James at the Education Select Committee
James at the Education Select Committee

Bury North MP James Frith has welcomed a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) into the support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England, which reveals that many children are not getting the help they need.

The NAO report finds that SEND funding has failed to keep up with demand, as those with education, health and care plans (EHC plans) in mainstream schools rose by 10% between 2013-14 and 2017-18. Funding per pupil dropped by 2.6% in real terms for those with high needs over the same period, and also decreased for those without EHC plans.

The report also found that 81% of local authorities are overspending their budgets for children with high needs. This overspend is largely driven by a 20% increase in the number of pupils attending special schools instead of mainstream education and a 32% increase in the amount spent on independent special schools due in part to a lack of places at state special schools.

The NAO report states:

“Stakeholders in the sector have raised concerns that the demand for special school places is growing because the system incentivises mainstream primary and secondary schools to be less inclusive. Mainstream schools are expected to cover the first £6,000 of support for a child with SEND from existing budgets and cost pressures can make them reluctant to admit or keep pupils with SEND.”

Pupils with SEND, particularly those without EHC plans, are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than those without SEND. Pupils with SEND accounted for 45% of permanent exclusions in 2017/18. Evidence also suggests that pupils with SEND are more likely to experience off-rolling – where schools encourage parents to remove a child primarily for the school’s benefit – than other pupils.

Commenting on the release of the report, James said:

“I’ve made securing better support for children with SEND one of my top priorities as our town’s MP and we’re making some progress locally, but without adequate funding and some attention from the Government to tackle exclusions and off-rolling and improve inclusivity in mainstream schools we won’t see the wholesale change which is needed to ensure all children get the extra help they need and access to a world-class education.

“The Education Select Committee I sit on has carried out its own review into SEND support which will be published later in the autumn. The findings of the NAO are not a surprise to me and reflect our own inquiry and the testimony of parents from Bury and across the country, local authorities, school leaders and SEND campaigners.

“The prorogation of Parliament means I can’t even raise these serious issues with Ministers. The everyday life experiences of vulnerable children are going unheard and overlooked while the Government plays politics and avoids scrutiny. We’ve an absent Government and a closed Parliament.”

The NAO recommends that the Department for Education should assess how much it would cost to provide the system for supporting pupils with SEND created by the 2014 reforms and use this to determine whether it is affordable. The Department needs better measures of the effectiveness of SEND support in preparing pupils for their adult lives and should make changes to funding and accountability arrangements to encourage and support mainstream schools to be more inclusive. It should also investigate the reasons for local variations to increase confidence in the fairness of the system, identify good practice and promote improvement.

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