It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Mr Sharma. Many young children have faced an array of social and developmental challenges as a result of covid-19, and children with special educational needs and disabilities have been deeply affected due to the lack of services accessible for their needs during this time.
Every week, I have at least one constituent come to see me, pleading for support for their child with special educational needs, which are often undiagnosed because they cannot get an education, health and care plan or an appointment with child and adolescent mental health services. The formative years of a child’s life are essential for their development, and without changes and improved support for these specialist services, children with SEND will be exposed to bullying, mental health issues, isolation and disadvantages later in life and in the workforce.
SEND in The Specialists highlighted how we need to incentivise employment into the special needs workforce, as well as retain those already in it. Improving recruitment and retention is vital to provide the specialist teachers and staff that we need for our children and young people. Many schools need more assistance for these children. For schools to remain inclusive, it is essential to have specialist and supportive frameworks in place to keep more children in mainstream education.
I enjoy visiting the primary and secondary schools across Hastings and Rye. It is the best part of this job. I speak to the pupils and staff. One young primary school teacher was telling me recently that she has four young children with challenging SEND needs in her class. Without the support of teaching assistants and named teaching assistants, it would be impossible to control the class and provide for the needs of these children, let alone the rest of the class, especially if the TAs and NTAs are off sick or leave because they, too, find it extremely challenging.
Inclusion is not always the best thing for the child with special needs, nor the rest of the children in the class. Both miss out on education. We have to face the fact that while mainstream inclusion is important, some children need a high level of specialist support, which can only be provided in special needs schools or in alternative provision.
We need more SEND and alternative provision across Hastings and Rye, especially AP for secondary-aged children. We have a significant number of primary and secondary-aged children with high-level needs. It is very difficult to access EHC plans, and the waiting list for CAMHS locally is now two years. It is just not good enough. Early intervention is vital in ensuring that the right support is given at the right time, so that each child with SEND can fulfil their potential and become full, active and productive members of our communities.
I welcome the Government SEND and alternative provision improvement plan published earlier this month, which will help to deliver new standards to improve identification of the needs and expectations of the level of support that would be available in local areas. The plan creates additional funding of more than £10 billion by 2023-24, which is an increase of more than 50%, to support and help young people with SEND. It is also encouraging that the improvement plan will create a new leadership special educational needs national professional qualification—a SENCO NPQ—which will ensure that teachers have the training that they need to provide the right support for children. That is in addition to expanded training for staff, but we need those staff.
To address the demand levels, it is necessary to deal with the backlog, which is a consequence of the pandemic. Ofsted highlights that speech and language therapy has one of the longer waiting lists and that there are reductions in the service provided. The impact of covid-19 has only exacerbated those problems: demand for speech and language therapists increased after the pandemic because of the additional 94,000 children with speech, language and communication needs in 2021-22. Young children and teens rely on that therapy as an essential way to develop social and articulative skills; if their needs are not dealt with effectively, that section of society could be isolated.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was going to say that all primary schools that I visited in Hastings and Rye have highlighted the need for speech and language provision for younger children coming to school following covid. It is essential. They are behind with oracy and communication skills, and that impacts on their ability to access learning. Our local primary schools have provided that provision themselves, and they work to help and support our local children.
A number of charities are already working to provide help and support for certain children with special needs. For example, Auditory Verbal UK is making great progress in helping to implement specialist early interventions to support deaf babies and children in learning to talk and listen. Roughly 80% of children who attend at least two years of the charity’s pre-school programme achieve the same level of spoken language as their hearing peers. Through Government investment, the charity would be able to aid considerably more deaf children to reach the same level. It is a great charity that supports not only deaf children but the whole support system. A number of charities, third-sector groups and volunteers work with children who have important issues that need to be addressed.
I completely agree. We could not function as a country without our voluntary sector—it is one of the wheels that keeps the country going—but we need to invest in it, so that it can save lots of money in the long term. That is absolutely right.
A specialist SEND workforce will make positive changes to our country. We must ensure that we allow a space for those children with special educational needs and disabilities to reach their full potential in society.