Roadmap to improve SEND education is a step in the right direction

Schools and education providers are being asked to nominate pupils aged 16 to 18 for the Suffolk HOP

A full plan of action has been put in place to help SEND pupils. Stock photo. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This week, the Government published their report into Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, and how support could be improved.

As many will already know, special needs and disabilities – especially in education – is something I am passionate about improving. That goes for the national picture, through sitting on the Education Select Committee and raising SEND issues regularly, as well as locally here in Ipswich, where I support SEND units in schools, act as an Associate Governor at the Sir Bobby Robson Special School, and fight for fairer funding.

As someone who grew up with learning difficulties, I know how important proper support is.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt - Credit: House of Commons

There are far more pupils with SEN than we might think. I was actually surprised to see in the report that over a third of year 11 students had been identified as having special educational needs at some point in their education. This is a higher proportion than many might imagine. It goes to show just how many individual pupils are affected by the quality of support available, and how many learners in our school system are likely to have an unconventional way of processing information.

In Suffolk, we know there are some problems in the provision of SEND. We have seen this in the review of Suffolk SEND in 2021, and I see it in the emails and letters I receive from constituents – from tired and exasperated parents trying to do the best for their children, and struggling with a complicated system. While I do my best for every one of these cases, it does show that the system needs reworking.

Getting SEND right in schools makes a huge difference to the experiences, mental health, and life chances of individuals. But it also has a societal impact: making sure children and young adults who need additional support are identified, listened to, and supported is essential in making sure they don’t fall through the gaps in the system.

At the moment, children with SEND miss more school than their non-SEND peers, and are more likely to report mental health issues. We know that, currently, individuals with SEND are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and are less likely to be in long-term employment.

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The provision of SEND has often been described as a ‘post-code lottery’. The standard of provision varies significantly between local authorities. I agree that this is something which has to change. The standard of SEND support a child receives should not depend on where they live. I’m pleased to see the Government creating nationally consistent standards to address this.

The review also tells us that only 41% of teachers feel equipped to support pupils with SEN. We need to make sure that every teacher has good understanding of all kinds of learning difficulties. SEND pupils often think unconventionally and learn differently - and this should be a core component of teacher training. If almost 60% of teachers feel inadequately prepared to support pupils with special needs, then clearly we need more emphasis on teacher training. This is something I will be continuing to raise in the Education Select Committee.

In the chamber this week, I asked the Secretary of State for Education about holding schools and local authorities to account on their quality of SEND support. The SEND report introduces a plan for Ofsted to update the framework for inspecting support in schools: this is something I have been raising for a long time, and I have been working to raise awareness for fair assessment of SEND provision, especially in mainstream school settings.

The Government is also considering a new SENCo qualification, to make sure all mainstream schools have a qualified specialist. During my visit to Sprites Primary Academy last week, I spoke to the headteacher about their new SEND co-ordinator and how important this role is in making sure every SEND pupil is supported and understood.

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock will find life outside government very different.

Matt Hancock has tabled a bill for universal screening for dsylexia - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

It’s particularly good to see an emphasis in the green paper on early diagnosis and intervention. This is absolutely something we should be improving. Matt Hancock’s Bill to bring in universal screening for dyslexia in primary schools is another key step towards proper early diagnosis for the ‘hidden’ learning disability. I personally think we should be diagnosing early for all hidden learning disabilities.

Evidence shows that early intervention is linked to better outcomes for individuals with SEND. Furthermore, the cycle of late diagnosis and reliance on specialist placements – even when mainstream provision could be a better fit. This means the specialist system is overworked and struggling. The green paper makes it clear that the solution to this is to improve mainstream provision for SEND, freeing up capacity in specialist schools for those who need them, and creating a more efficient and cost-effective system.

I hope the changes outlined in the green paper will improve SEND provision nationally and locally, in Ipswich. Off the back of the disappointing Suffolk SEND review back in 2021, I think some of these findings could improve parents’ and carers’ experiences with the system.

Online learning in schools.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has welcomed the government green paper. Stock photo - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In Ipswich, we have had other good news on improving our local education system – I was pleased to hear, this week, that Ipswich will be a priority Education Investment Area. As one of 24 priority areas across the country, Ipswich will benefit from strategies like the teacher retention payments and new specialist sixth-form free schools. Ipswich will also be front of the queue for new Department for Education programmes. I hope the additional funding that comes with the priority Education Investment Area label will boost our local schools, continuing the work of the Opportunity Area funding which Ipswich has received since 2017.

In terms of improving local provision, we are seeing a new special school opening in Ipswich on Woodbridge Road. This will be under the Paradigm Trust academy and opens in the Autumn to offer bespoke SEN provision for students aged 9 – 16 years old. I am pleased that recently we have seen Piper’s Vale Primary Academy rated ‘good’ by Ofsted for the first time in 15 years. This primary school is under the Paradigm Trust too, and it’s great to see our local schools making progress. I visited their new SEND unit last summer, so have seen firsthand the work which is being done there.

It’s clear that the system has a way to go in terms of improvements, but I welcome the green paper in setting out both where SEND provision is lacking and the Government’s  roadmap to change it. At the end of the day, the support for those with learning difficulties, mental and physical disabilities has a life-changing impact on individuals, can be transformational for their families, but also has a significant effect on the wider society too.