Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 20--Special educational needs--

'(1) The Education Act 1996 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 316 (Children with special educational needs normally to be educated in mainstream schools)
(a) for subsection (1) there shall be substituted--
"Any person exercising function under this part in respect of a child with special educational needs who should be educated in school shall secure that the child is educated

11 Mar 1998 : Column 580

in a school which is not a special school unless that is incompatible with the wishes of the parent and the needs and ascertainable wishes of the child."
(b) subsection (2) shall be omitted.'.

Mrs. Browning: New clause 14 would establish a clear obligation on local authorities to identify, in education development plans, areas of special educational needs for which they have responsibility. It is important that that is included in the plans. In Committee, we expressed our concern about the general principle of education development plans, but it would be unrealistic for us to assume that they will not be part of the Bill. From that starting point, we tabled new clause 14 for addition to the Bill. Before Christmas, the House had an Adjournment debate on a Friday morning on the Government's policy on special educational needs, based on their consultation document, "Excellence for All Children: Meeting Special Educational Needs". It is clear from the document and the consultation, which has now concluded, that the Government intend to introduce changes to the range of policies that affect children with special educational needs. The Minister has said on other occasions that the Government's recommendations on any changes--which, I understand, will be available in the summer--will not be part of any primary legislation. It is, therefore, important that a local education authority's education development plan, which will be approved by the Secretary of State, should encompass its responsibilities for special educational needs. As new clause 14 makes clear, it is important that local authorities outline the mechanism by which they identify special needs. Many LEAs are unable to say how many children with different types of disability they provide for, and it seems a sensible starting point to have a mechanism for identifying special educational needs and, more specifically, the variety of needs that they have to meet. It is also important that the provision made by LEAs meets current legislation. The Minister has made it clear that the SEN code of practice is likely to be changed--we do not object if it is improved--but it is incumbent on LEAs to show how they intend to comply with the current code of practice. Appeals mechanisms are especially important to parents and details should also be included in LEAs' education development plans. LEAs should also include in their plans details of how they intend to meet the statutory requirements of the statementing process. The Government's Green Paper summarises some of the changes that they anticipate will be made, possibly after the Bill has received Royal Assent. Four key points are set out on page 42 and we believe that they should be incorporated in education development plans. The Green Paper states:

11 Mar 1998 : Column 581

    I do not wish to rehearse the debate on statementing that I have previously had with the Minister--and will have again when she makes known the outcome of the consultation--but it is clear that the statementing process will be retained. It is, therefore, important that LEAs identify clearly in their education development plans how they will undertake the statementing process. The Green Paper also states:

    "The great majority of SEN assessments will be completed within the statutory timetable." It is important that that requirement is included in the Bill. The Green Paper states, on page 70:

    "The Government has a central responsibility for raising standards and promoting progress for all children, including those with SEN." We do not disagree. That wording is almost identical to the explanatory notes in the Bill when it describes the responsibilities of LEAs to provide an education development plan for submission to the Secretary of State. The Bill states that education development plans are a statement of proposals for developing provision of education by raising the standards of education and improving the performance of schools. The two definitions are therefore compatible.

5.15 pm

It is fair to say that special educational needs were discussed only in passing as they were covered by clauses in the Bill. No section referred specifically to SEN and, although one or two amendments were debated in more detail, it is important that the Government recognise that, in legislating for the future, they should include consideration of special educational needs.

From the cases that Members of Parliament take up on behalf of children with special educational needs, it is clear that parents are often in dispute with their LEA over their child's statement or individual requirements. If more clarity can be achieved in making LEAs aware that they have to follow codes of practice and legislation, and submit their plans for doing so to Secretary of State for scrutiny, that can only assist parents and the Minister, especially when we learn the details of her proposals once the result of the consultation on the Green Paper is known. I hope that new clause 14 is non-controversial and that the Minister will accept it in the spirit in which it is tabled. I also hope that its main beneficiaries will be children with special educational needs.

Mr. Willis: Liberal Democrat Members support the comments of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). If new clause 14 is pressed to a vote, we shall support her in the Lobby. I hope that it will not be pressed, because I trust that the Minister supports most of what the hon. Lady said.

I begin my remarks on new clause 20 by praising the previous Government. It is unusual to hear such praise in the House, but there have been remarkable advances in working with children with special educational needs over the past 20 years, particularly since the Education Act 1981. It is difficult to think that, 20-odd years ago, we categorised young people in terms of their disabilities for the whole of their school lives. Worse, some children were categorised as incapable of being educated. It is important to put on record the fact that we have come a long way in addressing the problems of teaching children

11 Mar 1998 : Column 582

with special educational needs and including them in our education system. I am sure that the Minister supports those comments.

We owe Baroness Warnock and her committee a tremendous debt of gratitude for the work that was done in producing their report. The 1981 Act did not bring about all that we wanted to result from the report, but it put into legislation the requirement for local education authorities and schools to meet more effectively their responsibilities to children with special needs. Subsequent legislation and, in particular, the code of practice have embedded good practice towards children with special educational needs in our education system. New clause 20, and new clause 14, would further embed good practice in legislation.

The number of statemented children who are in mainstream education has risen to 134,000, which is remarkable. Another achievement in which the previous Government played a part is the doubling since 1991 of the number of statemented children in mainstream schools.

Unfortunately, there has been no corresponding decline in the number of children in special schools. There is a feeling that having statemented children in mainstream schools has caused a decline in special schools and the number of places in them. Several hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), have pleaded strongly for the retention of special school provision. Although the number of statemented children in mainstream schools doubled in the 1990s, the number of children in special schools has remained constant at 98,000.

I want more children to be educated not in special schools, but in mainstream schools wherever possible, and the new clause deals with that matter.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Baroness Warnock told the Select Committee on Education and Employment during the previous Parliament that her suggestion of total integration had gone a little too far, and that she had changed her mind slightly?

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that so many statements have been issued over the past few years because parents, particularly vociferous middle-class parents, have realised that statementing is a good way to ensure that resources are directed to their child, and have pushed for statementing? When I was head of a special school, it was difficult to get parents to agree to statementing, because they believed that their child would be stigmatised by it. The increase in statementing is a reason for the decrease in the number of special school places.

Next Section

IndexHome Page