landscape shot of the Houses of Parliament

An influential parliamentary committee has published a hard-hitting report on support in schools and colleges for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including autistic children, in England.

MPs on the House of Commons Education Select Committee spent 18 months looking at the implementation of the 2014 reforms to the SEND system and at families’ experiences. The committee received more than 700 pieces of written evidence and heard from a large number of witnesses in person during the inquiry.

The National Autistic Society contributed to the inquiry, telling MPs that understanding of autism is not good enough in the education system - and that too many children don’t get the support they need to do well at school and achieve their potential.

What the committee found

The committee concluded that the education system is not working for children with SEND, and that a generation of children is being let down. They said that the Government does not have a clear enough idea of what is really happening in local areas. Not enough is being done to make sure that every child and young person with SEND receives a high standard of education, nor to guarantee that all schools are inclusive.

The SEND reforms were designed to transform children’s experiences, both inside and outside school. But they have not been put into practice well enough. The committee said there is a significant shortage of funds to support children with SEND, and a ‘disconnect’ between what the Government said it aimed to achieve and what is available to children in each area of the country.

MPs also highlighted that many local authorities are not following what the law says. They said there is not enough accountability in the system, with organisations and individuals not being held responsible for the consequences of decisions they make.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “Despite the good intentions of the reforms, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down day after day. Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support.

“Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision. A lack of accountability plagues the system as local authorities, social care and health providers too frequently seek to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for providing support.

“Children and parents should not have to struggle in this way – they should be supported. There needs to be a radical change to inspection, support for parents, and clear consequences for failure to ensure the 2014 Act delivers as the Government intended.”

Recommendations

The Education Select Committee made a long list of recommendations to the Government. They urge education ministers not to make any further reforms to the system, and not to water down schools’ and local authorities’ legal duties.

They also say that there should be a greater focus on SEN in school inspections, greater efforts to develop employment and training opportunities for young people post-16, and stronger guidance for schools on SEND support. MPs also suggest that parents should be able to report directly to the Government when local authorities fail to do what the law says they should.

Our response

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “This is a damning report of the education system. 

“The 2014 reforms to the special educational needs system were meant to improve support for hundreds of thousands of children. But we hear awful stories every day of autistic children who are not getting the education they have a right to. All too often children have to be excluded from school before they get the support they need. Thousands of parents have given up work because they can’t get a suitable school place for their child. Children miss months or years of schooling and friendships. 

“Autistic young people and their parents will be relieved that MPs have shown they understand the devastating experiences they have been through. But being heard isn’t enough. The Government must act now to make sure that schools and local authorities have the resources they need to support children properly.

“Without properly funded support, the education of 120,000 autistic children will continue to be at risk.”

Further information