Keegan admits struggle for right support for pupils with special needs

The Education Secretary has acknowledged parents are having to “fight to get the right support” for children with special educational needs, days after figures showed around two in three special schools in England were at or over capacity in the last academic year.

Gillian Keegan vowed that the Government “has a plan” to deliver 60,000 more places to meet the needs of pupils and their families.

The Department for Education (DfE) said new Send (special educational needs and disabilities) and AP (alternative provision) were being delivered to meet children’s needs, and that councils will get “a record £850 million cash boost”.

However, a school leaders’ union said the “blizzard of figures looks very much like previously announced spending commitments”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said while investment in education is always welcome, the latest figures are “a very long way short of the level of funding that is needed”.

He said: “The special educational needs system is on its knees, with many local authority high needs budgets in deficit, children waiting for assessments and lack of money in schools for provision.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It seems everyone, even the Government, now accepts we are in the middle of a full-blown crisis when it comes to Send.

“However, this hasn’t just come out of nowhere – we have been warning about this for years and it is immensely frustrating just how little progress the government has made on actually tackling the issue.

“Successive secretaries of state have acknowledged the scale of the problem but none have seemingly been able to find the solutions.

“After more than a decade, talk of ‘long-term plans’ and ‘record levels of investment’ will carry little sway with parents and school leaders who are trying to navigate their way through this crisis.

“If the Government does not get a grip, vulnerable young people will continue to suffer.”

Gillian Keegan
Gillian Keegan vowed that the Government ‘has a plan’ to deliver 60,000 more places (PA)

Figures published earlier this month showed there were approximately 4,000 more pupils on roll in special schools than the reported capacity.

The Government publication on school capacity looked at data on Send provision for the first time.

There were 148,000 special school places reported across 1,077 schools in England as of May last year, but there were around 152,000 pupils on the roll during the same period.

On Tuesday, the Government said it is “sticking to the plan to ensure every child can receive the education they need to succeed, where hard work is rewarded and aspiration is celebrated”.

The DfE said the funding is part of the £2.6 billion investment between 2022 and 2025 to help to put an end to families having to fight for the right support for their children.

Ms Keegan said: “All too often I hear from parents with children who have special educational needs having to fight to get the right support. That’s why this Government has a plan to deliver 60,000 more places that meet the needs of these pupils and their families.”

Asked whether she agreed there was a “huge crisis”, Ms Keegan told BBC Breakfast: “We have definitely acknowledged it.

“We have special educational needs and alternative provision improvement plans, so you don’t put that in place unless you acknowledge that you definitely need to improve it.

“There’s been a massive increase in special educational needs, we know how to diagnose more, we care more, we know more about how to overcome special educational needs, so that’s definitely something that has changed over the last 10 years.

“But we have been really trying to make sure that we do the right thing.”

The DfE said schools and sixth form colleges will benefit from £1.8 billion in funding to help maintain their buildings, including refurbishing classrooms, improving playgrounds and installing new windows, as well as larger projects such as upgrading heating systems, replacing roofs or rewiring electrical systems.

Ms Keegan said the Government is “continuing to invest in the school estate, so all children are taught in the best classrooms for generations to come”.

She added: “Whether in special or mainstream schools, we’re ensuring every child gets a world-class education, and the support they need to reach their potential.”

ASCL said “parts of the school estate are literally crumbling as a result of 14 years of underinvestment and many schools have to bid for funding just to be able to afford the cost of vital repairs”.

A Labour spokesperson said: “After 14 years of Conservative government, years of failed reforms and botched reviews, their own Education Secretary says the system of support is lose-lose-lose.

“Today we have the grotesque spectacle of an Education Secretary re-announcing old money earmarked for yesterday’s problems to solve tomorrow’s challenges.

“It’s not good enough for children, for families, or for school staff. Only Labour can bring the change we need.”