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Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I fully endorse what my hon. Friend is saying about the policy of inclusion, which is forcing parents to put their children into mainstream schools. In my area, special needs schools have falling rolls. That places local councils in an impossible position if they wish to continue providing special needs access in the long term as well as the short term. [Interruption.]
Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall tell hon. Members who are shouting, "Who controls the council?", what councils have to plough through. They have to read "Removing Barriers to Achievement"the Government strategy that is forcing inclusion on themand the report of the special schools working group, which is doing the same. That is why I am asking the Government for a proper audit and a proper review.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): In a previous life, I was a council cabinet member for education in Sheffield, where we embarked on a programme of consolidation and rebuilding for good special schools. We stopped the closure of three schools because we listened to the parents and the professionals and realised that those schools had a longer life. Will the hon. Gentleman recommend that Leeds, a Tory authority, does the same?
Mr. Cameron: I have made my position clear. If there is a moratorium, all the closures will stop and there will be time to think again in the sensible way that the hon. Lady describes. I believe that she said in Question Time last Thursday that the problem in many areas is that local authorities do not listen to the views of special needs teachers in special schools who know the problems so well. I agree with her, which is why I made the point that hon. Members of all parties are concerned about how the law is working and what is happening on the ground.
When left in mainstream schools, where they are often not dealt with properly, children with special needs can become disruptive. That is not in the interests of the student with special needs, the rest of the class, the teacher or the school. In many cases, parents recognise that that form of inclusion is not working and they vote with their feet. In 2003, more than 5,000 children with statements transferred from mainstream schools to special schools, while only 1,200 went in the other direction.
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As hon. Members know, in some cases when children stay in mainstream schools, the schools cannot cope and disaster ensues. One can see that in the figures for exclusions. Two thirds of all exclusions involve students with special needs. One in five people of school age affected by autism is expelled from school and never returns. Those are individual tragedies.
Our view that inclusion has gone too far has received significant support from the words of Lady Warnock. The second Warnock report is a remarkable document. Anybody who is interested in the subject should read it. It is a stunning recantation of the first Warnock report, which began the inclusion campaign. In my view, Lady Warnock deserves credit for candour. She refers to the policy of inclusion as the "most disastrous" legacy of her original report. She says:
The Government simply cannot ignore such a significant report by so respected a figure. It is no good saying, "But that is not our policy"I will go on to show that that is precisely the Government's policy. Baroness Warnock understands exactly what the Government's policy is and she says that it is wrong.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Does not Baroness Warnock also say that some of the special schools are inadequate and need to be reorganised? Does the hon. Gentleman support special schools reorganisation when it is sensible?
Mr. Cameron: Yes, absolutely. Baroness Warnock has some interesting things to say. My point is that we should have a moratorium to get the Government policy right. Until we get rid of the document entitled, "Inclusive Schooling", we will not get anywhere. Once the policy is right, there is much more that we can do. In my constituency, there is a combined special school and mainstream school. Springfield school and Madley Brook school are next door to each other. They form two horseshoes, with the special school inside the mainstream school. That is a model for others to follow. However, we must get the law and the guidance right first.
I want to consider why we are in the current position and why I believe that it will continue. My next point directly answers the question that the Under-Secretary asked earlier. There is a bias in the law on special educational needs as it stands. The 2001 Act states that, if a statement is maintained, a child must be educated in a mainstream school unless that is incompatible with the wishes of his parent or the provision of efficient education for other children. However, in many cases parents are not told about the existence of special
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schools. That is not balance. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary should listen instead of chuntering. Balance means offering parents the choice of a place in either a mainstream or a special school and providing plenty of information and help to make that choice. The Government should conduct a review.
The guidance, as well as the law, is biased. I have referred to "Inclusive Schooling", but the same goes for the document that the Minister for Children and Families mentioned last Thursday, "Removing the Barriers to Achievement". The strategy states:
"Government thinking is set on immovable tracks. Special schools are a place of last resort, only, we are told, for children with severe and complex disabilities. But for other children we must keep them out of special schools by hook or by crook to educate them in mainstream schools."
The Government need to be aware of what is happening. Local authorities are interpreting Government policy in a particular way because special schools are expensive. Class sizes are smallindeed, it is that sense of intimacy that often enables them to get so much done. The equipment all costs money. An alliance is therefore being formed between those who favour inclusion on ideological grounds and those who want to achieve it on financial grounds. If Ministers do not realise that that is happening, they are not in touch with what is going on on the ground.
Mrs. Laing: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so graciously. On the point that he has just made and the interpretation of Lady Warnock's report, does he agree that special schools are not only schools for the pupils who happen to be in them at any particular time, but centres of excellence that help teachers in mainstream schools who need to learn about special education for those with mild learning difficulties who can benefit from inclusion? We must not lose those centres of excellence.
Mr. Cameron: I suspect that my hon. Friend would expect me to say that I agreed with her anyway, but I genuinely agree with her. Baroness Warnock says that Ministers are partly responsible for the rather condescending view that people have of special schools. My hon. Friend is right that we should view them as centres of excellence.
I want to be positive. We need a full audit of special schools, which must cover every special school in every part of the country and take account of the views of parents, which are often ignored. It must examine the
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law, which restricts choice and inculcates a bias against special schools. At least until the audit is completed, published and discussed, there should be a moratorium on the closure of special schools.
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