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SEND shoots up political agenda as MPs reveal woes

Ministers have been accused of failing children with special needs as dozens of cross-party MPs stood in the House of Commons demanding change to a broken SEND system.

Conservative MP Sir David Davis secured a debate on SEND provision and funding where he called for an updated formula and increased capital. 

Nearly 30 MPs warned of problems in their constituencies, showing how issues relating to SEND have climbed the political agenda. 

Davis highlighted research on the lowest funded councils by the F40 group, a group of local authorities, which said the high needs block requires an additional £4.6 billion a year. 

The impact of these pressures “is clear for all to see”, Davis said, with pupils being sent to schools far away while families “struggle to get appropriate support”. 

While the 2014 reforms were “well-intentioned”, he added, they “failed to provide resilience in the system to deal with future changes to demand for services”. 

Helen Hayes, Labour’s shadow children’s minister, said the current system is “failing children and their families” and is “beyond breaking point”. 

She said: “It is an increasingly prominent factor in the number of councils issuing section 114 notices—in effect, declaring bankruptcy—because they can no longer balance their budget.” 

Labour is yet to set out in detail how her party would change the system, but Hayes said it would “work to make mainstream schools inclusive,” mirroring the government’s current policy.

Labour MP Ian Lavery said one of the government’s “most glaring failures is the failure to provide the necessary funding.”

He claimed this year “the Northumberland schools high needs block will overspend” for the first time. 

SEND in minister’s casework load

Several MPs highlighted their own experiences. Conservative MP Sir Jake Berry spoke of “the struggles of my wife and I as we try to navigate the system” for their six-year-old, non-verbal son.

He urged ministers to help councils “fast-track” education, health and care plans.

Schools Week investigation last month exposed how companies, backed by private equity investors and running private SEND schools, have made millions in profits amid a state capacity crisis.

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat’s education spokesperson, said there is “profiteering, often by private equity companies” in the independent school sector that is putting “huge pressure on local authority budgets”. 

Gareth Thomas, Labour and Co-op, said four special schools in Harrow “face serious financial difficulties” and the council has a “much greater reliance on private SEN schools than the national average”. 

He said the Department for Education has turned down Harrow’s application for a special school three times, “even though the department accepts that it was an effective bid and worthy of funding”. 

Responding to the debate, children’s minister David Johnston said the SEND issue was “already in the top two items in my casework and surgery appointments”. 

He said: “We know the system is not delivering consistent support and outcomes and that there are significant financial pressures on it, despite considerable Government investment.” 

“The system needs reform, which is why we published our SEND and alternative provision improvement plan last year.”

Education secretary Gillian Keegan again admitted the system was failing this week.

“We’re aware of the problems … we’re working on them,” she said. “There is an improvement plan.” 

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