The school had not picked it up. Incidentally I was asked by the head of SEN as a general rule NOT TO GIVE the schools test results on writing and reading to parentsI gained the impression that the fear was that parents might then want something done about them! In fact I did give the results to this boys mother and suggested she look for private diagnosis (they werent poor) in order to get a speedy response.
The experiences of the people who wrote to me varied vastly. Some praised their local schools, their local authorities, their parent partnership officers, their sons or daughters special educational needs co-ordinators, or even individual teachers. The examples that I have chosen help to illustrate the points that have been raised so far during our debates on the Bill, but the variety of the correspondence that I have received does even more to highlight the fact that SEN provision across the country is itself extremely varied in terms of both quality and quantity. Wherever people live in the United Kingdom, if they have a son or daughter with SEN they cannot currently guarantee that that child will receive the same support as a child with the same needs living five or 10 miles down the road.
I received an interesting submission about the choice of language in the Bill. I have learned very quickly that every word counts in legislation, and I was enlightened by the view put to me by the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education. It gave me food for thought, and I hope that it will do the same for other Members. It states:
My suggestion stems from the knowledge that there is considerable unease with the use of the term special educational needs, within disabled, practitioner and academic circles. In a nutshell, the notion that a child has special educational needs represents thinking within the medical model of disability, i.e. a perception that disability is the consequence of a persons impairments.
The alternative (initially put forward by disabled people but now regarded by many as the contemporary, if not dominant, perception of disability) is known as the social model of disability and sees disability as an experience (not a state) arising out of an interaction between a persons impairments and inflexible structures around them. Within this frame of mind, for example, a child with dyslexia is disabled not solely by the way their mind processes written information, but also by an educational system which privileges excellence in reading and
writing in ways that the majority find easy to process. Perhaps less controversial might be the words of a wheelchair user who said something along the lines of: Using a wheelchair is my way of getting from one place to another. When faced with a flight of stairs, I am disabled. When faced with a ramp, I am not.
That relates to a point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). Dyslexia is not necessarily an impairment in itself. There are ways in which children with dyslexia can be helped to lead full and fulfilling lives. I shall say more about that in the context of well-being and the outcomes to which the Bill refers. Although I have not changed the wording of the Bill because of that submission, it gives a valuable insight into the thoughts of those involved in shaping our understanding of both disability and SEN.
The issues that arise from this, and that concern me most are those of unrecognised need, the alarming degree to which otherwise bright children underachieve, and the far reaching emotional consequences for children and young people who see themselves as failing when they know they are as able, or even more so, than the next child. The loss of confidence, lowering of self esteem and drop in motivation can have devastating consequences for a childs educational future, and personal well-being and development.
We now have a flavour of what has come into my postbag from members of the public concerning this Bill, and it is clear that they want us to achieve even more than we can perhaps achieve in one go with a solitary private Members Bill. However, let us look at what we can achieve with this Bill as it stands.
The Bill makes two substantive provisions by amending the Education Act 1996. First, it requires the Secretary of State to exercise certain of his powers under the Act with a view to securing the provision of information about children in England with SEN that would be likely to assist in improving the well-being of those children. Secondly, it requires the Secretary of State to publish, or to arrange to be published, in each calendar year information about children in England with SEN, the publication of which will be likely to assist in improving their well-being.
Several recurring themes have been raised in the discussion so far, including the availability and uptake of teacher training in SEN, the need to be able to identify best practice and roll it out across the country, and the need for assurances that parent partnership services are able to operate truly independently from the local authority to which they are linked.
We have not looked yet, however, at how the Government currently define SEN, but it is important when reading the Bill to know exactly what is meant, so I shall take a moment to outline their working definition of it. Under the 1996 Act, a child has SEN if they
have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age,
The Bill also refers to special educational provision, and we have not yet looked at how the powers that be define that either. According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, special educational provision means,
for children of two or over, educational provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children of their age in schools maintained by the
local authority, other than special schools, or for children under two, educational provision of any kind. These definitions seem sensible, and they have, indeed, caused little controversy. It is welcome to be working from a legislative base which sets out in such non-contentious terms exactly what we mean by SEN.
On Second Reading, I set out some of the landscape across the UK concerning SEN, and I highlighted the fact that about 2 million childrenit is 1.6 million, to be exactare identified as having SEN and that there are significant regional variations in levels of recording across the country. We already have a picture of SEN across the country. We know that 229,110 had statements of SEN in 2007, which is 2.8 per cent. of the school population. A further 1,333,430 pupils have SEN without statements, which is 16.4 per cent. of the school population. The vast majority57.2 per cent.of children with statements were taught in mainstream schools, and 36 per cent. were taught in maintained special schools.
We know that since 1997-98 funding has increased by £1,440 per pupil, from £3,050 in 1997-98 to £4,490 in 2006-07. By the end of 2007-08, the real terms funding per pupil will be £1,680or 55 per cent.higher than in 1997-98. Local authority planned expenditure on SEN has increased from £2.8 billion in 2001-02 to £4.5 billion in 2006-07. That represents an increase of 60 per cent., and some 13 per cent. of all education spending. Of that £4.5 billion, £1.8 billion is delegated to mainstream schools and £1.3 billion to maintained special schools, and £506 million is spent on placing children with SEN statements at independent and non-maintained special schools.
Despite debate over inclusion, we know that since the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 the proportion of children with SEN statements taught in all special schools as a proportion of the number of children with statements has increased by about 1 per cent, despite a fall in the number of children with statements.
When I set out to try to create this Bill it was important to me to know exactly what information was already available for my local area. I examined the provision across Gateshead and Sunderland, my two local authority areas. Hon. Members will be able to make a comparison with the situation in their own constituencies, if they have the relevant data with themone could say that that will form the beginning of our proposed scrutiny of regional variations in provision.
In January 2007, Gateshead had 15,732 pupils in maintained primary schools, of whom 1.1 per cent. had a statement. That compares with figures of 1.3 per cent. for the north-east and 1.5 per cent nationally. Some 3.9 per cent. of the pupils were receiving provision at school action plus level, which compares with a regional figure of 6.4 per cent. and a national
figure of 11.8 per cent. Some 14.8 per cent. of the pupils received provision at school action level, compared with north-east and national figures of 11.8 per. cent. That means that 19.8 per cent. of primary school pupils in Gateshead were identified as having SEN, which is comparable with the figures of 19.4 per cent. for the north-east region and 19.2 per cent. for England.
In January 2007, Sunderland, my other local authority area, had 23,707 pupils in maintained primary schools, of whom 0.9 per cent. had a statement. That compares with figures of 1.3 per cent. for the north-east region and 1.5 per cent. nationally. Some 5.6 per cent. of the pupils were receiving provision at school action plus level, compared with 6.4 per cent. regionally and 11.8 per cent. nationally, and 14.1 per cent. of the pupils received provision at school action level, compared with 11.8 per cent. both regionally and nationally. That means that 20.6 per cent. of primary school pupils in Sunderland were identified as having SEN, compared with figures of 19.4 per cent. for the north-east region and 19.2 per cent. in Englandthus, Sunderlands figure is slightly higher.
Even across the two local authorities in my constituency there is a slight variation in identifying SEN and issuing statements to children, further evidence of which lies in the number of statements issued. In January 2007, Gateshead was maintaining 896 statements of SEN, whereas Sunderland was maintaining 1,204. Its figure is higher than Gatesheads, but Sunderland is a larger local authority with a bigger school population. According to my analysisI am not that good on a calculatorGateshead awards marginally more statements per pupil than Sunderland.
I was also interested to note the difference in the length of time that it took to complete statements. In January 2007, Gateshead completed 95.5 per cent. of its statutory SEN assessments and drafted a statement within the statutory 18 weeks, whereas Sunderland drafted 100 per cent. of statements within 18 weeksthe average performance for local authorities in England was 96 per cent. So it seems that it is possible to find out how local authorities are performing in terms of figures for a host of data sets. There were many more that I could have cited, but I decided to spare the House that ordeal.
Those facts do not, however, give us the most important information. That is why it is vital to measure outcomes for children with SEN, rather than just keeping an eye on the numbers in a doomed attempt to derive understanding. We have all accepted that it is important that we improve the current data. If we are to do that effectively, they need to be improved over and above existing data collection. I want to take a look at what data are already being collected so that we will all know what needs to be increased and we can be aware of the true impact of this Bill once an annual publication exists.
The sources relevant to the collection of data on SEN are the pupil level annual school census, or PLASC as it is often called; the SEN2 survey on statements issued by local authorities; the OC2 collection, which is on outcome indicators for looked-after children; the Children in Need survey, on childrens social services provision; and section 52 returns, which are on funding.
PLASC collects individual level pupil characteristic data. These include indicators relating to pupils SEN,
namely, no identified provision, school action, school action plus or statement of SEN. For pupils at school action plus and statements of SEN, the type of need is also collected, together with flags to indicate whether the pupil is a member of an SEN unit or of resourced provision.
I am delighted that the Minister has already undertaken to look at extending categorisation of type of SEN to school action level. If carried out, that would lead to around 1 million families being put in the picture as to exactly what need their child has. That will not only relieve uncertainty for the families, but will ensure that teachers pay greater attention to determining what support a child needs. Of course we cannot achieve that to the levels that we would desire without lifting levels of training, and that is a subject to which I will turn later in my speech.
The SEN data from the census can be cross-tabulated with other characteristic data collected via the same means, such as age, gender, free school meals eligibility, ethnic group and first language. Pupil characteristic data, including SEN indicators, collected via the school census have been matched to attainment data via the national pupil database, which means that analysis of pupil attainment by the various SEN fields is also available. Admittedly, it takes some digging to find it but it is there.
Coverage of the school census does not extend to independent schools, pupil referral units or general hospital schools. For these types of schools, just overall totals for the number of pupils with SEN with or without statements are collected. Those institutions are covered by the annual school census, which is an institution level collection, so no pupil level data that can be cross-referenced with other collections are available.
The annual school census collects information on the number of pupils with certain characteristics, such as gender, eligibility for free school meals, SEN with statements and SEN without statements. The current intention is that pupil-level school census arrangements will be extended to pupil referral units in 2009. Therefore, there is no need for that to be addressed through the Bill. The SEN2 survey is a local authority level survey, focusing on the number and placement of pupils with statements of SEN. Although I have tried to restrict the level of debate during this Bill on statements, it is important that we understand what is collected in this field as well.
The SEN2 survey asks local authorities to give information about the number of children for whom the authority made a statement for the first time in the previous year and the number of children for whom the authority maintains a statement of special educational needs. It also requires local authorities to record the number of statements issued in the previous year, divided by different categories, as well as the number of children who have been assessed for whom a statutory assessment was completed in the past year but for whom it was decided not to issue a statement of special educational needs.
The survey also monitors the number of children who have moved from special independent schools into mainstream schools. I imagine that that information will become increasingly useful in informing the progress of SEN strategies in local authorities that are
trying to reduce the use of statements by increasing the amount of additional resources attached to mainstream schools. That process is under review in Gateshead, and I am monitoring the situation carefully to ensure that all childrens needs are met, and that the requirement to meet those needs comes before that to meet other targets.
The SEN2 survey also covers the number of statements of special educational needs that have been reviewed and discontinued in a calendar year. The survey provides useful information with which to monitor the development of schools and local authorities in dealing with SEN, but not the development of pupils. That is why my Bill focuses on the importance of measuring pupil level outcomes.
The OC2 survey is also taken at local authority level, and concerns looked-after children. The incidence of SEN among looked-after children is often far higher than among other children. Many campaigners would like local authority funding for supporting children with SEN to be ring-fenced, so that we can ensure that it is spent on those who need it the most. Local authorities are required to show, on the section 52 return, how much they delegate to schools for SEN individually and how much they have budgeted to spend on SEN. Schools are not required to account for SEN expenditure separately, as that would be particularly cumbersome and bureaucratic. Also, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what constitutes SEN spending at an individual school level.
Reams of information are out there. It is usually available from the Department for Children, Schools and Families website as first statistical releases. Additional information can also be found on RAISEonline. The Department says that the system allows mainstream schools to analyse SEN pupil outcomes for both attainment and progress, and to determine whether performance is significantly higher or lower than expected. The reports also allow schools to analyse how SEN performance might be related to free school meal status, or other pupil characteristics of relevance. Also, schools can identify SEN pupils for whom specific intervention has taken place and evaluate pupil outcomes.
Although that information should contain some of the detail needed to assess attainment outcomes for pupils with SEN, we need to build on that and consider wider outcomes. It is all very well for schools to have access to that information, but the work that is required to analyse and act on the findings might end up taking a back seat. We need the information to be readily available, in an accessible form, for public scrutiny, but, currently, it is not available to parents or the public at all. We need to protect pupil anonymity, and we do not want to pressure schools unduly, but I hope that we can ensure that wider information is openly available, rather than being tucked away in a blinding avalanche of tables and figures somewhere in the backwaters of the internet, available only to schools and local authorities.
In shaping the Bill, I looked at the information that cannot be collected and why. It is rightly a primary consideration that we do not want to increase the burden of box-ticking for teachers, but where a short-term increase in administration might lead to a
longer-term reduction, we might need to strike a balance. However, any recorded information must always be high quality and clear in usefulness.
Campaigners are keen that there should be a change in the categories that are used to record SEN types, and I am pleased that the Minister has said that they will be reassessed after the 2009-10 Ofsted review into SEN provision. Some people are also concerned about why the number of statements is being reduced in certain local authority areas. As I have outlined, we can monitor those trends through local authority returns under the SEN2 survey.
One of the main issues that has been raised, and rightly so, is teacher training. Before looking at what can be done to improve teacher training, I want to examine the guidelines set out for teachers to help them identify childrens needs. As we know, those guidelines are set out in the SEN code of practice. It states that if a pupil is known to have special educational needs when they arrive at the school, the head teacher, the SEN co-ordinator, literacy and numeracy co-ordinators and departmental and pastoral colleagues should use information from the pupils primary school to provide starting points for the development of an appropriate curriculum for the pupil; identify and focus attention on the pupils skills; and highlight areas for early action to support the pupil within the class, as well as ensuring ongoing observation and feedback. They should also keeps teachers and parents up to speed with the pupils achievements and experiences, and ensure that the pupil has a chance to show their knowledge in informal circumstances. In addition, the code of practice encourages the involvement of both pupil and parents in developing a plan to meet the pupils needs.
All this is sensible stuff, but it is worth noting that these procedures are for pupils who are already identified as having SEN when they arrive at the school. Even then, I can testify from personal experience that this transition does not always go smoothly. In fact, it can be rife with problems and new hurdles to overcome, which mostly arise from the lack of experience or even awareness among the bulk of teachers of how to teach or even spot a child with SEN.
As most Members will be aware, my son Joseph is severely dyslexic. He is now 14 and was eventually statemented in year 5, aged 10. He is of above-average intelligence, but has a reading age of only 6.5 years. When he recently changed schools, most of his teachers were not told of his SEN due to an administrative oversight at the school. Most of his new teachers did not recognise him as being dyslexic until they were told about iteven after weeks of teaching him. For those who know the signs, it so obvious that Joseph is severely dyslexic. This is a telling testimony, even if I do not spell it out in detail.