MPs who released a report criticising the implementation of the government’s reforms of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system have been accused of a “disgraceful” omission of crucial evidence on inclusive education.
The Commons education committee, chaired by the disabled Tory MP Robert Halfon, released its report yesterday (Wednesday) following an 18-month inquiry.
The report was heavily critical of how the reforms in the 2014 Children and Families Act have been implemented, which it said had left families in England “facing a nightmare of bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion”.
The reforms saw the introduction of education, health and care plans, which last from birth to the age of 25 and should set out all the support a family should receive across education, health and social care.
But the committee said the “significant” shortfall in government funding for SEND since 2014 was a “serious contributory factor” in the failure to deliver on the reforms.
It also called for a culture change within government, councils and schools and a more rigorous inspection regime, while it accused the Department for Education (DfE) of a “piecemeal” approach which creates “reactive, sticking-plaster policies”.
But the report almost completely ignores growing concerns about the increasing numbers of disabled children being educated in segregated settings.
A report by the National Audit Office last month found the number of pupils with SEND who attend special schools or alternative provision rose by more than a fifth between 2014 and 2018.
This week’s report makes no mention of evidence given in person to the committee by Tara Flood, former director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, who spoke last November (pictured) about the “perfect storm” facing parents who wanted their disabled child educated in a mainstream school.
After that evidence session, Flood had criticised the committee for a “sham” inquiry that was refusing to discuss the increased levels of segregated education in England and what needed to happen for the system to be more inclusive.
This week’s 127-page report makes almost no mention of the need to address the growing levels of segregated education.
ALLFIE’s omission came despite the report quoting a string of council leaders, ministers, charities, parents, special and mainstream schools and colleges, NHS leaders, regulators and tribunal judges.
Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, said: “It is disgraceful that we have not been mentioned in the report.
“We are extremely disappointed that the points made by Tara on 20 November 2018 have not been mentioned
“You should not cherry pick what’s in your report. It should be fair and accurate.”
She said the report only mentions inclusive education “in passing”, for example through a call for Ofsted to inspect schools on the basis of how inclusive they are and how they deliver SEND support.
But she said it ignores how disabled children are being “bully-pushed” into special schools because mainstream schools are not being resourced to support them.
The report even calls for local authorities to be allowed to open more special schools.
Daley said the report still provided a “damning” verdict on the government’s reforms and provides “a catalogue of issues that are hampering and jeopardising the future generation of our disabled children and young people”.
And she said it shows a failure to both enforce the 2014 reforms and protect the rights of disabled children and young people.
The report says failures of implementation have led to “confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences”.
But Daley said she was concerned that the committee appears to hint that the government’s failings justify the unlawful behaviour of some local authorities.
She said: “We know the only way to achieve improvement for disabled learners and properly deliver on inclusive education is for our government to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in our domestic law.”
Among the report’s recommendations are for parents and schools to be able to appeal directly to DfE if local authorities are not complying with the law; and for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to be given powers to investigate complaints about schools.
Halfon said in a statement issued alongside the report: “Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision.
“A lack of accountability plagues the system as local authorities, social care and health providers too frequently seek to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for providing support.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “No child should be held back from reaching their potential, including those with special educational needs.
“That’s why we recently announced a £780 million increase to local authorities’ high needs funding, boosting the budget by 12 per cent and bringing the total spent on supporting those with the most complex needs to over £7 billion for 2020-21.
“This report recognises the improvements made to the system over five years ago were the right ones, and put families and children at the heart of the process.
“But through our review of these reforms [announced last month], we are focused on making sure they work for every child, in every part of the country.”
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