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Children with special educational needs are being failed by ministers, MPs warn

Children with special educational needs are being failed by ministers, MPs warn
5 min read

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being failed by Government reforms riddled with “bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and strained resources”, MPs have said.

A cross-party group has warned of “overwhelming evidence” that a generation of young people are being let down by education changes introduced in 2014, despite its “good intentions”.

Reforms introduced under the Coalition government aimed to improve and simplify help for children and young people with SEND. 

It created a new education, health and care plan to extend rights and protections for young people, aimed at giving families greater choice over assistance and support.

It also extended provision for young people up to the age of 25.

But, after an 18-month-long inquiry, the Education Committee has found that the reforms have left schools struggling to cope, councils at times failing to comply with the law, and families “thrown into crisis”.

According to MPs, a “significant funding shortfall” is a serious factor in the failure to meet children’s needs.

And while they welcomed extra funds from the recent Spending Review they also called for a “culture change” on accountability across Government, schools and councils to ensure the cash boost is effective.

The Department of Education was also accused of setting councils up to fail by overseeing  “serious errors” over funding.

Education Committee chair Robert Halfon 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."

The Conservative MP added: “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.  

“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.” 

Young people told MPs during their inquiry that poor support at school could lead them to isolation, unable to make friends or access the curriculum.

And on leaving education, the committee found training and employment opportunities were poor due to a “fundamental lack of ambition” for people with special needs.

The group also called on ministers to end their “sticking plaster” approach - and urged greater collaboration between health and education sectors.


Among its recommendations, MPs demanded a stronger inspection system with more focus on SEND, as well as a direct way for parents and schools to contact the Department for Education when councils are failing to comply with the law.

Mr 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.”

Responding to the inquiry's findings, the Local Government Association - which represents councils, said SEND services had reached a "tipping point".

“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," the group said.

They added: "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."

Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner also said the findings were "devastating".

“This devastating report exposes a system on the verge of breakdown," she said.

"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.”


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.”


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