Robert Halfon MP: Children with special educational needs are being let down
Extra funding will fail to make a difference unless ministers correct the flaws in this dysfunctional system, writes Robert Halfon MP
The Education Committee’s inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has been one of the most wide-ranging in recent select committee history. Over the past 18 months, we have been investigating every facet of the system and the problems faced by thousands of families in securing the necessary support children and young people with SEND need to thrive.
We have spoken to more than 70 witnesses in over 17 hours of oral evidence hearings, and received more than 700 submissions of written evidence. We have heard from children and young people, parents, carers, teachers, charities, local authorities and ministers. We have been determined to give a voice to all those involved in the system so we can truly understand what is going wrong.
What we have found is that, despite the good intentions of the Children and Families Act 2014, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down. Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support.
The message from hundreds of first-hand accounts is that the system is broken. It is a system that is rampant with patchy provision, rife with unlawful practice from councils, and prone to bureaucratic buck-passing.
The result of this dysfunctional system is that parents are forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy with no guarantee their child will get the support they are entitled to at the end.
The impact of these failings on children can be profound. Without access to support, children can find themselves isolated in school, struggling to learn, and in adulthood unable to find employment.
The impact of the failings extends to families, with parents in debt, bogged down in a bureaucratic mire and their mental health and relationships put on the line.
The Government has announced a review, but children have waited far too long already. Families should not have to endure further delay. The Government now has evidence that the system is dysfunctional, and should get on with implementing the recommendations in our report.
We need more rigorous inspections to improve accountability. This means not only tougher Ofsted regimes but also more powers for the local government and social care ombudsman to investigate what goes on behind the school gate.
There should be a neutral role for someone to guide parents through the process and a direct line so they can report unlawful practice to the Department for Education. The Government needs to know just how often schools and parents are faced with unlawful behaviour. The distance between young people’s lived experience, their families’ struggles and ministers’ desks is just too far.
The focus on education, health and care plans has resulted in an increase in applications from parents as the only way of getting support. This has led to local authorities rationing support and imposing obstacles. Much of this is unlawful.
Having special educational needs does not mean that a young person cannot successfully move into employment. The Government should take a lead in working with businesses to develop more supported internships and apprenticeships. Young people want to grab opportunities with both hands but are being let down by a lack of support.
More money is needed, and while we welcome the Government’s SEND review and the additional funding, simply throwing more cash at the problem would be like topping up a bath with no plug. Until the flaws in the system are corrected, the Government may as well pour the cash straight down the drain.
The Education Committee shares the ambition of parents for their children. Action is needed now; children cannot afford for the Government to delay. Ministers must take control and ensure children really are at the heart of the system as they intended in their 2014 reforms.
If they fail to act, generation after generation of children will be let down, missing out on opportunities to thrive, to succeed and ultimately failing to fulfil their full potential in life.
Robert Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Select Committee