On Tuesday, I had a meeting with the Prisons Minister, Damian Hinds MP, following up on my question in Parliament about support for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in prisons. He had some good news.

By March 2024, there will be a Neurodiversity Support Manager in every prison, with 51 already rolled out. This marks a significant investment in prison SEND provision and was something that I personally campaigned on.

Last year while I was on the Education Select Committee, we published a report on prison education. Given my interest in SEND, I was very vocal in making sure the report contained a major SEND element about supporting prisoners with learning difficulties.

When we published the report, there were only enough SEND specialists to cover 4 prisons each.

So, I personally inserted a recommendation into the report to call for at least one per prison. Initially I feared the report was just gathering dust, but clearly not. I was reassured to hear from the Minister that this recommendation is being delivered.

If people with learning difficulties are disproportionately ending up in prison, finding out their needs and supporting them now is crucial to turning their lives around. As someone with dyslexia and dyspraxia myself, I know how fortunate I was to get diagnosed early in school to get the support I needed to excel in my education. But I know so many young people sadly fall through the cracks.

If we give people the support to realise their full potential, they can make a positive contribution to society, even if they went down the wrong track. This is morally right for the individual, but also benefits society. It also reduces reoffending, saving the taxpayer money.

It’s also crucial that we find out the true scale of the problem, to inform the wider debate about how we fund SEND in schools.

Clearly there is a learning difficulties to prison pipeline.

At least 30% of the prison population has some sort of learning difficulty. But the real number is probably much higher.

Prisons have only had to do basic screening for learning difficulties since 2019, so a majority or prisoners were probably never screened.

What this tells me is that a lot of people are ending up in prison because they didn’t get the right support.

We see at the local level how it’s the most vulnerable who get preyed on by gangs. Many of them have SEND and sadly didn't get support earlier on.

This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about making sure neurodiverse individuals get the support they need in school. It benefits all of society if people make the most of their potential instead of ending up in prison.

There’s still a way to go, and even though I’m no longer on the Education Committee, I’m continuing to campaign and meet with ministers to push for more funding and emphasis for SEND.

We still need to improve the way we assess inmates, through more intensive screening. Ideally, every inmate would be seen by an education psychologist for a tailored education plan, though I appreciate there’s a significant cost to this and there’s a shortage of them at the national level.

Having a SEND specialist in each prison will at least make sure someone with a deep understanding of different needs can make judgement calls about who is likely to be neurodiverse.

I’ve always said that neurodiverse people have a lot to offer if they get the right support. This includes those who sadly slipped through the cracks and ended up in our prison system. The

Minister’s news was very welcome, and it’s a win for everyone that the Government is delivering on this issue.