Improving support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is one of my priority areas of constituency work. Some of the most distressing cases that I come across involve children unable to access education because of failings in the SEND system.
Apart from the tragedy of missed education, I know this has a huge knock-on effect to whole families, including parents’ mental health and their ability to work. My caseworkers and I do all we can to help resolve these cases.
This is a complex issue, with many different parties responsible. I am speaking with the Council and also national government, as I believe both need to make improvements to better serve families.
Supporting and listening to parents
Over the last several years I’ve met many parents who are fighting hard for their children to get the assistance and support they need and are entitled to.
Listening to them and advocating for them is the first priority. Failings in the system, no matter who is responsible, should not be the problem of parents but too often they are left to manage their children’s educational needs without the help their children need to thrive. This is unacceptable, and I will keep listening to parents and support and advocate for them on behalf of their children.
Challenging Bristol City Council
In Bristol, I have recently had meetings with councillors and Bristol City Council officers responsible for SEND. I raised many of the difficulties parents in my constituency have been experiencing with the Council, including long waiting times for Educational Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). These documents are legally-binding plans setting out all of the support that a young person needs at school and beyond.
I was disappointed to see Bristol City Council only met the 20-week service standard for issuing EHCPs in 22% of cases in 2020, far below the already-woeful national average of 56%.
I understand things have improved since the Council went into special measures two years ago, but there is still a lot of work to do. I will continue to push and challenge the Council. When necessary, I will help them make the changes necessary that mean children are properly supported.
In my role as local MP, one way I can support children and families is by questioning national government on its policies and I will continue to do that relentlessly. I refuse to give up. Children’s lives do not sit on pause whilst they are waiting for support. Too many children are left waiting and it’s unacceptable.
Challenging the government
From speaking to many of you, it is clear that the 20-week EHCP standard is just one of the standards not being met in local authorities, schools and health services. I asked the government what it is doing to ensure standards meet the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice.
In response, Education Minister Will Quince admitted that “the current SEND system does not deliver the outcomes we want or expect for children and young people with SEND, their families or the people and services who support them.” He agrees that improvements are urgently needed and his department will bring forward a review of the SEND system.
I’ve put many other questions to the government on SEND, including on funding, training and key responsibilities. Many of them received important answers. You can look through my recent questions to the Department for Education here.
The Government is clearly failing children with special educational needs and disabilities. Families should not face a postcode lottery with inconsistent support determined by geography and resources rather than the needs of children.
In response to my questions, the Department for Education confirmed it is conducting a major review of the SEND system. This review has been promised as a green paper for consultation in the first quarter of 2022. I will be following this closely to ensure major changes are made which benefit families in Bristol. We need to build a financially sustainable system with clear accountability.
In government, Labour would work with schools and parents to improve the guidance and support available for children with SEND. Just last month, Labour set out an ambitious children’s recovery plan which prioritises every child’s wellbeing, with new activities promoting social development, as well as their learning. For children with SEND and their families, this is particularly important.
Recent research by the Disabled Children’s Partnership found this 71% of parents said their child’s progress regressed during the pandemic. At the same time, the GCSE attainment gap between children with SEND and those without widened by two percentage points. Statistics like this should push the government and council to do more to support all children’s access to education. I will keep pushing for these services to improve.