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Column 45education establishment the message that dyslexic children are not thick, and that existing teachers require training in special needs as much as new teachers.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) : This is an important debate. As time is short, I intend to keep my remarks brief. I join hon. Members who have already spoken in welcoming the code of practice, and pay a warm tribute to all the organisations that took part in the consultation exercise.
Perhaps unusually from the Opposition Benches, I pay a warm tribute to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools because I believe that his personal interest and involvement in the issue led to the code of practice being a model of clarity that has achieved considerable support across the political spectrum and from all those involved in the world of education.
As the Minister admitted, the code of practice is long awaited, arising, as it does, out of the Warnock report and the Education Acts 1981 and 1983. Nevertheless, it is now with us and, as I said, has received a great deal of praise from many people because it distils the highest aspirations of local education authorities and includes many examples of best practice as regards special educational needs work up and down the country. The code rightly stresses the issue of the continuum of need, and for the first time clearly delineates the responsibilities as between individual schools and local education authorities. That will go some way at least towards resolving some of the problems that local education authorities face with regard to the pressures of statementing.
The code of practice is welcomed by governors, head teachers, teachers and local education authorities ; I suspect that that renders it almost unique among documents produced by the Government over the past 15 years, certainly in the field of education. I welcome it for that reason, and I hope that it will be the first of many such documents.
Perhaps the main reason why the code has been so successful is that the Minister and the Government listened to the views of different professionals ; that is especially true of the way in which they have adopted the concept of special educational needs as a whole school issue and accepted the case for a five-stage model. The Government have rightly incorporated throughout the document the theme of partnership and parental involvement. They have also, perhaps for the first time, recognised the importance of listening to the views of pupils.
I said that I would be brief and I shall not rehearse many of the concerns that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber because it is important that the Minister has an opportunity to respond. I shall merely pick up briefly two or three points that I do not think hon. Members have touched on.
Mention has been made of the concern about the four-year period between one OFSTED report and another. The Minister may wish to comment on the suggestion that, while there is a requirement for governors to refer in their annual reports to their special educational needs policies and to the allocation of resources, a clear statement should be incorporated within those reports of what action has been taken each year following an OFSTED report to move towards meeting any criticisms that may have been raised.
Column 46on the operation of the code in respect of a limited sample of schools as early as March 1995 and will follow that with a more extensive report in December 1995. We will not have to wait for the four-year cycle. In addition, OFSTED will be concerned with giving overviews about the effectiveness of the code early on, and will do so more regularly than on a four-year cycle.
Mr. Foster : I am sure that many people will welcome what the Minister has said, but I do not think that it takes away from my point about the way in which individual schools meet the best practice and guidance contained within the code.
There is one respect in which the Minister will not give the House the satisfaction which I, for one, would like. The importance of early identification of special educational needs has been quite rightly included within the code ; reference has been made to dyslexia, autism and other aspects of special educational need. I say gently to the Minister that one new practice that the Government could introduce that would help dramatically in the early identification of special educational needs is the widespread provision of nursery education. I shall leave the Minister to ponder that.
Let me make a brief point about speech therapists. In addition to the points that other hon. Members have raised about who is responsible for identifying which speech therapist should provide assistance to whom, and from where the money should come--the point about the shortage of speech therapists was made forcefully by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and others--there exists the further concern that the move towards the establishment of more and more national health service trusts is fragmenting the speech therapy service and is beginning to remove any notion of a career structure within speech therapy. That in turn may have implications for the recruitment of speech therapists in the future.
My final point concerns the crucial issue of resources. The Minister has said that there is no indication of a lack of money. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) said that it was absolutely crucial that the necessary resources must be there. There is a mismatch between those two statements. All the evidence that I have seen, when visiting many schools and talking to many people, suggests that there are not sufficient resources currently available to meet the special educational needs of pupils in this country. I am influenced by the evidence provided by local authority associations, which suggest that the implementation of the code in all its aspects may cost an additional £100 million. The Minister has said that some new money will be found, and I am grateful for his statement about those amounts. However, if I have added the figures up correctly--perhaps the Minister will give a summary of the various amounts in his winding-up speech--the total amount of new money, or at least money which will go to special educational needs which is not going to them at present, is less than £20 million.
We need to hear what the real figure is and whether we are talking about new money or money taken from elsewhere. Although the code is very welcome, it represents only one half of the solution : without sufficient resources to back it up, those aspirations will never be met.
Column 475.15 pm
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in welcoming the code of practice, which is clearly and successfully the result of an extremely wide consultation. It is an example of a case in which those consulted have taken the opportunity to exploit the consultation, and that does not always happen.
My interest in special education goes back to my involvement in the founding of a school for what were then termed maladjusted children, who are now known as emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children. I gained a postgraduate teaching qualification and was involved in the running of that school for some 17 years, until two years ago. On the basis of that experience, I give great credit to all who are involved at every level of special education, which is one of most challenging ways imaginable of earning a living. I have been concerned about three aspects of statementing over the past few years. My first concern is about the delay in starting the process : from my observation of one particular school, I can say that the average age for statementing--and therefore the average age of placement--has risen by three or four years during the past few years. Frankly, that means that children are statemented and placed almost too late to benefit from the proper effects of special education. I am pleased to see that that matter is covered by the trigger arrangements for stage 1, and I welcome that. I remain concerned, however, about a situation in which a parental expression of concern does not lead to an assessment, which leaves the parent with little recourse.
My second concern is about the length of time that is spent in the process of preparing the statement. I congratulate the Minister on that matter, as it has been fully covered by the code.
My third area of concern is the recent growth of non-specific or generic statementing. A simple conclusion that a child needs additional help in the classroom is almost a futile exercise and gives no reassurance to parents, little guidance to teachers and little hope to the child.I am pleased to note that the draft statement, and the lay-out of parts 3 and 4 of the former statement which is attached as the appendix to the draft code, deals extremely thoroughly with that question. I welcome that without any reservations.
Despite the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), I do not perceive an even-handed approach to maintained or non-maintained schools. I see a clear desire for children to be placed within a maintained school--whether it is maintained, grant-maintained or grant-maintained special--rather than in a non-maintained or independent school. I greatly regret that. The document seems to assume that a non- maintained or independent placement will arise only from a successful representation made by an unusually well-informed and persistent parent.The notice to parents confirms that in its wording on the right to make such representations, which is included in paragraph 5. It is not even mentioned in paragraph 3.38 of the draft code, which says only that, on receipt of a proposed statement, parents have a right to
Column 48state their preference for the maintained school that their child should attend, and to make representations to and hold meetings with the LEA.
Although the ability to suggest that the school should be independent or non-maintained is buried within the draft notice to parents, it is not brought out within the draft code of practice itself.
Mr. Forth : The debate was conducted at some length in 1993 in the confines of the Standing Committee on the Education Bill, as it then was. For better or worse, we took a decision about the relative merits of the maintained and non-maintained sectors, the position of parents and so on. The code reflects faithfully what is in the Act--and, since it is now in the Act, it is difficult for it not to do so. We must now hope that parents will take the clues and hints given in both the code and the Act and make the best possible use of them. I am confident that they will be able to do so.
Mr. Butler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for that response. Of course, the method of funding of the school is irrelevant. The only question is whether the school can help, and possibly where the school is geographically situated. That is particularly important because, even with a specific learning disadvantage or disability, the need to recognise, for example, the effect of the peer group within which the child would be educated if he was accepted at that school is vital to the achievement of success. That is recognised in paragraph 4 :41, which says : "The placement must be appropriate to the child's needs, while also compatible with the interests of other children already in the school and"
the final part is slightly worrying
"with the efficient use of the LEA's resources."
Many of us saw during the 1980s what were termed "out-to-in" policies. As well as not being placed, children were removed from independent non- maintained schools out of county and placed in maintained schools within county. That was often based on imaginative accounting to demonstrate that the in-county school was cheaper, and therefore represented a more efficient use of LEA resources. I am concerned that that practice should not be repeated or continued in future. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the suggestion, which I think I read in his response to me, that the matter will be watched carefully.
I rose to make a small but important point and to give an overall welcome for an excellent draft code.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : I declare an interest in so far as I am the father of a small child with Down's syndrome. I hope that, in an essentially English and Welsh debate, I can make some comments which reflect the Scottish experience and offer comments that are relevant to the whole of Britain. I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the much more authoritative speech of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler).
Before my son was born a little more than three years ago, the impression had been borne in on me strongly, in constituency surgeries and so on that, of all the people who came to see me, those who were most oppressed and psychologically battered were those who had the responsibility of caring for people with learning difficulties
Column 49and disabilities or physical handicaps. I am sure that that is the experience of many hon. Members on both sides of the House. The phrase that was used over and over again was, "You have to fight for everything you get." Exactly as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East said, if a child had persistent parents who knew their way through the system, they might get what the child needed. If the parents did not have that persistence or knowledge, the outcome could be very different.
Since I have had more personal involvement in such matters, I have had greater cause to reflect on that. Anything that the code of practice does to improve the lot of parents and children across the economic and social range is welcome. The proof of the code's value will be what actually happens over the years and particularly whether the necessary resources are made available to meet the aspirations of the code.
Since my son was born, I have realised that, although it is not unreasonable to expect that a Rolls-Royce system should exist from the cradle to the grave for the relatively small number of children who are born with special needs and will obviously have learning difficulties, the reality is very different. I was initially struck by the extent to which people are left on their own to find out what is best for the child in the early stages.
As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) said in a slightly different context, there is an awful lot going on in the world. A lot of research is being done in other countries, where exactly the same questions are being asked. There has been a serious failure to bring together all that knowledge and experience to create a well-defined strategy for meeting the special educational needs of the various categories of children with special needs.
I intend to limit my remarks to Down's syndrome children because they are the only ones about whom I have any claim to know enough to take up the time of the House. I shall speak particularly about the assessment of pre- school children. I note that the code sets out a worthy aspiration. Indeed, it is firm on one point. It says that the local education authority may make an assessment of a child's educational needs
"if the parent consents to it, and must make such an assessment if the parent requests it."
It goes on to state :
"Such an assessment shall be in such a manner as the authority consider appropriate."
But then, crucially, it states :
"Following such an assessment, the LEA may make and maintain a statement of the child's special educational needs".
Why is that "may" rather than "must" ? Once the need has been defined, why should it not be a duty on local education authorities to maintain a record of those needs ?
The Scottish experience is of some relevance. Some time ago, I asked the Minister's Scottish counterpart, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) what was the statutory requirement in Scotland for identifying needs and maintaining a record. I then asked what was the practice in each of the education authorities. The answer disappointed me a little. Although it said, accurately, that the LEA may keep a record of needs from the age of two, it said that the information on what the education authorities actually did was not held centrally.
It did not seem unreasonable to expect that, having set out what local authorities were expected to do, the Government would keep a check on what a dozen
Column 50education authorities did in practice. So I wrote to the 12 education authorities in Scotland. With great courtesy, all 12 replied. My point is that the practice differs widely, even among the small number of authorities covering Scotland.
In Tayside, most records of needs are opened at 11 to 13. The reply continued :
"The next largest significant activity is at the point of entry to primary school at age 4-5."
The third largest significant activity in opening records for pupils was at age two. So age two is the third largest group. The reply from the director of education of Lothian states :
"In practice, very few children are recorded pre-school." The reply from Shetland was
"I cannot say that the Record of Needs is initiated at age 2." In Borders regional council records are most commonly initiated between the ages of three and five. However, Central region said : "we would anticipate identifying children with learning difficulties by the age of 2."
Grampian similarly said :
"Referral can take place at any age from 0-6 years but most such children attend initially at between 2-3 years."
Strathclyde said :
"this authority opens Records of Needs for children with special educational needs from age 2."
I have rushed through those examples. The point is clear that, despite provisions on the statute book that the education authority may keep a record of needs from the age of two, the practice is widely different even among the dozen education authorities in Scotland. In many cases, the practice is resource-driven. I have no doubt that in others it is the product of a judgment by the education authority that that is the best thing to do. What concerns and surprises me is that there is not a well- defined national view on what is the best practice drawn from international research and experience of what is the best thing to do for such children. I agree with hon. Members who have said that the passage in the code of practice on speech therapy is vague and disappointing. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) referred to the Scottish experience. It is not quite so rosy as that. Possibly the formula is right--the education authority purchases from the health authority--but unless the resources are there, the provision will not be there either. I emphasise the importance of the availability of speech therapy to pre-school children, who are my particular concern. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most important facilities with which children with Down's syndrome can be provided.
I do not want to introduce any note of controversy into an otherwise harmonious debate. However, the Minister had something to say on the matter and I am sure that he knows better than I do that he was taken strongly to task for his words in an article in Therapy Weekly , which stated :
"The remarks made by a government minister on the provision of speech therapy for children have been slammed by the College of Speech and Language Therapists. The CSLT has described as appalling' comments made by junior education minister"
the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools.
The Minister called into question whether pre-school speech therapy was an educational provision and whether it had educational value and should therefore be considered in the context of education. The College of Speech and Language Therapists found the draft code disappointing in that it missed an ideal opportunity to state whether health or education services should provide speech and language therapy.
Column 51If nothing else comes from my contribution to the debate I hope that it will at least have been made clear that it would be unthinkable for my little boy and many children like him not to have access to speech therapy from the youngest possible age. So much of the progress that he and others in his position have made is due to the availability of speech therapy as of right. That availability is relevant to their education and educational prospects.
The headline of the article in Therapy Weekly is "Therapists reject minister's claims". I hope that the Minister will make it unequivocally clear that he recognises the need for speech therapy for children with special educational needs from the youngest possible age.
In the purchasing relationship, whereby an education authority buys services from a health authority, a difficulty is arising because unless a record of need is kept, purchasing may not take place. Purchasing is based on the existence of such a record and if it does not exist, children are in danger of losing out. It is even more essential, therefore, that such a record is kept from the age of two or the earliest possible age. Certainly, with Down's syndrome children there is not the slightest doubt, from the day of birth, that they will have special educational needs. Such records must be opened in every authority.
In deference to other hon. Members who want to speak in other debates I shall limit my remarks to that. I sympathise with the problems in England and Wales. Pray God we are never dependent in Scotland on the decisions of hundreds of boards of governors and small committees here and there rather than on the decision of 12 education authorities. Each will have many competing priorities and for many people this priority plays no part in their calculations. Patchwork provision is bound to result. We have to have the muscle of Government and of large education authorities with the resources behind them if the proper facilities and provisions are to be made available to a relatively small number of our fellow citizens. I have no doubt that enormous good will exists in the House. Every hon. Member has experienced similar problems in his or her surgery, as I said at the beginning of my speech. Everyone is in favour of the best possible provision for children with special educational needs. As attendance here today shows, however, it is not exactly a high political priority. Someone has to make it a high
Column 52priority, and it will be one only if the Government take the lead and put in the necessary resources to back up that commitment. 5.33 pm
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the great interest that he has taken in the subject and for coming to my constituency to address a meeting of parents of children with special educational needs. He was able to encourage them to press their cases more strongly. The emphasis of the Government's document is that local authorities will have the responsibility for deciding priorities and should make such decisions. Parents should get together and put pressure on councils.
Councils need to press ahead promptly with the preparation of statements. Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that Bolton council has been reported to the ombudsman and criticised for excessive delay that occurred in the preparation of statements ? I hope that my hon. Friend will remind local authorities of the need to act more promptly. The document calls for the identification of special needs as promptly as possible.
There is much to be gained from parents getting together to form action groups so that they can bring more pressure to bear on councils to review their priorities and give them the proper emphasis.
At a local level, there is a constant call for the Government to decide matters centrally rather than leave such difficult decisions to be decided locally. I believe that these priorities should be decided locally. Substantial amounts of money are provided in local authorities' education budgets and they should decide the priorities in the light of local needs and of listening to parents.
I welcomed the contributions made by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I am glad that we have had this debate and I add my praise to that of other hon. Members for the document that my hon. Friend the Minister prepared.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs, which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.
That the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.
That the draft International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 13th April, be approved.
The first of the orders amends a 1965 Order in Council, which designates headquarters and a defence organisation for the purposes of the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations Act 1964, while the second amends a 1965 Order in Council, which provides for the application, to visiting forces and international headquarters, of law applicable to home forces.
Before I describe the effect of the orders, it may be helpful if I explain the background to the changes in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command structure which make them necessary. The area covered by the North Atlantic treaty is divided among three major NATO commands or MNCs-- European, Atlantic and Channel--and a regional planning group for Canada and the United States. Below that structure is a hierarchy of subordinate commands : major subordinate commands, or MSCs, principal subordinate commands, or PSCs, and sub-principal subordinate commands. Hon. Members will be aware that the NATO organisational structure lends itself to the adoption of many acronyms, and I will try to avoid quoting too many of them this evening.
A number of adjustments to that structure are being made to reflect the profound changes that have taken place in the strategic environment during the past few years, and to meet the changing needs of the alliance in the mid to late l990s. As a first step, NATO Defence Ministers decided in December 1991 that the major NATO commands should be reduced from three to two--European and Atlantic. It was agreed that arrangements in the Atlantic command should be left largely unchanged, since they remained appropriate to the alliance's continuing maritime task.
Ministers also decided to reduce the number of major subordinate commands in Allied Command Europe--ACE--from four to three. Those would be responsible for the southern, central and north-western regions. Those decisions paved the way for detailed planning during 1992 and subsequent implementation. Last year saw the completion of the changes in central region. Under the old structure, the boundary between Allied Forces Central Europe--AFCENT--and Allied Forces Northern Europe--AFNORTH--passed through Schleswig Holstein. The boundary has been moved north, and the central region now includes all of Germany and Denmark. The Allied Forces South-- AFSOUTH--structure has been agreed, and is being implemented. Hon. Members may
Column 54wish to note that I am placing in the Library of the House some maps and an organisational chart outlining these structures. Later this year, the command changes affecting the United Kingdom will come into being. The post of Commander-in-Chief
Channel--CINCHAN--lapses on 30 June, and the headquarters of Allied Forces Northern Europe in Kolsaas, Norway, closes. The following day, reorganisation of the major subordinate command structure in Allied Command Europe will be completed, when the headquarters of the new north western area is activated. That area will comprise the land mass of the United Kingdom, for the first time, and Norway and the sea and air areas surrounding them.
The new NATO headquarters for this area, to be designated headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces North Western Europe--HQ CINCAFNORTHWEST--will be situated at High Wycombe, and will be commanded by a British officer. At the same time, two new principal subordinate command headquarters will be activated in the UK : the headquarters of the Commander Allied Air Forces North Western Europe--HQ COMAIRNORTHWEST--also at High Wycombe, and the headquarters of the Commander Allied Naval Forces North Western Europe--HQ COMNAVNORTHWEST--at Northwood, which will assume Commander-in-Chief Channel's current responsibilities. Some 330 alliance personnel will be located at the new headquarters in the United Kingdom, of whom 130 will be from the United Kingdom. To reflect those changes, it is necessary to amend the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order 1965 to designate in United Kingdom law the new headquarters. We are also taking this opportunity to designate the NATO airborne early warning force headquarters in Mons, Belgium, and the NATO E-3A component in Geilenkirchen, Germany, whose visiting staff are treated as members of an international military headquarters, but have not yet been formally recognised as having that status under United Kingdom law. The purpose of the first order is therefore to establish the status of the various headquarters and visiting forces.
The second order, amending the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order 1965 provides for the application to the visiting forces and the headquarters, of the law applicable to home forces.
The changes I have described will effectively complete the restructuring of NATO's command structure agreed at the end of 1991. They will help meet our objectives for a lighter, more flexible, command structure, which will enable the alliance to respond more quickly and effectively to the increasingly challenging and diverse demands of the European security situation.
The changes have already led to considerable savings in manpower. In particular, they have allowed the United Kingdom to reduce its overall contribution by more than 30 per cent., mainly from the headquarters in Allied Command Europe.
There are clear advantages to the establishment of a new major subordinate command--MSC--in the United Kingdom. We will retain significant influence at an increasingly important level of command within the alliance's military structure--a level which we expect to play a leading role in NATO's new force structure.
Column 55There will also be cost savings from home basing for the United Kingdom complement of staff and economic benefits to the High Wycombe area from the presence of visiting forces. Furthermore, United Kingdom firms have benefited from work on the construction and fitting out of the new headquarters, the cost of which will be some £12 million from NATO funds.
The NATO summit in January charted the next steps for the adaptation of the alliance, and we can expect the new headquarters in the United Kingdom to play an important role in giving practical effect to the initiatives agreed there. This will help to keep the United Kingdom at the forefront of work to ensure that the alliance remains centre stage in European security arrangements in the years ahead.
I commend the orders to the House.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : I thank the Minister for his clear exposition of the reason for, and significance of, the two orders. I accept that they are linked, and that it makes sense to examine them together. Orders of this nature would normally be considered upstairs in Committee, and it is only the ending of the parliamentary cold war that allows us to have the opportunity to examine them in the House.
As the Minister has said, the orders are consequential and of no great significance. What is significant, however, is what they tell us about the context of the adaptation of NATO to post-cold war realities, and what they reveal about the changed status of the United Kingdom within the alliance. The weight given to our role in the immediate post-war settlement in 1949, at the time of the formation of NATO, has evolved into its current status. I shall dwell briefly on those changes, and pose certain questions to the Minister.
In terms of NATO and post-cold war realities, the organisational chart, which existed in 1949, has already been set out by the Minister. The current integrated military command structures under the military committee stems, largely unchanged, from the 1949 structure with the three major commands, Allied Command Channel, Allied Command Atlantic, and Allied Command Europe. As the Minister has pointed out, they are divided into major subordinate commands, and, within those, principal subordinate commands.
The current MSCs of ACE, which are commanded by Supreme Allied Commander Europe, are Allied Forces North, Allied Forces Central, Allied Forces South, and the United Kingdom Defence Region. The end of the cold war led to the need for a new NATO strategy, and, in turn, to the need for a rationalisation of the NATO military command structure. The criteria of that review were economic and political. As the Minister has said, financial and personnel savings have been made, perhaps as part of the peace dividend and because the lower alliance force levels reflect the pressure throughout the alliance for less expenditure on defence.
The political significance of the changes stems from the united Germany, which is no longer split between two MSCs--Schlewsig Holstein in AFNORTH and the rest of Germany within AFCENT. One consequence is that all NATO forces on German soil will be under German command.