|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Willis: If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall come to that point and meet him some of the way, but not all the way. I disagree with his premise that we shall see the end of special schools. The hon. Gentleman, who has a great deal of integrity in this area, will accept that the number of special schools that have closed in the past 10 years is extremely small. Virtually the same number of children are in special schools now as when he was a junior Minister in a previous Government. It is wrong to say that special schools are closing all the time.
Let me deal with the key issue of resources. The Minister rightly saidindeed, the code of practice says sothat the whole issue of inclusion depends on schools themselves being inclusive. Making a school inclusive is a costly business. It is not simply a matter of providing resources for an individual child, or a few children, with special needs. Paragraph 6:2 of the code of practice clearly states:
The hon. Member for Epping Forest was correct to say that the Government constantly reannounce funds. I have just looked at the £91 million that the Government have aggregated, which is about £4,000 per school. It is absolute nonsense to expect schools to put in place an inclusive SEN policy with that sum. The reason why so many teachers, heads and governors are fed up to the back teeth with an inclusion policy without the necessary resources is that, to deal with children with behavioural difficultiesan increasing number have severe behavioural difficultiesthey need to train the whole staff. That is of paramount importance.
A child who is partially sighted or has a severe hearing disability cannot simply be put into a class where a particular teacher or SEN co-ordinator has been trained; the whole staff need training in managing such children. That cannot be done on £4,000 per school. It needs a significant investment in training. Will the Minister press the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State to recognise that special education provision is at a crucial point? The code of practice can make a real difference, but we must have the necessary resources.
Sadly, the code of practice scarcely mentions special schools, which are important. It is as if they simply offer a different route in meeting special educational needs. They do not. Special schools provide not just an alternative route but must be at the very centre in dealing with special needs children. Unless we regard special schools as centres of excellence, and resource and research centres, we shall make no progress. I hope that the Minister will encourage his colleagues to do that.
The whole House is delighted that the Government changed their tune on quantifiable provision in paragraphs 8:35 to 8:39 of the code of practice. We do not want blanket policies, but LEAs were often forced to have blanket policies because they had meagre resources to apply to special needs. We want those policies to be specific, clear and detailed and we welcome the Minister's commitment in that respect, but Liberal Democrats do not accept that provision should "normally" be quantified, as stated in paragraph 8:37 of the code. I challenged the Minister to give an example and, to be fair to him, he gave the example of a visually impaired child whose needs would change. That is a cop-out. Provision should not normally be quantified; it should always be quantified. There is no reason whatever why a statement could not be altered to meet different needs during the year. In that way, the child and his needs, rather than the resource implications, would be central. I hope that the Minister will accept that and put in place ways of allowing those concerned to look carefully at statements that are not quantified under the code of practice.
Will the Minister say in his summing up whether the new statements that are quantified will then be mandatory on the school and the LEA? If they are not, they are not worth the paper on which they are written. That is the crux of this debate. Once a statement is made that a child with speech problems, for instance, must have four hours' provision a week, who is liable if that is not delivered? Is it the school, the LEA or the Government?
Where a child with a statement of special needs moves into the independent sector, as will increasingly happen as parents choose the provision for their child, do the resources that go with that provision move into the private sector with the child, or must the private sector seek those resources separately?
There is a point of principle here, and that is the child. The parents may decide that they want a particular type of provision for their child, such as very small classes, which cannot be provided by the LEA. Given the additional resources needed to meet their statement, will that provision continue to be met in that area?
We welcome the issue of identification. The code of practice goes a long way towards saying at early years, primary and secondary stages which conditions should apply for identification. That is a huge leap forward in thinking. I also welcome the announcement of hearing screening for newborns. The hon. Member for Epping Forest referred to screening carried out by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. To have it written into the code that those two tests will be given to children at an early age will make a huge difference.
Paragraph 1:29 of the code of practice refers to SEN co-ordinators in early years settings. In my constituency and many others, particularly rural ones, some of the settings are very small because of the size of the village. Indeed, many children are looked after by child minders.
The other area of weakness is special groups; the issue of excluded children is mentioned. However, a child is seven times more likely to be excluded from school if he has a statement of special needs than if he is within any other category. It is a huge problem. On the whole, children with behavioural difficulties such as autism and dyspraxia are the most affected. We must regard them as a special group. Along with local authorities and school settings, we must ensure that the infrastructure is in place to deal specifically with children who have behavioural difficulties. Travellers' children often have special needs that need to be met in a much more entrepreneurial way, and the same is true of immigrant children, particularly children of asylum seekers.
We welcome much in the code of practice, such as the changes with regard to naming a specific school. We are delighted that schools cannot refuse to take children simply because they have special needs. That was not right, and it is good to see a change of heart. It is good, too, that there will be more discussions about the placement of a child between the LEA, parents and other professionals. However, at the heart of the code is what happens in school and the people who organise and work with children with special needs, particularly SENCOs. Paragraphs 5:33 and 6:36 make it clear that SENCOs should have more time. All Members who have asked a SENCO, "Do you have enough time to do the job?" will know that the answer is no. In some schools, the amount of time SENCOs have is derisory. I hope that the Minister will instruct Ofsted to ensure that when it inspects a school, those who provide the infrastructure to deliver special education needs have the time to do it. We have gone a long way in training SENCOs and professionalising the special needs provision, and we need to do it even more.
There are two ways in which we could help schools immediately. First, there could be standard pro formas for individual education plans. The idea that all schools should devise their own is nonsense. I hope that model IEPs could be put on the internet or the website of the Department for Education and Skills. We should encourage such provision. Secondly, to enable schools, particularly large ones, to track all children with special needsnot just those with statementsneeds sophisticated software. The Government can commission that on behalf of our schools.
This is a major step forward. If the code of practice can have the necessary resources, the Government will go down in history as having taken a quantum leap for youngsters who are born without the advantages that many of us have.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The Front-Bench speeches have taken 66 minutes out of the 90 available, leaving very little time for Back Benchers. I hope that those hon. Members will be mindful of each other's needs if all are to make a contribution.