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Challenge facing children with special educational needs ‘enormous’ – Labour

The challenge facing children with special educational needs and disabilities is “enormous” and it would take Labour time to “turn that around”, the shadow education secretary has admitted.

Children and families have been the “losers” of 14 years of “failed” reform and schools are struggling to meet the demand, Bridget Phillipson has said.

Speaking to the media at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Liverpool, Ms Phillipson said a Labour government would need to assess “just how chaotic the system has become and what needs to change” if it wins the election.

The shadow education secretary said she was only prepared to make commitments on special educational needs and disabilities (Send) that she was “absolutely confident” that she could keep.

Ms Phillipson said: “The families of children with Send have had enough of failed promises, enough of support that’s never materialised, and they face far too adversarial a system.

“The change that will be required in terms of the landscape overall, in our school system around Send is serious, it is necessary.

“But it has to be right because I think families of children with Send have had enough of a system that isn’t delivering, but have had enough of promises from politicians that just haven’t been kept and I’m not prepared to do that.”

Speaking on Saturday morning, she said: “The challenge on Send is enormous. Parents know it, schools know it, the Education Secretary herself recognises the problem. But after 14 years, it will take us time to turn that around.”

Ms Phillipson said Labour would have an “early focus on reforming the system”, and would intervene “far earlier” in children’s lives with language support, if they won the general election.

A child during a Year 5 class at a primary school in Yorkshire. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday November 27, 2019. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Children and families have been the ‘losers’ of 14 years of ‘failed’ reform and schools are struggling to meet the demand, Ms Phillipson said (Danny Lawson/PA)

“Because we know that if we address that much sooner the children who have less complex needs, or don’t require ongoing specialist support, can get the help that they need. And also we then free up that specialist provision where children do need ongoing support,” she said.

Mr Phillipson added: “Far too many of the problems that we’re seeing at the moment are coming about because of long waiting lists, a lack of early intervention, a lack of early health, and it’s about those services that sit around families, as well as the support that we need to see within our schools.

“But I’m in no doubt as to the scale of the challenge. And we will need to get a much fuller understanding from government if we win the election as to the full extent of just how chaotic the system has become and what needs to change.”

“We’ve had 14 years now of failed reform that has left us in a position where children and families are the losers in all of this, where schools are really struggling to meet the demands that they place upon them,” the shadow education secretary said.

During a Q&A at the ASCL annual conference in Liverpool on Friday, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the Government has not done enough on Send.

She said: “More and more children are diagnosed, or even not diagnosed but have special educational needs, that’s something that I don’t think we’ve got the right system in place.”

Ms Keegan added: “If you look at special educational needs, we haven’t built enough special educational needs places or schools.

“We have councils under pressure because families can’t get the right support that they need if and when they have got diagnosed which is taking too long.”

During the Budget this week, the Chancellor said £105 million would be invested over the next four years to build 15 new special free schools.

The Treasury said the move will create more than 2,000 additional places for children with Send across England.