Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.14 pm

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): Following the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), it comes as a surprise to realise that I agree with much of what she and many Opposition Members have said. My surprise is that we reach different conclusions from our shared experience and attitudes. Certainly the view that children ought to be the centre of policy should be shared by Members on both sides of the House. I am therefore surprised that Opposition Members conclude that the Bill should be opposed, while Labour Members conclude that, where change is needed, it should be sought and made.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to two constituency issues. The first is the review of special educational needs provision in my area in Kirklees education authority; the second is my personal interest in ADHD--attention deficit hyperactivity disorder--which is little understood and needs closer examination.

In my own area, about a year ago, the education authority felt, with good reason, that special educational needs provision needed to be reviewed and changed. Some schools in the neighbouring constituency of Huddersfield--my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) spoke earlier about local education--do not offer good provision. Some of their buildings are not the best; ideally, we would not children to be in them, as they are not comfortable. Some schools are far removed from communities and, for certain pupils, travel is difficult. Change in provision was therefore not necessarily a bad idea. However, to assume that the outcome of the Bill will be identical to the first paper read by members of the education authority is not necessarily the best thing to do. The fact that those LEA members based some of their consultation on the Education Act 1996, which dealt with another matter, also changed the focus of what could have been a good review into something that caused suspicion.

Some of that suspicion has been voiced in the House today and rests on the fact that, when we look at special educational needs, we are really talking about taking

20 Mar 2001 : Column 261

places out of the current system and making a single overall change by saying that all children with needs should be included in mainstream education. However, there is nothing in the Bill to suggest that. I share the view of the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey that children vary so much that we have to look at a range of provision. If, after long consultation, we do not do that in Kirklees, I would be extremely disappointed.

The Government have just announced a grant of more than £16 million towards the change in education provision in Kirklees, yet still the consultation goes on, as it must because parents also need to be listened to during the process of change which, after all, affects their children. The voices of children are rarely heard directly. We often listen to their parents, but perhaps we need to spend a little time listening to children when discussing inclusion. Children often tell me, "I do not want a statement. I do not want people to think of me as different. I do not want the people who I mix with in the youth club or football club to say that I am different and not in class with them."

Often, children themselves have a different view of what their statement should be about, especially as they get older and articulate their own needs. The Bill includes a great deal that will allow us to tell parents and children that everyone should be encompassed in the process of change. All of our views should be taken into account.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) made some interesting points about resourcing, with which there are problems. Resourcing is not always just about money. I have encountered a big problem when looking at assessments of need--we do not have enough educational psychologists to do that work. They are in short supply not simply because we cannot afford them, but because they have not been trained and are unavailable. That obviously slows the process down. We should be examining such issues in detail, not putting up a straightforward barrier and saying that, as a matter of principle, we oppose the Bill. We should be working together to find solutions.

In Kirklees, we decided that there should be an all-party statement declaring that the issue was non-political, and that we would all work together to find out what was in the best interests of children. I pay tribute to the chair of the education authority, John Smithson, who is a Liberal Democrat councillor. I am not ashamed to congratulate him. When it was drawn to his attention that parents were uneasy about the change that the authority was making, he listened. Listening is at the heart of everything that has happened.

I went to see Ministers, and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), who has just left the Chamber, met parents and explained carefully her view of what should be done for children who had been statemented and the range of provision that should be available. She made it clear to those parents that, for some children, inclusion in mainstream schooling is desirable, but that such inclusion is not necessarily desirable for all children. For some children, a temporary period in some form of provision may be a solution--perhaps a period of catching up, a period of adjustment or a period of being supported. For some children, a permanent statement of needs will be required. For some, a specific range of equipment or a style of teaching may be the solution.

20 Mar 2001 : Column 262

Much has been said today about the ways in which we can deal with problems, but we have not heard much about styles of teaching. Some children, particularly those with mild learning difficulties, benefit a great deal from being taught in a slightly different way. I am thinking especially of children with dyslexia, who could stay in the mainstream, with the right support--possibly technical equipment such as a laptop in the classroom or, for very young children, learning to draw with a finger in sand. Such a solution gives them a multi-sensory experience that helps them to learn.

We need to consider a range of different ways in which children can be taught. Learning to write with a finger in sand is not the most expensive way in which education can be delivered, so money is not always the issue. We need to use our collective resources and our imagination to find out what is best for each child. I do not want a one-size-fits-all education system, and that is not proposed in the Bill.

A one-size-fits-all education system would certainly not help children who suffer from ADHD. The condition is hugely misunderstood and has a wide range of effects on children. It has a huge effect on almost all the families of those children. Some children with a mild form of ADHD present almost no problems at all. Parents are often told that the problem is simply bad parenting, and that if they took control, their children would be better behaved.

A multidisciplinary approach is needed. The children whom I have met with their parents display such a wide range of problems that labelling those children as hyperactive, naughty, disruptive, behaviourally poor or not paying attention in class does nothing for them, and does not recognise the stress and strains that the condition causes for families. We must find out how early we can identify needs. That applies to almost all special needs, but particularly to children with ADHD.

Sometimes a doctor identifies the problem. With MRI scanning, the effect on the brain can be identified quite early. However, I recently met a young man who is about to go into secondary education. He was diagnosed as suffering from ADHD and is being treated with ritalin, but has not had a statement of needs of any kind. Because he can reach a certain level of attainment in his classroom, the rest of his needs are being ignored. Teachers say that he is coping, but he can do better than coping.

Parents of such a child say that they struggle to pay for extra tuition in the evening, work hard with the child with his homework, and that the family is crumbling under the strain of trying to cope with the child educationally. None of that is taken into account under the current system. That must change. The Bill should not allow children to carry on coping, when they could be achieving. It should maximise the potential of everyone.

Those are views that I have heard from Opposition Members, so I am surprised that we cannot find some agreement and some way of co-operating to take the matter forward. No one claims that the Bill is the be-all and end-all--the end of the process of dealing with special educational needs. That would be a disappointment, because it should be a devolving process that includes everyone, not least the children and the parents. If we refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading because there are flaws in it, and because it does not go far enough, that sends out a strange message to my constituents, who have grave concerns about children who are still waiting for their statements.

20 Mar 2001 : Column 263

Will we deny those children the resources that they need? We can argue quite properly about whether the resources are sufficient and whether they are being spent in the right way, but let us not argue that nothing should be done. That would be a bizarre response to the moving stories that we heard today about children's specific needs. I am thinking especially of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who is not in his place. I was moved to learn that children in Tewkesbury are suffering as he described, and that Gloucestershire council has not been able to respond to their needs. I hope that Kirklees council is listening carefully to the debate and learning from it.

When we go out and listen to parents, we will hear some who say that their children have had a good experience at school. Those parents will ask us to ensure that the special needs school is not closed, but adapted and made more useful. Can we find a better way for pupils in such a school to link with mainstream education? Perhaps we can create a better path through education. The school that I have in mind is Lydgate school, which has good links with both primary and secondary schools and with further education. We could do even more. That school could serve as a model for special needs education and links with mainstream education and with the community.

The solution does not have to be the closure of existing schools and the building of new ones. One solution might be to adapt existing schools. Less successful schools that cannot deliver the sort of education that we want may have to be replaced with new schools. I hope that both solutions will be available in Kirklees, and that we will listen to both sets of parents--those who say that we need a new school and those who want to keep the schools that we have. It is possible to compromise and find solutions to suit everybody. Councillor Smithson has taken that approach, and I commend him for it. I commend also the parents who have fought so hard to keep the education that is appropriate for their children.

The Bill is about finding the appropriate response to the needs of children and parents. It should not be about a cash reduction in spending, which is what some people think that we mean when we speak about reducing places. It is mischievous and misguided to lead people into believing that that is what the Bill is about or to suggest that it ensures that no children will have their special educational needs met in a specialist sector. The multidisciplinary approach that I believe to be necessary for children such as those with ADHD requires links with the health authority, social services and housing providers, as well as with education.

For children with ADHD in my constituency, I want to give credit to the National Children's Centre, which is located in Huddersfield, to Huddersfield university and to doctors at St. Luke's hospital. They have all been working with the council to produce an integrated approach for the needs of children with ADHD. I agree with Opposition Members that people do not have special needs only while they are in school, at home or out in the community. People's special needs encompass their whole lives, which is why an integrated, all-encompassing approach seems the right one to adopt. I believe that the Bill sets us well along the way to achieving that target.

20 Mar 2001 : Column 264

Next Section

IndexHome Page