Liz Kendall MP: Fighting to ensure every child gets support to reach potential
More than 27,000 children in Leicester and Leicestershire have special educational needs, which can range from mild behavioural problems to severe disabilities.
Last week in Parliament, MPs debated the Children and Families Bill, which proposes significant changes to the system of support available to these children.
Reform and improvement is urgently required.
All too often, families find themselves at breaking point, battling to get the help their children depend on and deserve. This can cause them great stress and anxiety.
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Under the current system, children with the most severe educational needs get a special assessment and a detailed plan of support, known as a "statement".
However, most children who need help have mild or moderate needs, such as dyslexia or minor disabilities, and do not require a statement.
At present, these children get extra support either at school or from a specialist, such as an educational psychologist, under the school action and School Action Plus programmes.
I am very concerned that these children – almost 10,000 in Leicester alone – could be left without the help they need because the Children and Families Bill scraps school action programmes.
This will leave many parents desperately worried that their child's needs will no longer be adequately met.
A constituent from Thurcaston Park came to see me about the problems she experienced getting help for her son, who is thought to have dyslexia.
Even though he does not qualify for a statement, we were able to get him access to a wide variety of additional support, including extra reading classes and a specialist spelling group.
This support was vital for Sean, as it is for many other children like him.
I want to see these services protected and enhanced in future so children with special educational needs can get on and do well at school, and in later life, too.
Unfortunately, the Government has failed to spell out what – if anything – will replace the school action programmes, leading to widespread concerns that these crucial services are under threat.
This comes at a time when local councils are already suffering from a shortage of resources and struggling to cope with the numbers of children who need help.
With council budgets cut by a third, specialist services such as children's centres or speech and language therapists will inevitably suffer further.
My Labour colleagues and I have called for a national framework of minimum standards which would guarantee all children the right to decent services from their local councils.
So far, the Government has refused to back our proposal, which will only serve to increase the postcode lottery experienced by families up and down the country.
The Children and Families Bill presents a great opportunity to deliver real and lasting improvement for children with special educational needs and their families.
As the Bill goes through Committee in the coming weeks, my Labour colleagues and I will continue to fight to ensure that every child gets the support they need to realise their full potential.