“Children’s time in the education system is slipping away,” shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said. Image: Screenshot/ParliamentTV
The government has come under fire for allowing 272,000 pupils to leave school before any improvements are made for those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Responding to the SEND green paper in parliament, Bridget Phillipson – Labour’s shadow education secretary – said the government’s “hollow” ambitions had already failed thousands of families across England.
Ministers launched a review into improving support in both mainstream and special schools in 2019, meaning nearly 1,000 days had passed before they published the SEND green paper this week. The proposals will now go to a public consultation for another 13 weeks.
“Years have passed since reform was needed and children’s time in the education system is slipping away,” Phillipson said in the Commons.
Roughly one in six children in England has a special educational need or disability, equating to around five in every classroom.
Around 272,000 young people with SEND will have left secondary school since the review was announced in 2019, according to Labour analysis of government figures.
But ministers’ ambitions for England’s schools “sadly remain hollow”, the Houghton and Sunderland South MP added.
“Hollow because other government policies are working against these aims, and hollow because children and families are still waiting on a pandemic recovery plan.
“Too many parents told us that during the pandemic, support for their children was removed, was not available, and to this day has not been restored.”
The SEND green paper recommends a legal requirement for councils to bring together education and health services to increase early intervention, as well as a new cohort of educational psychologists no sooner than 2026 and the approval of up to 40 new special and alternative provision schools.
All proposals will be backed by £70m of new funding, ministers pledged.
Supporting children and learners with SEND is “at the heart of our education system, and the work that teachers and school staff are doing every day”, Phillipson told MPs.
“But right now, children are being let down,” she added. “Needs are going unmet.
“Children are stuck on waiting lists from occupational therapy to speech and language support. Thousands of families are waiting months for education, health and care plans.
“Parents are increasingly turning to the courts to get the support that is their children’s right.”
The government also pledged to give extra support worth £27.3m to low-income families with seriously ill or disabled children to help pay for equipment and services.
Ministers plan to work with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to “hold local areas to account” against new national standards.
“We want to end the postcode lottery of uncertainty and poor accountability that exists for too many families,” said Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.
“I want to make sure everyone knows what to expect, when to expect it and where the support should come from.”
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