A cross-party group of MPs has condemned the government for failing children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).
Reforms to overhaul the educational experience of those with special needs were launched in 2014 and planned largely through the Children and Families Act 2014. According to the House of Commons’ education committee, its implementation ‘resulted in confusion’ and was ‘at times unlawful’ in practice. The report comes shortly after three families lost their legal challenge to the government’s funding of SEND in the High Court.
The reforms included the replacement of statements with Educations, Health and Care Plans and the extension of support to those up to the age of 25. The Committee concluded that parents and carers had to wade through ‘a treacle of bureaucracy, full of conflict, missed appointments and despair’, whilst children and young adults experienced ‘serious gaps in therapy provision’.
‘Despite the good intentions of the reforms, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down day after day,’commented Robert Halfon MP, the committee’s chair said. ‘Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support.’
Extra funding for SEND asannouncedwas ‘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,’ Halfon said.
‘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.’
Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons’ education committee
The report accepted funding shortfalls contributed to failures, but further commented that any additional money wouldbe ‘wasted…unless we see a culture change, within schools and local authorities and the Government’.
The MPs received more than 700 pieces of written evidence from parents/carers, local authorities, schools, colleges, SEN professionals and charitable organisations. It does not propose further legislative reform, stating that it should ‘avoid the temptation to address the problems within the system by weakening or watering down duties or making fundamental changes to the law’.
Instead, it suggests a series of recommendations, including: a more thorough inspection framework for local authorities, with clear consequences for failure and a direct mechanism for parents and schools to report directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.
‘Parents and those working in the sector are all “review weary”,’commented Ali Fiddy, chief executive of SEND charity IPSEA. ‘It’s now time for the Government to tackle the problems that have been repeatedly identified by, amongst others, the LGSCO, the local area SEND inspections and now the Education Committee.’