MP secures government promises over education


A campaigning MP has welcomed government pledges to improve support at school for disabled pupils and those with special educational needs (SEN).
The Conservative MP John Bercow was promoting his special educational needs and disability (support) private members’ bill, which would have improved teacher training and expertise in SEN, and forced Ofsted to take schools’ SEN performance into account during inspections.
It would also have ensured that schools reviewed the reasonable adjustments they had made under the Disability Discrimination Act, and their SEN provision, when considering permanently excluding a disabled child or a pupil with SEN.
The MP said disabled children and those with SEN were nine times more likely to be excluded from school, and only 14 per cent managed five good GCSE passes, compared to 65 per cent of non-disabled children without SEN.
Bercow, who has a child with SEN, said his bill would minimise the costs to the criminal justice system “caused by people who languish on the scrapheap because a serious educational need or disability was not addressed, and they went off the rails, felt abandoned by society and took a damaging course as a consequence”.
The shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton backed Bercow’s “perfectly reasonable proposals” and said the whole SEN system was “cumbersome, bureaucratic and stressful” and “often too costly”.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry, the junior minister for schools and learners, said Ofsted would strengthen the attention it paid to SEN provision and the promotion of equality.
And she said the government was spending £12 million over three years to improve coverage of SEN and disability issues in teacher training, and had launched a programme to help teachers support pupils with SEN.
She also said measures in the apprenticeships, skills, children and learning bill, including new children and young people’s plans in every area, would improve the well-being of disabled children and those with SEN. And she said the government was working to reduce their high rates of exclusion.
She said there were “ways in which provision for pupils with SEN can be improved” but the government did not feel new legislation was necessary.
After hearing her speak, Bercow said she had met every one of 25 commitments he was hoping for, and he was “thoroughly reassured”.
Although he would “keep a beady eye on developments”, he said he would withdraw his bill.
The autism education charity TreeHouse welcomed the government’s response and said it looked forward to “having the opportunity to feed into these developments in future”.
The National Autistic Society also welcomed the government’s pledges but said it wanted to see more work done to reduce exclusions.