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Mr. Willis: I agree with both of the hon. Gentleman's points. I have never supported 100 per cent. integration, and do not believe that the Warnock committee meant it to come about, because mainstream education will never be appropriate for some children. I agree that more statements have been issued because of middle-class pressure, which has been the case in my local education authority, but I would like to think that the increase also came about because parents want the best for their children. I do not blame parents for using the system to help them.

The number of statemented children who are educated in mainstream schools differs between LEAs. In some, less than 0.5 per cent. of statemented children are

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educated in mainstream schools, but in others, the figure is as much as 2 per cent. There are stark differences between individual schools. At John Smeaton school in Leeds, where I worked before being elected to the House, 5 per cent. of the 1,600 children had statements of special educational needs, and a further 220 were on level 3 of the code of practice, which is a significant number. We offered specialist provision, particularly to children with severe learning difficulties, and a facility to children with visual impairments. There was a feeling that many schools copped out and encouraged parents to ask my school to admit their children rather than fight for places at local schools which, in many cases, could have provided for the children equally well.

I recommend to hon. Members recent research carried out by Mel Ainscow of the university of Manchester, Tony Booth of the Open university, and Alan Dyson of Newcastle university, which shows the advantages that can be gained by children with special educational needs who are educated with their peers. Education is more than learning skills and acquiring knowledge; it is about developing and changing pupils' attitudes and behaviour towards each other, and evidence shows that inclusive education is the greatest force for such development.

At one school in Cleveland, I worked on the integration of children with physical impairments. A thalidomide child named Ricky Corner came to the school. He had no arms, and wrote with his foot. At first, that was a great cause of amusement and embarrassment to staff and students, but having him at the school was a great advantage, and the memory of the great joy and the understanding of his problem that he brought to his peer group and to staff has remained with me for many years.

It is a great pity that the Secretary of State is not here, because, seven or eight years ago, we had the pleasure of undertaking pioneering work with children who were totally blind and coming into a mainstream set-up. Mark Lister, who was from an incredibly disadvantaged family with immense social problems, came into my school in Leeds. Several years later, that young man went to Keele university to read for a law degree. He had a long-distance relationship with a girl in Poland, and is now married with a child. He spent all his time in a busy and difficult mainstream setting.

Thousands of examples could be given to illustrate why the Government should accept the new clause, and make inclusive education a pillar of the structure of raising standards. For parents, there is the immense satisfaction of having their children taught in mainstream education. There is no doubt that, although some parents still prefer their children to be educated in special schools--often for "protectionist" reasons--the vast majority aspire for their children to be educated alongside not just their peers but, if possible, children who live in the same street. That should be the ideal.

5.30 pm

In many ways, the barrier to the development of an inclusive education system is attitude--not legislation, and, if I may say so, not even resources. However, the Education Act 1981 gave local education authorities and schools an opt-out by making integration subject to an efficiency clause. Sadly, that has been used all too readily to deny children access to mainstream education.

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The new clause is intended to make the Government's position and intention clear. It is intended to make it clear that all children should be given the opportunity tobe taught in mainstream education, unless that is incompatible with the wishes of parents and the needs and ascertainable wishes of the children. The new clause does not fetter parents' right to send their children to special schools if that is considered best; nor does it give parents an unfettered right to send their children to the school of their choice. Parents would still be subject to the schedules of the Education Act 1996.

What the new clause does is provide an entitlement for every child in the country to a mainstream place, and tell every local education authority, every education action zone and every school to plan their resources accordingly.

Mrs. May: I support the new clause, and hope that, given the spirit in which it was moved, the Government will look favourably on it. It sends a clear message about the importance that we all attach to special educational needs, and about our view that every local education authority should include SEN as a natural part of its consideration of the development of education in its area.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, when we discussed educational development plans in Committee, valid questions were raised about whether they were appropriate. As the Government want to press ahead with such plans, however, I think it important to send a clear message that it is not simply a question of developing standards and performance targets that relate only to mainstream schools. The Bill should specify that the same criteria will relate to special educational needs, whether they are catered for by special schools or by mainstream provision. If the Government accepted the new clause, they would, indeed, send a clear message about the importance of LEAs' including SEN in their plans.

We have already discussed the question of special schools versus mainstream education for children with special needs. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) mentioned that debate and, indeed, made a passing reference to my contribution. The topic is important, and I am glad that it will be focused on, but we need to think carefully about what should be done. I am interested by new clause 20, tabled by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. In the document entitled "Excellence for All Children"--I hesitate to say whether it is a White Paper or a Green Paper, because I always seem to get it wrong--

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Estelle Morris): Green.

Mrs. May: I thank the Minister for correcting me from a sedentary position.

In that Green Paper, the Government presented their vision of an inclusive policy for children with special educational needs. I am sure that we all agree about the importance of ceasing to assume--it has been assumed in the past, but in recent years our attitude has changed--that the only way in which to teach a child with SEN is to send that child to a special school. We must accept that mainstream education is beneficial where it is possible, and where it is right for the child concerned.

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I must, however, add a word of caution. I do not want a policy of inclusion to become a mantra, followed purely for the sake of it. We must recognise not only the requirements of children with SEN, but the requirements of other children in the mainstream class and, indeed, the rest of the school.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough spoke of the benefits that could result from educating disabled children in the mainstream system. I have seen those benefits myself. I was a governor of a primary school to which a blind child was brought. My example is similar to that given by the hon. Gentleman. The parents were clear about their wish for the child to be educated in the local primary school, and extra resources were provided to enable that to happen.

I well remember the meeting of the governing body at which the head teacher listed the benefits that had been gained not only by the child who had been able to be educated among his peers, but by the other children who had been able to relate to him. Attitudes had changed. Earlier this week, I talked to another head teacher in a school in my constituency. She told me that, when a child in a wheelchair was introduced to mainstream education, a change took place in the other children. Instead of saying, "Here comes the girl in a wheelchair", they said, "Here comes Melanie". They recognised the person. We cannot overestimate the change in attitudes and the benefit to other children, which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. We should not shy away from it.

Having said that, I must add that there are some children with SEN for whom inclusion in a mainstream class is not appropriate. The inclusion of some children would cause great difficulty for the rest of the class. Such circumstances are most likely to apply to children with particular behavioural difficulties, who would be disruptive. It might be difficult for teachers to cope with such children; or they might receive the bulk of the teacher's attention, while the others failed to be given the attention that they needed and deserved. While recognising the benefits of mainstream education, we must also recognise that what is right for the child and the school must be taken into account in any decision.

It is a delicate balance. We do not want head teachers simply to say that they will not take a particular child with special needs, because they think that it will be difficult to cope with that child in the classroom, and to shut that child out. We want to ensure that the right attitudes are taken, and that inclusion is possible where it is right. I continue to believe, however, that special schools will always be needed for some children. We should not give the impression that we do not think that they are appropriate for anyone. A balance must struck in assessing the specific needs of every child, to determine what is right in each child's circumstances.

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton has moved new clause 14. Special educational needs provision should be clearly dealt with in the Bill, clearly stating that local education authorities must not sweep SEN to the side or believe that it is a secondary consideration. SEN must be part of their work in developing educational development plans for their area. It must be natural for local education authorities to consider, as part of their process of developing education, how they will provide for SEN and how they will develop that provision.

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My caveats on the inclusive policy proposed in new clause 20 are based on my belief that LEAs should be required in the Bill to give equal consideration to special educational needs, which should be part of their education development plans. I hope that the Government will accept new clause 14 in the spirit in which it was moved.


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