Many children with SEND are evidently being failed by the support system. Joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission Inspections have found that half of local authority areas (47 of the 94 areas) have significant weaknesses. The Department considers that the difficult financial position of many local authorities and schools, explains why they are struggling to meet the needs of pupils with SEND and to cope with those who have challenging behaviour.
These problems see pupils with SEND far more likely to have their education disrupted and life chances further diminished by exclusion from school: 44.9% of permanent exclusions and 43.4% of fixed-period exclusions in 2017/18 were pupils with SEND: levels even the Department admits are unacceptable.
The system is riddled with unexplained inequalities - almost twice as many boys as girls are identified as SEND, and there are large disparities between ethnic groups and across different regions.
At January 2019, 1.3 million school-age children were recorded as having SEND. 20.6% of these had legally enforceable entitlements to specific packages of support that are set out in formal education, health and care (EHC) plans. These were children whom local authorities had assessed as needing the most support. Receipt of these EHC plans has become a ‘golden ticket’ that parents fight for to try and secure access to adequate support for their children.
That left just over 1 million children with SEND who did not have EHC plans but had been identified as needing additional support at school. At January 2019, 87.5% of all pupils with SEND attended mainstream state primary and secondary schools.
The Committee is concerned that the current structure of funding and provision gives little incentive for mainstream schools to include pupils with SEND, and budget-hit local authorities are left paying over the odds to transport pupils to the few places in state special schools, or for costly places in independent special schools. Local authorities can allocate additional funding to support genuinely inclusive mainstream schools, but in 2018-19 only 85 of 150 local authorities had budgeted for this.
There is inadequate supervision of SEND provision, with infrequent Ofsted inspections not equipped to capture specific problems or ensure that they are remedied. The Committee says the Department needs a new approach, supplementing evidence from inspections with, for example, intelligence from regional schools commissioners, parent-carer forums, schools forums, and head teachers. To give parents more confidence in the system and the information being used to underpin decisions about their children, the Department should explain on its website what information it collects and how it uses it.
Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP said:
“Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities deserve the same quality of education and to get the same value from our education system as their peers. Disturbing disparities in identifying pupils with SEND, and in provision for them, point to underlying problems that can only be addressed through proper data collection and information. These children, already facing extra hurdles and challenges in this life, must not find themselves discriminated against several times over.”
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