By Annette Brooke MP - 6th September 2011
Annette Brooke MP calls on the government to achieve better value for money in the commissioning and delivery of special educational needs during a period of reduced resources.
I welcome much of the government's recent Special Education Needs (SEN) Green Paper and its vision to improve outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have special educational needs. In particular, I believe there is widespread support for a joint education, health and care plan.
However, there are currently concerns in regards to the provision of special needs education by non-maintained and independent special schools, which cater for around 13000 of the most vulnerable children in the country with very wide ranging, but complex, needs.
The Green Paper proposes that parents will have the right to express a preference for any state funded school, including academies and free schools, but this doesn't appear to extend to non-maintained and independent special schools. This is despite the government's commitment to develop a national banded framework for funding provision for children and young people with SEN which has the potential to create greater transparency within funding. This is an issue which needs clarification as usually non-maintained and independent special schools are funded by Local Authorities, rather than parental placements, which means they are in legal terms, very similar to academies and free schools and have less in common with the mainstream independent sector.
There is a perception that places at non maintained special schools are consistently more expensive than local authority provided packages of support for children with the same level of need. It is crucial that the Department for Education and local authorities do more to achieve better value for money in the commissioning and delivery of special educational needs during a period of reduced resources. However, there is currently a real lack of information available in the SEN sector about cost effectiveness and so I would request that the Department for Education commission research into the costs of placements in the non-maintained and maintained special school sector. This would go some way to ensure there is a level playing field between the non-maintained and maintained special school sector and ensure value for money is delivered at this time of fiscal restraint.
Concern in the independent sector surrounds the recommendation in Lord Hutton's recent review of public service pensions that "it is in principle undesirable for future non-public service workers to have access to public service pension schemes, given the increased long-terms risk this places on the government and taxpayers." There must be clarity on whether this will result in teachers in independent and non-maintained special schools being excluded from the public service scheme. Nationally, there is already a shortage of teaching staff and leaders with expertise in Special Educational Needs. The schools often recruit staff from the state sector and this change would make it considerably more difficult to employ these teachers, recruit to the sector in general and retain high quality staff.
The government must look at these issues and ensure that the valuable work of the independent special school sector is not hindered, and that there is a level playing field in which these schools can operate.
Annette Brooke has been Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole since 2001.