A few weeks ago there was a very good statement made by Sally-Ann Hart, the MP for Hastings and Rye on the theme of how to support SEND pupils. There was a particular focus on Hastings and East Sussex as you can see below. In the light of this it is vital for her to work closely with her neighbouring MPs in East and West Sussex and the three upper tier Councils to ensure her calls are delivered. It is also clearly important to involve a range of charities such as AMAZE. AMAZE is a charity that I had some involvement with at its beginning. Although when it began, it was working primarily in Brighton and Hove, since 2014 it has has extended some of the services. It now provides services to families living in East and West Sussex and also directly to young people with SEND. There is a strong link between East and West Sussex Councils and Brighton and Hove Council connected in a range of elements which is why a Sussex wide range approach is vital for both the charities like AMAZE and the Councils.
Sally-Ann Hart is the Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Special Educational Needs and Disability and the group recently published a report on 31st March which can be found here under the title of ‘Forgotten. Left Behind. Overlooked.’ The APPG groups vary enormously but one of the fascinating aspects of this group is that Sally-Ann was elected as an MP in 2019 following the stepping down of Amber Rudd from the Hastings constituency. The current Chair of the group is a Labour MP called Olivia Blake who was also elected in 2019. This means that both of these people are relatively new into Parliament and the group was not established until early March 2020 which was within three months of the 2019 election so this is also a very new group which is barely a year old. With the exception of Tim Farron all of the members of the group are Labour or Conservative MPs. At the beginning it was set up by Emma Hardy who had been an MP since 2017 and indeed until 2019 she was still a local Councillor in her constituency with responsibility for education. The fact that Emma has stepped down from being the Chair but is still a member is a very interesting aspect. Unfortunately apart from Sally-Ann none of the other members are from Sussex which is why we need her to connect strongly with the rest of our local MPs to ensure they understand this subject and for them to then begin to connect with their upper tier Councils together. They need to ensure that the provision which Sally-Ann has referred to is well received and is sufficient for our Sussex area. Here is the full text from her statement. The rest of the debate which took place on 21st April is available here under the title of “Special Educational Needs” but apart from the piece from Sally-Ann Hart there were no other contributions from either Sussex or the APPG.
I welcome this important debate secured by Mr Dhesi. As vice-chair of the APPG on special educational needs and disabilities, I highlight our recent report, “Forgotten. Left behind. Overlooked. The experiences of young people with SEND and their educational transitions during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020”. Members of the APPG were keen to focus our inquiry on how the transitions that young people with SEND face had been affected by the significant changes in education provision since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
It is widely accepted that moving between education settings, either for a change of phase or for enhanced or different provision, is difficult for all children, but it is clear from the experiences we heard about that the pandemic had the most negative impact on some of our most vulnerable children, young people and their families. In 2014, the Government introduced significant reforms to the way in which children and young people with SEND are identified and supported, requiring local authorities to have greater regard to the needs of children with SEND and their parents. It is concerning and often heart-rending to hear of the difficulties that some families face in securing enough support and appropriate placements for pupils with SEND.
What is apparent is how many families have to fight for the right support for their child. That is not right. The process of applying and assessing for educational healthcare plans must be made simpler and more compassionate. It is also clear that there are regional variations in the experiences of young people with SEND. That is very concerning. For example, the National Deaf Children’s Society noted that online learning materials, transition support, early intervention support and recovery plans were available, but “not consistently across England”. Sense also spoke of a lack of consistency.
It is welcome that the Government have acknowledged that despite the important reforms introduced to improve support for young people with SEND, the system is not working for every pupil. I look forward to the cross-Government SEND review being published in the coming weeks, as one of the issues it is looking at is how to ensure that SEND provision is consistent all over the country, of high quality and integrated across education, health and care.
I am grateful to the Minister for the work she has done regarding the review and for her comments at the recent annual general meeting of the APPG for SEND in March. I welcome the recent capital funding boost of £280 million for children and young people with SEND, and investment to provide more specialist places and improve provision for SEND pupils across the country.
It is also very good news that the high-needs funding has been boosted by nearly a quarter to £8 billion in 2021-22, with an extra £780 million for local authorities this year, and a further £730 million in the next financial year. The Government are supporting local authorities and their partners to improve SEND services for every young person with an education, health and care plan. That includes the programme of inspections and interim visits by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to check the quality of provision, as well as direct support and challenge to individual areas.
I ask the Minister to look more closely at how central Government pass on funding to local authorities for pupils with high needs. Currently, a large proportion of funding allocated through the high-needs funding formula is based on historical spending patterns, meaning that if needs go up or down from year to year, that is not fully reflected in the local budgets. It also means that local authorities that have been responsible with spending, such as East Sussex County Council, are left short of vital funding. That may mean that a pupil in one local authority could attract significantly more or less funding than a pupil in another authority, despite having similar needs.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight that in Hastings we will see a new SEND free school, the Flagship School, open its doors in September. I am grateful to the Department for Education for its vital support in this much-needed initiative. Lastly, I respectfully ask the Minister to give detailed consideration to the recommendations in the APPG’s report.