Scramble for ‘golden ticket’ for children with SEND

The Public Accounts Committee has claimed that many children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are seeing their education, well-being and life chances damaged by failings in SEND provision.

Joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission Inspections have found that half of local authority areas (47 of the 94 areas) have significant weaknesses in SEND provision, with the Public Accounts Committee also warning that the Department for Education does not have a grip on mounting pressure in the system.  

As of January last year, 1.3 million school-age children were recorded as having SEND. More than one in five of these had legally enforceable entitlements to specific packages of support that are set out in formal education, health and care (EHC) plans. These were children whom local authorities had assessed as needing the most support. Receipt of these EHC plans has become a ‘golden ticket’ that parents fight for to try and secure access to adequate support for their children.  

That left just over one million children with SEND who did not have EHC plans but had been identified as needing additional support at school. At January 2019, 87.5 per cent of all pupils with SEND attended mainstream state primary and secondary schools.

The committee is concerned that the current structure of funding and provision gives little incentive for mainstream schools to include pupils with SEND, and budget-hit local authorities are left paying over the odds to transport pupils to the few places in state special schools, or for costly places in independent special schools. Local authorities can allocate additional funding to support genuinely inclusive mainstream schools, but in 2018-19 only 85 of 150 local authorities had budgeted for this.  

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities deserve the same quality of education and to get the same value from our education system as their peers. Disturbing disparities in identifying pupils with SEND, and in provision for them, point to underlying problems that can only be addressed through proper data collection and information. These children, already facing extra hurdles and challenges in this life, must not find themselves discriminated against several times over.”

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:  “Councils, schools and the NHS continue to provide individual special educational needs services for children and young people, despite the huge challenges they face during this pandemic. This report raises some important areas of learning for councils and it is essential that Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission work proactively with them to identify solutions to meet the needs of all children and young people. By working with parents, families and children with SEND, we can agree on what a ‘good’ system of support looks like.

“Since the extension of the eligibility for SEND support in 2014, councils have seen a near 50 per cent rise in children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans with more than 130 children and young people starting support plans with their council every day. The government must use its planned review of the SEND system to ensure it works effectively for everyone. This must be accompanied by sufficient long-term funding for councils and the powers to hold partners to account for their work to support children and young people with SEND.”