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New clause 2

Resources for special needs

'(1) The Secretary of State shall satisfy himself that adequate resources are available to a local authority in respect of advice or support provided by it to a child who is receiving funded nursery education other than in a maintained school and who is considered to have special educational needs but in respect of whom no statement under section 168 of the Education Act 1993 has been issued.
(2) In this section "funded nursery education" shall have the same meaning as in Schedule 1 to this Act.'.--[Mr. Kilfoyle.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 7, in clause 3, page 2, line 18, at end insert--

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'(4) Such requirements shall require that--
(a) any nursery education provided by virtue of the grant shall be supervised by a qualified teacher; and
(b) where such nursery education is provided in respect of a child who has special educational needs that it conforms to any Code of Practice in respect of such education which may have been issued by the Secretary of State.'.

Government amendment No. 35.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The new clause will find support on both sides of the House as it deals with a concern expressed by many hon. Members, as well as interested bodies outside the House, about the provision of good-quality education for children with special educational needs.The new clause would ensure extra funding for local education authorities to provide for children at stage 3 of the special educational needs code of practice--stage 4 being a statement--who are in nursery provision outside the maintained sector.

Provision for children under five with special educational needs was extensively discussed in Committee. During our debates, hon. Members on both sides committed themselves to ensuring that such children enjoyed the benefits of nursery education as much as other under-fives. I note that the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) is in his place. In his private life, he is involved with the Royal London Society for the Blind school at Sevenoaks. I have had the pleasure of visiting that school and I know that it does excellent work and wants to be able to continue to do so.

Many, many children with varying degrees of need--not as extreme as the children at the Royal London Society for the Blind school, as the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge--would benefit from the new clause. Children with statements of special educational needs will be placed in provision by the local education authority. In fact, all but 18 children under five who have statements are in LEA-maintained institutions or non-maintained special schools.

In Committee, the Minister failed to meet almost every single point raised by Labour Members. The one area on which there was agreement was the need to look carefully at the arrangements for children at stage 3 of the SEN code of practice, the stage where the institution begins to consider the need for external support, which would usually come from the LEA--the Minister nods in agreement--but before the formal assessment procedure begins.

I shall remind the Minister of what he said in Committee:

The Minister was suggesting that we may be able to diagnose more children at an earlier stage, which is to be welcomed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) and I visited the Margaret McMillan school in the much-maligned borough of Islington. We saw the excellent work that can be done if early diagnostic and remedial skills are available in a multidisciplinary approach. That is what is afforded to those very needy children at that school.

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The Minister also said in Committee that differential value vouchers would be unlikely to solve the problem. The same criterion apparently does not apply to differentiation on the basis of areas or of special educational needs of a different sort within cities.He made that clear in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson). I fail to see why the same criterion cannot apply across the board. Perhaps the Minister will explain later.

The Minister also said in Committee that requiring private and voluntary voucher redeeming bodies to have regard to the code of practice was not a practical way forward, but that discussion would take place with interested parties during phase 1 of the implementation to find a way forward. He then said that he hoped to bring forward a proposal on Report that would clarify the role of the local education authority for children at stage 3 of the code of practice. The new clause is designed to give effect to that ministerial commitment. I shall deal with the Government's amendment later.

5.15 pm

It is clear that, if more children under five are in nursery education, it is likely that any special educational needs will be found earlier, provided there are appropriately trained staff in the private and voluntary sectors. Again, we must deal with the question whether there should be a qualified teacher in every nursery, or at least one having a role in every nursery. LEAs will need to make financial provision for that new work. The new clause requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that sufficient resources are provided to LEAs to undertake that work.

To implement the code of practice will require, at the very least, qualified teachers supervising nursery providers who do not employ a qualified teacher. That is the key to amendment No. 7. There is wide agreement on the importance of nursery education and the benefits of investing in the education of young children. What is equally clear is the importance of the quality, knowledge and experience of staff if young children are to obtain maximum benefit from the experience. I am sure that the Minister and I are at one on that.

The amendment would achieve the delivery of nursery education under the supervision of a qualified teacher. One of the very great strengths of the nursery education currently provided in maintained nursery schools and classes is that it is provided by properly qualified teachers supported by qualified assistants. Within the current initial teacher training framework, nursery teachers on Bachelor of Education courses receive the same training in terms of rigour and length of course as teachers of primary and secondary age children. They are awarded a degree that has the same status as those awarded to primary and secondary teachers. So should it be, given the tremendous importance of that stage of educational development in determining the whole future of individual children. Again, the Minister nods his agreement. I have to repeat the suspicion voiced many times in Committee that the hon. Gentleman is an ultra soaking wet. That is confirmed by the way that he readily agrees with points made by Labour Members.

Our common approach, in the spirit of consensual politics, to the training of teachers of nursery and primary age children is appropriate, given that the children pass from the nursery stage to the primary stage--a transition

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that should be seamless. The significant theoretical components of the training course embrace child development, child psychology, health and safety and the legal background to education, in addition to the range of subject areas in the national curriculum for which pre-school education is a preparation.

Special needs is also covered in great depth in the Bachelor of Education courses. Nursery teachers, as well as undertaking this rigorous academic programme, also spend extended periods in a wide variety of settings on teaching practice, working under the supervision of qualified teachers.

The next steps document states:

We say amen to that. However, the document then immediately states that the Government

In effect, that means that in pre-schools and playgroups only half the staff have to hold a relevant day care or education qualification or have to have completed a special training course.

Although there is no doubt that the vast majority of current providers of pre-school provision want to provide quality of care for young children, the distinction between nursery education and care is being blurred by the current proposals. There is no doubt that those with child care skills and qualifications have a significant contribution to make. However, if education--I stress "education"--is to be the focus of the new scheme, the leadership of the institutions making the provision must surely be education professionals.

If the Government are serious about providing high-quality nursery education, it should be delivered by properly qualified teachers. The early years are crucial in the education and development of young children. As the National Commission on Education says in its document "Learning to Succeed", early years teaching is a complex task demanding a high level of skill and understanding.

To digress slightly into my personal experience, I told the Minister and his hon. Friends in Committee about my one and only visit to a reception class, many years ago when I was doing my teacher training. I was horrified by the complexity of the work involved in caring for overcrowded groups of toddlers--work which we may tend to treat as mundane but which is so crucial. That job is a calling. If work in any part of the education system can be described as a vocation, that description must apply to the work of the people who deal with the very early years.

Qualified teachers who have been trained in the appropriate skills and understanding must be the proper people to lead the teams delivering early years education. There can be no justification for applying less rigorous standards of training to staff in that area than we apply to those who work in the later stages of the educational process.

In Committee, the Minister claimed that the qualifications of staff would be

and that

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I agree, and I hope that that happens, because it reflects parents' demands for their children. They are looking for a professionally led educational experience in an appropriate educational environment. What the Minister said may be true of many parents, but others will assume that the Government have done all that they can to ensure that the providers in any voucher-accepting institution have been trained to a sufficiently high standard.

The Department's pamphlet containing information for parents on nursery education makes no mention of the range of qualifications that staff may have, beyond saying that schools, nurseries and playgroups will need staff who "meet our conditions".

Amendment No. 7 would ensure that those in charge of provider units had been trained to the highest possible standards. It represents an opportunity that should not be ignored. Paragraph (b) would require nursery education given to a child with special needs to conform to the code of practice drawn up under the Education Act 1993.

As many hon. Members will know, but people outside may not, the code sets out stages 1 to 5, along which a child passes as learning problems are identified, and differing levels of resources are devoted to the child's needs at each stage. Although the present code was developed with the maintained sector in mind, it is surely imperative to have a statutory framework within which it can be applied to private providers. Ideally, the same standards would be set.

In Committee, the Minister mentioned that problem and spoke about the need to adapt the code in some shape or form, but he put no meat on the bones of his statement and, both self-evidently and by his own admission, the present code of practice is not intended to cater for providers outside the maintained sector.

I am sure that a "spin", as the spin doctors would say, will be put on Government amendment No. 35. Indeed, that has happened already, and the Government are attempting to portray it as a concession. It will extend an LEA power in section 162 of the 1993 Act so that LEAs

to governing bodies to assist with their special needs responsibilities. That is an excellent and laudable aim, but it is not worth the paper it is written on unless the appropriate moneys are made available for LEAs to meet the new demands.

Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) asked the Minister how provision over and above the value of the voucher would be delivered for children with special education needs.I have yet to be persuaded that anything has changed since the Minister replied:

I welcome the spirit behind that answer, but I must ask the Minister where the funds will come from to meet the demand, especially as, by his own admission, there will be increased demand as we delve further into early years education and learn to diagnose special needs better.I hope that the Minister will answer that question when he replies to the debate.

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I am sure that, as the Minister is on the wet left wing of the Conservative party--indeed, he is so far to the left I am surprised that he remains on the Front Bench--he will recognise how cost-effective it is to make the early interventions. Even with normal nursery education, the Ypsilanti study conducted by the university of Michigan showed that about £7 was saved for every £1 invested.If that is true of nursery education in general, how much more true is it of early intervention in cases of special educational need?

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