The government’s commitment to inclusive education of disabled children and young people and the progressive removal of barriers to learning and participation in mainstream education is at the heart of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system. We have made substantial reforms to strengthen the SEND system in recent years, to improve the identification and meeting of the needs of children and young people and to improve families’ experiences of the system. As part of this, the Children and Families Act (2014) secured the general presumption in law of mainstream education in relation to decisions about where children and young people with SEND should be educated, complementing the protections in the Equality Act (2010) against disability discrimination.
Recent steps we have taken to help disabled children and young people reach their full potential in mainstream education include the fact that we have been closely monitoring the pressures on high needs budgets and have provided additional high needs funding for local authorities, alongside their 2019-20 Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) allocations: a further £125 million in 2018-19 and £125 million of high needs funding for 2019-20.
We are investing £365 million in the Special Provision Capital Fund from 2018 to 2021, helping local authorities create new school places and improve existing facilities for children and young people with SEND. This capital funding is not ring-fenced and local authorities can use it as they see fit to improve special provision in their local areas. The funding can be invested in a range of settings, including mainstream and special schools or academies. We have required local authorities to publish their plans on how they use this funding, and these show that many local authorities intend to expand their specialist provision in mainstream schools.
We recognise the importance of staff in mainstream schools having the skills to identify and meet the needs of pupils with SEND. This is why, for example, we have awarded a 2 year, £3.4 million contract to the Whole School SEND Consortium, led by Nasen, to deliver a programme of work to drive education institutions to prioritise SEND and equip schools to identify and meet the relevant training needs of their workforce. We have also funded the Autism Education Trust since 2011 to deliver autism awareness training to education staff in early years, schools and further education settings. This training has so far reached more than 195,000 people - not just teachers and teaching assistants, but also support staff such as receptionists, dining hall staff and caretakers, encouraging a ‘whole school’ approach to supporting pupils with autism. We are also reviewing the current SEND content in the Initial Teacher Training provision (ITT) and building on our existing SEND specialist qualifications to develop a continuum of learning from ITT, through teachers’ early careers and into specialist and leadership roles in support of the upcoming Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy.