Public Accounts Committee Report on Support for Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

News - 6 May 2020

On 6 May 2020 the Public Accounts Committee published its first report of Session 2019-21.

There were 6 conclusions and recommendations as follows;

  1. Many children with SEND are being failed by the support system. Inspections of support for children and young people with SEND, jointly carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (the CQC), have found that half of local authority areas have significant weaknesses. Mainstream primary and secondary schools are struggling to meet the needs of pupils with SEND and to cope with those who have challenging behaviour.

Recommendation: The Department should, as a matter of urgency, complete and publish its SEND review. The review should set out the actions that the Department and others will take to secure the necessary improvements in support for children with SEND, and the timescale within which families will see practical changes.

  1. There are significant unexplained disparities between different groups of children in the support they receive. The Department acknowledges that, while some children are well supported, others are not. It is unable, however, to explain the wide variations between different demographic groups in the proportion of children identified as having SEND.

Recommendation: The Department should use the data it already collects to develop a better, evidence-based understanding of why there is so much variation between different groups of children in identifying SEND. The Department should publish the results of its analysis and details of the action it plans to take in response.

  1. Too many pupils with SEND are excluded from school, meaning their education is disrupted. Pupils with SEND are far more likely to be excluded from school than others—they accounted for 44.9% of permanent exclusions and 43.4% of fixed period exclusions in 2017/18. The Timpson review of school exclusions (May 2019) concluded that vulnerable groups of children are more likely to be excluded and that more should be done to ensure that exclusion is used consistently and fairly.  

Recommendation: The Department should set out the steps it proposes to take to reduce the number of children with SEND who are permanently or temporarily excluded from school. In doing so, it should explain what action it will take in response to the recommendations in the Timpson review of school exclusions, and the reasoning for its decisions.

  1. The Department relies too heavily on periodic inspection for assurance that children, particularly in mainstream schools, are being properly supported. The Department relies on Ofsted inspections of individual schools to provide assurance about how well they are supporting children with SEND. However, the frequency with which Ofsted inspects schools depends heavily on its previous inspection rating, and some schools that were rated as outstanding at their last inspection have not been inspected for 10 years or more. In addition, short inspections of mainstream schools may not focus on the school’s provision for pupils with SEND.

Recommendation: The Department should supplement inspection evidence by drawing on other information to get a rounded, timely assessment of the quality of support for children with SEND. This information should include, for example, intelligence from regional schools commissioners, parent carer forums, schools forums, and head teachers.

  1. Mainstream schools have little financial incentive to be inclusive of pupils with SEND. The way that funding is allocated to mainstream schools can act as a disincentive to enrolling pupils with SEND. Schools must cover the first £6,000 of extra support costs for each pupil with SEND from their core budgets. Local authorities can allocate additional funding to support genuinely inclusive mainstream schools with high numbers of pupils with SEND. However, in 2018–19, only 85 of 150 local authorities budgeted for additional support of this kind.

Recommendation: The Department should work with schools and other stakeholders, and draw on good practice, to identify how funding mechanisms can be used more effectively.

  1. There are not enough state special school places in some parts of the country, meaning local authorities must cover the high cost of places in independent special schools and spend ever larger amounts on SEND transport. Local authorities are increasingly using independent special schools that are significantly more costly than other provision, partly because of the lack of available places in state special schools. In addition, local authorities’ spending on transport to take children with SEND to and from school has risen significantly and was £102 million (18.4%) over budget in 2017–18.

Recommendation: The Department should carry out a systematic analysis of current and future demand for school places and facilities suitable for pupils with complex needs and develop a costed plan for meeting those needs. In doing so, it should take account of potential savings in local authorities’ transport costs in areas where children currently have to travel a long distance to attend special schools.


To read the full report go to: