Children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) are seeing their education, well-being and life chances “damaged” by failings in the system, MPs have warned.
A report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said education, health and care plans (EHCPs) have become a “golden ticket” that parents fight for to secure support for their children.
Children with Send who do not have a plan risk missing out on the provision they need, especially in mainstream schools that are under financial pressure, according to the findings.
Around 1.3 million children in England are recorded as having Send, but only 20.6% – around a million children – have EHCPs, which set out what support they should receive, the report says.
Too many pupils with Send are excluded from school and have their education “disrupted”, and mainstream schools have little financial incentive to be inclusive of pupils with Send because of the way that funding is allocated, according to the PAC report.
The MPs said they remain to be convinced that the Department for Education (DfE) has “sufficient grip on what needs to be done to tackle the growing pressures” on the Send system.
It comes after ministers announced a review last year which will look at how services for families can be improved. The Government also announced an extra £780 million for Send children.
But the committee feels that the DfE has not done enough to understand the reasons for “significant disparities” in children’s needs and access to support.
Almost twice as many boys as girls are identified as Send and there are large disparities between ethnic groups.
The report concludes: “Many of the 1.3 million school-age children in England who have special educational needs and disabilities (Send) are not getting the support that they need. This is a failure that damages their education, well-being and future life chances.”
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found significant weakness in half (47 of 94) of the local areas inspected by the end of July last year.
The MPs are calling for “concrete action” from the Government to address “significant failings”.
The report makes a series of recommendations for the DfE including:
– Complete and publish its Send review as a matter of urgency;
– Explain on the Government website what information it collects and how it uses it to give parents more confidence in the system;
– Develop a better, evidence-based understanding of why there is so much variation between different groups of children in identifying Send;
– Set out the steps it plans to take to reduce the number of children with Send who are excluded from school;
– Carry out an analysis of the future demand for school places suitable for pupils with complex needs and develop a plan for meeting those needs.
Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities deserve the same quality of education and to get the same value from our education system as their peers.
“Disturbing disparities in identifying pupils with Send, and in provision for them, point to underlying problems that can only be addressed through proper data collection and information.
“These children, already facing extra hurdles and challenges in this life, must not find themselves discriminated against several times over.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The PAC’s report paints a stark picture of a system for supporting children with special educational needs which is poorly funded and ridiculously complicated.
“It is important to understand that many teachers and support staff do an amazing job for these young people despite these circumstances, but they need more backing from the Government in the form of sufficient funding, and a system which is more streamlined and less bureaucratic.”
He added: “When schools reopen, these children are likely to need the most support, in terms of their well-being as well as their academic work. This makes it even more important to address the funding shortfall and systemic problems as a matter of urgency.”
Judith Blake, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said: “The Government must use its planned review of the Send system to ensure it works effectively for everyone.
“This must be accompanied by sufficient long-term funding for councils and the powers to hold partners to account for their work to support children and young people with Send.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the safety and well-being of children with special educational needs and disabilities, and are working to ensure they get the help they need during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Only those with the most complex needs will require an education health and care plan, but every child deserves the opportunity to thrive in education.
“Our Send review will look at how to improve the whole system for those children, young people and their families, who need additional help to access the support they need.”