I have previously blogged about Ripplevale School and the great work they do in the face of a difficult system where parents have to struggle to get their children recognised as having Special Educational Needs.
Recently I returned to the school and after chatting to teachers, parents and officials I am even more convinced of the need for change. Today in the Queen's speech debate I took the chance to talk about this important subject which affects families across the country.
I want to make a brief point about the education of children with special educational needs. These children have been badly let down for too long. They find it very hard to access the right school. I chaired a summit recently to which, I am delighted to say, came the leader of Kent county council, a cabinet member for Kent county council and a group of parents of children with severe special educational needs—many of them high on the autistic and Asperger spectrums—who have had a very difficult time. It is wrong in principle that parents facing the significant challenges of looking after a child with special educational needs should, on top of that, have to battle the education system to get the right education for their child. It is wrong in principle that, in many cases, it has taken two or three years for those parents to find the right school for their children.
Several things became clear to me during the summit. The statementing process is too slow and cumbersome. That is wrong. It should be more fast-tracked, efficient and effective in looking at children's needs and diagnosing them correctly. Once that is done, each county council or education authority needs to maintain a decent database of which schools in their authority area can cater for which needs. Too often, it seems, there is muddle and confusion in the bureaucracy over which schools can cater for which needs. The whole system should be fast-tracked so that parents are offered schools appropriate to their child's needs, rather than schools that are not appropriate. That happens in many education authorities. Everyone knows that. It is wrong and needs to be dealt with.
Furthermore, on special educational needs, there must not be an apartheid between the state sector and the private sector. We need to put the children first. If a private, independent school caters best for the special needs of children, parents should be offered that school and not just told that a maintained school has to take yet more pupils because the education rules and laws are such that pupils can be shoved into a school, whether the school likes it or not or does not have enough places. In my constituency, there is the perverse situation in which one independent school catering brilliantly for special educational needs has 20 spare places, while another special needs school doing an outstanding job
in the maintained sector needs a portakabin in the playground to cater for the number of special educational needs children, because it has been told by the education authority to take yet more children. We need to strike the right balance: we need to give parents much greater say and choice, use the places available in the system most appropriately and ensure that the statementing process is as quick as it can be. In education, when it comes to looking after our children, we need to put the parents first. We need to ensure that they can make the decisions that are right for their children, because, broadly, they know best because they know their children best of all.
It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Member of Parliament for Dover & Deal. I hope to be re-elected to serve our community for another term.
Many of my appearances in the House of Commons are now on Youtube. Please click the link to watch the footage.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring my office on 01304 379669 if you need to get in touch.