COMMONS

Government’s special educational needs reforms failing young people and parents, say MPs

23 October 2019

A generation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is failing to receive the support it deserves, with poorly implemented legislation leaving families facing a nightmare of bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion, say the Education Committee in its report on Special educational needs and disabilities.

The report follows an 18-month inquiry into Government reforms aimed at placing children and young people at the heart of the SEND system. The Committee heard from more than 70 witnesses and received more than 700 submissions of written evidence.

The Committee concludes that while the reforms to the support for children and young people contained in the Children and Families Act 2014 were the right ones, poor implementation has put local authorities under pressure, left schools struggling to cope and, ultimately, thrown families into crisis.

The Committee heard overwhelming evidence that the reforms were letting down young people who need additional support with their education. It heard from young people that poor support can result in them being isolated in school, unable to access the curriculum and find it hard to make friends. As adults, the training and employment opportunities were found to be poor, deriving from a fundamental lack of ambition for young people with SEND across the country.

 Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Committee, 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. 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. 

Children and parents should not have to struggle in this way – they should be supported. 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."

The report recommends a series of measures to strengthen inspections, support parents going through the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process and ensure those responsible for SEND provision are held accountable when things go wrong.

The Committee makes the following key recommendations:

  • A more rigorous inspection framework for local authorities, with clear consequences for failure. There should be a greater focus on SEND in school inspections.
  • A direct line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.
  • Powers for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools.
  • The development of more employment and training opportunities for post-16 young people

Robert 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."

Further information

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