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Mr. Cameron: No. I have said that it should be reviewed to provide balance. I shall not redraft the Act at the Dispatch Box, but the minimum for which it should provide is giving parents of special needs children a choice between a mainstream or a special school, and the support and information that they need. That is balance.
Mr. Cameron: The hon. Gentleman should examine the law and the way in which it is drafted, talk to parents who have not been told about special schools and read the guidance. He will then realise that I am right and he is wrong.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that part of the problem is that the Government want it both ways? They want to close special schools and deny mainstream education the necessary resources to make a success of integration. Does my hon. Friend know that a primary school in my constituency faces the indignity of pupils with special needs having to use the school staff room from which the staff are turfed out, while the Government claim that provision is reasonable. Is not there a mismatch between the definition of "reasonable" by the Department for Education and Skills and that which would appear sensible to most reasonable people?
Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. I do not believe that the Government are acting with malice aforethought. They do not follow the policy because they do not care. They simply have not thought it through. When they examine the policy carefully, they will find that many children with special needs are excluded from school and stuck in pupil referral units. I have examples of pupils who are meant to be there for only a few weeks yet end up there for a few months because of the bias against special schools.
At the heart of this debate are the children whom none of us want to see left behind. I have criticisms of the Government, and I have made them, but I have also made constructive suggestions, and I want us to achieve consensus where we can. It does not matter who does these things, it just matters that they get done. There is a simple point at issue: different children have different needs. Trying to meet them all in the same way in the same class in the same school can be, and all too often has been, a cruel deception for many children. Mary Warnock has seen the light and admitted that she got it wrong.
We are asking the Government to think again. These are people's children, not guinea pigs in some giant social experiment. Real inclusion involves understanding that
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different needs require different, and often special, treatment. The closure of special schools must be stopped while the Government think again. I would say to any Member from any party who shares this view, and who knows that real compassion means understanding our differences, should join us in the Lobby and vote for our motion today.
"acknowledges that parents may want mainstream or special schools for their children and notes that under the current statutory framework they have the right to express a preference for either; welcomes the Government's commitment to improving the range and quality of provision for children with special educational needs through its special educational needs strategy, Removing Barriers to Achievement, which followed wide consultation and a separate review of the role of special schools; rejects the call for further reviews and a moratorium on closures of special schools, since this would stifle reorganisation of local provision to meet changing patterns of need and halt the development of effective collaboration between mainstream and special schools; welcomes the Government's audit of provision for low incidence needs since it will contribute to more effective planning; and welcomes its determination to ensure that all children with SEN are able to realise their potential, wherever they are taught.".
I very much welcome the interest of the Opposition in special educational needs and the future of special schools. I also welcome the emphasis that the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has placed on the perspective of parents. Many of us will bring our experiences as parents to the debate; some of us will even bring our experience of state education. Despite such a gap in the hon. Gentleman's experience, however, he is doing a reasonable job. He is also doing a reasonable job of promoting his leadership ambitions, and I wish him well in that regard. In fact, I think that the Conservatives would be wise to go for a leader from the progressive left of their party.
I shall turn to the important issues of the debate. There is a fundamental flaw in the hon. Gentleman's approach to this matter. I am disappointed with what appears to be an ongoing fixation with buildings and institutions. Furthermore, the Opposition are expending all their energy on criticising a policy that simply does not exist. Contrary to the impression that the Conservatives would like to give, the Government do not have a policy of closing special schools.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I should like to bring the debate back down to the real level. Jack McMurray is a beautiful little eight-year-old boy in my constituency, and he has autism. As a result of inclusion, he is in fact excluded from school. This little boy, who needs education the most, has none. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss Jack's case, because his parents are on the edge of despair?
Jacqui Smith: My concern is for little boys such as Jack, and for children with special needs, and others, throughout the whole country. Of course, if it would be helpful to discuss these issues, my ministerial colleagues and I would be more than willing to meet with Members from either side of the House.
While my right hon. Friend is looking at what is going on up and down the country, will she
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take a special look at Cheshire, where there is a massive underspend in the area of expenditure that we are discussing, as well as a threat of an £8 million underspend in the Sure Start budget? This is outrageous. We have allocated money, and it is vital that, when it has been allocated, the Conservative council should not be allowed to divert it to other projects. It must be spent in these important areas.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are increasing investment in schools, and it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that that investment gets to where it will make a difference for our pupils and schools.
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): As we are talking about terrible Tory councils, does my right hon. Friend agree with certain observations in yesterday's Evening Standard? She might be aware that two Members of this House are also councillors in the London borough of Wandsworth: the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and I. The Evening Standard said that the use by the Conservative council of the term "reorganisation" was a
Jacqui Smith: I shall touch on that issue in a moment. My hon. Friend has identified a fundamental problem in the Conservatives' approach, which argues for decentralisation of decision making, but for centralisation when those decisions are not the ones that they want.
Tom Levitt: My right hon. Friend will know, from when we served on the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill together, that I passionately believe that special schools have a place, especially for those children who are best served in those schools. There are such categories of children. Is not the key to all this, however, to get the statement right in the first place, and to agree a policy whereby the right education can be provided and properly resourced for that individual child? Parents with a child with special needs want support, which they often get from parent partnerships, to help them to reach the best decision for their child, who will, after all, have to live in an inclusive world after they leave school
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. That was a reasonably long intervention, and interventions generally are getting too long. The House would do well to remember that interventions take time out of the debate, making it more difficult for Members who are seeking to catch my eye to contribute this afternoon.
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