James speaking in Parliament
James speaking in Parliament

James spoke in a Parliamentary debate this week on school funding to highlight the impact cuts have had on an inclusive education system.

Watch James’s speech below.

You can read a transcript of the speech below.

I would like to focus my remarks on one detailed consequence of school underfunding – the impact on an inclusive education system.

Rising demand for specialist provision in mainstream schooling – already facing undue burden due to cuts – is resulting in a two-tier education system.

Parents from across Bury share with me all too frequently heart-wrenching stories of their often years long struggle to get the support needed for their children with special educational needs and disabilities in mainstream school.

This failure is sponsored by government direction, budget cuts and the narrowing field on which we judge our children to have succeeded.

In the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into SEND we’ve uncovered a crisis in this area.

Parents forced to fight with schools, with local authorities, fight through tribunals – often at great emotional and financial cost to their families – in order to secure the specialist provision needed to ensure their daughter or son can fulfill their potential.

The IFS concluded that, between 2010 and 2018, total school spending per pupil fell by 8 per cent in real terms.

The NAO says schools will need to make efficiency savings of £3 billion by 2020 – 8 per cent of the total schools’ budget.

Ever tightening school budgets are forcing schools to make difficult decisions about lower level, preventative SEND support which would meet the needs of many children without the need for statutory plans and interventions.

This creates a perverse incentive to push for Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans because of a failure in mainstream specialist provision.

320,000 children and young people had EHC plans last year. Up by 35% since 2014.

Schools are required to find the first £6,000 for the additional support needed, with the rest coming from councils.

The Local Government Association has warned of a £500 million SEND funding gap for 2018/19. This gap is set to increase to £1.6 billion by 2021.

Local authorities giving evidence to the select committee have spoken as to how it is more politically and practically palatable to spend an already limited budget facing down the legal challenges that come with rising education tribunals than it is to fund mainstream schooling better in the first place. Even though it is a preventative measure.

89 per cent of decisions are found in favour of parents when appeals go to Tribunal.

The number of cases going to Tribunal has increased year on year since 2014, at an average cost of £6,000 per case to the local authority, £70 million overall.

Money which would be best spent improving local SEND provision instead of the crisis first, crisis only provision we have at present.

At every stage of this government’s education system we see the Tory touted promise of ‘Opportunity’ become wasted opportunity.

Nursery providers forced to ask parents for money or risk closure.

Schools riddled with asbestos and crumbling facilities unable to fund repairs and with no access to money for rebuilding.

Teacher recruitment and retention at crisis point.

College funding stagnating.

Lifelong learning budgets gutted by 32% this decade.

So I say to this government, spend more upstream in mainstream.

Not just increase the budget. Move the money upstream. Reach in to the system. And enable this simple change. A change of frame on this is required.

Our country deserves a world-class education service for all. From nursery to university and lifelong learning. One where every child matters and every one can fulfil their potential taking advantage of a lifelong education system based on inclusivity and repeat opportunity.

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