A generation of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not getting the support they need because of “a nightmare of bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion”, a damning new report has warned.
The Commons Education Select Committee says that the poor implementation of SEND reforms to support children and young people have thrown families into crisis, put local councils under pressure and left schools struggling to cope.
The MPs’ long-awaited report calls for radical changes to the support available for families and to the way the government holds service providers to account to ensure its reforms are being delivered.
It warns that a significant funding shortfall is a serious contributing factor to the failure on the part of all involved to deliver on SEND reforms and meet children’s needs.
However, the committee also warns that "unless we see a culture change, within schools and local authorities and the government, any additional money will be wasted and make little difference to their lives".
The committee’s chair Robert Halfon said: “We need to end this major social injustice, one which affects children and their families, particularly those who are not as well equipped to navigate this bureaucratic maze.
“Of course, extra funding for SEND announced in the spending round is 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.
“The DfE [Department for Education] 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.”
The crisis in the services and support available for people with SEND has been well documented.
Last month, Tes revealed that more than half of the first 100 SEND area inspections to be carried out had found significant weaknesses in the services for children and young people.
And earlier this month, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman warned that children with SEND were being let down by a system that is meant to support them.
The MPs report, published today, says that the reforms to the support for children and young people contained in the Children and Families Act 2014 were the right ones but criticises government, councils, health bodies and schools for failing to ensure they have been delivered.
The reforms saw the introduction of a co-ordinated assessment process to assess a child’s educational, health and care needs and the delivery of EHCPs to ensure these needs were met.
'System breeds conflict and despair'
Mr Halfon added: “Despite the good intentions of the reforms, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down day after day. Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support.
“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.
"A lack of accountability plagues the system as local authorities, social care and health providers too frequently seek to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for providing support.
“Children and parents should not have to struggle in this way – they should be supported.
"There needs to be a radical change to inspection, support for parents and clear consequences for failure to ensure the 2014 Act delivers as the government intended.”
The committee calls for:
· A more rigorous inspection framework for local authorities, with clear consequences for failure and a greater focus on SEND in school inspections.
· A direct line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.
· Powers for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools.
· The development of more employment and training opportunities for post-16 young people.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “No child should be held back from reaching their potential, including those with special educational needs.
“That’s why we recently announced a £780 million increase to local authorities’ high-needs funding, boosting the budget by 12 per cent and bringing the total spent on supporting those with the most complex needs to over £7 billion for 2020-21.
“This report recognises the improvements made to the system over five years ago were the right ones, and put families and children at the heart of the process. But through our review of these reforms, we are focused on making sure they work for every child, in every part of the country.”