Education matters

Maggie JonesLabour Education Spokesperson Maggie Jones on why the Government is failing children with hidden disabilities

Today in a Lords debate, I highlighted the education and training needs for those with hidden disabilities such as dyslexia and autism. The debate addressed the extent of the problem, representing an estimated 70% of people with a disability. It also addressed the dire prospects in this sector with 22% of young people with a disability not in education, employment or training – twice the level of their peers.

The Coalition government’s Special Educational Needs Green Paper has begun to address the issues and some of the recommendations are to be welcomed. Labour support for example, the concept of a single assessment process and care plan from birth to age 25, and greater opportunities for personalised budgets for parents and young people to access support services. But there are increasing concerns about the practicalities and levels of funding available.

In advance of a Children and Families Bill expected later this year, the government are running 20 pilots of the new arrangements. The interim evaluation shows that it is very difficult to get education, health and care agencies to work together, and they are duplicating rather than streamlining children’s assessments. There are also concerns that young people themselves are not being consulted about the services provided. It is therefore vital that the pilots are completed and fully discussed before the Bill is drafted and we have sought assurances that this will happen.

Meanwhile, the new schools based careers service is failing to provide the specialist, face to face advice for those with special needs which we argued was crucial during the progress of the Education Act. There are also increasing concerns that young people with disabilities are being denied places at academies and free schools. Every child in the education system has the right to be treated equally, and Ministers must step in if discrimination is found to be taking place.

All these changes are taking place against a backdrop of cuts to health and welfare budgets and with many specialist posts being lost due to deep cuts in council services. There are increasing concerns that the funding to improve education and an effective transition into further or higher education and employment will not be made available. Employers remain reluctant to provide workplace support for those with hidden disabilities. Without a major intervention by government, parents will be left frustrated and disappointed and young people will be denied the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a member of Labour’s Shadow Education team in the Lords

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