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Ms Hodge: I wish to respond to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). There is a general acceptance of the importance of special educational needs, particularly at the level of nursery education, and of the importance of early intervention.I have seen that for myself at Dorton house, and in two other instances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton(Mr. Kilfoyle) mentioned the Margaret McMillan school in Islington. Children with multiple disabilities came to the nursery school there. Before they came to that school, they had done nothing but lie on the floor of the day centre or wherever they were. They had not responded to any social interaction, and certainly had not started to learn. After one month or so in the Margaret McMillan school--which has the capacity to support them and an environment in which they integrate with other children and where they receive special assistance and additional teaching--they made stunning advances.

The other example is that of a primary school in Northampton with an autistic unit attached to it, which I mentioned in Committee. For the children to have attended the school for two and a half hours a day would have been nonsense. It is necessary to work with the children for a full day in order to help them to develop. The children attended that unit in the primary school at a cost of £8,000 per child and the progress that they made in that resource-intensive environment was stunning.

I ask the right hon. Member for Mole Valley to think again about Government amendment No. 35. At present, there is absolutely nothing to prevent local authorities,if they are so minded, from supplying goods and services to individuals--in the maintained sector or the voluntary or private sector. The amendment is a sop to the right hon. Gentleman and will not change anything; it does nothing to change the statutory framework under which special educational needs are catered for in the nursery sector. The amendment states that a local education authority "may"--not "will"--supply goods or services; it does not change the existing legislative framework.

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The costs are horrendous. I have the costs from Dorton house that were supplied to the Minister; they show that teaching a child with profound and multiple learning difficulties costs nearly five times as much as providing nursery education for a child without any difficulties.A child with severe communications difficulties--such an autistic child--costs 3.6 times as much as a child without such difficulties. The costs involved are horrific, and the provision of a permissive power that already exists under the current legislative framework achieves nothing: if we do not ensure adequate resources, it bodes ill for those children for whom the right hon. Member for Mole Valley expresses concern.

The briefing document provided by the Royal London Society for the Blind states that it would cost £3 million to ensure that we have an effective system in place which can cater for that group of children. That is not a large sum in the context of the scheme's total cost; it is not a large sum, even within the context of the new money set aside to introduce the nursery voucher scheme. New clause 2 ensures that money is made available to meet the needs that all hon. Members know to be essential. Those who care for children with special educational needs have a duty to vote with us for the new clause to ensure that the Government make money available specifically for those needs.

Mr. Robin Squire: I welcome the tenor of the debate that we have enjoyed, which echoed that of similar debates that we had in Committee. I make that comment notwithstanding the two further attempts by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) to blacken my name and retard my future prospects in an even more public place. However, I would not wish that aspect to be seen to dominate the debate.

I start by repeating our commitment to ensure that children with special educational needs enjoy to the fullest extent the benefit of good-quality nursery education. As all hon. Members know, the voucher scheme creates for the first time the possibility for all four-year-olds to benefit from three terms of good-quality education. I agree with the hon. Member for Walton that it also holds out the possibility of earlier identification of any learning difficulties.

I am sure that Opposition Members who were present during our discussions in Committee would agree that we had a helpful debate on the interaction of nursery vouchers and provision for children with special educational needs. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) for his contribution to that debate. There were some genuinely felt concerns about the impact of vouchers on the provision for young children with special educational needs. We were able to demonstrate that many of those concerns were misplaced. I hope that my speech today will underline the fact that those concerns were groundless.

5.45 pm

One of the principal concerns involved funding.The funding mechanism for the voucher scheme takes from local education authorities' budgets just the voucher value of £1,100 for a full year in respect of four-year-old children who already have a maintained place. Where a place costs more--as it is commonly accepted that it will in the case of many children with SEN statements--the additional resources remain within the LEA; when put

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together with the voucher value, no resources are lost. None of the funding for three-year-olds is affected by the voucher scheme--nor does it affect existing duties on LEAs in respect of those children.

We also made it clear that we shall be looking carefully at SENs during the first phase of the nursery voucher scheme's implementation. I thought that it would be helpful if I briefly reminded hon. Members of the commitments that have already been made in respect of children with SENs as a result of the legislation.

First, we have made a firm commitment to consult interested parties during phase 1 about making it a requirement for all providers to have regard to the SEN code of practice. That provides excellent guidance on identifying, assessing and providing for children with degrees of SEN. As I made clear in Committee, the code is a distillation of existing good practice in the maintained sector. We all agree that all employers should have regard to the principles of the code, but making it a requirement of grant to have regard to the code before consulting the voluntary and private sectors--and, of course, SEN interest groups and LEAs--would be inappropriate.I stress, for the avoidance of doubt, that it is not a question of whether we should require all providers to have regard for the code, but a question of how. Let us use the opportunities that phase 1 offers to consider how best to embrace the essentials of the code and apply them to the non-maintained sector.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): If the question is how the code of practice is to be used for four-year-olds, as part of the package, will the Government give serious consideration to the possibility of a qualified teacher being involved wherever provision is made for four-year-olds?

Mr. Squire: The hon. Gentleman anticipates some of my later comments, although I am not sure that I shall eventually give him quite so much satisfaction on that issue as I hope that I am currently giving him.

The second aspect involves the publishing of SEN policies. As a requirement of grant, we are requiring all providers to publish their SEN policy so that all parents can make informed choices about the most appropriate pre-school setting for their child. All providers must publish details of their admission policy and what consideration is given to children with SEN, of the facilities available to assist and allow access for children with disabilities, and of staff with knowledge and skills in SENs, and other details to be provided as set out.Hon. Members who have an interest in the matter will be aware of our previous discussions.

Thirdly, I refer to additional resources. I explained in Committee that it is neither necessary nor practical to enhance the value of the voucher for children with SEN statements. In Committee, I judged that this was acknowledged by Opposition Members and by those outside the House who have an interest in SEN. As I have already said, existing local education authority resources and responsibilities will not be affected by the nursery voucher scheme; the value of the voucher will contribute to the cost of making the provision specified in a child's SEN statement.

I welcomed the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), whose reputation on issues relating to education and to SEN is a matter of record,

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as he demonstrated again today. He rightly highlighted the variations which in practice must exist between the different policies of LEAs. I hope that he will accept in turn that those differences should--indeed, must--be reduced as a result of the operation of the code of practice. While we are grateful to my right hon. Friend for stirring our imagination and for informing our debate in Committee by his earlier suggestion, we have concluded that it would not be appropriate at this time.

We acknowledged in Committee that we should examine more closely the requirements of a particular group of children who attend institutions in the private and voluntary sectors, who have special educational needs but no statement and who require support and assistance over and above what could be provided for within the pre-school setting. Those children would by definition be at stage 3 of the SEN code of practice. Following further consideration, we have decided to give LEAs a new power--the power under Government amendment No. 35--to supply goods and services to providers outside the maintained sector in respect of children who have special educational needs and who require additional support.

In response to the specific point made by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge)--who, like me, is an old LEA leader and an old hand in these areas--I must say that the hon. Lady is only partly right. Currently, LEAs have limited powers to pay grants to voluntary providers; they do not specifically have powers to provide goods and services to non-maintained providers in respect of children with SEN, except incidentally--in other words, incidental to other payments. I make that clear because I would not want the hon. Lady to be under any misunderstanding.

Most four-year-olds will be in the maintained sector--where the resources are already available for the purpose of meeting special educational needs--so the number involved is likely to be small. We shall need to consider very carefully the resource implications for LEAs, but it would be logical to assume that because the number will be small, the cost to LEAs of assisting the non-maintained sector will be relatively low. However, the amendment will allow--and we shall ensure--that during the annual round of standard spending assessment discussions, which is the most appropriate forum in which the matter can be discussed, the level of resources for LEAs will also reflect the consequences of what I am saying today and what we are spelling out in the amendment.

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