Children with special educational needs or disabilities are on the frontline of the funding crisis
We must mend the hole in SEND funding, reform how support is allocated and radically change the culture in our schools, writes Layla Moran MP
Thousands of children with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) are missing out on the education they deserve. Parents are waiting months for their council to tell them if they will fund extra support for their child, known as an education, health and care plan (EHCP). The system as it stands is driving them to despair.
If the council denies support, cash-strapped schools must stretch their SEND budgets even further to cover the gaps. Children are being home-schooled because their parents have lost trust in schools and councils to deliver.
Pupils with the most complex additional needs are on the frontline of the funding emergency. The current waiting times for councils to issue EHCPs are a slap in the face for parents. In my work on the Public Accounts Committee, I’ve heard that the EHCP system needs to change to ensure that it is delivered properly.
Freedom of Information requests found that 40% of EHCPs were not being issued within the 20-week deadline required by law. Children are being left months without the support they need.
When I was a teacher, I worked hand-in-glove with special needs support staff. The right support can have a transformative impact on the life of a young person.
I and the Liberal Democrats want to end the crisis in special needs education. We need real leadership in this area. Mending the hole in SEND funding is crucial – but we also need to reform how SEND support is allocated and radically change the culture in our schools.
Local authorities and schools are financially stretched. Teaching assistants and other support staff are going, or they’re gone. We would provide thousands of pounds for every child with an EHCP, which councils can give to schools to cover the costs of supporting these children. This would free up schools’ budgets to help children with moderate additional needs.
That’s step one. We need to partner proper funding with serious reform. That includes a fairer deal for parents asking councils for support: proper enforcement of the 20-week deadline and telling parents if their child is entitled to support within 12 weeks. We will create a new national SEND strategy so that schools, councils, healthcare providers and social services work together in the best interests of the child.
Our education system is fragmented. The Government’s ideological obsession with academies and free schools means that some children, particularly those with SEND who end up being excluded from their first school, can find themselves without a school place. Councils should act as strategic authorities for schools in their local area – planning places, managing exclusions and admissions, and overseeing SEND provision.
And then there’s culture. The Conservatives’ relentless focus on teaching children how to pass tests is pushing down SEND pupils. It encourages headteachers to act against the best interests of the child, quietly taking them off the school roll or sending them to an alternative provider, often one that is unregistered.
Today’s league tables reinforce this culture so we want them to go, in their current form. Instead, parents should be given more qualitative information about their school’s performance and ethos online, quality-checked by other school leaders.
Ofsted’s narrow focus is not helping. We welcomed the new framework, but high-quality SEND provision should be top of the list of what our accountability system looks for.
Every child, no matter their ability or background, should be valued in our schools. If we are to support every child with SEND, we don’t just need more money – we need a change of culture. Let’s work to give every child the best start in life.
Layla Moran is Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West & Abingdon and spokesperson for education
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