Labour warn of ‘lasting damage’ of permanently excluding SEND children from school

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Labour has warned of “lasting damage” after a report said children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are more likely to be permanently excluded from school.

Shadow minister for children Steve Reed (pictured) said children with SEND need “more support” after a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) raised concerns over school funding.

According to the NAO, local authorities are coming under “growing financial pressure” as the demand for supporting school pupils with the greatest needs rises.

An NAO report found that, while some children with special educational needs and disabilities are receiving high-quality support, many others are not getting the help they should.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the Prime Minister has committed an extra £700 million next year to make sure children with SEND “get an education that helps them develop and thrive as adults”.

But Labour warned the current system needs to be reviewed to make sure it is affordable and that “every child receives the support they deserve”.

In its report, the NAO said that while the DfE has increased school funding, the number of pupils identified as having the greatest needs – those in special schools and with education, health and care plans in mainstream schools – rose by 10.0% between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

The report said that, over the same period, funding per pupil dropped by 2.6% in real terms for those with high needs.

It also noted that pupils with SEND are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than pupils without SEND.

The report said: “In 2017/18, children with SEND accounted for 44.9% of permanent exclusions and 43.4% of fixed-period exclusions.

“Evidence also suggests that pupils with SEND are more likely to experience off-rolling – where schools encourage parents to remove a child primarily for the school’s benefit – than other pupils.”

Mr Reed said: “It shames the Government that school pupils with special educational needs accounted for almost half of all permanent exclusions in 2017/18.

“This causes lasting damage to young people who need better support, not punishment.

“No country that loves its children would treat them like this. Instead of cutting taxes for the rich, the Government should invest in properly supporting children with disabilities.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said children’s needs “are not being met” and called for improvements to quality and sustainability.

Since the report was completed on September 6, the DfE has announced a review of support for pupils with SEND.

Mr Davies said: “Access to the right support is crucial to the happiness and life chances of the 1.3 million pupils with SEND in England.

“While lots of schools, both special and mainstream, are providing high-quality education for pupils with SEND, it is clear that many children’s needs are not being met.

“I therefore welcome the Department for Education’s announcement last week of a review into support for children with SEND, following our engagement with them on this issue over recent months.

“We hope the review will secure the improvements in quality and sustainability that are needed.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Helping all children and young people reach their potential is one of the core aims of this Government, including those with special educational needs.

“That is why the Prime Minister has committed to providing an extra £700 million next year to make sure these children get an education that helps them develop and thrive as adults.

“We have improved special educational needs support to put families at the heart of the system and give them better choice in their children’s education, whether in mainstream or special school.

“Last week, we launched a review of these reforms to make sure every child everywhere gets an education that prepares them for success.”

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the review into the system must make sure children’s needs are being met.

Ms Hillier said: “It is vital that children with special educational needs and disabilities have the support they need at school for them to achieve their ambitions and lead fulfilling lives.

“Yet there are significant concerns that many pupils are not being supported effectively and the NAO’s report finds that based on current trends, the system is not financially sustainable.

“The Government must urgently review whether the current system is affordable and ensure that every child receives the support they deserve.”

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