The current system for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is “lose, lose, lose”, costing a “fortune” and not providing the “right service”, the education secretary has admitted.
Gillian Keegan also said parents were using the system of tribunals to get their children into “very expensive independent schools”, which drives up costs and creates a “tale of two outcomes”.
During a Q&A at the Schools North East conference this afternoon, the minister said SEND diagnoses were not happening “early enough”, and that government reforms would explore “different pathways to do that” through “multi-agency” work.
“SEND’s very interesting, because we’re spending a fortune. So the Treasury are not happy, the local authorities are not happy. But then nobody’s happy with the service.
“So it’s like a lose, lose, lose. We haven’t got the right service.”
It comes as fellow Conservative MP Gary Streeter led calls for at least £4.6 billion in extra high needs funding.
Writing for this newspaper, Streeter, who is vice-chair of the f40 school funding campaign group, said it was “very clear that demand and expectation are far outweighing available funding and capacity in the system”.
Keegan also criticised what she described as the “tribunal factor”.
Schools Week reported last year how the number of parents launching tribunal appeals over a council’s refusal to provide SEND support for their vulnerable child passed 10,000 in a year for the first time.
Of the 5,600 that went to a hearing, 5,393 (96 per cent) tribunals sided with families either in whole or in part.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data shows 27 per cent of appeals were against a council’s refusal to secure an assessment for a plan, while 54 per cent were against the council’s choice of a school or college.
Keegan said the tribunal factor was “basically…lots of parents taking councils to tribunal to get to a particular school, normally an independent school, normally very expensive independent schools”.
“And what that’s done is not only has it put the costs up, but it’s a tale of two outcomes, you know Some people are getting this service with a great school, and some are not getting hardly anything, hardly any support.”