The issue of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is a “ticking time bomb”, MPs heard today.
In a debate in Westminster Hall, MPs spoke about the difficulties that children with SEND and their parents faced in trying to get the support they needed, and concerns that there was not enough funding in the system.
“Ultimately, this issue is a ticking time bomb,” said Julian Sturdy, Conservative MP for York Outer. “We cannot allow the life chances of some of those children and students to be detrimentally affected by it because, ultimately, we are failing them.”
The debate came a day after pupils with special educational needs urged MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee to remember the fact that they are “not just SEND” but human beings with dreams.
SEND funding: 'A storm is brewing'
Conservative MP Ben Bradley, who is on the committee, said today that increasing proportions of school funding were being spent on topping up gaps in SEND Support – the support given to children who have SEND but whose needs are not severe enough to need an education, health and care plan.
“Everyone in this chamber has a duty to ensure that the chancellor understands the storm brewing in SEND funding,” Mr Bradley said.
Several MPs also raised concerns over the “perverse incentive” of earmarking a notional proportion of school’s budget for SEND Support funding. Schools are expected to use this money to pay for up to £6,000 worth of support per child. But the money is not ring-fenced for SEND and could potentially be spent on other areas.
Labour MP Emma Hardy said that she felt there should be an audit of the notional £6,000 funding.
“Our SEND children are fundamentally underfunded,” Ms Hardy added. “And there is a fundamental lack of recognition of the issue’s importance and of what these children can achieve. I plead with the government to change the accountability system and give our schools the money they need.”
Skills minister Anne Milton responded, saying: "There are real pressures on the budget – I accept that – and there always have been, but much can be done within the current budgets to make the system work better."
She said that she was aware of the “perverse incentives” in the system – and was due shortly to launch a call for evidence on the way the funding system operated.
She also said she was announcing funding today of over £30 million to ensure a sufficient supply of educational psychologists – whom local authorities must consult when assessing children’s needs.
“The government are doing much work, but we know that there are gaps in provision,” Ms Milton said. “Needs are not met and families are having battles – those that can – that they should not have to fight. Everyone in this debate wants to make education work for those very special children and their quite extraordinary parents, so that every child gets the opportunities that I have seen some get.”