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New Clause 4

Specification of provision

'In section 324 of the Education Act 1996 (statement of special educational needs) after subsection (4) insert--

"(4A) In drawing up any specification of provision for a child's special educational needs the local education authority shall so far as is practicable have regard to the need for adequacy and quantifiability of such provision".'.--[Mr. Hayes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hayes: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am delighted to move new clause 4, which draws our attention to the important issues of statements and statementing. It is probably fair to say that the business of statementing, which was conceived by Baroness Warnock in her report, given life by the Education Act 1981 and reinforced by subsequent Acts, has, more than any other measure, given status to special needs education and to children with special educational needs.

Statements also give a feeling of power to parents. They give parents the feeling that they have rights over their choices in respect of their children and the treatment that their children are likely to receive. However, statements do a great deal more than that. They are a tool for the detailed analysis of individual needs and the implementation of appropriate education to fit those needs. That is why the suggestion that statementing was to be diluted was greeted with such horror. That suggestion was given its head in the Government's Green Paper, some of whose implications many Labour Members, possibly including some on the Front Bench, probably regret.

In Committee, I think that it was the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) who referred to the Green Paper as a green light for the closure of special schools. She said that some local authorities had even taken the

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Green Paper as a stimulus for the closure of special schools. However, we have moved on from there, and one does not want to be too critical. The Government have learned their lessons, and they listened to the wiser heads, many of which were to be found on the Conservative Benches. The Government amended their proposals and we are pleased to see that statements are not now going to go the way that we thought they might.

It is important for us to understand that statements need to be sufficiently specific, particular and well targeted, so that they can deliver the sort of educational opportunities that will allow each child to fulfil their potential regardless of their particular special need or disability. There is an issue here about the willingness of local authorities to offer a statement. There is also an issue about the marriage between statements and the real provision available to turn those statements into an educational reality, in terms of the choice and experience enjoyed by the individual child or student.

I think that the House knows about most of our problems with statementing, but they are worth amplifying. First, parents and others often see the system as complex, esoteric and confusing. I believe that, in Committee, I said that parents were frequently bamboozled. Moreover, local education authorities are not always as humane and sensitive as they might be when parents are going through the difficult business of obtaining a statement.

Secondly, local education authorities are often variable in their willingness to offer children statements. We know of that variability from a brief study of the position across Britain. I have Government statistics here that give the details, and although I do not propose to quote them exhaustively--I am sure you would not let me do that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House certainly would not tolerate it--I think it worth considering one or two. Some relate to London boroughs.

In Bromley, 2.9 per cent. of children have statements, whereas down the road in Croydon the percentage is only 1.4 per cent. In Stockport the figure is 3 per cent., while in Oldham it is just 1 per cent. In Doncaster it is also 3 per cent.; in nearby Sheffield, it is 2.2 per cent. It is clear that some authorities are rather keener than others to issue statements.

The third problem is the time scale. Local education authorities are obliged by statute to provide statements within 26 weeks, although the Audit Commission measures performance on the basis of an 18-week period, which seems perfectly reasonable. There is enormous variation between local education authorities in terms of not just the issuing of statements, but the time that it takes them to do so. According to the official statistics, in Conservative-controlled Wandsworth 100 per cent. of statements are prepared within 18 weeks--a record that I am sure we all wish to celebrate and be proud of--while in Greenwich the figure is 75 per cent., in Liverpool it is 41 per cent., and in Rotherham it is 56 per cent. For some reason, Stoke-on-Trent can only produce statements within 18 weeks on about 4 per cent. of occasions. I do not want to speculate on what is happening in Stoke-on-Trent, but it is clearly not good news for children with special needs or for their parents.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is making his point with the eloquence and panache with which we customarily

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associate him. He has made a semi-political point. I do not wish to do so on this occasion, but does he not agree that of the essence--whether or not a statement is decided on--is the privacy of the interests of the child? Surely what should be regarded as intrinsically objectionable in any local education authority is any notion that foot-dragging is taking place for the purpose of saving costs.

Mr. Hayes: Eloquence is my stock-in-trade; I struggle a bit more with panache, but I manage to achieve it occasionally. I am delighted that my hon. Friend recognises that.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the reasons for the variability to which I refer. He is right to suggest that some authorities may be pursuing the matter lethargically not just because of inefficiency, and that there may be a more sinister cause. I shall deal with that shortly, when I refer to the insistence in the new clause that local education authorities deal with specificity. It does not merely ask for that; it insists on it.

5.30 pm

I also wish to pick up the implied point that my hon. Friend made about the balance between statements and real provision. It may be that the reason why local authorities are not producing statements in sufficient number and are dragging their heels is that they do not have the provision to match the statements. Without the matching provision, a statement is not only a worthless document but a major embarrassment to the local authority.

Mr. Win Griffiths: I apologise for not being in my place at the start of the hon. Gentleman's contribution, but I have studied the new clause and heard the thrust of his argument and I wonder what is the point of drawing attention to the long time that some authorities take to draw up statements, other than to decry the practice. The new clause says nothing about the time that a statement should take, but that is what I would have liked it to do.

Mr. Hayes: On that basis, I shall rush to the point in my speech that deals much more closely and specifically with the content of the new clause. I wondered how long it would take the hon. Gentleman, who is always astute about such matters, to recognise that I was speaking rather broadly to the new clause to put the matter into its proper context.

The new clause addresses the need to ensure that statements are specific and target the needs of the child precisely, and that the provision that ensues is equally well targeted. The problem is not only that the provision of statements is patchy, but that the provision of special needs education is patchy. The Minister said, with typical sincerity and the plain speaking for which she is renowned--

Jacqui Smith: How charming.

Mr. Hayes: I am charming as well as being eloquent and possessing panache. The Minister said that the number of special schools is stable. That is true. There have been some closures since 1997, but the trend started before that date and may be partly due to the greater

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number of children being integrated into the mainstream. We cannot argue simply that closures have happened unjustifiably or without proper explanation. However, it is true that provision is by no means uniform, and that is highly relevant to the matter of statements. If a child needs a specific sort of educational provision that cannot be met locally--or sufficiently near to the child's home to allow real access to it--that may be an incentive for a local authority to fail to provide the statement or to make it so vague and woolly that almost any provision will do in response to it. Statements must be closely tied to the breadth and diversity of provision that predicates proper choice, because without that statementing will be diluted.

From a close look at how special schools are situated across the country, we know that some local authorities have particular problems. The problem may not be so great in London, where it could be argued that people can travel easily across borough boundaries. However, it is worth pointing out that Barking and Dagenham has 58 schools in total but only one special school, while Redbridge has 89 schools in total and five special schools. There may be local reasons for that--

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