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My Bill seeks directly to address this issue, and I hope that those points have helped to reinforce its objectives in the minds of all Members here today.

The statistics show that children with SEN are eight times more likely to be expelled from school, and that young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are twice as likely to have no qualifications if they have SEN. That is a terrible waste of talent, so let us ensure that we can keep an eye on these statistics, and, hopefully, watch them improve.

Mr. Sheerman: Should we not include in such statistics, as the Select Committee strongly recommended, information on the number of educational psychologists we train, the ability to access them and whether such access is uniform across the country?

Mrs. Hodgson: That information is very important, as my hon. Friend rightly says, and it certainly could be monitored within the work force census being piloted.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People also tells us that many deaf and hard-of-hearing children are not performing as well as they could, but that it has been very hard to obtain the information it needs to tackle areas where there is poor support and underperformance. The Bill would make a crucial difference
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in ensuring that deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s needs are properly identified, and would encourage more teachers to identify hearing loss in the classroom.

The success of this Bill will not be measured overnight. Monitoring outcomes alone will not make the difference that we need to see. If effective and public monitoring of outcomes can be a catalyst for change and enable us to see outcomes continue to improve, it is then—and only then—that this Bill will be deemed a success. Information will help to pinpoint the patchwork quilt of SEN, but it is action that will make the difference. Putting in place a statutory requirement on this Secretary of State and those who follow in his footsteps to pay special consideration to improving outcomes will trigger that action.

Currently, there is significant regional variation in SEN provision; different local authorities take different approaches. By improving information on the results of these approaches, we can identify and then hopefully roll out best practice across the country. Different local authorities face different challenges, depending on the varied social backgrounds of the local population. I recognise that policy must always be informed and adapted to meet these challenges, but I still believe that this Bill will help to mark out a clear path for progress.

Although the statementing process is the subject of much debate, the variation in the number of children statemented per local authority is not huge—only a few percentage points, in fact. The lowest figure is for Nottingham, at 1.1 per cent., and the highest is for Torbay, at 4.2 per cent., based on figures for where such children attended school. It is important to take into account the fact that the figures may be affected by the number of pupils who are outside mainstream schools, but the fact remains that at a local level, there is a marked variation in recorded incidence of SEN of more than 13 per cent.—from as low as 13.5 per cent. in one local authority, to 27 per cent. in another. There is no doubt that local authority staff are working tremendously hard to meet the identified needs of children; their professionalism and commitment cannot be questioned. This Bill will ensure that they are not working in the dark, with no easy way of identifying what works best.

It is noticeable that the Government’s response to the recent Select Committee report on assessment of and funding for SEN states clearly that the Government intend to equip schools with the data needed to assess whether children with SEN are making good progress. I hope that this commitment can be extended to local authorities. This may appear to put local authorities into competition with each other, but that need not be the case. Pointing fingers will not solve problems, but a helping hand will.

I have, with the good grace of Members here today, been allowed to lay out both the Bill’s immediate effect and my hopes for its implementation. The Government should be commended for delivering consistent progress on special educational needs over the last 10 years. Funding has increased, and SEN issues have penetrated further into mainstream thinking on education policy. I am confident that the trailblazers being run across the country to establish the benefits of specialist support for dyslexic pupils will show the capacity of such an approach both to deliver improved educational outcomes and to save financial resources.

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Today, we can come closer to ensuring that special consideration for those with special educational needs is enshrined in statute. These children have identified needs, and I want to help to ensure that we meet them. In January last year, 19.2 per cent. of children in schools had special educational needs—that is 1.6 million children. A strong sector is willing to support these children and their families as they jump through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to secure extra support. I want them to have access to the information that will help to provide that support and that will enable them to campaign for change.

All our children should be able to use the talents they have to reach their full potential and build themselves a brighter future. This Bill will be a step towards that, and I commend it to the House.

10.10 am

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on obtaining a high position in the ballot and, more importantly, on her choice of issue—it touches so many people’s lives and hearts. I share her passion for wanting to improve the outcomes for children with special needs and the processes involved for parents, carers and children, by which those improved outcomes might be achieved.

The hon. Lady described her experience as a parent. She was fortunate in managing to obtain speech therapy for her son at such an early age, and she highlighted how provision varies across the country. We will all have been approached by parents and carers in our constituencies who desperately want to achieve the best possible education for their children. I am in touch with a parent autism support group based in Poole, and I have listened to the many concerns of individual parents; a frequent cry is, “Why is it a continual battle?” TreeHouse recently organised an event in my constituency to enhance communication between Poole borough council and this group. A lack of belief and confidence in the local authority emerged from the discussion, and more information might help the situation.

The two Select Committee reports on the matter, which were published in 2005-06 and 2006-07, have made an important contribution to the debate on special educational needs. Many of us feel that whatever role we had to play in the educational system, we had neglected this area over many years. Important issues were highlighted in both the reports in terms of parents’ confidence and the information available to them. I endorse the recent report’s recommendation that publishing provision maps for each area would at least help to inform choice.

Our Government speak a lot about choice for parents and pupils. Parents often feel that they have no choice in the area of special educational needs. It is difficult for parents to make informed choices. When I was Poole borough council’s chairman of education, I was delighted that we had a funded position in the parent partnership services to offer parents what was supposed to be independent advice. Sadly, parents do not have confidence in the independence of that advice—I find that increasingly in my work as an MP. I
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can only feel that information would help. We need more information at individual level. We need to know what is available and how it is used. I agree that we need to review the data held at individual, school, local and national level.

Ofsted’s latest annual report, which is important at school level, said:

Teaching assistants were seen as important. Conversely, the report said that where there was gross underachievement in pupils with learning difficulties

In other words, we need the good use of data within the classroom and the school context, and that must be matched up with teacher training, which, as has been said, is important. We must extend that to the training of classroom assistants, who have an incredibly important role to play.

Mr. Sheerman: Does the hon. Lady agree that not only the initial teacher training process, but the continuous professional development is essential? Some of the teachers who are in place need such training. Appropriate training modules are available and they are not as expensive as some Ministers fear.

Annette Brooke: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because I agree that that is the case. The Government have committed—I believe in response to the first of the Select Committee’s reports—to provide more continuous professional development. I would like some hard information on that. Is it really happening? Is the supply cover being provided in schools to release teachers to receive that training? That training is essential not only because of the postgraduate certificate of education, but because we also have school-centred initial teacher training—SCITT—and even “Teach first”, where the very talented graduates go straight into the classroom. I would not think that they would be experts across the whole SEN sphere, so such training is vital.

As the Special Educational Consortium, reinforced by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, says, having more information has the potential to improve our understanding of what works, to provide a better basis for the sharing of good practice, to improve our understanding of training and professional needs and to provide a more secure basis for the development of national policy. The Ofsted report of 2004 found that under-expectation was a significant factor in the underachievement of children with SEN and that too little is known about the attainment of pupils with SEN. We know that the RNID is flagging up the incredible statistic that only 32.9 per cent. of deaf children across the board achieve five GCSEs at grades A to C, whereas the average for all children is 57.1 per cent. We need to know more about that underperformance.

I received an interesting representation from a teacher, and as we are all acknowledging that teachers are so important, I should like to go through it. The teacher stated:

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The statistics will also obviously inform how the range of teacher training that we have mentioned needs to take place and the development of best practice.

It is pretty obvious that good information is needed to underpin strategy at local and national level. We need to address the individual school, local authority and national levels. The Ofsted report of 2004 said that only a quarter of local education authorities had strong strategic management of SEN and the majority had weak evaluation systems. It is a long time to wait for 2009 and the next big Ofsted report. It is therefore important that this Bill is being introduced today, so that we can start digging in to some of these important issues.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I wonder if I may put to the hon. Lady something that only the other day illustrated to me the failure to understand the significance of the issues with which we are dealing. A well-meaning, but relatively ill-informed councillor, in a part of the country that I will not identify, said to me that he thought that I was, in taking an interest in speech, language and communication needs, championing a noble cause. However, he said, he thought that I should understand that it was already a huge challenge for local education authorities to preserve front-line services, and that provision for SEN had to be considered in that context. Oh, how sad it is when someone is so ignorant.

Annette Brooke: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and he sums up the feeling in the House that not enough attention has been given to special educational needs. Inevitably, there has been a focus on raising standards and achieving the five A-C grades. If a school is making a decision on how to allocate its resources, it can be target driven and may not direct them to where the need is greatest.

Collecting information on school action is especially important. Much funding for special educational needs is delegated to schools, and parents do not have confidence that that money is necessarily spent on special educational needs or the needs of their offspring. Clearer information would help schools to demonstrate that they are indeed allocating funds to the area for which they are designated. We all have a part to play in moving forward the debate on special educational needs, and that is why it is so important that we have excellent champions of the issue on both sides of the House to raise its profile.

The Bill contains two basic proposals that would place a duty on the Secretary of State to collect and publish information on children with special educational needs. Both relate to England. Both duties are focused on information that could help to improve the wellbeing
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of children with SEN, and such information would have to be published each year. It is important that the information should go beyond educational achievement, and the reference to the five outcomes from Every Child Matters—stay safe, be healthy, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being—is very important.

There are so many issues facing children with special educational needs and their families. The bullying and exclusion rates are well documented, so we know that we must address the whole child, not just the educational results. As the hon. Lady said, TreeHouse has just completed research into parliamentary answers on autism over the past 10 years. It was not surprising that the Government were unable to, or have chosen not to, answer many of those questions, because—TreeHouse found—no estimate is made of the information requested or it is not collected; there are no plans to collect the information requested or it is not possible to provide it; records are not kept; data are not readily available; no information is available on the question; or the information requested is not held centrally. That sums up the huge gaps in our knowledge.

It is important that the Bill addresses all types of special needs. I am very interested in the causes of dyslexia and autism, but those are perhaps high-profile special educational needs that, as amateurs, we know a fair bit about, and there are many different types of special needs. The more we learn, the more we find that particular types need a particular approach in the classroom.

I have received a representation from the Joint Epilepsy Council, and epilepsy is a condition that we have not discussed much in our debates on special educational needs. The JEC points out that children and young people with epilepsy routinely experience potential health, learning, behavioural and emotional needs as a direct or indirect result of their epilepsy. One has only to visit a special educational needs school to become aware of that. The JEC believes that the Bill could help children with epilepsy. If the Government were to collect more data on the population of children and young people with epilepsy, it could improve outcomes and education for those with the condition. It is important, therefore, that we ensure that we are covering the widest possible range of special educational needs.

Mr. Sheerman: We all know that many schools deliberately exclude children with special educational needs. Many parents support those schools. They may believe passionately that SEN is an important educational challenge, but they may also support schools that do not want SEN children in their midst. It is a real problem that schools today can still exclude poor children, children with special educational needs and looked-after children—and get away with it.

Annette Brooke: I am in danger of taking part in debates on several issues this morning as I care about so many of them. The hon. Gentleman’s point is right, and parents can have justifiable concerns if behaviour in the classroom makes the situation difficult for all pupils. The answer is not exclusion, but proper provision and support for the children with special educational needs. Exclusion is the quick-fix option.

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Mr. Sheerman: The hon. Lady has misunderstood my point. The intake of so many schools in the independent sector, or of grammar schools and even faith schools, manages by some mechanism to include almost no SEN children.

Annette Brooke: That is true. There are great variations in intake and that is then reflected in the results of the schools. We now have admissions policies, in which children with special educational needs should be given fairly high priority, and I hope that the Government will take that into account when ensuring that the admissions policies are followed.

I recently tabled a written question to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families that asked

The answer read:

I have two concerns about that. The first is the mention of disproportionate cost, because it is claimed that this Bill will not require any extra resources. We should be wary of that claim, because it might have cost implications. I would not want us to pass a Bill and raise expectations if resources were not available to match them. But my greatest concern was that I was trying to obtain information on early years, on the basis that early identification, matched with appropriate support or treatment, is crucial.

It is really important for us to know how many children have been identified at age three or age four and all the way through, because we could then track how effective we are at making early identification. We could track how good our early years provision is and the training of early years workers, which is just as important as the other training that has been mentioned. Some special educational needs will be identified only when the child is slightly older, but there are nevertheless a number of conditions, some of which the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is involved with, that would benefit from specialist early intervention.

We should see any costs in the SEN sector as an investment. If we identified special needs at an early age and intervened appropriately, there would be large savings over years in money spent in the school system, and perhaps even in the prison system.

It is important that we see the measure as a way of raising expectations, by improving information about children’s progress and helping to establish the right infrastructure. We must be wary, however, of raising false expectations. Will data collection bring utopia? I am not at all sure that on its own it could possibly do so. Implementation and teacher training across all courses is all-important.

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