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Mr. Levitt: The whole House will know the reputation of the three Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, the hon. Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). All three are absolutely committed to the cause of disabled people and to children with special needs. All three have served as officers of the all-party disablement group. Whatever they may say, therefore, I am sure that they will have been as embarrassed by and ashamed of the rant from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) against mainstream integration of children with special needs as we on this side were. The hon. Gentleman was either telling us a story based on partial evidence, ill-informed evidence and hearsay, or describing the very attitudes which will guarantee that integration will not work--that disabled children and children with special needs should be out of sight and out of mind, and that the integration of these children cannot succeed because it could only ever happen at the expense of the majority. Every Labour Member, Liberal Democrat Member and, I believe, Conservative Front-Bench Member would distance themselves from that attitude wholeheartedly.
I remind the House that the Bill, which we all thought would proceed in the amiable, positive and progressive way in which it has from the word go, aims to ensure, first, the effective integration, where that is the choice, of children with special needs in mainstream schools and, secondly, the informed choice of parents and children
Laura Moffatt (Crawley): Does my hon. Friend agree that the contribution from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) almost sought to create a conflict between teachers in mainstream schools and those in special schools that does not exist? It is a great shame that such a debate should make those in different settings feel that this House thinks there should be some conflict.
Mr. Levitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and pre-empts what I was about to say. Teachers from special schools are assisting teachers in mainstream schools who teach those with special needs. There is a thoroughly seamless and integrated approach.
In Derbyshire we have the concept of the enhanced resource school. It is a mainstream school teaching children with special needs in an integrated way, but with additional funding from the local authority for additional staff and resources, not only to make integration work but to make sure that the extra help that children with special needs get is not in any way at the expense of anyone else. Such examples of good practice exist. I previously commended the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), for her decision a couple of weeks ago to provide funding through a private finance initiative scheme for the replacement of a special school in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) acknowledges that she is in the same position. That shows the Government's commitment to the parallel provision of mainstream and special schools in taking special needs education forward.
The Conservative party does not believe in having too much government, so presumably it believes in having the minimum number of words in a Bill and in not including unnecessary words. Yet today that party is arguing for a new clause which on the face of it looks unarguable and pious. At the same time it perhaps disguises fears and "stirring up" on the part of people like the hon. Member for Gainsborough. Yet it is wholly unnecessary in terms of improving the Bill and making it more effective. I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen are pursuing it.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough talked about his chair lift. He told us how the funding for it was raised from voluntary sources--only to find that the lift could not be used. Clearly, that school needs to be aware of the schools access initiative, that there is Government funding to make schools accessible to children with disabilities, and that, by 2003, the sums going into schools will be 10 times what they were when the Tory Government left office. The purpose of the funding is to allow for integration.
This is a wholly uncontroversial Bill, save to say that the Special Educational Consortium, which comprises 200 organisations representing disabled children, is of the view that the Bill does not require further amendment and should not be amended. With that thought in mind, I hope that the House will reject new clause 2.
The debate needs some lightening after the last two contributions from the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) was trying to make and succeeded in making an important point which certainly struck home with me from my knowledge of education in my constituency. We had a school with a preponderance of children with special educational needs. Whether we like it or not, that was a discouragement to parents of other children from applying to that school. That is a sad comment on social life in Britain today. If we are to encourage people to accept the integration of children with special needs in mainstream education, we must move at a pace that they are willing to accept. No longer is it the education authority that dictates where children go to school; it is the parents who have a choice. We have to be alive to their choices. The vast majority of parents welcome the school that cares for children with special educational needs as well, but they want a school with a broad base of children with all types of special interests and skills. That is what makes a successful school. The aim of getting that balance right must be at the heart of our policy.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) in his laborious, long-winded attention to definition was getting to the heart of the matter. Over 18 years the previous Government developed a body of legislation concerning special educational needs. The underlying assumption behind that was that we were talking about the needs of the child. This afternoon and in previous debates it appears that the Government and their supporters think that we are talking about the needs of the parents or the need for the efficient education of the other children. Surely we must be talking about the needs of the child, and that is the point about the new clause. It is to enshrine in the Bill the fact that the needs of the child are paramount--that child's special educational needs and no one else's.
We need to do that because there is a real worry about resources. In 1997, the leading firm of accountants, Coopers and Lybrand, identified what they described as an expenditure time bomb--the rising cost of spending on educational needs, as, during the past decade, the number designated, formally or informally, as having those needs has doubled as a proportion of children in school. In fact, in only four years, specific expenditure on the special educational needs of children with statements rose from £290 million to £370 million--an increase of 25 per cent.
The worry for people whose children have such needs is that through the Bill--overtly or not--the Government intend to rein in, by moving the goal posts, the spending that must be committed to those children. That worry is what is behind the new clause. It is to prevent at some point--if not at present, in the future--the goal posts being moved through the enactment of the Bill, with future provision for children suffering as a result.
This afternoon, we have heard a great deal about integrating children's education. Where that can be achieved, it is of course the right way to go. However, the professor of special educational needs at the university of Manchester, Peter Farrell, said that social inclusion is not necessarily the same as educational inclusion. Gosden House, the school where my wife works, makes a fantastic contribution to our community. It is proud of the children who leave to go into mainstream education, but it is also incredibly proud of the children who leave the school to go into mainstream society.
The other day, I attended the school's open day--a peace day--when the children gave a wonderful performance in the school hall. I met several former pupils who had come back to support Gosden House. It was striking how many of them were making a success of life in mainstream society. Surely, we should not lose sight of that vital goal--the needs of the child, which are not necessarily the same as those of the parent or of other children in the education system.
The education authority has to balance a host of demands in meeting educational needs. When the Conservatives came back to power in Surrey, spending on special educational needs was about £70 million a year. Of that, £10 million was for transport. That seems a totally disproportionate amount to all of us, so we must look forward to a time when schools are able to use the resources they are given for special educational needs more flexibly and more imaginatively. When they do so, the attraction of mainstream schools for children with special needs will increase.
When the Select Committee on Education and Employment visited the United States about a year ago, we visited several charter schools. I well remember one successful school, the City on the Hill in Boston, which was run by a head teacher who was clearly on the left of the Democrat party. She looked straight at me and said, "Nick, what you have to remember is that charter schools are where the radical left meets up with the radical right." Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead has demonstrated that she is a member of the radical right, because she promotes the idea of free schools, which borrows very much from the success of the charter school movement in the States. We recognise that if we give money directly to schools, their success will be enhanced.
One of the ways in which the City on the Hill has achieved success is that its budget for special educational needs does not depend on children being statemented at all. The education authority gives the school a subvention on the assumption that it will be prepared to accept its fair share of children with special educational needs and that it will do its best for them where they need support. That means that the seamless progress that hon. Members have been talking about this afternoon can happen without the need for constant definition and review of the child's position on the spectrum of special educational needs and mainstream provision.