The chair of the Commons Education Select Committee has said he is very disappointed by the government’s “tick-box” response to its major report on the SEND system and has vowed to question education secretary Gavin Williamson on the matter.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon has strongly criticised the way in which the Department for Education responded to the committee's report, which had warned that a generation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities were being failed.
He told Tes that the select committee will question the education secretary about the response when he appears before MPs after the summer.
The report made 38 recommendations or key findings, but Mr Halfon said he felt the response from the department – which was more than six months late – had not seriously engaged with them.
SEND support 'should be the number one priority'
The Department for Education has already launched a review of SEND and its response to the committee says that many of the recommendations “fall within the remit” of this review.
Mr Halfon said: “It was a Sir Humphrey response. It was a ticking-boxes approach without ever seriously engaging with the recommendations that were made by the committee.
“The government’s review of SEND should be published soon. They have got to make getting it right for children with SEND their number one priority.
“We cannot have an academic system that is about the survival of the fittest.
"We need to have a level playing field so that every child can achieve their best, and we will be questioning education secretary Gavin Williamson about this when he appears before our committee.”
The committee’s report, published in September last year, warned that a generation of children with SEND were not getting the support they needed because of “a nightmare of bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion”.
It said that the poor implementation of SEND reforms, introduced in 2014 to support children and young people, have thrown families into crisis, set local councils up to fail and left schools struggling to cope.
In the DfE’s response, it admitted that the country’s SEND system was not working as well as it should.
The DfE also said that it was to carry out a large-scale, value-for-money study of SEND provision to provide information on the outcomes achieved and costs of different types of settings for children and young people with education, health and care plans in England.
And it told the committee that it was working with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission on the future of SEND area inspections – after MPs called for the system to be strengthened.
The recommendations in the MPs' report included giving the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman the powers to investigate parental complaints about SEND provision within schools, warning that at present it can only “look at everything up to the school gate.”
The DfE response “welcomes the committee’s interest” in this area and added that it has engaged with the ombudsman about it and would “continue to communicate with the ombudsman and stakeholders to ensure complaints are handled appropriately”.
MPs also called for the government to set up a new reporting mechanism so that schools and parents could highlight when they believed councils were failing to comply with the law, but the DfE said that the existing system was sufficient to “address this concern”.
The select committee also suggested that a new type of SEND-focused school inspections could be introduced. In response to this, the DfE included a statement from Ofsted which said that the effectiveness of SEND provision already featured prominently in the new education inspection framework, which it launched last year.