Peter Aldous welcomes Second Reading of Children and Families Bill

Waveney MP Peter Aldous this week welcomed the Second Reading of the Children and Families Bill, which provides a framework to transform the system for children and young people with special educational needs to ensure that a consistently high service is provided across the country.
The purpose of the Bill is to take forward the Government's commitments to improve services to vulnerable children and support families. It seeks to do this by reforming systems for adoption, family justice and special educational needs (SEN).

Having received representations from Scope, the National Autistic Society, the Autism Action Group for Suffolk and a number of constituents, Mr Aldous welcomed proposals to reform the support system for special educational needs in a debate in the House of Commons. These include a simpler, single assessment process and combined education, health and care plans, in place of the current system of Learning Difficulty Assessments.

Whilst supportive of the Children and Families Bill and its core principle of listening to the concerns of people to encourage greater choice, speaking in the debate, Aldous urged the Government to make amendments to the Bill in the Committee and Report stages. In particular, he called for all young people with disabilities, to have a plan up until the age of 25 and for those in Higher Education to be included, with provision not being restricted to those with a statemented SEN. He also called for further work to be carried out on the definition of the ‘Local Offer’ and how best to commit health authorities to fulfil their new role.

Mr Aldous said:
“I am pleased that the Bill has now received its Second Reading – it is pivotal to providing a support system for children and young people with special educational needs. I hope that the next stages of the Bill address restrictions of provisions to ensure accountability and that all those that need it have access to a better service.”

The Bill now moves to the Committee Stage, where MPs will undertake line-by-line scrutiny of the Government’s proposals.


Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I shall concentrate my few words, before my voice gives out, on special educational needs. The Bill is to be welcomed, because while there are examples of good practice, the current system of SEN is not fit for purpose. I have been advised of examples where young, vulnerable people and their families have been let down; there are cases in which children have been excluded from activities, such as sports days and swimming, and in which schools have failed to provide support for a child until a medical diagnosis has been received, despite accepting that the child was struggling to access the curriculum. In contrast, there are other schools where completely the opposite service is being provided, with schools being super-supportive despite no diagnosis. There have been cases where parents have had to attend schools themselves to provide one-to-one support for their child, and where parents have been asked to take their child home at lunchtime due to staff shortages.

The Bill provides the framework to transform the system for children and young people with SEN to ensure that a consistently high service is provided across the country, with the examples of poor practice provided being consigned to history. It is right that young people and their families should have greater control and choice in decisions that affect their lives. It is right that the health service should play a full role in improving the planning, commissioning and provision of services. It is very much a step in the right direction that young people will be on the same footing whether they attend a maintained school, an academy, a further education college or a sixth form college. Replacing statements with a single assessment process and combined education, health and care plans is to be welcomed.

As I said at the outset, there are examples of good practice. Scope currently works with Suffolk county council to provide Activities Unlimited—a brokerage service that negotiates inclusive short breaks and leisure services for children, their families and their carers. By using the purchasing power of existing local service users, Activities Unlimited has increased the availability of local services such as youth clubs, swimming pools and play centres for families across Suffolk, including those in my constituency. It is important that this type of service becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

The Bill provides the opportunity to do that, but I would be grateful if the Government considered some issues in Committee and on Report that will improve the Bill. First, everyone who needs a plan up to 25 should get one. Provision should not be restricted to those with a statemented SEN. As other hon. Members have said, it is also necessary to consider higher education. The local offer needs refining, and should be backed up with a national framework. There must be accountability for delivering the local offer, and while the education health care plans are welcome, more work is needed. Consideration should be given to how best to commit health authorities to delivery of their new responsibilities. One should also bear in mind the changing role of local authorities in education. With the rise of academies and free schools, local education authorities do not have the powers they once had. The Bill should be future-proofed to take account of the fact that the role of local education authorities may change still further in the coming years.

I commend the Government for introducing the Bill. In doing so, they are seeking to address an inequity and an injustice that has gone unnoticed for too long. Some amendments are required for the Bill to achieve its objectives, and I urge the Government to continue to pursue the collegiate approach that they, and in particular the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), have pursued to date. Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker—my voice is going.

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Beccles, Saturday 14th April
Lowestoft, Wednesday 30th May


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