The latest government reforms to assist children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are contained within the Children and Families Bill which is currently progressing through Parliament. According to an article in ‘Children and Young People Now’ Edward Timpson, the childrens Minister has said the plan to replace SEN statements with single education, health and care plans could not be offered to children in custody because it would “conflict with existing comprehensive statutory provisions”. As Labour’s shadow children’s minister Sharon Hodgson pointed out during a parliamentary debate many inmates of young offender institutions required SEN support and cited research that showed 18% of young offenders have a statement, compared to 2%-3% of the general population. This figure is surely a very conservative one as many of the young people who are held in a YOI are also those who have missed out on the early stages of education within the mainstream.
You and I are the people who will be expected to pay for the education provided to all children whether in a state school or in a YOI. Ensuring our children receive the most appropriate type of education is vital if we are to obtain value for this enormous investment. If 6 times the number of children within our YOIs have statements when compared to the wider population, then we must find a way to ensure they benefit from this new legislation. If the reason given by Edward Timpson for this omission is that prisoners must be receive comprehensive services, then we need to change to rules (or indeed do an analysis to see if offering SEN services to all residents of a YOI would be a good return on our investment). There is a possibility that the children’s Minister is being disingenuous and that this is a matter of funding. If so this is a short sighted approach. There is extensive research that shows that those who leave prison without education attainment and without work, are far more likely to reoffend than those who do. If this is about saving money, it is a false economy and we as the paymasters need to realise we would benefit from giving these young people an effective education rather than pay a much greater price for their lack of education.
There are a number of people and agencies that need to press this case and who should be articulating their views alongside Sharon Hodgson. They include the Tax Payers Alliance who should be making this argument on the grounds of investment. We need to invest an appropriate level of funding in the lives of these vulnerable young people now so that they are better prepared to contribute to society in a positive manner when they leave. The other group of people are the 41 Police and Crime Commissioners. Each one of them wants to reduce crime in their areas. Ensuring that these young people are properly educated when they leave the YOI will increase the prospects for this objective. However it remains to be seen if either the TPA or the PCCs are really concerned about young offenders!