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House of Commons Education Committee - Special educational needs and disabilities - First Report of Session 2019-20

 

In 2014, Parliament legislated with the intention of transforming the educational experiences of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The Children and Families Bill sought to place young people at the heart of the system.

On 25 October 2019 the House of Commons Education Committee released their SEND report, which found that the “government had set councils up to fail by upping parent’s expectations while cutting council budgets overall.” Due to the funding shortfall there is “too much tension between the child’s needs and the provision available.”  However, the Commons Education Committee go on to report that: -

“Unless we see a culture change, within schools and local authority’s and the Government, any additional money will be wasted and make little difference to their lives.”

The report highlights the lack of accountability within the system which has steamed from the lack of a rigorous inspection regime at the beginning set the tone of a “hands-off approach.” As Special Educational Needs lawyers, we often see delays in the Education, Health and Care Plan process with no accountability being taken or given a sufficient explanation for these delays. The Commons Education Committee has called for a greater focus on SEND in school inspections, at present “children who receive SEN Support are being let down by schools failing to meet their needs at this level.”  Along with a more rigorous inspection framework, with clear consequences for failure and unlawful practices.

As such the families of children with special educational needs are having to fight for their children’s rights in schools, with councils in tribunal. Mr Robert Halfon, who chairs the committee, said:

“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.”

As Special Educational Needs lawyers, we often represent families who are in the processing of obtaining an Education, Health and Care Plan, amending their child’s EHCP to accurately reflect their child’s needs and representing families at the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.

The inquiry looked at the actions of the agencies implementing the 2014 reforms such as, central governments, local government, inspections, health organisations and acknowledges that not a single one of these sectors escapes severe criticism:

“Let down by failures of implantations, the 2014 reforms have resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many.”

As part of the inquiry the Committee held numerous interviews and evidence sessions with parents, carers and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Despite the humour and confidence these young people showed, the committee was “ultimately sadden by their experiences.” There are opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood such as internship and apprenticeships but there is not sufficient support in place to enable certain young people to grab these opportunities with both hands. This is why, it is so important, to ensure that provision contained in an EHCP supports the child or young person in reaching their potential.

With regard to therapy, the Committee reports that there are serious gaps in therapy provision. The Committee reports that, “these huge gaps in therapy provision across the county are letting down all pupils, but particularly those on SEN Support. We need to know where the gaps are, because children are falling through them, and what is going to be done about it.”

This is not the first time that a select committee has held a SEND inquiry. But this is the first SEN inquiry to demand quick, decisive action. This committee does not want a review, it wants specific measurable action taken, and it wants action taken quickly.

A Department of Education spokesman has announced a “£780m increase to local authorities’ high-needs funding, boosting the budget by 12% and bringing the total spent on supporting those with the most complex needs to over £7bn for 2020-21.”

However: -

“Special educational needs and disabilities must be seen as part of the whole approach to of the Department’s remit, not just an add-on. The Department for Education has an approach which is piecemeal, creating reactive, sticking-plaster policies, when what is needed is serious effort to ensure that issues are fully grappled with, and the 2014 Act works properly, as was intended.”

A copy of the Committee’s full report can be found here:

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/publications/            

The issues highlighted within the Committee’s report are those that we, as Special Educational Needs lawyers, are all too familiar with. If you are experiencing difficulties in relation to support for your child’s Special Educational Needs or otherwise, then do not hesitate to contact our specialist education solicitors on 0333 202 7175 oreducation@hcbgroup.com.        

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