Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Labour botched Brexit
As I was scootering out of the House of Commons (literally) on Saturday, and came across the huge crowd of remainer/second-referendumers, the first dulcet tones I heard came from, none other than, “Rochester woman”, Emily Thornberry. To rapturous roars from the rowdy bunch, she exclaimed, “Britain is a Remainer country!”, and expressed her strong support and that of the Labour Party for a second referendum.
I thought to myself at the time, how incredible that, not only has Labour defied the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but so too have they come out against their own 2017 manifesto commitment to respect the referendum result.
Labour’s decision to support a second referendum – and by intent, remain – is extraordinary for another reason; whilst it may please some metropolitans, electorally, it makes no sense.
On Sunday, when Keir Starmer got up on the Marr programme to confirm Labour will have a second referendum, his party, essentially, flashed two fingers up at working class constituencies like my own – Harlow.
But the decision begs the question of whether Labour will even win the arch-remainer votes they are so intent on attaining. Although they might gain Islington, it’s very likely the die-hard-remainer vote will go to the Liberal Democrats.
If I learned anything from Saturday’s anti-Brexit march, the first was better-acquainting myself with the back roads of Westminster, thus avoiding the “remoaner” shrieking. Second, it is clear that the so-called “liberal voter” – the young professional, disenchanted with the Conservative pro-Brexit position and ardently adamant on remaining – is going to vote for the Liberal Democrats, who have made it their signature policy. These same people have very little faith in a Corbyn-led government.
But in attempting to appeal to these voters, the Labour Party will be sure to lose the votes of working people. Their decision smacks of contempt for millions who voted to leave, and the arrogance of an elite who think they know better. No doubt, Labour will suffer hugely for this at the polls.
In turn, the Conservatives have an opportunity to win millions of these working people’s votes. However, not only must Boris deliver Brexit, the Conservatives must convince the public that we care deeply about public services, particularly the NHS and education.
That is why the Boris strategy is the right one. Taking visible steps to be the party that champions our NHS, with new hospital projects, and invests in our schools and colleges, with increased teacher salaries and more funding per pupil.
The public who voted to leave because they felt left behind, must be sure that if they vote Conservative, they will not be left behind again.
It’s time to end the social injustices facing parents of children with special educational needs
I wrote recently for Conservative Home about the brilliant work that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is doing, particularly on apprenticeships, skills and technical education. He should be congratulated and supported on this.
However, there are some areas of our education system where deep social injustices remain.
One such disaster zone is in the way that children with special educational needs and their parents are continuously let down.
Thousands of parents face a titanic and shameful struggle to get the right care for their child. They have to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict. Families must navigate a postcode lottery of provision. At times, support for their child is at the peril of local authorities acting unlawfully, rationing support and imposing barriers to getting help, meaning their needs are neither identified, nor met.
There is a horrific lack of accountability and significant buck passing from local authorities to schools, and back again. Unclear responsibilities for resourcing also stretches to the Government departments, meaning that the health aspect of a child’s Education Health and Care Plan often falls short, or is non-existent.
All this increased bureaucracy is directing support away from the classroom; despite the good intentions of Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014, there simply aren’t enough specialists (SENCOs) in schools or educational psychologists (EPs).
This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. I suspect that most MPs are very aware of what is going on because of the enormous swathe of parents of children with SEND who come to see them at surgery appointments – a last-ditch effort to get the right treatment and resources for their child.
Today, our Committee has published a comprehensive report highlighting these problems that parents and teachers of children with SEND face. In what was one of the biggest ever inquiries, with over 17 hours of evidence-gathering sessions and more than 700 submissions, the Committee has painstakingly gone through each of these issues (and many others) in turn, and come up with suggested solutions.
First, every parent/carer should have an allocated person with a neutral role to help them navigate this bureaucratic nightmare. All schools should be guaranteed access to SENCO professionals and there must be a rocket-boost in the number of educational psychologists.
Second, there must be a more rigorous inspection framework to improve accountability. Local authorities and health providers should have clear consequences for failure and greater powers are needed for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate inside the school gates, when something does go wrong.
Third, my Committee is calling for a reporting line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.
Moreover, even if a child gets the right provisions up until they turn 16, there are real resource questions as to what happens after that, and whether or not there are special incentives and support for businesses who can offer these young people apprenticeships and other employment opportunities.
Young people are eager to grab opportunities with both hands but are, currently, being let down by a lack of support and opportunities.
As Conservatives, we have to acknowledge and address these deep areas of social injustice. Parents need hope from us that we are looking after their children with special educational needs, that their titanic struggles are over, and that they will get the best quality provision for their child.
These children should have as much chance of climbing the educational ladder of opportunity as anyone else – too many are being denied that chance.