21.
“This report recognises the improvements made to the system over five years ago were the right ones, and put families and children at the heart of the process. But through our review of these reforms, we are focused on making sure they work for every child, in every part of the country.”
"Ofsted’s new inspection arrangements have a strong focus on provision and outcomes for pupils with SEND, setting an expectation that in a ‘good’ school all pupils, including those with SEND, benefit from a broad and ambitious curriculum and achieve the best possible outcomes. Complaints about schools are already investigated and there are established mechanisms for parents to resolve disagreements with local authorities."
The report recommends a series of measures to strengthen inspections, support parents going through the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process and ensure those responsible for SEND provision are held accountable when things go wrong.
The Committee makes the following key recommendations:
- A more rigorous inspection framework for local authorities, with clear consequences for failure. There should be a greater focus on SEND in school inspections.
- A direct line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.
- Powers for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools.
- The development of more employment and training opportunities for post-16 young people
Robert Halfon added: “We need to end this major social injustice, one which affects children and their families, particularly those who are not as well equipped to navigate this bureaucratic maze.
Of course, extra funding for SEND announced in the spending round is welcome but the truth is that more cash will fail to make a difference to children with special education needs unless there is a radical change of approach throughout the system.
The DfE cannot continue with a piecemeal and reactive approach to supporting children with SEND. Rather than making do with sticking plasters, what is needed is a transformation, a more strategic oversight and fundamental change to ensure a generation of children is no longer let down.”
Two accessible summaries of the report will be available on 30 October – an audio summary and an EasyRead summary.
The SEND inquiry was launched in April 2018. The Committee received more than 700 submissions of written evidence and held 12 oral evidence sessions, taking evidence from young people, parents and carers, charities, schools and colleges, local authorities and the Government. Submissions and transcripts are available on the Committee’s website or from page 109 of the report
Part 3 of the 2014 Children and Families Act introduced wide reaching reforms to support for children and young people with SEND – those with a difficulty or disability which makes learning harder for them than for other children their age. The legislation made a number of reforms including replacing statements with Education Health and Care Plans and introduced joint commissioning arrangements for the local authority and health services.
The Committee’s report from July A ten-year plan for school and college funding covers issues relating to how funding is allocated to schools, including the high needs block which is the part of the Dedicated Schools Grant that funds high level support for children with SEND.
The National Deaf Children’s Society charity gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry.
Steve Haines, Director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:
“This is the most damning select committee report I’ve ever read. Line after line, it shows that the education system for disabled children is completely broken.
“Parents are forced to become protestors, lawyers and bureaucrats to stand any sort of chance of getting the support their child is legally entitled to.
“The Government’s root and branch review of the system must end the toxic culture and wanton law-breaking running riot throughout the SEND system and immediately deliver for a generation of disabled children. It’s time to let parents be parents."
Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“This report supports our long-term concerns that the services for children with special education needs have reached a tipping point.
“Extra funding for SEND services next year is recognition of these pressures and will help councils in meeting demand for support next year, but we agree with the Committee that system reform is necessary alongside additional funding.
“We are pleased that MPs have also echoed our call for Ofsted to assess inclusion by schools – rather than focussing primarily on academic results - during an inspection and hold schools with low numbers of children with SEND to account..
“Councils support the reforms set out in the Children and Families Act in 2014, but we were clear at the time that the cost of implementing them had been underestimated by the Government.
“Since the introduction of the Act, which extended eligibility for SEND support, councils have seen a near 50 per cent rise in children and young people with Education, Health and Care plans– which state the support a child with SEND can receive. There are currently 354,000 pupils with EHCPs, and is a 11 per cent increase since last year alone, Government funding has simply not kept up with the increased demand.
“Councils want to work with the Government and families and children with SEND to make the system work more effectively for everyone.”