The Education Select Committee has published a report on special educational needs and disabilities, following an 18-month inquiry into Government reforms. The AEP submitted evidence to this inquiry and Dr Cath Lowther appeared before the Committee in January 2019. The report states that overall, reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014 were the right ones but poor implementation has resulted in “confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many”. This has been exacerbated by poor administration and a challenging funding environment.
On educational psychologists, the report noted that the £350 million in additional high needs funding announced in December 2018 included money to increase the number of educational psychologists who are trained from 106 to 206 each year. This follows a decrease of 13% in the number of educational psychologists employed by local authorities between 2010 and 2015. Whilst the Select Committee welcomes this, it urges both the Department for Education as well as NHS Improvement and Health Education England to “ensure that ensuring that there are sufficient professional to meet children’s needs remains a focus of their work”. The report highlights that despite it being a requirement that children are assessed by educational psychologists, educational psychologists have limited capacity due to paperwork and EHCPs and this results in variation in access. The report also notes that educational psychologists are facing challenges in the extension of support to 25 years old and its impact on workload. In Dr Cath Lower’s evidence session before the Committee, she called mental health needs a “lesser sibling” and stated that it was much harder for pupils with mental health needs to get support.
The Committee put forward a number of recommendations including a proposal for a more rigorous inspection framework for local authorities, outlining clear consequences if local authorities fail to meet their duties as well as a greater focus on SEND in school inspections. The Committee further recommended that if local authorities appear to not be complying with the law, parents and schools should be given a direct line to appeal to the Department for Education. In addition, the Local Government and Social Ombudsman should be given powers to investigate complaints about school and there should be a greater focus on cultivating employment and training opportunities for post-16 young people.
The report can be found in full, here.