We have taken a quick look at the party manifestos to analyse what they say about SEND, education and disability more widely:

We have sifted through the parties’ proposals and compared them to our five pledges for SEND for the next government to address.



Conservatives – Forward, Together 

Read the full manifesto.

  1. Put SEND on the agenda – 

Driver Youth Trust welcome the Conservative’s opening passage to the education section in their manifesto, that they will be “a government unafraid to confront the burning injustices” including, “the stigma of mental health and disability discrimination” is encouraging.

It is concerning however that there is no mention of special educational needs and disabilities anywhere in the manifesto.

In the wider context, the party has set a target to get 1 million more people with disabilities into employment over the next ten years (p.57) and a green paper will be published on young people’s mental health before the end of 2017 (p72).

  1. Ensure SEND is at the heart of all schools – 

The Conservatives have various proposals on school types, admissions and places:

  • Continue with the free school programme, building at least a hundred new free schools a year (p50)
  • Will make universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools (p50)

In our response to ‘Schools that work for everyone’ we noted how universities should look into how they support and teach SEND students. The experience of SEND undergraduates can vary dramatically depending on the level of specialist provision each institution has to offer. We especially encourage universities to investigate, through robust research methods, ways in which the attainment of SEND learners, such as those with literacy difficulties and dyslexia, can be raised.

  • Introduce new funding arrangements to open a specialist maths school in every major city in England and will replace inclusivity rules which prevent the creation of new Roman Catholic schools (p50)

Driver Youth Trust believe the plan to boost the number of faith school places by reforming the rules around prohibitive admissions new and existing faith schools can set is unlikely to boost social mobility. Furthermore, at both primary and secondary level, faith schools tend to admit fewer pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and fewer learners with SEND. On average, faith schools tend to be less representative of their local area at both primary and secondary level for pupils eligible for FSM.

The EPI has found faith schools educate a lower proportion of pupils with special educational needs (SEN)(16.8% at KS2 versus 19.7%; 14.4% at KS4 versus 16.6%)

  • The manifesto commits the party to working with the Independent Schools Council to ensure at least 100 independent schools become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools (p50)

Driver Youth Trust recognise the benefit, in terms of school improvement, of schools working together. There are independent schools with significant knowledge and expertise in teaching SEND learners, those with dyslexia for example, and we would encourage these schools to share their expertise more widely.  It should not be forgotten however that state schools, mainstream and specialist, also have valuable expertise which can be disseminated.

We would recommend that the sharing of expertise, time and facilities between maintained and independent schools is explored within the context of building a sustainable, two-way relationships focused on the improvement of teaching SEND learners.

  • The Conservatives will lift the ban on the establishment of selective schools, subject to conditions (p50)

Driver Youth Trust is actively campaigning against this policy. As our fact sheet shows, grammar schools will not benefit SEND learners and evidence consistently shows how selection  benefits affluent pupils. 

In practice, we believe children with special educational needs will be less likely to pass the 11+ and therefore attend grammar schools (only 3.6% of SEND learners attend them presently). The focus on timed assessment will be a significant barrier, particularly for those with dyslexia and those who struggle with literacy.  This will fuel the stigma attached to SEND learners as failures.

  1. Fund SEND Properly – 

One of the biggest concessions in the manifesto which has been widely reported is the stance on school funding. Rightly so, this has been the focal point of the education debate in the campaign so far.  Many schools are facing the greatest financial pressures since 1990 and with increasing reports on how this is undermining the ability of schools to provide for SEND pupils.

  • The Tory manifesto states school funding would be increased by £4bn by 2022 to ensure no schools lose out under a new formula. This move contrasts with the party’s 2015 manifesto commitment to “protect” per pupil funding, instead pledging to increase it: The Conservatives will continue to make funding fairer over the course of the next parliament but ensure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula (p51)

The IFS’ analysis of spending commitments in education found that under current plans for per pupil funding is set to fall approximately 6.5 per cent by 2020, and to around 8 per cent thereafter. Based on these figures, the think tank found the Tories’ commitment equates to a 2.8 per cent cut in spending between 2017 and 2021-22.

  • The Conservatives will continue to protect the Pupil Premium (p51)
  • The party will offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school in England. However, only children from low-income families will continue to receive free school lunches (p52)

Increased funding will be a welcome sign to many schools, however, Driver Youth Trust  would like to see a commitment to ring-fencing the SEND notional budget, something that none of the major parties have pledged.    

  1. Support SEND with teacher CPD – 

A central theme in the training debate is the extent to which initial teacher training (ITT) prepares teachers to embed a graduated approach for learners  with SEND, in classroom practice. SEND campaigners, including parents, highlight the lack of consistent opportunities available to trainee teachers to develop their practice in this area.

The Driver Youth Trust has been at the forefront of this debate since publishing The Fish in the Tree report in 2014. The report found that just 52% of trainees surveyed received any training on dyslexia and yet 84% thought it was important to do so.

The Conservative manifesto contains little mention of teacher training but  the following  commitments are given to support teachers:

  • The party will continue to provide bursaries for prospective teachers (p51)
  • The party will offer teachers forgiveness on student loan repayments while they are teaching and bring in dedicated support (p51)
  • The Conservatives pledge to provide greater support for teachers in the preparation of lessons and marking (p51)
  1. Ensure SEND Learners can access exams – 

Assessment has been at the forefront of Driver Youth Trust policy work this year. We believe assessment is important to establish an indication of how our children are developing the skills needed for later life. Measuring how assessment specifically affects SEND learners is vital however and ensuring  appropriate test design and arrangements are in place to make the exams process as inclusive as possible.

The Forward,Together manifesto contains a number of proposals to further reform the assessment system:

  • The party commits to strengthening the teaching of literacy and numeracy in the early years. (p51)
  • The Conservatives will build on the success of the phonics screening test (p51)
  • The party will expect every 11 year old to know their times tables off by heart (p51)
  • The Conservatives pledge to improve schools’ accountability at key stage 3 (p51)
  • The party will expect 75 per cent of pupils to have been entered for the EBacc combination of GCSES by the end of the next parliament, with 90 per cent studying this combination by 2025 (p51)

Labour – For the Many, not the few 

Read the full manifesto.

  1. Put SEND on the agenda – 

The Labour manifesto contains one mention of SEND: “we will deliver a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.” 

  1. Ensure SEND is at the heart of all schools –

The party is committed to “education, not segregation” on the issue of grammar schools.

  • Labour will create a “unified” National Education Services (NES) for England, to incorporate all forms of education, from early years through to adult education (p34) 

The principle of “lifelong education” is extremely ambitious and is welcome, at present it is unclear where SEND would fit into a “NES” if a Labour government were elected on the 9th June.  

  • Labour will require joined-up admissions policies across local schools to enable councils to fulfil their responsibilities on child places (p38)
  • Labour will reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five, six and seven-year-olds
  1. Fund SEND Properly – 
  • Key pledge: Labour will reverse the Conservative’s cuts to school budgets and introduce a fairer funding formula (p37)

The EPI found that Labour’s school funding pledge, to commit an extra £6.3 billion by 2021-22, represented a real-terms funding increase of 6% per pupil. However, the Think Tank has also warned that the funding proposed is significant and may not be affordable.

  • Labour will invest in new school buildings, including the phased removal of asbestos from existing schools (p37)
  • Free school meals for all primary school children will be introduced, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees (p38)

The amount of funding proposed is significant, which has been welcomed by school leaders and teachers alike. However, no specific proposals have been made by Labour on SEND funding. 

  1. Support SEND with teacher CPD – 

Driver Youth Trust  welcome the call to “embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff,” which is in line with our own position.  

  • Elsewhere Labour commits to “giving teachers more direct involvement and tackling rising workloads.” (p38)
  • The party will consult on introducing teacher sabbaticals and placements with industry (p38)
  • A future Labour Government will ensure that all teachers receive initial and ongoing training on the bullying of LGBT young people and how to address them (p111) 
  1. Ensure SEND Learners can access exams – 
  • The party will invest in measures to close the attainment gap between children from different backgrounds (p38) – we would like to see a commitment to SEND alongside this. 
  • Labour will abandon plans to reintroduce baseline assessments and launch a commission to look into curriculum and assessment (p38)
  • The party will review the EBacc performance measure (p.95)


 Liberal Democrats: Change Britain’s Future 

Read the full manifesto.

  1. Put SEND on the agenda – 

The Lib Dems would “ensure that identification and support for special educational needs and disabilities takes place as early as possible.”

They also state that “all new policies should have an assessment of how they affect pupils who have special educational needs, and ensure they adhere to duties under the Equality Act.”

  1. Ensure SEND is at the heart of all schools –
  • The Lib Dems will oppose any new selective schools and give local authorities proper democratic control over admissions and new schools (p25)
  • Planned expansions of grammar schools will be scrapped by the Lib Dems and money for new school places will be devolved to local authorities (p28)
  • The manifesto commits to allowing Ofsted to inspect both local authorities and academy chains (p28)
  • State funded profit-making schools will be ruled out by a Lib Dem government and new schools will be built in areas where there is need for new school places (p28)
  1. Fund SEND Properly – 
  • The party will invest nearly £7bn extra in children’s education – increasing school budgets and the Pupil Premium to protect against rising costs and pupil numbers, and introducing a fairer national funding formula (p25)
  • The Lib Dems will reverse all cuts to front-line schools and college budgets, protecting per-pupil funding in real terms (p26)
  • A future Lib Dem Government will introduce a national funding system with a protection for all schools, so no school loses money (p26)
  • Increase Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per pupil per year (p26)
  • Free school meals will be extended to all children in primary education and promote breakfast clubs (p30)
  • The party pledge to support capacity and modernise schools and hospitals through a capital investment (p36)
  • Education budgets would be protected in real terms by a Lib Dem government (p36)
  1. Support SEND with teacher CPD – 
  • The Lib Dems will end the 1 per cent cap on teachers’ pay rises and guarantee all teachers in state funded schools be fully qualified or working towards a qualified teacher status from January 2019 (p27)
  • Introduce a clear and properly funded entitlement for professional development for all teachers, reaching 25 hours per year by 2020 and 50 hours by 2025 (p27)
  • Establish an independent Education Standards Authority to pilot, phase in and resource future policy changes in consultation with professionals (p27)
  1. Ensure SEND Learners can access exams –
  • The manifesto commits to introducing a curriculum entitlement to be taught in all state-funded schools (p28)
  • The Lib Dems will prioritise primary progress measures, while reforming tests at age 11 (p29)


Green Party: A confident & caring Britain 

Read the full manifesto 
Read the disability manifesto.

“Ensuring that every child with Special Educational Needs or Disability has access to a mainstream education, in accordance with the UN Convention for Persons with Disabilities.”

UKIP: Britain Together 

Read the full manifesto

“UKIP believes all disabled learners must have the legal right to attend either mainstream courses in mainstream education settings, or schools exclusively tailored to their needs. It should be their choice. To this end, we will reverse the policy of closing special schools, and ensure all other schools are accessible to disabled learners and that individual support is in place for each child.”

Read DYT’s election campaign and ensure your future MP will keep SEND at the centre of the policy debate.

Blog: Let’s make sure SEND is at the heart of the next government. Read here.

For further analysis of the manifestos:

  • Disability Rights UK have gone through the proposals which affect disabled people specifically. Read here.
  • Education Policy Institute has published an impartial assessment of the English education policies of the main UK political parties. Read here.