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24 May 2006 : Column 1486

Amendment No. 16, in clause 35, page 25, line 17, at end insert—

‘(6A) In discharging those functions, the governing body of a maintained school shall also have regard to the provision of appropriate teaching and learning support for any child with special educational needs.'.

Amendment No. 17, in clause 37, in page 26, line 38, after ‘requirements,', insert—

‘which shall in particular include a requirement to give priority in admissions to disabled children and children with special educational needs who do not have a statement under section 324 of EA 1996,'.

Amendment No. 18, in clause 38, in page 27, line 29, leave out ‘may' and insert ‘shall'.

Amendment No. 19, in clause 38, in page 27, line 31, at end insert—

‘, and these shall include a report on the numbers of disabled pupils and those with special educational needs admitted to each school in the area.'.

Government amendment No. 67.

Mr. Hayes: I am delighted to speak to new clause 4, and the other new clauses and amendments in this group.

For the benefit of the House, the new clauses that I have tabled with my hon. Friends mount a strong defence of the role of special schools in the service of special needs children. Last night, we ended our consideration of the Bill with a debate on school discipline and the quality of life in schools: their ethos and atmosphere. I hope that that debate marks the start of a war on thugs and bullies and a crusade for their victims.

Most strong, confident, able children will survive any school, but that is not so for the most vulnerable, including children with special educational needs. They are indeed special, and they deserve our special care and concern. Every parent knows the protective instinct evoked by a fragile, innocent child as we wonder at their beauty. Imagine the intensity of those feelings in the case of a child who is especially fragile, physically or emotionally, because of special needs.

I invite the House, in considering the new clauses and amendments, to attempt for a short time to share those emotions. I do so with little doubt about the good will in all parts of the House on the subject, which is not a matter of party affinity or prejudice. It is not, however, unaffected by ideology or even dogma. The unrelenting pursuit of the integrationist policies that followed the Warnock report in 1978 and the Education Act 1981, which was introduced by a Conservative Government, could hardly have been more dogmatic.

That dogma has coloured our perception for too long. When introducing the Special Needs and Disability Bill—I was pleased to serve as a Front-Bench spokesmen on the Standing Committee that considered that Bill—Baroness Blackstone said in the Lords that

As I said in Committee, the order in which she listed those benefits is interesting. We are, of course,
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concerned about the social, moral and cultural needs of people with learning difficulties, but their educational needs are always more significant than any cultural or social benefits that we might derive for them, their contemporaries or their schools. I could put it more bluntly: children’s futures count—not the guilt-ridden consciences of the liberal bourgeoisie.

Closed minds have closed schools, and thus damaged lives. Of course, none of that was malevolent, and much of it was fuelled by the best intentions. But as we know, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The integrationist broad-brush approach to an infinitely complex issue has damaged the educational prospects of countless children.

Of course, many children with special educational needs, where their parents wish it and where their needs can be accommodated, do well in mainstream schools and in special units attached to mainstream schools. I celebrate the work of those schools and of the teachers so committed to their important duty. However, there are two fundamental problems with integration. The first is that the resources necessary properly to meet the stated needs of children rarely follow them into mainstream schools. That is certainly true of staff training.

The former head of a middle school with a special unit tells of the practical costs of the policy in a letter referring to these matters published in the national media this week. He writes:

So it is not surprising that, according to the comprehensive review conducted by The Times Educational Supplement last year, two thirds of teachers receive less than one day’s training in how to teach children with special needs, and 90 per cent. of head teachers thought that their schools did not receive sufficient resources to fund integration.

That is perhaps why the amendments have been welcomed by the National Union of Teachers as an important set of improvements to the Bill. It is why the orthodox thinking on the subject among teachers and others has moved to the position that I have held from the early 1980s onwards, when I first became interested in special educational needs. I recall from that period—the mid-1980s—supporting many struggling parents who wanted their children taught in special schools, sometimes out of authority or even out of country, because they knew that that was the best way of allowing their children to fulfil their potential.

Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): In new clause 4(5) the proposal is that a child with special educational needs

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Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he would also subscribe to the view that a child with special educational needs shall not be educated in a special school if that is incompatible with the wishes of his parents?

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman makes a telling point, and he is right that parental wishes are paramount in these matters. I would not wish any child whose parents did not wish it or whose needs were not best catered for there to be educated in a special school. As I said at the outset, the educational needs of the child should be paramount in our considerations. I know the hon. Gentleman has a longstanding commitment to the subject and a detailed knowledge of it. I pay regard to that. He, like many hon. Members, wants the best for children with special needs. This debate is about how we achieve that.

Roger Berry: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There is an issue about the needs of the child and the wishes of parents, which may come out in the debate. If the hon. Gentleman agrees that where educating a child in a special school is incompatible with the wishes of his parents, that child should have the right to mainstream education, why has he not made that clear in the new clause?

Mr. Hayes: Because the war that has been waged since Warnock has not been a war against children being integrated into mainstream schools. It has been a war against special schools. The prejudice that has underpinned much of the policy that has emanated since Warnock has not been a prejudice in favour of special schools; it has been a prejudice against them. So parents who wanted their children educated in special schools have found it increasingly hard to get places in them as those schools have closed, as I shall describe later in my long but fascinating speech.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that in addition to people campaigning for special schools, as indeed they have for various reasons, there has also been a major problem for parents of a child with special needs who want that child in a mainstream school and want the necessary support? Many, many of my constituents campaign to get that support, because they want their child in a mainstream school.

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Lady makes another important point—a slightly different one from the hon. Gentleman’s—about resources, which I was dealing with. It is crucial that if a child is to be successfully educated in the mainstream, proper resources and training be put in place to facilitate their progress. It is often difficult for parents to achieve a statement in the first place. The statementing process is still too often long, complex and bureaucratic. It bamboozles many parents. They are intimidated by the whole subject of their child’s education and opportunities. I agree with the hon. Lady that it can be a struggle, therefore, for them to find their way through that maze, get the necessary resources put in place, get a statement that is appropriate to their child’s needs, and get the education they need where they want it delivered.

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I argue for parental choice and for the needs of the child to be paramount. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman points in a rather theatrical way to the new clause. No doubt he will make an interesting contribution to the debate when he has a chance to speak. I want to know whether he is on the side of the mainstream thinking, or on the side of the growing weight of opinion that regards the policy that has been put in place since Warnock as having failed. Baroness Warnock thinks so, the teachers think so and I think so. Does he wish to intervene and tell me?

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: I would be delighted to give way to my hon. Friend.

John Bercow: The intellect of Einstein and the eloquence of Demosthenes warrant a bigger audience than my hon. Friend enjoys today. May I put it to him that the sensible mainstream non-ideological rejoinder to the noble Baroness Blackstone in asserting the merits of inclusion should be, “Up to a point, Lord Copper”? In the case with which I am currently concerned—the future of the Nuffield speech and language unit—it is a matter beyond argument that the reason for a significant decline in the referrals to the unit is that there is pressure on local authorities to reduce the number of statements and, in particular, to avoid wherever possible the fact and cost of out-of-area placements. Should not we accept that sometimes it makes sense to include and sometimes it does not?

Mr. Hayes: Absolutely. My hon. Friend has been a great champion of Nuffield. I was able to add to his campaign in a humble way in Committee by drawing attention to the excellent work done there. I congratulate him on all he does. He is, if I may say so, Jonathan to my David, Ernie to my Eric, Bosie to my Oscar in this respect.

My hon. Friend says, pertinently, that part of the problem is getting the right referrals. Because of doubts about resources, there is a reluctance to statement and to refer. Consequently, parental choices and children’s needs are neglected along the way. I said at the outset that I celebrated the work of all those who made integration work for the very many children who have integrated into mainstream schools and enjoyed and benefited from the experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is right when he says that a one-size-fits-all policy—a broad-brush approach—is not right and not sufficient in relation to special needs.

Roger Berry: If the hon. Gentleman does not want a one-size-fits-all policy and wants to be non-ideological and reasonable, why on earth does subsection (5) of new clause 4 refer only to the right to attend a special school and not to the right to attend a mainstream school? That is as moderate and as reasonable as I can be.

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1 pm

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman needs to study the new clause. Subsection (3) says:

We make it absolutely clear that, given those important caveats about efficiency and appropriateness, a child could be educated in a mainstream school or a special school to good effect.

Roger Berry rose—

Mr. Hayes: I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman again. If he wants to speak, Mr. Speaker, perhaps he can catch your eye later, but he is not going to intervene on me any more, much as I like and admire him, because I need to make some progress.

John Bercow: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: I will indeed give way to my hon. Friend, because whereas the hon. Member for Kingswood has had three bites of the cherry, he has had only one.

John Bercow: May I simply underline the rather obvious point that we do not need to have some sort of Manichaean divide between mainstream on the one hand and special schools on the other? I put it to my hon. Friend—I think that he understands the point extremely well—that when one intervenes early in cases of people with very severe learning difficulties and has specialist provision outside mainstream for a period, one can then facilitate re-entry to mainstream, but to suppose that all children can get by in mainstream represents a triumph of hope over reality.

Mr. Hayes: The point is twofold. First, special needs are dynamic, because their causes are often dynamic. A child’s needs will vary; that is why we need to look at the statementing process to ensure that it is sufficiently sensitive to deal with those changing needs. Secondly, a child’s educational progress may mean that they are better educated at different points in their education in different places. Again, we have to be sufficiently flexible to take account of that. A good example is indeed that of the Nuffield speech and language unit. My hon. Friend knows better than I do that the average time that a person spends at Nuffield is two years, because they move in and out of provision as their needs require. He is absolutely right that a static view about appropriateness has been one of the problems with policy.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab) rose—

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Mr. Hayes: I give way to the hon. Lady, who was an outstanding servant of the House when she served on the Standing Committee.

Ms Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman. The Education Act 1996 makes it clear that one of the criteria for placing a child in a special school is the appropriateness of the provision. The new clause would remove that criterion, and in effect prioritises the efficient use of resources over the appropriateness of the provision. Does not he agree that that in itself invalidates it?

Mr. Hayes: The difficulty, as the hon. Lady will know from her experience in this House and previously, is that in practice a balance is often struck between appropriateness of provision and resources. Sadly, integration, if it is to work well, is often very resource-hungry. I do not want to be too simplistic about this because it depends on the need of the child at any one point in time, but the resource issue that the hon. Lady properly raises is one of the reasons why integration sometimes fails. That will be an ongoing concern and something that Members on both sides of the House will want to scrutinise and raise when appropriate, both nationally and in their own localities.

I must make a little more progress, or I will be chided by my own Front Benchers and other Members. [ Interruption.] Well, I know that they are enjoying it, but like all good things it must eventually come to an end.

The results of last year’s comprehensive survey of schools by The Times Educational Supplement were shocking. It revealed that teachers believe that up to 25,000 children in mainstream schools in England and Wales would be better off in special schools. More recently, the National Union of Teachers has said that inclusion amounts to” child abuse” in some cases. It speaks particularly of those children with the most serious conditions who struggled in the confusing regime of secondary schools, where they could be taught by 10 or more teachers a week in different classrooms. Those findings followed a report that the NUT commissioned from Cambridge university. It is certainly true that teachers, head teachers and governors around the country are increasingly alarmed about the effect of inclusion when resources and training do not follow the child.

The second problem with the policy that followed Warnock is that many secure, supportive and vastly experienced special schools have closed, as a direct result of the pernicious Warnock effect. Ninety-three schools have closed since the Prime Minister promised that things could only get better in 1997. Before the Minister tells me, as I am sure that he will, that the same number of children with special needs are educated in special schools as always were, which is usually the rejoinder when one talks about special school closures, let me give him the figures. From January 1999 to January 2005, the number of children educated in special schools has declined by more than 85,000. The truth is that many fewer children are being educated in special schools.

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight) rose—

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