A new report by the Commons Education Committee has found that services for children with special educational needs (SEN) are in crisis. Unfortunately, this report confirms my own experiences with the SEN system in Sheffield.
The report states that services are underfunded and that “Parents and carers have to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, full of conflict, missed appointments and despair.” Many local families have told me exactly the same thing.
This month I visited Becton School, which provides education for young people with serious or complex mental health problems. Early intervention and specialist support are so important in helping young people with mental health needs but there is, frankly, a criminal shortage of provision throughout the country.
Young people from as far away as Cornwall are sent to Becton because it is the nearest place with specialist support available. But, of course, removing young people from their families, friends, and support networks, and moving them to an unfamiliar city halfway across the country is not conducive to their wellbeing.
The students I met were incredible advocates but furious at how their generation is being treated by the current government. The staff at Becton are clearly dedicated and doing wonderful work but they also told me that underfunding of mental health services means that many young people aren’t getting the support they deserve.
A lack of funding and provision is also a problem for mainstream schools that cater to children with SEN. I visited staff at Stradbroke Primary School this month, who confirmed that the education system simply does not have enough specialist places available for young people with complex needs. As a result, an increasing number of children with SEN have partial timetables or are being home-educated.
I’m also deeply concerned by the alarmingly high rate of exclusions within some of our schools. The wanton use of exclusions disproportionally affects children with SEN and, in some cases, seems to be a deliberate attempt by schools to rid themselves of children who need specialist support. In 2017/18, children with SEN accounted for 44.9% of permanent exclusions and 43.4% of temporary exclusions.
By failing to support our young people we are storing up problems for the future. There is no greater sign of Government failure on this issue than the fact that 40% of the children in youth custody have SEN.
I will continue to speak up for parents, teachers, and young people who are being badly let down. But to bring about real change, we need a new government that is prepared to properly invest in our young people.