‘Postcode lottery’ for children with special needs

Children with special educational needs are facing a “postcode lottery” of support, ministers have warned.

A new review will look at how to improve services for youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) and how to help parents make the best decisions for their child, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced.

The review has the potential to be a “game changer”, one charity said, but added that there needs to be immediate action from Government.

Under plans announced today, the review will examine and put forward ideas for action on how to ensure support from different services – such as health, care and education – is consistent, and available across England.

It will look at how to offer Send youngsters good support that allows them to thrive and prepare for adulthood and the workplace, as well as how parents can be better helped to make decisions about the support that is best for their child.

And the review will cover how to offer schools, colleges and councils incentives and hold them to account for the support they provide to these youngsters.

Last week, the Government announced it would be investing £700 million in support for pupils with additional needs.

“The review aims to improve the services available to families who need support, equip staff in schools and colleges to respond effectively to their needs as well as ending the ‘postcode lottery’ they often face,” the DfE said.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I want parents to know that we’re committed to boosting outcomes and ensuring the right support is in place for children with special educational needs, by breaking down the barriers to a good education and making sure the system works for families.”

He added: “Our reforms in 2014 gave vital support to more children, but we know there have been problems in delivering the changes that we all want to see. So it’s the right time to take stock of our system and make sure the excellence we want to see as a result of our changes is the norm for every child and their families.”

Ian Noon, chief policy adviser at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “After years of cuts, years of parents being pushed to breaking point, and years of underachievement because children have just not being given the support they need to thrive, this review and £700 million investment couldn’t be more important.

“But for this to be a success, families need to be at the heart of this review and have their experiences listened to. The last major Government review of special needs education five years ago saw huge upheaval to the system, but little improvement to how many children were supported.

“This all has the potential to be a game changer for children with special needs. But only if we see immediate action from Government, not a review that goes on interminably.

“These children need an increase to their support and it’s needs to reach the frontline so we get more specialist teachers across the country delivering the ‘superb’ education Boris Johnson has promised.”

Councillor James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said the review was good news.

“We want to work with Government and families and children with Send on this review to get a clear picture of why demand and cost pressures are continuing to rise and what can be done to make the system work more effectively for everyone,” he said.

Send services were overhauled in 2014 and saw the introduction of Education Health and Care plans (EHCs) as part of attempts to make the system simpler and more consistent.

As of January, 1.3 million school-age pupils in England were classed as having special educational needs, according to official figures, and of these 271,200 have an EHC plan.

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