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Special Educational Needs

9. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If he will make a statement on his plans to integrate pupils with special educational needs into mainstream schools. [99349]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): "Meeting Special Educational Needs: A programme of action", which was published in November 1998 following extensive consultation, sets out our strategy for promoting the inclusion, within mainstream schools, of pupils with special educational needs where their parents want that and appropriate support can be provided.

Mr. Robertson: I thank the Minister for that reply, but does she accept that some local authorities are going too far and trying to include in mainstream schools all children with moderate learning difficulties--a term that under-describes the problems of many children? Does she further accept that not all children with special needs can be integrated and that each child should be treated as an individual? Will she join me in condemning those local authorities that are trying to close special schools in their area?

Jacqui Smith: I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in developments in the Gloucestershire special educational needs review. However, I am sure that he will agree that specific proposals for local provision should be a decision for local education authorities, and that if any proposals for closure are made, they should go through the statutory procedures, including being referred to the school organisation committee, which will of course include specialist school representatives.

I am, however, happy to say that our approach to inclusion has been practical and not dogmatic, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the key objective of all our policies for children with special educational needs must be to safeguard the interests of all children. If parents want a mainstream setting for their child, our policy is to try to provide that, but, equally, if more specialist provision is sought, it is important and right that parents' wishes are respected.

Mrs. Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): As a special needs teacher of 20 years, I particularly welcome the Government's policy of inclusion for children with special needs. However, is my hon. Friend aware of the problems facing secondary schools in the Forest of Dean in providing the necessary support for children with mild emotional and behavioural difficulties or moderate

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learning difficulties? Does she agree that the skills and expertise of teachers at the area's special schools, such as Dean Hall and Alderman Knight, should be kept and used, and that, if need be, we should find methods of deploying their skills and expertise to support the mainstream schools?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I agree that it is important that the expertise that clearly exists in our special schools is brought to bear also on improving standards in our mainstream schools. That is why, for example, my Department has brought together in a group representatives from around the country to consider how we can develop that work, so that we get the most out of our mainstream schools and use the undoubted expertise in our special schools to improve standards for all children.

Bett Report

10. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): What representations he has received from higher education bodies and institutions on implementation of the recommendations of the Bett report. [99350]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): My Department has received several representations from higher education bodies, institutions and individuals. However, I should emphasise that the Bett committee was established by and reported to the higher education employers. It was not a Government committee, and it is for the employers to consider the committee's recommendations.

Dr. Harris: Is the Minister aware of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' analysis, confirmed by the House of Commons Library, which shows a continued reduction--1.1 per cent. this year, more than last year--in the funding per student per year in higher education? That is projected to continue for the remaining years of this Parliament, despite the income obtained from the discredited and tawdry policy of charging students tuition fees. Students will be paying more and getting less funding per student under this Government. Is the Minister aware that the CVCP does not believe that that can be sustained without damaging the quality of education in universities?

On the Bett report, does the Minister at least accept that he has a responsibility for the fair treatment of women lecturers, who are shown to require additional resources for fair treatment and fair pay?

Mr. Wicks: We of course support the principle and the practice of fair pay, regardless of gender.

On funding, the policy of tuition fees enables more money--I stress that--to be invested in our universities. The funding of universities by the Government is impressive. In 2001-02, higher education will receive an extra £295 million, compared with the preceding year. That is a cash increase of 5.4 per cent. and comes on top of the £253 million extra the year before, and £318 million the year before that. It is the job of Government and the Department to invest in

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higher education. It is not our job to set individual pay rates. If we had that power, we would be accused of being control freaks, and we would not want that, would we?

Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that outside our top universities, nobody who is any good lectures full-time in information technology, computer studies, accountancy or law? If such people are any good, they can get two, three, four or more times more money in the commercial world. I urge my hon. Friend to reject categorically the approach of the Bett committee report, which wants the Government to stump up more cash to pay university lecturers more. Will my hon. Friend urge the universities to look instead to the private sector for a solution?

Mr. Wicks: I do not accept the proposition that everyone teaching in those disciplines is second-rate. Many people are motivated to serve in our universities and teach young people because teaching is their vocation. Not everyone is motivated by money. However, there are some problems in some disciplines, and some universities may want to find out whether some employees of accountancy and IT firms want to teach on a part-time basis. That is one possible approach in future in this difficult area.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): The Government have consistently washed their hands of the Bett report, and the Minister has done so again this morning, but does he not understand that universities are getting fed up with the Government's failure to tackle the issue of university funding?

The Government said--[Interruption.]

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Carry on.

Mrs. May: I intend to.

The Government said, and the Minister has repeated it this morning, that introducing tuition fees would mean more money for further and higher education, but, under this Government, funding for higher education has gone down by £135 per student--yet another example of the Government saying one thing and doing another. Perhaps, given that, it is little wonder that drop-out rates are rising.

The Government charge tuition fees and then take the money away from the universities by the back door, giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Will the Minister confirm that next year £80 million of tuition fee money will be taken away from the universities? When will he scrap the glitzy press releases and come clean on the Government's failure to deliver on their promises on higher education funding?

Mr. Wicks: I cannot accept any of that. The Government are investing more each and every year in higher education. We grasped the nettle of tuition fees so that more money could be invested. With all due respect to the hon. Lady, she should examine her Administration's record when, between 1989 and 1997, unit funding--[Interruption.] You may not want to hear this, but I shall tell you--not you, Madam Speaker, although you may be interested as well, but the hon. Lady who has a specific interest in this. Between 1989

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and 1997, unit funding fell by 36 per cent. That was the hon. Lady's record. We are investing more in higher education and maintaining standards.

Equal Pay

11. Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): What discussions he has had with the Equal Opportunities Commission on equal pay for women. [99351]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell): Since my appointment six weeks ago, I have met Julie Mellor, the chair of the EOC, and I was delighted to take part in the launch of the EOC's valuing women campaign on 26 October. That campaign will complement the cross- Government action being taken under the auspices of the women's unit and the DFEE to tackle the range of factors that gives rise to the pay gap. I will be in regular contact with the EOC to review progress.

Maria Eagle: Does my right hon. Friend agree that toleration of continuing pay inequality will perpetuate unfairness into the future, particularly in respect of its impact on women's pensions? If we do not get the matter right now, 20 or 30 years hence, women will be retiring into income inequality.

Ms Jowell: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has also touched on the important point that the pay gap is due to a range of factors, and the likelihood of a pay gap is often established early on when girls make career choices as little more than teenagers. That is why we shall be considering the range of measures that need to be taken across Government, working with business, the careers service, schools and young people themselves, to address what is unacceptable and unfair.

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