Unions comment on Education Committee SEND report

As reported by the BBC, the Commons Education Committee said the government had set councils up to fail by upping parents’ expectations while cutting council budgets overall

The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities report stated that already stretched families were being torn apart as they fought for their children’s rights in schools.

Further to this report, the government has also commissioned a “root and branch” review of the system.

The committee found a generation of children and young people were not being given the support they deserved, branding the situation a “major social injustice”.

The MPs said they had heard overwhelming evidence changes to the system, introduced from 2014, were letting young people down day after day.

The changes aimed to:

  • introduce a co-ordinated assessment process to assess a child’s educational, health and care (EHC) needs and record these in EHC plans
  • ensure local commissioners (the NHS and local authorities) worked effectively together to help children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities
  • improve communication between different services
  • ensure EHC plans include aspects to help young people prepare for adulthood, from Year 9 onwards
  • make schools responsible for lower level support

Five years on, Robert Halfon, who chairs the committee, said: “Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child get 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,

“Children and parents should not have to struggle in this way – they should be supported.”

The report, which took 18 months to produce, from numerous interviews and evidence sessions, said a child’s access to support should not be determined by their “parents’ education, their social capital or the advice and support of people with whom they happen to come into contact”.

“Children and parents are not ‘in the know’ and for some the law may not even appear to exist.”

It added: “For some, Parliament might as well not have bothered to legislate.”

Commenting on the report Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The 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.

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“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.”

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This report lays bare the fact that the government pulled the rug from under its own laudable plan to improve support for young people who have special educational needs by failing to fund properly the public services responsible for delivering the system.

“As a result, we have under-funded schools and colleges desperately trying to secure education, health and care plans for vulnerable pupils with variable levels of help from local authorities and health services, while under the cosh of performance tables which effectively penalise them for having vulnerable intakes. It is hard to imagine a more muddled system. The government’s recent announcement of an extra £780m for high needs funding is a step in the right direction but it is only about half of what is needed.

“We note the Education Committee’s recommendations for a greater focus on SEND in school inspections and powers for the local government and social care ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools, and we naturally recognise the vital importance that SEND provision is delivered to the highest possible standard.

“However, this crisis cannot be solved by the big stick of more oversight when what is needed is sufficient resources and joined-up education, health and social services which ensure the needs of these young people are met swiftly and in full.”

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