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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I support the principle of LEAs having a responsibility strategically to plan special needs provision in the context of their overall plan for educating children in their area.

My hon. Friends the Members for Guildford(Mr. St. Aubyn) and for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made a valid point about the significance of the new clause in terms of the message it broadcasts to the wider community, but there is an even more important point about LEAs' overall role in planning school places and admissions, the relationship between special needs provision and the mainstream, and LEAs' critical role in the analysis of individual children's needs. All those factors necessitate LEAs incorporating special needs provision into their strategic plans.

One of the good things that have emerged in special needs education over the past 20 years is the statement. My interest in the subject started when I first became a member of an LEA in 1985--I am still a member of that Nottinghamshire LEA. The statement is undoubtedly a positive thing for parents and children. I do not want to digress into talking about the Green Paper, but there are real concerns about the dilution of the statement. It needs to be said that many parents of special needs children feel that the statement is their only binding guarantee of a decent education in line with their child's needs. That is another reason for supporting the new clause; it would require LEAs to consider the definition of need for children with special needs in the context of their overall education planning.

I have heard many arguments about integration into the mainstream and I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), whose arguments have been advanced many times. There are many good social and cultural arguments for integrating children with special needs into mainstream schools. Many parents support that and many children benefit from it, but I have to say that cultural and social reasons cannot be elevated above the individual educational needs of the child. It may be socially desirable for a child to be integrated into the mainstream, but not if that is detrimental to the child's educational progress.

There are many parents of special needs children who take the firm view that their child's special needs are best met by specialist provision which, in practical and

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educational terms, can be best met in special schools. I endorse my hon. Friends' comments on the need to retain special schools where those are proven to be the best way of educating children with special needs.

Local education authorities have variable records on special needs provision. That is not a party-political point. Some Conservative LEAs have a less good track record on special needs, as do some Labour LEAs, and there are some controlled by both parties that have excelled. There is great variation in how effectively different authorities have addressed special needs provision and how quick they have been in statementing children. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford was, however, too generous in that the issue is not just the time that it takes, but the willingness to statement at all. There is considerable variation among LEAs on that as well, which is very worrying. That, too, is not a party-political remark.

6 pm

Like other hon. Members, I should like to mention a constituency case. A child was in mainstream education in Nottinghamshire where, as I have said, I am still a member of the LEA. I was delighted to be able to assist that child, who was suffering bullying at a good mainstream school, not a tough school. I helped the child to transfer out of the mainstream to special needs provision in my constituency in Lincolnshire. The parents uprooted and sold their home to move to Spalding so that their child could be educated in a special needs school and avoid some of the problems that they had encountered in mainstream education, so we must remember that there can be movement both ways.

The biggest growth area in special needs provision--this needs emphasising--is children with emotional behavioural difficulties. A range of studies has illustrated that. They can be the hardest to integrate. LEAs must have a coherent policy on dealing with such children. Provision is pretty patchy and variable across LEAs. Some sweep the issue under the carpet, while others have taken imaginative and innovative approaches, dealing with the problem very effectively. We must have an honest debate about how to deal effectively with what is, sadly, a growth area.

The new clauses would help by obliging LEAs to focus on the issue and build it into their strategic planning.

Ms Estelle Morris: This wide-ranging debate has barely touched on the new clauses in some respects. I do not want to incur your wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of hon. Members by spending the rest of the evening debating special educational needs. Suffice it to say that I am grateful to all hon. Members who have chosen to make a contribution on this important issue.

I am pleased to join the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) in acknowledging that Governments and local councils of all parties have made tremendous progress on SEN provision in recent years. There is unanimity in the House on the importance of the issue and how much there is to be done. That cross-party approach has been evident today. I shall respond to a few of the points that have been raised and then address the new clauses. I shall not ask the House to accept the new clauses, not because I disagree with much of what has been said but because this is not the time for them. There will be other opportunities to propose them.

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We should not be having today a further debate on the Green Paper on special needs. There will be a time for that. I do not seek to run away from that debate and I have not done so since the Green Paper was published; I am merely trying to be cautious with our use of time. Our response will appear in June. We are busy analysing more than 3,500 responses from organisations and individuals. Apart from that from the major organisations, I have not even looked at the analysis yet. What I say today should not be regarded as a response to the consultation on the Green Paper.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) talked about primary legislation. I do not yet know whether the consultation on the Green Paper will necessitate primary legislation. We have not analysed all the responses and I do not know what the Government will want to take forward, but I have consistently said that if primary legislation is needed we cannot include it in the Bill. My Department will have to take its turn in the search for parliamentary time.

Mr. Dorrell: The Minister has missed the boat.

Ms Morris: We had an important decision to take. We wanted to include SEN provision with other legislation, but we did not feel that we could do it justice in time for the White Paper in June. The two should be regarded as sister papers.

I should like to pick up some of the main strands of the debate. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) made a good case for regional planning for SEN. The problem is particularly noticeable for some of the smaller new unitary authorities. With the disabilities and special needs that are increasingly common with medical advances and as more children survive with problems and disabilities that might previously have caused them to die, I am convinced that groups of local authorities will need to join up to plan initially for low incidence disabilities and then, if it works, for more common disabilities.

We suggested pilot studies on regional planning in the Green Paper. We intended to run two pilots on regional planning for SEN, but such has been the response from local authorities that we shall run more than two. When I last looked at the issue, four seemed the likely figure. We have already secured the money. We are currently negotiating with local authorities on a regional basis. We shall be able to announce the local authorities in which the pilots will take place soon.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am delighted that the Minister has taken that initiative. When might she announce the pilot areas?

Ms Morris: I see no reason why I could not make that clear once agreement has been received from the local authorities. We have not yet ascertained whether that is the case, but the latest progress report is that there is a high level of interest. I shall not deliberately hold the issue up. The hon. Gentleman is clearly keen and has a constituency interest. I shall ask my officials and let him know whether his local authority has expressed an interest.

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I am enormously optimistic about the developments. Hon. Members have talked about local authorities hiding from their responsibilities and being reluctant to go for a statement, or even to acknowledge that there is a need, let alone to begin to find the solution. That has been caused either by a feeling that a single authority's resources cannot effectively be used to meet that need or because the local authority does not have the know-how. Regional planning will be important to ensure progress on that.

There is a danger that we will all stand up and say that inclusion is good and feel happy about that because being inclusive makes us feel that we are doing the right thing. All hon. Members who have spoken in this debate started by saying that inclusion was a good thing--and then went on to say "but". The views ranged from those of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, who thought that inclusion was almost entirely a good thing, but not quite, to those of the hon. Member for Aldershot and some of his hon. Friends, who said that it was a good thing "but", and went on to stress the importance of special schools.

New clause 20 illustrates the problem. It must be good to integrate children with special needs with their peers in mainstream education. If that can be done well, there is no reason why we should not do it. Some hon. Members say "but" because parents have different wishes and children have different needs. We must avoid integrating SEN children badly. We must not integrate before all the partners in the education service are ready. I shall refer to that later.

I reassure the hon. Member for Guildford(Mr. St. Aubyn), who is not in his place, about the role of special schools in the independent sector. I do not know why I need to, because I have already done so time and again. I suspect that he might not have been listening. I see that he has returned to the Chamber. Quite honestly, we could not manage without the contribution that independent special schools make to overall provision.

I remind the hon. Member for Guildford, as an indication of the importance of such schools, that, although they secure capital from independent sources, they rely on local authorities for 80 per cent. and more of their revenue costs. Local authorities refer and buy places in the independent sector, which enables such independent schools to keep going. That partnership between the maintained and independent sectors precedes anything that is being talked about now and is an example of good practice. How it has arisen is for a different debate. Suffice it to say that such good practice and innovative work leaves a bolt hole for schemes such as HIGASHI, which happens overseas, and which some of our parents want to access. Such provision can always be introduced in this country through that channel. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the independent sector's role is vital and will continue, and that we shall continue to make use of it.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and applaud her for saying, that if we are serious about meeting the needs of special needs children and being more inclusive we must incorporate their needs in all our planning and stop regarding them as extra. That is what we have done in education development plans. Some of the things that new clause 14 asks us to do should not rightfully be in education development plans, not because they concern SEN but because of what they are. Such things should be done elsewhere.

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I remind the House that education development plans essentially ensure that local authorities set targets for improvement and let us know how they intend to meet those targets and what strategies they will put in place to raise standards for all children. Due to the importance of education development plans, we must be careful to be clear and focused about what we ask them to do. They cannot embrace every responsibility of a local authority. That would be wrong and it would dilute their main thrust.

I refer hon. Members to pages 5 and 9 of the draft guidance on EDPs, which states clearly that one of the things about which we will want to know is how pupils with special education needs are supported. The guidance goes on to mention gifted and more able pupils. We debated the definition of special needs. In the section on school population characteristics for each of the main types of school, the guidance states that we will require LEAs to let us know about both statemented and non-statemented children in mainstream and special schools so that there is a clear, year-on-year pen portrait of children with SEN in the area. It is quite clear in the document that targets must be set for special schools and for special needs children in mainstream schools.

I have never been entirely happy--I think that hon. Members will share this view--that there is sufficient fine tuning of targets for GCSEs and key stages to help us recognise the progress of special needs children. That is why we have already set in hand work with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to fine tune key stages 1, 2 and 3 so that children who might make progress at those stages will probably have targets set for them by the end of their school careers. Target setting for children with special needs is included, as it should be. I do not want new clause 14 to be accepted because it asks us to do things that are not appropriate for education development plans.


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