On Monday (23 May 2022) the Schools Bill had it’s second reading in the House of Lords. This was the first time myself and colleagues had an opportunity to discuss the Bill in detail and ask the Government any questions.

Stats, chat and a question

I wanted to draw attention to the educational attainment gap for disabled young people. The terminology used in schools refers to special educational needs (SEN) which covers a range of disabilities and additional needs. Statistics from the Department of Education shows that already, by the end of primary school just 22% of 11 year olds with SEN reach the expected standard in reading writing and mathematics compared to 74% of those with no identified SEN. This attainment gap continues throughout school and into the world of work.

My speech in Schools Bill Second Reading, House of Lords, 23 May 2022

Text of my speech:

I want to concentrate my remarks on the educational attainment gap for disabled young people and what this Bill does not say about that—to which my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has already alluded. There will be some stats, some chat and a question. I turn first to the stats. Already by key stage 2 SATs, at the age of 11, only 22% of young people with special educational needs are achieving the relevant standards in reading, writing and numeracy. At age 11, almost 80% of disabled young people and young people with special educational needs are being let down and left behind by our school system, through no fault of the teachers—41% of whom say that they do not have the necessary resources, support or training to address the issue at hand.

For GCSEs, 54.5% of non-disabled students are achieving a standard around grade 8, while just over 31% with special educational needs are achieving the same standard. The transition rate from school to higher education is 47.5% for non-disabled students, 20% for students with special educational needs and 8% for students with an EHCP. Of those going to higher-tariff universities—such as the Russell group and Oxbridge—just over 12% are non-disabled, 3.3% have special educational needs and 1.1% have an EHCP.

Those are the stats, but behind each one are young special educational needs and disabled people who are not being enabled and who are not able to thrive in our school system currently, despite significant resources being spent to supposedly address this issue.

Turning to the consequences, if you are disabled, you are far less likely to be in employment. If you are in employment, you will be very much at the wrong end of a disability employment pay gap. You are less likely to be in employment or higher education, but more likely to be financially or digitally excluded and to suffer from isolation or mental illness. Those are the stats and that is the chat.

The question is just this: what do the Government intend to do about this? The Bill may be mostly about structure, but this is an issue which runs through every element of our education system; it affects every beat point, every point where somebody with special educational needs could be enabled or empowered, yet the stats tell the story. As my friend the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, what will be the linkage between the SEND Green Paper and this Bill as it progresses? I ask the Minister: why do we not take the opportunity of this Schools Bill to start to take the most important steps of all, enabling young disabled and special educational needs students to succeed in education and have fulfilled careers? For the SEN students of today and for those who will follow them tomorrow, if we do that, all of us will benefit.

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, Schools Bill Second Reading, House of Lords, 23 May 2022

As I said during my speech, significant resources are spent in an effort to ensure all children thrive at school but this attainment gap, and the fact that 41% of teachers say they do not have the necessary training to support pupils receiving SEN support, shows that our current system is just not working and it’s not good enough.

What next?

I have done some work recently on what more the Government could do to improve the experience of Higher Education for disabled students, it would be great, if through this Bill, we could do better for disabled students in school as well.

I look forward to the next stages of the Bill as it makes it’s way through Parliament, and particularly in looking for ways in which we can improve the Bill, and improve the education, and lives, of children with disabilities.

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