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The report identified several major issues, such as SEN training for teachers, which the hon. Member for Blackpool, South has already discussed in detail, so I shall restrict myself to two or three items. One that has been touched on once or twice already is the question of special schools versus integration in the mainstream. For the last two thirds of the 22 years in which I was teaching, I worked in schools with very good reputations for integration. During that time, as a mainstream teacher, whether in year 7 or in GCSE or A-level classes, I had experience of teaching children with a wide range of special educational needs, including children with degrees of autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, 20 per cent. sight or Fragile X syndrome, or children who were profoundly deaf—the list goes on. Integration in the mainstream works brilliantly in many situations.

Having been my party’s spokesman on disability for four years from 2001 to 2005 in the previous Parliament, I know that many disability organisations regard anything but total integration as apartheid or segregation—the Committee’s Chairman has referred to such evidence. Their point of view is that there should be no special schools. However, many parents and disability groups do not agree. The Government denied to the Committee that they were pressing for special school closures—clearly they have not officially pressed for them—but the Committee took a lot of evidence from local authorities to the effect that they felt a strong background pressure, even if that was not explicit, to close special schools.

The Committee recommendation is for an appropriate balance: there should be a proper network of specialist schools for the children in question and the parents who feel that their children will gain most benefit from that environment, but there should be full integration in the mainstream wherever possible and where there is parental support for it. That all costs money. Both systems cannot be adequately maintained unless the funding is put in, as opposed to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Another major issue that the Committee discussed was statementing. The Committee took evidence over and again that dealing with statementing was a nightmare for parents. We heard from the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) about a parent who waited 10 years for a statement for their child. The Government say that it is not a problem, but that is wishful thinking, and everyone knows it. The Committee recommended separating out the LEA role as commissioner-provider—that is, the LEA roles of making the statements and providing the places and cash to deliver them. Inevitably, if the LEAs are delivering both sides of the equation, there will be downward cost pressure on what is provided, and on the number of children who are statemented.

If the Committee’s recommendations are to be carried out—the Government response suggests that they are not—there are cost implications. A couple of members of the Committee argued, almost, for a blank cheque approach, by which whatever statements or recommendations were made the cost would somehow be met. Of course, in the real world, costs must be met, and for all three of the parties represented in the debate it is necessary for the Members concerned to argue the matter with their respective Chancellors and shadow
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Chancellors, but the funding needs to be made available to turn warm words about SEN education into reality.

For mainstreaming to work, it must be well funded. Last Friday, The Times Educational Supplement contained an article by Fiona Leney, the mother of a child called Oliver, who is deaf and has had a cochlear implant. He attends a mainstream primary school with a specialist deaf unit. She writes:

It works very well, but Kent county council, which runs the service, is consulting parents and educationists about slashing funding to deaf units such as the one attended by Oliver, to put the money towards support for autistic children instead. Fiona Leney comments:

All that has parallels in my classroom experience. I could give many examples, but I shall not. In the latter half of the 1980s, more and more SEN children were coming into the school where I taught, and it worked well. Then, because of funding cuts—whether due to national or local decisions—support workers were removed. It was a disaster for a year, until, following a struggle, funding was brought back for particular children. Mainstreaming cannot be done on the cheap. Done properly, it works brilliantly and transforms the life chances of children, but it costs money.

Much of the emphasis must be on the role of central Government, because under the system that has been established we have the most centralised control over local government in Europe, with 75 to 80 per cent. of the budget of any local authority coming as handouts from the Government and clear strings attached concerning what they are spent on. If there is not enough money to deliver the system at local level, the people who are providing 75 to 80 per cent. of the funding must do something about it.

The Liberal Democrat party would rather that the power and the fundraising power returned to local level, but that is a matter for another debate. The Government must set minimum appropriate standards, so that around the country where local authorities exercise different judgments they cannot fall below an acceptable standard on which everyone agrees, although they may choose to invest well above that standard if that is their local priority.

My final point is about league table pressures, an issue that the Select Committee report did not really go into. Many children with special educational needs are very able academically. I could reel off examples of children in that category whom I taught and who went on to university, although some such children will never achieve high academic success because of the nature of their disability. All children with special
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educational needs, whether or not they are academically able, present schools with extra issues, costs and problems.

There is pressure from the Government in the form of league tables, Ofsted and professional pay reviews—I underwent one of the first of those in my last year of teaching—for which an individual teacher must show how they are achieving group success for the classes that they teach, so that they can get their pay award.

The pressure of all those things on “standards” means that some schools are less open and welcoming to SEN children than they might otherwise be. I could give anecdotal evidence of schools in Derbyshire where that happened, although it would be unfair to do so now, because it was six years ago and the head teacher in one of the schools concerned has been changed, so the policy might also have changed. However, all that one need do is consider the various professional analyses that have been done of, for example, the intake of the top 200 schools in the league tables and compare the smaller percentage of SEN children attending those schools with the figure for other schools.

The Government must think again, they must withdraw their bland, self-congratulatory response to the Committee’s report, and they must listen to and take action on the widespread expressions of concern by parents, disability groups and teachers about how we treat our SEN children.

3.29 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Hancock, for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), particularly in the light of Chesterfield’s magnificent win in the Carling cup earlier in the week.

The Select Committee inquiry, on which I had the pleasure of serving under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), was extremely important and very popular with the people. We received more than 230 individual submissions all told, which I think is the most we have ever received. That shows the interest in the subject.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hosting a reception in the House to launch the National Autistic Society’s first ever education campaign document, “Make School Make Sense”. The reception was well attended, and it featured speeches from me and from the society’s president, Jane Asher. I followed up the launch with the tabling of early-day motion 2228, entitled “National Autistic Society’s Make School Make Sense Campaign”, which has attracted 242 signatures from Members of all parties. I am also fortunate to have the NAS-run Robert Ogden school in Thurnscoe in my constituency. It is the biggest specialist autistic school in western Europe.

When an organisation such as the NAS launches its first ever education campaign document, we must ask why, and why now. The answer is primarily because, in the society’s opinion, the system is failing and causing misery for many of the 90,000 UK children who have autistic spectrum disorder and their families. If we consider the statistics, we can see why. More than 40 per cent. of children with autism have been bullied
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at school. One in 110 children has autism, but there is no requirement for trainee or practising teachers to undertake any training in autism. More than 70 per cent. of schools are not satisfied with their teachers’ training. More than a quarter of children with autism have been excluded from school, usually owing to a lack of school understanding and awareness.

There are more appeals to the special educational needs and disability tribunal on schooling for children with ASD than for children with any other type of special educational need. Importantly, 79 per cent. of parents who have appealed to the tribunal have won, which says much about the inadequacies of the system.

The main reason for referring to the NAS document is that I want to frame within it my comments on the overall SEN debate. The document makes the point that SEN is complicated, as we have found out from Members’ contributions. The NAS says:

I shall return to those three demands in more detail.

First, on the right school for every child, the Committee believes that the Government should act to ensure that a range of SEN provision is available. The Committee’s report highlighted the huge differences between how individual local education authorities organise SEN provision: from 0 to 42 per cent. in resource provision or units; from 0 to 60 per cent. in maintained special schools; and from 18.9 to 73 per cent. in mainstream schools. That is a broad range, and it shows the diversity of provision throughout all LEAs.

Parents also told the NAS in research for the “Make School Make Sense” campaign that provision was limited: two-thirds of parents believe that their choice was constrained by a lack of provision; half of all parents believe that their children’s placement was not the best school for them; and 30 per cent. of secondary pupils with autism have to travel out of their local authority area to access a suitable school. Those statistics show the scale of the problem that we have in providing the right school for every child.

The second demand is the right training for every teacher. The NAS welcomes the Government’s comments on special educational needs co-ordinators and supports the good-practice guidance on ASD, which is a useful resource. It is good to know that the Government will consider promoting it further.

There is much still to be done to improve provision for children with ASD and with all forms of SEN, and it is important that the Government remain committed to implementing their SEN strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) mentioned the initial teacher training on SEN and disability. I totally agree with him. We must focus not only on teachers who undertake three to four years’ training, but on teachers who take the postgraduate
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certificate of education, and we must ensure that their SEN teaching is well developed. There must be a clear mechanism to ensure that schools prioritise SEN and disability in their training and development budgets. I would welcome the Minister’s assurances on that important point.

The final demand is for the right approach in every school. Our report highlights the high level of exclusions among disabled pupils and pupils with SEN. I had hoped that, on that point, the Government’s response would have been more proactive, because in 2003-04, two thirds of all school exclusions were of pupils with SEN.

The Special Education Consortium is pressing for two key changes to the relevant legislation: first, a requirement that school behaviour policies show how reasonable adjustments are made for disabled pupils and that special provision is made for pupils with SEN to reduce the risk of exclusion; and, secondly, a statutory requirement to hold an early review of the adjustments being made for disabled pupils and of the provisions for SEN pupils who are at risk of exclusion. That recommendation is in guidance on statemented pupils, and I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on those changes.

Teachers with SEN expertise work in a variety of contexts, including special schools, pupil referral units, hospital schools and regular primary and secondary schools. They may also be unattached—based not in one school, but providing specialist expertise throughout a range of education settings. We need greater collaboration between SEN and mainstream schools, more disciplinary work and the sharing of staff expertise as the opportunities recommend themselves.

In recommendations 96 and 97 of our report, we refer to collaboration between mainstream and special schools. The Committee Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, has already referred to our exciting and interesting visit to Darlington’s education village, which has a special school, primary school and secondary school all on the same campus. We referred to the need to provide funding to LEAs to increase their ability to facilitate and encourage collaborative arrangements in communities of schools that work together, sharing facilities and professional expertise to improve the outcomes for children with SEN. I would like to hear the Minister’s comments on that.

I recently met the Barnsley Asperger’s Parents Group on Priory campus, Lundwood, at an exhibition celebrating world mental health day. The group includes 90 families of children with ASD, and they collaborate to ensure that their children get the best education possible. I would like the Minister to provide some feedback on how he feels about such organisations. They do a first-class job for their children.

I wish briefly to mention the important matter of the transition from childhood to adulthood, on which no hon. Member has yet touched. I know that the “Every Child Matters” agenda is addressing some problems that children with ASD and other disabilities face when moving from school into adult life. I am pleased to say that the NAS now has an organisation called Prospects, funded by Jobcentre Plus, which provides placements for those suffering from ASD.

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The NAS estimates that a third of a million adults suffer from autism and have left the education system, but only 6 per cent. of them are in full-time occupations. Prospects places young adults with ASD in appropriate work placements—for instance, in administration, finance, research, IT or library work—to suit the problems that they suffer from. There are certain types of job, usually those to do with communication and interactive skills, in which young adults with ASD would have problems.

John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. Does he agree that it is particularly applicable to children who require intensive speech and language therapy for severe disorders? If they do not get early intervention, not only do they not get the potential benefits of that intervention, but they are more likely than not to have emotional and psychological difficulties and suffer persistent communication handicap, lower educational attainment and poorer employment prospects. That is why they are in the NEET category—not in education, employment or training. It is critical that early intervention be provided.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. That was very close to being another speech, Mr. Bercow.

Jeff Ennis: I am conscious of the time, so I shall bring my remarks to a close by saying that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The report highlights the unavailability of speech and language therapists in many local education authorities to provide training, particularly in the early years, for those in that situation. That must be addressed.

3.42 pm

Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and other members of the Education and Skills Committee on putting together a report that achieves a great deal. A lot of evidence was presented to the Committee and it was considered in a spirit of cross-partisanship that has produced an excellent report. I hope that that spirit will be carried through into this debate.

The report’s key achievement is to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy about the national policy of inclusion, while acknowledging that inclusion has a role to play. It makes it clear that there is no question of returning to the bad old days, pre-1978, when exclusion was the norm. However, it presents evidence that inclusion is not always right. I was particularly pleased with the Committee’s visit to my constituency in Essex, where it examined special needs education in the aftermath of the closure of The Leas special school in Clacton-on-Sea. Inclusion was used to drive numbers down at the school and to justify its closure, which has created enormous problems for local families and particularly for the children who have been forced into the mainstream as a result of that outrageous decision. Families have had to deal with bullying problems and the disruption of their children’s education, which has caused a great deal of trauma. As one parent said to
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me, “Life is tough enough as it is, trying to raise a child with special needs. It is a lot tougher when you know that some remote bureaucrat is trying to shut your child’s school.” I commend the report for its recognition that inclusion is not always the answer and that a one-size-fits-all policy does not suit everybody.

The second achievement of the report is that it nails down responsibility. Town halls and local government are not the driving force behind the policy that I call “enforced inclusion.” The report makes it clear that it emanates from Whitehall. It mentions the 2004 SEN paper “Removing Barriers to Achievement”, saying that the Government set out their position in their guidance to local authorities. It says that the policy of enforced inclusion is driven by statutory and non-statutory guidelines that make it clear that it is Whitehall’s policy and there is no point in blaming town halls alone, althoughI believe that a good measure of criticism is merited for some town halls. The report states that

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