With the General Election nearly upon us, Natspec’s Clare Howard has been assessing the three main parties’ promises as they battle to gain or remain in power

The Education Select Committee’s October report scrutinising the 2014 reforms to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) referred to “a treacle of bureaucracy… conflict… and despair”. So will the next government finally address the failures in SEND provision?

Published last week, Natspec’s manifesto, furthers our lobbying in the interests of FE students aged 16-25 with SEND. It focuses on three key areas for improvement: high quality education and training, a system that works for young people, and brighter futures.

But how do the parties’ manifesto promises and commitments compare with our recommendations?

First, Natspec’s recommendations for high-quality education and training include investment in the workforce to extend specialism and expertise, and better strategic planning across local authority (LA) borders for specialist services.

All three parties have recognised the importance of colleges within a quality education system. The Liberal Democrats promise to “end the neglect” and invest an extra £1bn; Labour “will ensure fairness and sustainability in FE” and the Conservatives will invest almost £2billion to upgrade the entire further education estate.  

But none consider the contribution of specialist or general FE colleges in improving outcomes for young people with SEND. There is nothing specifically in any of the party manifestos about FE training.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats do promise to increase the base rate for 16-to-19-year-olds, an important first step to plug a big funding gap and support students with SEND who are not high-needs funded. 

But none address the need for LA co-operation and cross-border strategic planning for SEND. The Liberal Democrats want LAs “to act as Strategic Education Authorities for their area” but they already have this role for SEND.

No single party is getting everything right

Second, Natspec’s recommendations for a system that works for young people call for increased funding for SEND in FE, a simplified funding system, better accountability and reduced bureaucracy. Importantly, we also call for a renewed focus on hearing the voices of young people. 

All three parties mention SEND funding. The Labour party promises “the necessary funding” for SEND and regulation of education provision to improve the life chances for “the most vulnerable”. The Liberal Democrats will “end the crisis in SEND funding by allocating additional cash to local authorities”. The Conservative manifesto simply refers to the additional £780m for SEND already announced in September.

Third, Natspec’s recommendations for a brighter future include new national transition standards, training for careers advisers, and investment in housing, social care and employment options for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

The Labour manifesto addresses most of these recommendations, particularly around disability employment. There is a welcome amount of detail, including training for employers, specialist employment advisers, disability pay-gap reporting, and new specific duties for disability leave separated from sick leave, but no mention of learning disabilities where employment figures are shockingly low.

Long awaited by charities for the deaf, Labour and the Liberal Democrats promise to give British Sign Language full legal recognition.

The Conservatives promise a new national strategy for disabled people covering benefits, housing, transport and jobs. They will commit £74million over three years for additional capacity in community care settings.

Labour does promise community-based, person-centred support as part of a National Care Service for England, but it mainly covers older people.

Improved careers advice is picked up by the Liberal Democrat manifesto. They also promise to address fair access to health and care services and “the scandal of women with learning disabilities dying an average 20 years younger” than their non-disabled peers.

Whatever the result of the election, Natspec hopes that the ambitious plans for transformational change set out by the 2014 legislation finally become a reality for the young people it was designed to help. No single party is getting everything right, but they are beginning to listen, so it isn’t beyond them to deliver that promise.