The Schools Bill is making it’s way through Parliament. The aim of the bill is to “improve the school system” and deals with the regulation of Academies and independent educational institutions, school and local education funding and school attendance.

One of the most devastating problems with schools is that they are not delivering the best outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. Surely then one of the best ways to improve the school system is to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEN and disabilities. This is why I have tabled four amendments to the Schools Bill. The amendments are:

163 – Closing education attainment gap for young people with SEND

164 – Raising awareness of the Disabled Students Allowance

165 – SEND Passport

166 – Consistent terminology

These amendments have developed from a report and recommendations about the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) I published this year. DSA is a grant designed to remove barriers and improve participation in higher education of students with disabilities. The objectives of the policy are admirable although, unfortunately, it is not currently delivering as it should. My review was an investigation into the student experience and made 20 recommendations to the Department for Education, the Student Loans Company and Higher Education Providers.

163 – Closing education attainment gap for young people with SEND

Schools Bill, Committee Stage, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

Amendment 163 deals with that horrific—shocking in the 21st century—educational attainment gap for our young people with special educational needs and disabilities. According to key stage 2 stats, at age 11, only 22% of SEN students are achieving the appropriate level in literacy and numeracy. At GCSE, they are achieving pretty much half of what their non-disabled counterparts are achieving. When one looks at the progression rate—that is, young people going into higher education—the rates are over 47.5% for non-disabled students, 20% for those with SEN, and 8% for those with an education, health and care plan. If we go further and look at those progressing to Russell group universities and the higher-tariff providers, it is 12% of non-disabled students, but only 3% of those with SEN, and 1% of those with an EHCP.

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

The amendment proposes a review into this, completely unacceptable, educational attainment gap, and includes a plan, to be reviewed every year, until we close the gap by the end of 2027. We cannot expect better outcomes in employment and beyond if we do not improve the schools experience for young people with disabilities.

164 – Raising awareness of the Disabled Students Allowance

Schools Bill, Committee Stage, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

Amendment 164 goes directly to the disabled students’ allowance and what should be being done in our schools and colleges right now to promote it, so that our SEN and disabled young people can be aware of it and can know that higher education is a route for them where they will be supported and enabled to succeed and fulfil their potential. Only 29% of disabled people in higher education currently take advantage of the DSA. One of the main reasons cited for this low take-up was lack of knowledge or awareness of its existence. That is why this is recommendation 1 of my review. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that an information and awareness campaign in every school and college about the existence of the DSA and what it can do for our disabled young people would be a thoroughly good thing, and is very much supported by the Student Loans Company, among others?

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

165 – SEND Passport

Currently, navigating the SEND system and alternative provision is not a positive experience for children, young people and their families. A ‘passport’ would reduce the bureaucratic burden on the individual and improve the process of navigating the system for all parties.

Schools Bill, Committee Stage, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

Amendment 165 speaks to the idea of a passport that disabled people could carry through their education and higher education and, indeed, into their working lives, to cut through the bureaucracy of having to constantly declare what their disability is, what their needs are, how that impacts on their education, higher education and work experience, and what needs to be put in place. It seems to me that all of this could be enabled through a passport, not least now in a digital real-time format, cutting bureaucracy and time at every beat point of the interaction that the young person would have with the state, and cutting costs. All too often, young people are asked to provide evidence, and they have to pay to get it from one part of the state—be it the NHS, a doctor or whatever—and present it to another part of the state to get a particular allowance. I believe a passport is overdue and would be beneficial to all concerned. I know there is an excellent pilot under way between higher education and access to work, but I believe that, if we are to gain all the benefits and lay out a seamless process for all our young people, it should run right through school and higher education and into work.

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

166 – Consistent terminology

Schools Bill, Committee Stage, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

Finally, Amendment 66 looks at consistency of terminology and the need to have consistent language through every beat point, not least through school and into further and higher education and into work. All too often, we have some language based on medical concepts—the so-called medical model—some more positively rooted in the social model, and some somewhere else. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is high time we had language that is enabling, empowering and consistent through every beat point? Again, going back to my review, many young people with special educational needs had no idea that they could be entitled to disabled students’ allowance because of that complication of language, lack of consistency and lack of a smooth journey through all the points of the education, higher education and work journey.

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, House of Lords, 20 June 2022

Conclusion

Disabled people experience higher rates of unemployment and economic inactivity. This starts with schools and the educational attainment gap. I believe my amendments to the Schools Bill, if accepted, would be transformational, enabling and empowering all our young people with SEN and disabilities to succeed— and it would be because of the system rather than, as is far too often the case, in spite of it.

Read the whole debate in Hansard

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