Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)|
31 OCTOBER 2005
Q20 Helen Jones: It is fairly important
if we are designing the system.
Baroness Warnock: I know. The
definition, as you probably know, which comes in the 1981 Education
Act is the purest vicious circle you will ever know. A special
need is defined as "any need that the school needs to take
special measures to meet". Well, that is not much of a definition
but it is the only definition there is. I think it is that vagueness
actually which has led to what I have referred before, which is
the very bad habit of talking of SEN children as a class, a category,
of children, all of whom would be expected to flourish in the
same sort of environment.
Q21 Helen Jones: That is really the
problem, is it not, in dealing with this? If we are to come up
with a definition that is worthwhile, that we can work to, bearing
in mind we are dealing with young people with a whole range of
different needs, is it your view we should be narrowing that definition
down, or is it your view that we should be expanding it and looking
at all children as individuals? Just thinking of my own experience,
I have seen children with special needs flourishing in mainstream
schools but I have seen in my constituency very good special schools.
Baroness Warnock: Absolutely.
Q22 Helen Jones: Should we be focusing
in this Committee on how we meet the needs of the individual child
rather than talking about institutions? If so, how can we in your
view produce a system which does that, bearing in mind the whole
complex range of issues we are trying to deal with here?
Baroness Warnock: I think what
is suggested would be very good, namely it would bring to an end
this careless way of treating SEN as a unified category of children.
I think very much of what you said would appeal to the Scots because
that is exactly what they have been trying to do and they have
now given up, as I say, the expression "SEN" and what
they now have is "assisted learning support, ALS" and
they bring in under the concept of ALS any child who, for whatever
reasonsocial, whateveris not doing very well at
school. So it is I think a practical negative definition. You
look at all the children in your class and say, "He is not
doing very well, could we do anything for him? He is not getting
on very well." In a way, it is not very different from the
futile circular definition in the 1981 Act but it is very consciously
doing what you suggested, namely seeing an individual child and
what they really want to make them flourish. I have to say that
was really at the back of our minds on my committee all those
years ago, when we were trying to invent ways of talking about
these children. We were trying to get away from the medical model
and that there was something wrong with them, and we invented
this concept of seeing what they needed to make them get further
along the same road they were treading with all the other children
being educated. So it is not a very different idea from that but
we know that did not work and it hardened itself into this concept
of SEN and it has tried to improve it.
Q23 Helen Jones: If we went down
that road, could you give the Committee your view of whether there
is enough expertise in most of our schools to make those identifications?
Some children are identified as having a special need very early,
even before they go into full time education, but others are identified
later because their needs become apparent later. Is there enough
expertise to identify those needs? Is that where the system breaks
down? If not, what should we be putting in place to make sure
that expertise is there so if a child is not making progress we
can identify it?
Baroness Warnock: That is a terribly
important point and the first place one ought to look for that
is teacher training and also some of the trainers of teachers
ought to come from these trail-blazer schools, of which there
are 12 and they are very much scattered about the country. The
point of the trail-blazer schools, as you know, is that they are
special schools but they are staffed by very expert people who
are going out to teach in mainstream schools. That is the point
of the schools. I think those trail-blazer teachers should be
given a very important role in teacher training and that would
mean the caucus of expert people would grow eventually.
Q24 Helen Jones: Who in your view
should finally make the decision about where a child or young
person should be placed? Let us say we have gone down the road
of deciding a child has particular needs, but we are always faced
with the problem of where those needs are best met and all the
participants in the child's life will not always agree on where
they are best met. Who in your view should make that decision
at the end of the day?
Baroness Warnock: I do not really
know I have a view about that, when you think of teachers in mainstream
schools and what many of them are up against with children who
simply behave extremely badly. Do you have to treat a child as
having a special educational need because he is not learning something
and preventing others learning? That is a very difficult judgment
to make because the teacher will always blame herself"If
I was better at it, this person would settle down and learn. I
haven't got the knack." It is terrible. I do not know what
the answer is.
Q25 Helen Jones: That is the key
though, is it not?
Baroness Warnock: Yes.
Q26 Stephen Williams: Perhaps I could
change tack. Earlier you mentioned in one of your responses the
medical model of looking at children and we have mentioned children
on the autistic spectrum and people with mental and physical disabilities.
I understand your initial inquiry in the 1970s did not look at
the social background of children?
Baroness Warnock: We were forbidden.
There were two things we were forbidden to do and these came direct
from Margaret Thatcher so how could we disobey. One of the things
we were forbidden to mention was dyslexia because that was thought
to be a middle class invention. The other we were forbidden to
mention was social disadvantage because we were told this would
be offensive. But we did sneak in a reference to social disadvantage
because we were very much conscious of, or some of us were, the
absolute absurdity of pretending this did not exist. If you remember,
in the 1981 Act the other bit of this futile definition of special
needs was nothing could count as a special need which either comes
from social disability or from not having English as your first
language. I think with both those together the Department was
trying to protect itself against a charge of discrimination on
grounds of race or wealth or whatever.
Q27 Stephen Williams: My constituency,
Bristol West, is supposedly the archetypal middle class seat and
I have the most intellectual constituents in the country with
more PhDs and professional qualifications than anybody else, and
that is undoubtedly true, but I also have the city centre of Bristol
including St Paul's. As I visit primary schools in different parts
of my constituency I am struck by the differences, with primary
schools in most of my constituency very well supported by the
social environment and some of the top primary schools in the
country, and then I visit schools in the city centre and the teachers
tell me that children cannot concentrate in school because their
mother is out doing unsavoury things at night, their dad, if there
is a dad at all, has weapons in the house, the child has very
little sleep, there are no books in the house. Do you think there
needs to be a new definition of the educational needs of a child,
not only because of the medical background but their social environment
Baroness Warnock: Fortunately,
the new category of special need, emotional and behavioural difficulties,
now includes social as well, so that is a great step forward.
There is, among many other good movements privately funded, a
movement called the Nurturing Group, and that is spreading all
over primary schools and it takes children of the kind you have
described, whose vocabulary when they come to school consists
of five words most of them expletives, and the Nurturing Groups
take these children in groups of six and keep them for as long
as a year or two years until they learn, and I think that is a
wonderful thing and that is the kind of solution we need because
it has to be done quite early. It really is the case of catching
them before they are seven, or five say. I think there is hope
in the extension of nursery provision too because that is somewhere
where you can pick up what is going to turn into an educational
need when really first they are nothing but a total failure of
Q28 Stephen Williams: Do you think
the statementing process itself needs to be revised to include
these children, because often there will not be parental pressure
to put the child forward for statementing, whereas in a middle
class area there will be pressure to make sure the child is statemented.
In the sort of background I am describing there will be no pressure
to get their child the extra support needed.
Baroness Warnock: None at all,
and the school has a huge responsibility but it has to start as
soon as the child starts pre-school, nursery, and go on from there.
That is another thing, if I were running a new Royal Commission,
I would press for.
Q29 Chairman: We are not all that
keen on Royal Commissions in this Committee, Baroness Warnock.
We actually said all those things in our inquiry into early years
three years ago.
Baroness Warnock: That was very
Chairman: That was really only an advertisement
for the Committee.
Q30 Jeff Ennis: Baroness Warnock,
there are very many critics of the current SEN system in this
countrysome of whom are on this Committee incidentallyand
they say the current system is too cumbersome, litigious, et cetera,
and that lack of resources and poor heads on many occasions are
put before the needs of the child. Given that scenario, and I
am assuming to some extent you may partially or wholly agree with
that, and given the fact the Government has already concluded
that wholesale change to the present system of statementing would
not produce improved outcomes for children with SEN, how do you
respond to that, what would seem to be a very placatory response
from the Government; very wishy-washy?
Baroness Warnock: With despair
really. We know there is a shortage of resources in all kinds
of fields of education and if you asked me it was more important
to put resources into schools or universities or teachers' salaries,
I would be hard put to answer, but I think the solution cannot
be just in terms of more resources. I think before huge amounts
of money are spent, my view is that there ought to be a structured
examination based on evidence of the method of distributing resources
rather than the quantity of the resources. I think what we have
got wrong is probably the distribution. I think that is in a way
a wide ranging answer to your question but I do not think, without
a wide over-arching reform of the concepts under which resources
are distributed, we shall get much further.
Q31 Jeff Ennis: Following on from
that particular point, is there any conflict under the existing
system between, say, the LA who is the purse-holder at the present
time and the Department of Health, for example? You have medical
clinicians on many occasions, depending what the condition is,
making remarks about what the package should be for that particular
child in educational terms, but they have one eye on the fact
that in many respects finance is the final arbiter and they put
in a sort of open-ended statement saying, "We need to continue
the review of that particular child's needs" rather than
Baroness Warnock: There is an
amazing coming-together from different angles in some of these
things. On the one hand, we have always lived in a time of scarcity
of resources, so there is the argument you cannot pick out every
individual child, it is just too expensive to do that, and give
him the education he needs, which is one argument. Then, on the
other hand, that argument is reinforced I think by the ideology
of not treating children with disabilities as though they were
different from everybody else. Therefore you have an argument
for the resources in that on the one hand it is very expensive
to give everybody exactly what they need but secondly, which is
a terribly ideological one, that everybody must muck in together
because we are all the same really. So in a way the two arguments
reinforce each other. I think both these types of arguments need
to be unpicked to see what we could do between everybody to ensure
fewer people fall through the floorboards. It is a negative approach
to me really; rescue the children, do not say they will cope because
coping is not enough.
Q32 Jeff Ennis: Can I push on a bit
further on the point that Helen was making about who should decide
the placement of the child, in an integrated school or a special
school, and give you an example? With children suffering from
Down's Syndrome you get a number of parents who swear that their
child ought to go to a special school, but on the other handand
I have met both these categories in my own constituencyother
parents say, "My child needs to go into a mainstream school
and be integrated." Which parent is right, or wrong, and
how key is the parental choice in the placement of the child?
Baroness Warnock: I think maybe
both parents are right. It may well be two children and the two
different sets of parents are actually both right because their
children may be very different from one another. Down's Syndrome
covers a huge spectrum. What we know is that a lot of Down's Syndrome
children who are not terribly badly affected do extremely well
in a mainstream school and there is no doubt about that at all
but there are other Down's Syndrome children who actually have
as well as Down's Syndrome a lot of behavioural problems and it
is terribly difficult even in primary school to get them in the
Q33 Jeff Ennis: You seem to be indicating
to me, Baroness Warnock, that parental choice is very important
in this process.
Baroness Warnock: I think it is
particularly with these children. Actually, secretly, I do not
think much of parental choice in the main body of schooling because
my view is that schools are as good as the teachers and children
in them, but when parents know the limitations and strengths of
their own child then I think parental choice is important. I think
what was said ages ago, and nobody probably denies it now, was
if a parent wants a child to go into mainstream school and if
it can be shown the mainstream school has the resources to spend
on that child, then the child has the right to go there. But there
is a second proviso which is very important because not all mainstream
schools can have all the expertise and equipment. It would be
a very expensive way of going about it if they should all have
Q34 Mr Wilson: Baroness Warnock,
you have described inclusion as a disastrous legacy in your previous
Baroness Warnock: I thought this
would be flagged up!
Q35 Mr Wilson: You said also that
children are physically included but emotionally excluded. I would
like to know whether you really believe it is that bad and, if
it is, what is your evidence?
Baroness Warnock: To take your
last point, one of the things I said in that pamphlet is that
one person's hunch is not enough and actually what you need is
a body of evidence properly collected to find out about children
with specific disabilities and then I was talking about these
autistic children. I think we need to find a way of collecting
evidence to show how different disabilities affect different children.
As far as my personal evidence goes, of course it is anecdotal
because I have not carried out enough research, but I do know
for example of one child with Asperger's who cannot make sensible
social connections either with grown-ups or children unless he
is very, very carefully taken through and people are told, "You
have to look him in the face, you have to smile, pretend you find
it funny". He cannot find anything funny, he takes everything
literally, but the trouble is he has a very high IQ, he is very
good at maths and therefore the local authority will not give
him a statement because he has a high IQ but he is so miserable
at school that he cannot be got to go to school, he lies at home
saying, "I wish I were dead" and he is on anti-depressant
drugs and that is the only way he can be got to school, and even
then he has to be taken out of school one day every fortnight
to have a rest and then he cries all day. It is a terrible thing
and he is a clever little boy. I think that there could be evidence,
which I do not have, that would demonstrate that he is not unique,
that there are other children who are in a mainstream school and
though they are under the same roof as everybody else they are
completely isolated and shrivel up with misery. That is my evidence.
Q36 Mr Wilson: So you are saying
it is a hunch and anecdotal evidence is all you have at the moment.
You are not aware of any research or any university which is going
to carry out research?
Baroness Warnock: I am sure the
Autistic Society does collect a lot of research and therefore
if there is research which is being done it would not be starting
from an absolutely blank sheet by any manner of means. There is
lots of research on autism. I think the agreed diagnosis of autism
comes specifically from this inability to have normal relations
with other people, grown-ups or children, without being taught
to have them. I think a lot of people learnt about this from that
book calledsomething about the dog in the night.
Q37 Mrs Dorries: "The Curious
Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."
Baroness Warnock: That is right.
Q38 Mr Wilson: There is some research
which Ofsted are doing, are you aware of that research?
Baroness Warnock: Yes.
Q39 Mr Wilson: They make a number
of criticisms about how challenging it is for schools and how
often ill-defined needs are pitched to a lot of the children.
There is a whole series of things. Would you make any comment
Baroness Warnock: No. Ofsted reports
have been, as far as I know, extremely fair because they were
very critical of a lot of inclusion and I think they have on the
whole, again for children with special needs, told it like they
found it. One of the things which makes mainstream schools very
hazardous I think for children with disabilities of one kind or
another is thatI forget which but I think it was the 1993
Education Actlaid down the regulation that every school
should have a special educational needs co-ordinator, or SENCO,
and it was supposed at the time this SENCO would be a member of
the senior management team in the school and would have considerable
input into the general ethos of the school and the way these disabled
children were being accepted by teachers and so on. They were
at the beginning senior teachers, but I learned only the day before
yesterday that there is now a very large number of schools where
the SENCO is actually a teaching assistant and not a teacher at
all, with no experience and they are no longer a member of the
senior management team but someone with peripheral duties to see
how many children there are in that school who are getting this,
that and the other. That is nothing to do with this policy review
but that is a way in which things have got worse now from how
they were in the early days of integration.