MP's anguish as special needs children at greater risk of school exclusions

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt spoke about his own learning difficulties during a visit to Piper's Vale Primary

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, pictured here outside Pipers Vale Primary in Ipswich, said the 'stakes could not be any higher' for children with learning difficulties - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Ipswich's MP has spoken of his anguish at how children with special needs are at greater risk of being excluded from school - after recalling his own struggles with learning difficulties. 

Tom Hunt has long campaigned for greater support for young people with special educational needs after being diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia when he was aged 12.

At that stage, he struggled so much with reading, writing and maths that he had the literacy of an eight-year-old - but hard work and greater academic support enabled him to catch up.

However in a Westminster Hall speech about school exclusions, the Conservative said: "My concern about exclusions is that there are too many occasions where sadly, those with learning disabilities are at risk of exclusion because their behaviour can be unconventional."

Statistics show that two out of every five people permanently excluded have special educational needs.

More than 30% of prisoners are also said to have a learning disability.

While Mr Hunt said exclusion must always remain an option for teachers, he said: "The stakes could not be any higher when it comes to getting the provision right for those with special educational needs.

"We have a number of remarkable people who are unconventional thinkers — creative thinkers — who do not think in the same way or process information in the same way.

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"If we get the support right for those individuals, funding and organising it properly so that it is not just about them treading water and being average achievers, they could be far from average achievers and be some of the most creative people in society.

"There is a very fine line between a lot of those individuals getting the support that they need and flying, and not getting their needs met and turning against the system.

"Sadly, so often, they then end up in our criminal justice system.

"I speak as somebody who has been in that situation where I am in a large class, my eyes glazed over, not understanding why I cannot process information in the same way other people do, sometimes feeling as though I am thicker than other people, sometimes feeling that there is something wrong with me."

Speaking after the debate, Mr Hunt - who was elected to parliament in 2019 - said: "As someone with both dyslexia and dyspraxia, I am concerned with the current method of exclusions.

"This is of even greater concern over the past 18 months, with the disruption Covid has caused.

"Schools should be incentivised and rewarded for providing first-class SEND support, rather than penalised by Ofsted."