Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): Will my right hon. Friend consider the training possibilities for teachers? He probably knows more than me about the dimensions as regards training or courses.

Mr. Blunkett: Initial and in-service training programmes are crucial. I pay tribute to the work of

20 Mar 2001 : Column 218

special educational needs co-ordinators--I shall refer to them henceforth as SENCOs--in learning about, spreading and reinforcing best practice in schools. A great deal of good work on that is taking place. A few years ago, that work would not have been done--that is a non-partisan approach to the situation.

Some parents are clearly worried whether, even with the best will in the world and the best training, their children will receive the help, support and resources that they need if there is a clearly identified, on-going problem. It is therefore not surprising that parents seek a statement when their children have severe special educational needs.

I want to make it absolutely clear that the controversy that arose last year about the consultation on the code of practice needs to be put to rest. We were seeking to ensure that a flexible and responsive way forward existed. Clear views were expressed across the range of opinions, suggesting that it would be better if we could secure specificity and clarity through the code of practice. I intend to read into the record our proposals on the code of practice.

We shall make it clear that education authorities are required to specify provision in statements, as they always have been. We shall retain the requirement in the regulations for provision to be specified, matching the terms of the duty on education authorities set out in the Education Act 1996. The code will state clearly that statements should

The guidance will make it clear that provision may often need to be expressed in terms of hours, equipment or personnel. It will make it absolutely clear that education authorities must not, in any circumstance, have a blanket policy not to quantify the provision in statements. We made a commitment on Report in the House of Lords that we would also enhance the guidance on assessments to make it clear that education authorities should not have blanket policies that prevent those from whom they seek advice from commenting on the amount of provision that they consider appropriate for a child.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): May I tell the Secretary of State how much that statement will be welcomed in the special needs world? Will the cash resources that must be made available to meet the provisions that he describes specifically come from the school's budget, or will they come from the local education authority? In either case, where will those resources emanate from?

Mr. Blunkett: Of course part of the required resources will travel with the statement in terms of the amount allocated. I am intent on not making this a party political matter, which is why it is important that we do not simply delegate resources to schools on a blanket basis, and it is why we must be sensitive to those needs and to retaining

20 Mar 2001 : Column 219

authorities that can co-ordinate and deliver the necessary provision. Sufficient access funds must be allocated to education authorities, again, to be able to pick out where that investment is required. Those are fairly basic precepts of a system that, in the words of a former Conservative Select Committee Chairman, cannot have 24,000 bobbing corks on a murky sea.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): On that point, I am happy to reassure the Secretary of State that our proposals for free schools--although he did not utter that term, I assume that he was alluding to them--make it absolutely clear that the statementing function will remain with the local authority and that the local authority will be funded accordingly.

Mr. Blunkett: I am deeply grateful for that clarification. On 12 March--only eight days ago--we challenged the hon. Lady about that policy, and she put on record that all the funds would be delegated to schools. That is what she said. Now, at least some of the funds that the education authority--I am sorry, I meant local authority; as Humpty Dumpty rightly said, "Choose words carefully." Local authorities, as opposed to education authorities, which would be abolished, would presumably have the money that the hon. Lady mentioned to allocate according to need.

I wonder whether the authorities will have the access funds that are being provided. After all, this year alone, we are providing five times more money in access funds than we inherited. By 2003-04, we will provide 10 times more than we inherited, and that money will be applied to meet the needs of the individual child.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the code of practice, but may I raise the specific issue of children suffering from autistic spectrum disorders? I know that he will agree that provision for those children is not what it should be and that the problem goes back many years. In particular, does he agree that there is a problem in pre-school and nursery years when provision for those children often falls between the two stools of the health authority and the local education authority? That is highly unsatisfactory, so will he take this opportunity to spell out how the Bill will address those children's problems?

Mr. Blunkett: There has been a specific problem in that much of the good work that began--dare I say it--in the early 1970s when Baroness Thatcher held this portfolio has not been taken forward. Real moves were made by local government, central Government and the health service to develop good assessment programmes. Some of them remain, but they have not been accelerated or developed for many years. Therefore, we propose to allocate £25 million over the next three years to develop services in the early years. We shall train staff to ensure that a co-ordinator is linked to every facility for early-years provision. Sub-regional and regional provision will ensure that there can be monitoring, support work and the spreading of best practice. Some £11 million of that sum will go to the specific improvement of services, including joint multi-disciplinary assessment, so that we link the health, social services and education services in a positive regard.

20 Mar 2001 : Column 220

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is today publishing a White Paper on the needs of the young and old alike who have learning disabilities--or mental handicaps as we used to call them. I hope to be able to integrate the policies that we are developing with the proposals in the White Paper to give tens of thousands of those with learning difficulties a much better deal and their families much greater security as they grow older. We shall address both the educational and personal needs of those people.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) rose--

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way once more, but I would then like to make more progress in case I am accused of not having dealt with the Bill.

Mr. Jack: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. In response to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), he described the route by which the money will reach the pupil, through both the local authority and the school. However, although he mentioned additional sources, he did not address the central issue of the amount. Is he saying that resources will not be a problem, whatever the terms of the statement?

Mr. Blunkett: Of course I am not. Were the resources always available to match supply and demand, we would be living in a happy third-term Labour Government. We are intent on winning the second term first. I can promise that the £3 billion for special needs, which is either devolved or provided through local education authorities, will be used effectively and wisely. Additional resources, both devolved and delegated to schools and enhanced by education authority resources, will be available. Specific funding, such as access funds, will also be provided. That is in addition to the quadrupling of capital spending, which, by allowing us to improve, remodel and rebuild schools, enables us do the job more effectively.

We want to promote centres of excellence in the special school system and to protect schools that offer an expertise. They should act as a resource that provides peripatetic support to pupils in other schools. We want to ensure that they offer high quality and excellence regionally and nationally. Progress has been made in the regional planning experiments. There cannot be a market in the provision of residential facilities for special needs purposes. There is no guaranteed supportive stream of funding for such facilities, and that knocks schools out. We need to use the co-ordinating structure at a regional level to secure a basic minimum provision that gives parents a choice when they consider their children's requirements and gives us the ability to retain that key expertise for the development of research and for delivery in the future.

In case people think that there has been a massive acceleration of the closure of residential facilities, let me state the facts. The proportion of children in special residential and day provision has remained almost the same in the past decade, at 1.2 per cent. Some 317 special schools closed in the 10 years between 1987 and 1997; 129 closed between 1997 and today, and 17 will close in the next year--a total of 146 closures within a five-year period. Seven schools are to open this year, which means that 38 new special schools will have opened in the same

20 Mar 2001 : Column 221

five-year period. I make no party political point, but 317 schools closed in the 10 years from 1987 to 1997, and 146 will close in the past five years, with some new schools opening.

Next Section

IndexHome Page