As Vice-Chair of the APPG for SEND I would like to highlight the recent report ‘Forgotten. Left Behind. Overlooked’ outlining the experiences of young people with SEND and their educational transitions during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Members of the APPG were keen to focus the inquiry on how the transitions that young people with SEND face had been impacted by the significant changes in education provision since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
It is widely accepted that moving between education settings, for either a change of phase or for enhanced or different provision, is difficult for all children, but what is clear from the experiences we heard is that the pandemic negatively impacted on some of our most vulnerable children, young people and their families the most.
In 2014, the Government introduced significant reforms to the way in which children and young people with SEND are identified and supported – requiring local authorities to have greater regard to the needs of children with SEND and their parents.
It is concerning – often heart-rending - to hear of the difficulties faced by some families (and schools) in securing enough support and appropriate placements for pupils with SEND, with some families turning to home-schooling. It is true that the system of providing support for pupils with additional and SEND needs is complex and the needs and experiences of young people and their families are wide-ranging, often physical and emotional. What is apparent is how many families have to fight for the right support for their child. This is not right; the process of applying and assessing for Education and Health Care Plans must be made simpler and more compassionate.
It is also clear that there are regional variations in the experiences of young people with SEND. This is very concerning. The National Deaf Children’s Society noted that online learning materials, transition support, early intervention support and recovery plans were available but “not consistently across England”. Sense also spoke of a lack of consistency. They described regional variations in SEND provision and urged the government to revise its approach to local solutions and create a guidance framework for risk assessment that is appropriate.
It is welcome that the Government itself has acknowledged that despite the important reforms introduced to improve support for young people with SEND, the system is not working for every pupil. I look forward to the cross Government SEND Review being published in the coming weeks as one of the issues it is looking at is how to make sure SEND provision is consistent all over the country, that it is high quality, and integrated across education, health and care. I am grateful to the Minister for the work she has done as regards this Review and for her comments at the recent AGM for the APPG for SEND in March.
I welcome the recent capital funding boost of £280 million for children and young people with SEND – an investment to provide more specialist places and improve provision for SEND pupils across the country.
It is also very good news that the High Needs funding has been boosted by nearly a quarter to £8 billion in 2021-22, with an extra £780 million for local authorities this year and a further £780 in the next financial year and that the Government is supporting local authorities and their partners to improve SEND services for every young person with an Education, Health and Care Plan. This includes the programme of inspections and interim visits by Ofsted and the CQC to check the quality of provision as well as direct support and challenge to individual areas.
Could I ask the Minister to look more closely at how central government passes funding onto local authorities for pupils with high needs. Currently, a large proportion of funding allocated through the
High Needs Funding Formula is based on historical spending patterns, meaning that if needs go up or down from year to year, this isn’t fully reflected in local budgets. It also means that local authorities which have been responsible with spending, like ESCC, are left short of vital funding and this may mean that a pupil in one local authority could attract significantly more or less funding than a pupil in another authority, despite having similar needs.
In Hastings, we will see a new SEND free school – The Flagship School – open its doors in September and I am grateful for the Department of Education for its vital support in this much needed initiative.
Lastly, Mr Chairman, I respectfully ask the Minister to give detailed consideration to the recommendations in the APPG’s Report.