Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 83 - 99)



  Chairman:  Minister, it is a pleasure to see you, and very good of you and your colleagues to come and give evidence. Although we have been told who they are, it may be helpful if, for the record, they are introduced. I will, in a moment, ask you if there is anything you would like to say, before we get down to asking questions. We do try to make the questions follow a logical pattern, and therefore the questions may come from different corners and quarters of the horseshoe. If there is anything that either yourself or any other witness feels they subsequently want to gloss, we are perfectly happy to have a written note afterwards, and it may well be that we will have questions which we would want to ask you in a written form after the event, as well. Although I am very old, I am still young enough to remember the first time I appeared in the capacity in which you are appearing, Minister. I say to you, as a moral warning, that after I had given a piece of evidence, which was helpful to the Government of which I was a member, I was then sufficiently intellectually honest to give an alternative piece of information, which was not helpful to the Government but which I thought ought to be expressed. The Manchester Guardian, the following day, printed my second observation, but not my first; which contained a moral for me, in terms of political life.

  Mr Livingstone:  This was before spin doctors, obviously.

  Chairman:  Absolutely right. You are quite right, Mr Livingstone, I operated without the benefit of that kind of advice.

  Mr McWalter:  Obviously, Chair, we hope that Mr McFall follows your example on this and is indiscreet, to make life more interesting for us.


  83.  If you would like to introduce your colleagues, and, equally, if there is something you would like to say, please do not hesitate to do so?
  (Mr McFall)  Fine; thank you very much, Mr Brooke, and thank you for the invitation to address you. Like yourself, I have been behind there an awful lot, but the first time here, so it is quite a change for me, and a few nerves on that. But could I introduce Mr Paddy Manning, on my left; he is Inspector of Special Education and Training in the Inspectorate. We have, on my immediate left, David McCormick, who is Head of Special Education Branch in the Department of Education, Northern Ireland. And, on my right, Neill Jackson is in the Teachers and Special Education Division of the Department of Education. Could I open up with just a few remarks, if you do not mind.

  84.  We would be delighted to hear them.
  (Mr McFall)  Thank you. Obviously, I welcome the opportunity today to appear before the Committee and I know the work that you have put into this particular issue, and I look forward to discussing the various issues which have arisen in the evidence you have had and the visits you have undertaken. But I know that you have met many people and received a wide number of views, and I feel it would be helpful if I spoke to you from the perspective of the unprecedented activity over the past two years in special education legislation, policy and administration. I think you will agree that special education in Northern Ireland is undergoing its most radical change in ten years. Major new legislation came into force in September 1997, and the Code of Practice has just been implemented, in September 1998; these are having an impact throughout the system, covering for the first time all children with special educational needs, both statemented and non-statemented. And new disciplines are imposed on the Education and Library Boards and their professional advisers, in that, first, policies must be clearly articulated, statements must be written in more detail, time limits must now apply to the assessment and statementing process, and annual reviews must be more rigorously structured. Now parents enjoy significant new statutory rights, with the Code of Practice; that includes the right to information from Boards, the right to express a preference of school, new rights of appeal against the Boards' decisions, and access to an independent Tribunal. The schools also have major new tasks, especially in making effective provision for those pupils whose special needs should not require reference to the Board for formal assessment. And they include drawing up a special educational needs policy at school level, meeting the requirement of a new statutory Code of Practice to improve identification of special needs, designating a teacher to act as a special educational needs co-ordinator, maintaining a special educational needs register, and maintaining individual education plans for special educational needs pupils. And, at the same time, mainstream classes are catering for their highest ever number of statemented pupils: 28 per cent of statemented pupils are now in mainstream education, double what it was seven years ago. So the priority which the Government places on special education has been underlined by significant additional resources, which we have earmarked for the next three years, and subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review; we can discuss these as we go, in the Committee. But, in addition to securing these resources, we have taken steps to facilitate monitoring of the impact of the new measures through a research study commissioned by us from the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne, which has established a baseline for special educational needs provision in our schools. The Newcastle project was not the only study of special educational needs to be completed this year, and, as you are aware, the Forum of Northern Ireland and the Audit Office published reports; they provide for us valuable comments and analysis and we are studying their recommendations carefully. The Audit report has drawn particular attention to the need for a careful and detailed examination of the information systems which need to be in place, and between Boards and the Department, if the resources dedicated to special educational needs are to be effectively monitored and managed. And I am pleased to note that the Chief Executives—as they have informed you—have responded positively and are taking action. Obviously, the challenges to make the system even more responsive will continue. But we must be mindful of the capacity of the schools to respond to yet further change after a period of such rapid innovation, and a full agenda is emerging, which we will undoubtedly carry forward into the life of the new Assembly. However, the legislation and the Code of Practice and the additional resources we are making available have laid a strong foundation for future developments and improvements. Thank you very much.

  Chairman:  Minister, we are much in your debt for that. The pattern of the inquiry, which has obviously spanned the summer recess, means that it is really quite a long time since we received the original memorandum from your Department, I think therefore it is very helpful to have an update at this juncture. I am not going to take you up on what you have just said, though I repeat that we are in your debt for having provided it; because Mr Livingstone, in our number, cannot be with us indefinitely and I am therefore going to ask him to ask the first questions to you.

Mr Livingstone

  85.  Thank you very much, Chairman. Good afternoon, Minister. I was wondering, given we all welcome your Department's view that the Warnock 2 per cent figure is outdated, what sort of figure you see in the future, and, in particular, given at the moment you have got twice as many boys as girls being statemented, whether you are going to look into that, whether there is any particular programme for dealing with that, as well?
  (Mr McFall)  As you suggest, the Warnock figure is out of date, and what I have mentioned to the Department and to the schools that I have visited is, I see that as a notional figure. We are now starting from first principles with statementing and all the needs of the child have to be accommodated with statementing, and once we get that right then we can think of figures, but I feel it would be a distraction at the moment just to look at figures, let us look at it fundamentally. The Code of Practice, in operation in September, we have had the opportunity of four years' experience in England and Wales with that, and schools and teachers have been working with the Code of Practice for the past year in Northern Ireland, so we would expect the number of statemented children to increase as a result of that. But maybe in the longer term, given the early intervention programmes and the training we have for schools, and the need for schools to make this issue a whole school policy, we can have better scrutinising and monitoring and evaluation, and perhaps it will go down. But it is the fundamental right of the children and their parents that we are starting off from here, from first principles.

  86.  And on the issue of the imbalance between boys and girls being statemented, is there any thinking in the Department about why that might be, what can be done about it in the future; is it something that we see as temporary, perhaps linked to the troubles?
  (Mr McFall)  I think it is historical, and is related to what we could term deprived areas, and I know in your questions to the Department you were looking at the link between statementing and free school meals; we did not have that information available because it was at an Education and Library Board level. So there are many complexities to that issue. I do not have any ready answer as to why it would be boys rather than girls, but maybe if you want any of my colleagues to give you an insight into that: Paddy.
  (Mr Manning)  Perhaps traditionally more boys have been statemented than girls. A number of the conditions, things like autism, behavioural difficulties, are traditionally areas in which boys are assessed more frequently than girls. A number of factors, a number of research studies have shown that that is because there is a propensity among young boys for these types of difficulties, many more suffer from autism, many more suffer from the advanced behavioural difficulties. And there is no evidence to suggest that, at age 11, girls who are not statemented are significantly further behind, so, in other words, that the suggestion would appear to be that somehow girls are disadvantaged by not being statemented; in fact, there is no evidence to suggest that. Obviously, the Boards statement pupils on referral, referrals are made to the Boards, coming from either parents or from schools; the fact is that fewer girls are referred. There may be sociological reasons why that is the case, that girls get more support in the home at an earlier age, perhaps cultural links between girls and their mothers, particularly in single parent families, and the difficulties that boys have in the more socially deprived areas, but there is no significant evidence that that imbalance in statementing is actually disadvantaging girls.
  (Mr McFall)  Could I say, Mr Livingstone, from my own experience, many years ago I was a school-teacher in a Glasgow school and I had the privilege of establishing what we called a `truancy unit' at the time, it was for difficult young people, and, there again, it was a majority of boys, as opposed to girls; so I think the behavioural problems and the personality of girls at that time. And maybe what you are getting at is that we are not monitoring, we are not scrutinising the issue effectively, and, hopefully, when we get the statementing and get the whole school policies and get the training in for teachers and get the special educational needs co-ordinators in, then we can have a new approach to this. But it is an historical position. I think that, dare I say, it would be evident in all parts of the United Kingdom.

  87.  Something you said in your opening statement, about now 28 per cent of children in mainstream education, to what extent is that because the special schools are full; if there were places, would that still be the case, or would that figure dramatically come down?
  (Mr McFall)  There is no doubt that the special schools are full, and, again, it has been stated that the parents in Northern Ireland have a different perception of special schools than parents in Great Britain, that they see these schools in a much more positive light, as a result of that. But I would like to see us increasing that figure, over the long term, and there is a number of ways that we can do that. For example, the issue of special units in schools, and I visited a few last week on that issue, and, if you like, it is a halfway house, having a special unit in the school, for the opportunity for the children to make their way into the school, mainstream, as a result of that. So, hopefully, in the longer term, that figure will go up. Also what I have discovered in my visits is that there is a lack of pastoral care in quite a number of schools. One school I visited last week, for medium, mild learning difficulties, had 150 children and 60 teachers; now there are many pathways for these children, getting in and out of schools, social work, community, medics, and others, and there is a complexity to their lives, but there is not the pastoral support there that there is in mainstream schools. So there is a suggestion, hopefully I will maybe make to you at the end, what hopefully would be an action plan, that that would be one of the issues I would do, and the action plan has come about as a result of your invitation, making us think on these issues, to see and experience the issues ourselves and then building on issues you said, but it was a complete lack, and if we did have these pastoral arrangements then we would ease the transition from these units into mainstream.

  Mr Livingstone:  Thank you very much, Minister; thank you, Chairman.

Mr Hunter

  88.  I would like to press the Minister, in a friendly and gentle manner, on the answer you just gave to Mr Livingstone. We know the percentage of statemented children in mainstream schooling is increasing, we also know, as Mr Livingstone said, that special schools are at full capacity. What I want to put to you is that maybe in this respect Belfast is not much different from Basingstoke, that really we have a cost-led, Treasury-led policy, that results in there being insufficient places in special schools, and that we do not have a child-centred policy being applied. To that sort of hostile line of approach, what would you say?
  (Mr McFall)  First of all, I would not say it is hostile, Mr Hunter, I think you are very gentle to me, indeed. But I think, historically, that has been the case, I suppose we could say that it is Treasury-led, but I have to pay tribute to your Government, Mr Brooke, and to your position in the past, in looking at special educational needs, because I mentioned earlier that the number of children is now 28 per cent and that has doubled in the past seven years, so a lot of effort has gone into that issue in the past seven or eight years. And I would look at the issue of parents and pressure groups. A month or two ago I met the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and they were pressing me for a strategic overview on this issue. To date, I have had no great communication from pressure groups. I have visited schools, and parents who have been on the Boards have spoken to me, along with the teachers, and what that indicated to me was that there is a consensual approach, largely, to this issue of special educational needs in Northern Ireland, and, indeed, over the next three years, and subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review, and we will have to make announcements later on, so there is a conditional element to it. Although, I have to say, the perceptions in the education community that this money will be available, we are talking about £3.6 million for a half of this year and £7 million for the next two years, on the special educational needs, so I do not think it is a matter of lack of resources. I think what has happened, and again I could maybe bring my own experience to bear here, over the years, was that when statementing came about for children, many years ago, authorities looked at statementing as a threat and it was going to cost them money, and therefore they did not statement children, and therefore there are maybe two or three years, and even more. There was one terrible case I heard, many years ago, where a young boy waited well over two years to be statemented, and it had bad results for him and his family, in a very, very personal sense. So we have moved on since that, and I think we have moved on not in a partisan way but we have moved on in a bipartisan way, politically, and also with the community, in taking people along with us.

Mr Beggs

  89.  Good afternoon, and welcome, Minister. In its original memorandum, the Department acknowledges concerns around children with emotional and behavioural difficulties in mainstream schools, and the Committee appreciates the range of positive measures introduced by the Department through the School Improvement Programme. However, the Boards expressed concern about a small minority of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties who required support from psychiatric and/or clinical psychology services. This concern is also borne out by recent research on suspension and expulsion procedures. In view of these ongoing concerns about the under-resourcing of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, especially from the Health Boards and Trusts, what action does the Minister intend taking?
  (Mr McFall)  Under our School Improvement Programme—thank you, Mr Beggs, for that question—we have established what we call multi-disciplinary behaviour support teams; we have also given the resourcing for 200 additional short-term places for pupil referral units, in our schools, and we are piloting education other than at school provisions for mainly very disturbed and those with severe behavioural problems at school, between age 14 and 16, and in that latter case we have outreach teachers taking classes in different locations where the children are, maybe in a health centre or some community centre where they are. So we are focusing on these three areas, and I think that is very important to remember. You mentioned the issue of psychologists, and there is a lack of psychologists at the moment; indeed, I think we only produce six psychologists a year, am I correct, Mr Manning, on that?
  (Mr Manning)  Yes.
  (Mr McFall)  And we are short of 30 psychologists. Now the British Psychological Society are recommending that the length of time for the training programme at Queen's goes from one year to three years, and that would make the situation worse; so I think there is an issue here for Government, and it was highlighted by your concerns in your Report. And what I intend to do about that is to have discussions with Queen's University on that particular issue to see what we can do, but also to have discussions with Education and Library Boards. I met a young woman who recently qualified in Psychology from Queen's University, she was a teacher in a school, she had to give up her job in school, she wanted to maintain her pension rights so she was paying her superannuation as she went on, but she lost an awful lot of money, and the Education and Library Board provided the tuition fees for the University but she was at a loss financially as a result of that. Frankly, I do not think that situation could continue, for the very good reason that we have increasing legislation, we have the five stages to this approach, but at the third stage the psychologists come in, so there is going to be more work and responsibility for psychologists rather than less. And, therefore, that will be an urgent issue that I will be addressing, partly as a result of the Committee's investigation into that.

  90.  I might come back to that point later on. Thank you, Minister. Given that the Department supports inclusion, would it not be more appropriate for the parents of children with statements to be offered a choice as to whether they wish their child to enter the transfer tests?
  (Mr McFall)  If parents want their children to be in a transfer test then I would be the last to be against that, so that is the issue, but, again, I have not detected that parents have come along and asked for them to be in the transfer test; but the parents' wishes predominate, and that is fine. I will say to you, there is a background to this issue. I have looked at some research undertaken by Professor McConkey, of Ulster University, and he is a very esteemed Professor of Learning Disabilities at Ulster University, and he has looked at the aspirations of young people and the aspirations of their parents. And if I could say that the parents' aspirations and their concerns for their young people are conservative as opposed to the concerns of the young people themselves, so there is a cultural issue there which is to be promoted and which is to be discussed with parents. And we can do that, as I mentioned to Mr Livingstone, when we are looking at the issue of pastoral care, to bring that issue up, but young people feel quite safe in the special education facilities in Northern Ireland and the parents want them, so we have to recognise that. But what would have been better in the past is ensuring that the aspirations of young people are met when they leave the school. For example, I was at Glen Veagh, the other day, and the Principal, Mrs Murphy, told me that there were 15 places for children at BIFHE, that higher education area, but there are problems there, because these children are not recognised as being part of the school, it is not a link course, so there is no money for them, and it is a `by hook or by crook', and you know how good a campaigner she is, she is keeping this particular issue going. Well I think that is an issue for Government and it is one that we must tackle, and therefore we can align the parents' concerns, and their conservative approach to it, with the children's aspirations, so that young children, when they leave schools like Larne Bay, where they get a very sound basis for the future, can take it into training and education facilities, which they have not done before.

  91.  Would the Department also look at the possibility of providing some additional time allowance in the transfer test itself for children deemed to have learning disabilities?
  (Mr McFall)  Can I come back to that one, but Paddy wanted to comment.
  (Mr Manning)  Just on the transfer test, with statemented pupils, certainly the view of the Department would be that there has not been any great ground swell of opinion among parents seeking this, mainly because when parents look at the issues within the selection procedure they may feel that their children are disadvantaged by actually taking the test. The present arrangement is that where a pupil is statemented, because of some form of learning disability, all it requires is an educational psychologist's report in order to assess a suitable placement at post-primary level; those placements are not part of the quota for grammar schools, so those are supernumerary to that. If pupils with statements were to sit and take the transfer test, and were to feel that, then they lose out in the system, whereas they do not have to take the test because the psychologist can assess whether they are suitable for placement or not. I think it is a balance between parents wishing the normalisation aspect of their children doing exactly what other children do, but many parents who have looked at that have really felt that their child might be disadvantaged by it. So it is something that needs to be looked at, and certainly from our point of view there would be no barrier to children taking the test, but parents need to look very closely at whether it would be to their advantage to do so.

  92.  Do parents have the information to enable them to make the decision?
  (Mr McFall)  I think the Code of Practice will certainly help in that issue.
  (Mr Manning)  Parents would have that information from schools and from the psychologists, because the child is statemented within the primary school, the parent has opportunities to meet with the educational psychologist and the school principal and the special needs co-ordinator, who all have that information. I have been approached, as an inspector, by a number of parents, who asked would it not be possible for their child to do the selection procedure, and when I pointed out the advantages of the present system they realised their child was not being disadvantaged at all; and those places which are presently supernumerary would be lost if the child were to sit the selection procedure along with their peer group. The other thing about additional time, additional time is allowed for GCSE and A-levels, for pupils with specific learning problems, but those are actually examinations; the selection procedure is a selection procedure, it is not a test, it is not an examination.
  (Mr McFall)  Could I add to that, Paddy, on that, because that is an important point, politically, Mr Beggs, in terms of time allowance, because I have been asked about this, particularly by some in the media. But the selection is a test against one's cohort, whereas the A-levels and GCSEs, and others, that is an absolute test, so allowance can be taken in for people at A-levels, but when you have a cohort test then it is very, very difficult to do that. The present arrangements are that grammar schools and others should take consideration of the individual's abilities or disabilities, thereafter going into school, but not before, because it is a cohort test. And I would not like, as Education Minister, to delve into the complexities of the present educational system, and I look forward to my successor, as Minister in the Assembly, dealing with that particular issue, because it is an extremely complex and controversial issue. But one thing I will take up, as a result of the type of question I have had, is the issue of integration and statemented pupils going into mainstream; at the moment we have league tables and statemented children are included in these league tables, so what is happening is that there is a disincentive for the schools to take these statemented children. So one of the points that I want to take up, as a result of this today, is to look at that issue, so that statemented children are not disadvantaged, and therefore we can increase the number of statemented children in mainstream schools.


  93.  You said, Minister, it was a complex and controversial subject, but I will still ask the question to see what answer I get. My understanding is that only 10 per cent of young people of secondary school age with statements who are in mainstream education attend grammar schools; this would suggest that the selection process might be counter to the inclusive policy that the Government is putting forward. Can you suggest ways in which those contrasting approaches could be reconciled?
  (Mr McFall)  My own personal viewpoint in this, Mr Brooke, and it largely is anecdotal, is that it does run counter to that issue, and therefore we have to look at more imaginative ways to do that. As you know, a lot of this work is done at Board level, we have a five-Board, Senior Education Officer group looking at these strategic issues, and I think this is one of the issues which they will have to look at. And, as I mentioned in my response to Mr Beggs, if we have statemented children who have been included in the league tables, naturally heads and others want their schools to get the highest results possible, and if the statemented children will bring down that result then it is going to dilute that for them. So if we could look at a way where the Boards and others keep these children out of the league table tests then we are not affecting that school's results, whilst maintaining the best quality for the statemented children, and I think that that is one move, and I will certainly be taking that up as a result of the Committee's inquiry.

Mr McWalter

  94.  During this inquiry, I have been particularly concerned and pursuing questions about quite large variations between the practices of the different Boards, and you just mentioned, in fact, that there was a committee of the five Boards getting together to start co-ordinating practices. What sort of commitment for central direction is there, particularly bearing in mind that I believe there are very wide variations, there has been a lack of any kind of central co-ordinating strength, and what that has led to has been the denial, in some areas, of quite fundamental rights for people who have got special educational needs?
  (Mr McFall)  I take your point very much in that. You talk about the denial of rights; the introduction to my answer is a bit tangential, but there has been pressure on us for the statementing process to be simplified, and I agree with that particular issue, but there have been a number of points of view put to me by professionals over the past few weeks which would simplify it to the extent that perhaps the parental rights are not safeguarded, and that the thrust of legislation over the past seven or eight years has been to safeguard that right, and I would be on that side. So I would not go down that way. But, historically, there have been structural and organisational differences between the Boards, and I think that came out in the evidence of the Boards to you when they appeared, in their two visits; but parents still have the right to expect that any differences in practice will be minor, so each child's needs must be properly identified, regardless of the home area. Now the Audit report emphasised the need for consistency between Boards, and we are looking in particular for improvements in arrangements to improve the accountability in the making of many full comparisons between and within Boards. And I mentioned earlier, with the establishment of the senior educational committee looking at this issue, that will be reporting directly to the Department, so we will be able to get the recommendations of that committee and perhaps put that into place. One view that was put to me by one group is that schools should delineate the special educational needs budget, because that increases the element of accountability, and they should also, in their annual reports, detail what they have done with issues such as that. But I would hope that the committee that we have set up with the Senior Education Officers will be able to look at best practices and adopt, between Boards, this issue of best practice. And I am also going to consider whether the Code of Practice might usefully include more prescriptive criteria on assessment and statementing, which all Boards would have to adopt, and I will be asking the committee to look at that.

  95.  You mentioned earlier that there is a distinct lack of educational psychologists, even though, in fact, large numbers of students would like to study psychology; there is an interesting problem about why, nevertheless, we do not get a sufficient number of trained people. But is it the case that one reason for these variations might be that there are certain conditions which were not recognised in the past, particularly if it was like attention deficit disorder, which admit of quite significant differences in diagnosis, depending on the training and background and culture of the psychologists who are making these decisions?
  (Mr McFall)  Mr McWalter, I have no doubt that that is the case, that a lot of conditions have gone unrecognised in the past, and Mr Livingstone makes a point about the behavioural problems and the surplus of males, maybe it is because of the overt behaviour of disorders that males have been recognised and insufficient females have been recognised for the problems they have, and we have had the issue of autism and other communication and learning difficulties put about. So I would imagine that by increasing the supply of psychologists, as we hope to do, what we may be doing there for ourselves is increasing the problems that we unearth. But I think that is a very important issue, because we have had a lack, to put it at its mildest, maybe of a professional approach to this issue in the past. I speak as a former school-teacher, where the responsibility for determining maybe behavioural problems was put on a junior teacher level; that is why we are going to have the special educational needs co-ordinators to look at this issue, but we must have training for them and we must make sure that it is going to be at a senior management level. That is why I want to see the special educational needs being a senior management priority, so that it becomes a whole school responsibility and the philosophy of the special educational needs is imbued in the whole school. But we have got the co-ordinators there, we have got the inter-Board contacts there, and if we get the increasing number of psychologists then we have the opportunity to be more sophisticated in our approach to this issue. But, the core of your question, it is 100 per cent correct.

  96.  My colleague mentioned earlier that in some ways what obtains in Basingstoke obtains in Belfast; are you really saying that the Government's commitment to, say, the training of speech therapists, for instance, to take one example of the kind of specialisms that are involved, will be such that, within a reasonable timescale, and I would quite like to know what the timescale is, the difficulties in the whole of the United Kingdom, in those matters you envisage its solution?
  (Mr McFall)  Can I say that the resources that we have committed to this over the next three years I believe, in terms of these resources, the Code of Practice has not been matched in England and Wales, so in Northern Ireland, I believe I am correct in that, we are in the vanguard in that particular area.

  97.  It is Belfast today and Basingstoke tomorrow?
  (Mr McFall)  The problems are the same, it is the way of tackling it, and, dare I say, we can learn from each other on these particular issues. But the resources that we have given are generally considered to be generous, they are considered to be generous for the next few years, and the opportunity for being flexible with these resources is very, very important. In other words, I will want to be prescriptive from DENI, so that Boards and others follow issues, I want it to be a bottom-up issue so that what we consider are the priorities we can turn our attention to, and it is with that in mind that these resources are being made available in the next few years.

  98.  So, in conclusion, the difficulty that we had getting out of the Department the problems about the proportion of statemented children in school and the proportion that were entitled to free school meals, that you mentioned earlier, that, that kind of monitoring problem, you see that the new resources will be able not only to give us the information that this Committee has been looking for but also that the new resources will allow the injection of energy at the centre to be distributed across Boards in a way which will really make a very appreciable difference to these areas?
  (Mr McFall)  I have to be fair to my Department, and you would not expect otherwise. That information is held at Board level and, as has been mentioned previously, the disparities between the Boards in some cases can be quite considerable, so the need for cohesion and commonality in special educational needs is very important. But, some of the points you mention there, yes, in the longer term, hopefully, we will look at these issues.


  99.  Yours will not be the first Government, Minister, where a question might be answered "This information is not provided", or accumulated, or collected, "centrally"?
  (Mr McFall)  I have already done it.

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