A cross-party group of MPs has warned children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being failed by the current support system.
In a report published today, the influential public accounts committee claims the Department for Education (DfE) ‘does not have a grip’ on mounting pressures in the SEND system.
In particular, the report notes that joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspections have found that half of local authority areas (47 of the 94 areas) have significant weaknesses.
It adds that pupils with SEND are far more likely to have their education disrupted and life chances further diminished by exclusion from school.
Just under half (44.9%) of permanent exclusions and 43.4% of fixed-period exclusions in 2017/18 were pupils with SEND, levels even the DfE admits are unacceptable.
The MPs conclude that the current system is ‘riddled with unexplained inequalities’ – almost twice as many boys as girls are identified as SEND, and there are large disparities between ethnic groups and across different regions.
In January 2019, 1.3 million school-age children were recorded as having SEND. 20.6% 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.
According to the report, that left just over 1 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% of all pupils with SEND attended mainstream state primary and secondary schools.
The committee said it 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.
It also found is inadequate supervision of SEND provision, with infrequent Ofsted inspections not equipped to capture specific problems or ensure that they are remedied.
The committee says the Department needs a new approach, supplementing evidence from inspections with, for example, intelligence from regional schools commissioners, parent-carer forums, schools forums, and head teachers.
‘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,’ said committee chair, Meg Hillier.
‘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.’