Jacqui Smith: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend makes a crucial point about the importance of parents and of an individual's needs in the system, and I shall expand on that in a moment. I should now like to make a little progress.
I disagree with the Opposition, in that I do not believe that we should focus on buildings and institutions. It would be more useful to set down the guiding principles of the system, then design and reform it to meet those
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principles, rather than making the maintenance of the status quo the guiding principle, which is the Conservativein all senses of the wordapproach. I do not believe that that will enable us to deliver for the needs of individual children. Our focus is on meeting the needs of all children, on extending parental choice, and on securing the highest possible standards and the best possible outcomes for children, young people and families.
Those are ambitious goals, but rightly so. The task of achieving them is changing over time, as new challenges arise. For example, we have seen a significant increase in the number of children identified with autistic spectrum disorders over the past few years, as our health system becomes better at supporting very young children and babies. We are also seeing increasing numbers of children with profound and complex impairments and with learning difficulties. Because we are faced with that wide and evolving range of needs, it is important that we have a flexible range of provision that is able to meet those needs. That is what we are seeking to achieve.
Judy Mallaber: Has my right hon. Friend read the response of the National Autistic Society to Baroness Warnock's report? Its conclusion is that we should not abandon the policy of inclusion, but that it needs training and resources to make it work. Local authorities such as Derbyshire are putting extra resources into specialist autism centres as well as into enhanced units in mainstream schools, which represents the way forward to allow parents the necessary choice.
Jacqui Smith: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and with the National Autistic Society. Previous work by the society and by the all-party group on autism has shown that about 80 per cent. of parents with autistic children in mainstream education felt that they were getting very good support. My hon. Friend has made precisely the point that I wanted to make, which is that the quality of education is dependent on the investment and resources that are put into the schools.
Parental views on where a child should be educated and the support that they should receive are extremely important. We must remember that it was not that long ago that many parents were denied that choice by a system that prevented many children with special educational needs from being educated in a mainstream school and joining other children in that way. That is why we introduced the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. Contrary to the claims made by the Opposition, that Act removed barriers that were placed in the way of parents who wanted their children to attend mainstream schools but were denied the opportunity.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just a question of buildings; it is a question of the support that we offer to families and parents. Is my hon. Friend not
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amazed that the Conservatives have made no mention of, for example, the education maintenance allowance, from which thousands of children with special educational needs are benefiting?
Mrs. Laing: Does the Minister agree that even if the present system of statementing is well intentioned, it does not work in practice? Can she tell us how many children to whom statements have been issued when it has been accepted that they need a certain level of support do not receive it in practice? In practice, parental choice and statementing do not work.
Jacqui Smith: Of course we need a process that enables us to determine where resources should be allocated to reach the children with the most severe special needs. That is the function of statements. We also needand havea robust system of appeals. In the most recent year the number of appeals to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal fell slightly, but it is important that such appeals are possible. I agree that we need to make improvements to deal with the bureaucracy surrounding statements, and we shall do so.
John Bercow: A few moments ago the right hon. Lady was airily dismissive of buildings, but the facilities in buildings are of the essence. Does she accept that, as a matter of principle, it is simply wrong that, for example, girls with physical disabilities should have to share loos with male staff? That is currently happening in a mainstream school in my constituency.
Jacqui Smith: I am never dismissive, airily or otherwise, of points made by the hon. Gentleman. I do consider that situation unacceptable. The Government's schools access initiative, which includes investment of £300 million over the next three years, is making a crucial contribution to ensuring that mainstream schools really are accessible. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman supports that extra investment.
I was talking about parents. We must ensure that an appropriate balance is struck. When any parent of a child with special needs states a preference for a special school, there is no presumption of inclusion in a mainstream school. Instead, the local authority must recommend the placement on the basis of the usual criteria: the child's needs, the needs of other children and the issue of resources.
I agree with the hon. Member for Witney: parents should, by regulation, be given information about mainstream and special schools when a statement is being considered. Through the 2001 Act, we have ensured further support for parents with the requirement that every local authority must have a parent partnership service. What parents really want is an assurance that their children can achieve their full potential, and are supported by well trained staff with the resources that they need to make the most of the
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opportunities that a school and curriculum can offer. That does not come about by accident. It does not exist only in special schools or in mainstream schools. It comes about because a Government are willing to invest in capacity to ensure that it happens.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What is the Minister's response to the survey by Her Majesty's inspectorate mentioned in the annual Ofsted report? It found that in cases of inclusion a significant number of children with special educational needs were not achieving all that they could.
Jacqui Smith: The timing of the hon. Lady's intervention is lucky, as I am coming to precisely that point. She is right: the proof of the system, the evidence of success, must lie in improving outcomes and raising attainment for children with special educational needs. We have done well in that regard. The Ofsted report shows that the proportion of pupils with special educational needs who are judged to be making good progress in mainstream primary and secondary schools has grown significantly in recent yearsfrom 54 per cent. to 73 per cent. in primary schools between 2000 and 2003, and from 43 per cent. to 71 per cent. in secondary schools over the same period. We know that there has been progress, but we also know that there is more to be made.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Does the Minister acknowledge the concern expressed by Conservative Members earlier about the lack of training available to teachers in mainstream schools? Grangewood school in my constituency has set itself up, on its own initiative, as a centre of excellence offering training to all schools in the borough of Hillingdon. It has been swamped with demand. The headmaster says that it has only been able to scratch the surface of that demand, while at the same time having to deal with the real challenge of a falling roll as a result of the government's policy. Should we not be supporting such centres of excellence rather than undermining them?
As I have said, we are making progress but we need to make more. That is why we are working, through the national strategies and through our response to the Tomlinson report, to encourage schools to personalise the curriculum. It must be accessible to all children, so that it provides all children with the best possible learning. That is why we are investing in our children, and not simply through the additional £1,300 per pupil that will have been invested between 1997 and 200708. This year there has been a 7.8 per cent. increase in local authority spending on special needs. That is whyhere I come to the point made by the hon. Gentlemanwe need to build capacity in the teaching and education work force.
We recently commissioned the Teacher Training Agency to produce a £1.1 million package of work to improve quality and choice in special educational needs training for teachers. We are working to provide a more effective continuous professional development and career path for teachers and special educational needs co-ordinators, and for heads. There are already many
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good, indeed inspirational, teachers working in the special needs field, and we need to ensure that their expertise feeds through to others. We have made an important start by providing 135 advanced-skills teachers who specialise in special educational needs to advise and support less experienced colleagues, 50 of whom are based in special schools.