In my last column, I touched on one of the Conservative Party’s key manifesto pledges to extend the existing entitlement of 15 hours of free childcare a week to 30 hours for working parents of three- and four-year-olds. This extension is one of several new measures designed to help working families with the costs of childcare, and will be introduced once the new Childcare Bill has been passed in the coming months.
When I heard last year that Swindon Borough Council had put in a bid to become an early implementer of the new childcare entitlement, I was happy to offer my support by lobbying my colleague Sam Gyimah MP, Minister for Childcare and Education. I was delighted when the news came through yesterday that Swindon had been chosen by the Department of Education to formally pilot the new 30-hour free childcare package which means that Swindon families will have early access to new, flexible childcare opportunities, alongside only a handful of local authorities across the UK. This is fantastic news for our town, and I would like to extend my congratulations to Swindon Borough Council for their successful bid.
There was some more great news from Westminster last week about an issue very close to my heart, as Edward Timpson (Minister of State for Children and Families) announced £80 million to extend opportunities to children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).
When I was the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, I established a SEND Commission that aims to improve the experiences and prospects for young people with SEND. This involved taking autistic and SEN concerns straight to the government by providing MPs and House of Lords Peers with evidence and arguments in favour of better support for SEND and autism; a chance these young people would otherwise not have had. I also introduced a ten-minute Bill to Parliament calling on the government to improve access to health and social care services for people with autism spectrum disorders.
Locally, I helped to establish a SEND Network for parents, secured autism-friendly film screenings and campaigned to improve health, education and social care services for local children, and I have worked very closely with charities like Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society.
I also continue to host regular SEN meetings here in Swindon invite local professionals, parents and carers to discuss what services and support children with SEND can access in Swindon and the surrounding areas. I think it’s right that children and families are supported and fully informed about what is on offer for young people with special educational needs, and we had a searching and lively discussion at the last meeting in December.
The announcement includes an increase in funding for councils and support charities who work with some of the most vulnerable young people in the country. Alongside this, the government is continuing transition funding in 2017 to 2018 to help implement the reforms introduced in 2014. Thanks to the government’s reforms, for the first time ever the needs of children with complex SEND are all set out in one education, health and care (EHC) plan. It also means that councils are legally required to take the views of families into account when deciding on what support to offer.
This Saturday, I’ll be hosting another advice surgery at the Honey Pot Café in Wroughton between 10-12. There’s no need to book a slot, but don’t hesitate to contact my office on 01793 533393 if you would like more information. And don’t forget to sign up to my monthly newsletter on my website, which contains a summary of my work in here Swindon and in Westminster as well as some important news. If you’re interested, visit http://www.robertbuckland.co.uk/ and fill out the ‘get email updates’ form on my homepage.