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The special educational needs co-ordinator is important. One of the recommendations of the earlier Select Committee report was that the SENCO should be a member of the senior management team. That is absolutely vital. There can be no working SEN leadership in schools unless the SENCO has status in
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the school. That person will of course be selected for their leadership qualities. We need a whole-school approach.

Educational psychologists have been mentioned briefly. I have spoken about them quite a lot in Parliament. From my contacts I understand that there is still uncertainty about who will fund training for educational psychologists and how it will be funded. The Government have responded to the concerns that arose from the change in qualifications for educational psychologists and in the training process, but we face the prospect of at least a year when there will be few new educational psychologists coming through the system. There is a sense of insecurity; people have told me that they do not want to go in for that career because they are not sure how their training will be financed. That is serious.

We need to address much more than just data. We must make sure that we are not simply collecting data for data’s sake. We do not want bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake. We do not want league tables to emerge from the process, but evidence-driven policy sounds like a pretty good idea, if we can use the evidence at individual school, local and national level to improve outcomes for all our children with special educational needs.

I give the Bill my support, but I look forward to the Committee, because there is a lot of detail to be teased out to make sure that we have information that is monitored and used so that it leads to better outcomes.

10.33 am

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I am pleased to speak in support of the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on securing a high place in the ballot and on developing her Bill and introducing it as she did this morning. Considerable work has gone into the measure and I welcome the provisions and the timeliness of their introduction. I know how passionate my hon. Friend is on the subject of special educational needs—her passion was reflected in her speech, which was heartfelt and compelling.

My hon. Friend said that special educational needs come in all shapes and sizes. I want to focus on deaf pupils and to consider how existing SEN provision affects them. First, however, following my hon. Friend’s speech and interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), I pay tribute to St. George’s Roman Catholic high school in my constituency—a mainstream school that excels in provision for pupils with SEN. About 15 per cent. of the pupils have some level of special educational need and it was the first school in Salford to be involved in the dyslexia- friendly schools initiative. The measures outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West can but help to improve St. George’s—to develop and better the school’s already impressive performance. As we have already heard, it is important that schools such as St. George’s are willing to tackle SEN and not take the easier path of concentrating on pupils with no extra needs.

I am sure all Members agree that SEN is a complex issue. The range in type and extent of special need is wide; different needs require different provision, which
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is why I want to focus on the needs of pupils who are deaf. There are about 35,000 deaf children in the UK; 90 per cent. are born to hearing parents who have no experience of deafness or knowledge of how to communicate with a deaf child. Until the new-born hearing screening programme was rolled out in 2006, diagnosis in the early years was poor, which meant that deaf children often missed out on crucial opportunities to develop their language and communication skills. The National Deaf Children’s Society says that an undiagnosed deaf child aged three will know only about 25 words, compared with 700 words for a hearing child of the same age.

Lack of information and support after diagnosis has been a problem. If hearing parents with deaf children lack adequate support they will be prevented from making informed choices about how to support their child and communicate with them effectively. The combination of those factors means that deaf children are generally a long way behind their hearing peers when they start school, even if they have similar cognitive abilities, which leads to a big gap in educational achievement.

Fortunately for deaf children in my constituency, the Thomasson Memorial school for the deaf in Bolton, which is a regional resource, is available to them. Every year, a number of my young constituents attend the school, where one of the teachers is another of my constituents—Mrs. Eileen Hosie. I have visited the school, which is in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly). The school is making an excellent contribution to the provision of education for deaf pupils in Salford and throughout the north-west. Many areas do not have such resources, however, which compounds the attainment gap for deaf pupils.

In March 2007, when the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) was a Minister in the Department for Education and Skills, he stated in a Westminster Hall debate that only 32.9 per cent. of deaf children in England achieved five or more A to C grades at GCSE, compared with the then national average of 57 per cent. That is an attainment gap of 24 percentage points. Given that deafness is not a learning disability there is no reason why deaf children should achieve less than their hearing peers of similar cognitive ability. That gap is not acceptable to me.

Those statistics demonstrate the importance of the Bill, because they were the only statistics my office could find on the educational attainment of deaf children. If we do not know that the gaps exist, how can we take appropriate action to close them? I welcome the duty to collect and publish information about children with SEN that the Bill would place on the Secretary of State. It is important for a variety of reasons.

At present, there is little incentive for local authorities to make the provision needed to reduce the attainment gap between deaf and hearing children. By collecting and monitoring information on provision and on outcomes for deaf pupils we could do many more things. We would know about the attainment gap and understand
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it, so we could start to see where targeted action is needed in schools. We could identify high-performing areas across the country and find good practice that could be shared with other areas. We could assess which interventions were effective in raising the achievement of deaf children. We could improve our understanding of the training required by teachers so that they can communicate effectively with deaf or hard of hearing children. We could give the parents of deaf children more informed choices and enable the public to hold local authorities to account for their performance in the education of deaf children.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West said, the Bill will make a crucial difference in ensuring that the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children, as well as the needs of those with other special educational needs, start to be properly identified and addressed. Importantly, the Bill will complement the recent progress that has been made by the Government in improving the life chances of deaf children.

The report “Aiming high for disabled children: better support for families”, which was published in May 2007, set out the vision that every disabled child should have the chance to fulfil their potential. Such a vision requires the collection of information for which my hon. Friend is calling. Of course, it was announced in the children’s plan that £18 million would be used to provide better data for schools about the progress of pupils with SEN. That is key.

Furthermore, the roll-out of the new-born hearing screening programme, which I mentioned earlier, will result in the majority of deaf children being identified by the age of six months. That should remove a key barrier to the development of deaf children. There is no reason in principle why the attainment gap for deaf children should not now start to close provided that there is sufficient political commitment supported by a programme of targeted interventions. That is where my hon. Friend’s Bill comes in.

My hon. Friend acknowledged that the Bill does not offer a universal solution. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the National Deaf Children’s Society have both said that rather than effecting change, the collection and analysis of information on SEN will facilitate change. The data will provide these and other organisations with the leverage to campaign for improved policies and to build progress on progress.

My hon. Friend has shone a spotlight on unnecessary underachievement, and I commend her for it. I support her Bill because its measures will help to ensure that every child has an equal chance of success. We cannot continue with a 24 percentage point. attainment gap between deaf children and hearing pupils, and the massive waste of potential that goes with it. My hon. Friend’s Bill will be an important step towards closing that gap, and I hope that we will support its Second Reading today.

10.41 am

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): As a dyslexic and the father of two dyslexic children, and as secretary of the all-party group on dyslexia and specific learning difficulties, I congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on introducing this Bill. She spoke
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with passion and a real-life understanding of the issues, and she shared her personal experience of SEN with the House. I hope that others will join me in expressing our thanks to her for promoting the Bill. I hope that it will have the success that it deserves.

The charity Dyslexia Action has emphasised the explicit link between unidentified dyslexia and poor literacy, long-term failure at school and limited employment opportunities. That outlook might sound hugely pessimistic, yet it highlights how crucial it is to provide children who have special educational needs with an education system that helps them to reach their full potential. Dyslexia is only one of many specific learning difficulties suffered by millions across the country. As the hon. Lady pointed out, 1.6 million children have SEN. Of those children, 2.9 per cent. are statemented and 16.4 per cent. are not. That illustrates why provision for children with SEN should be a priority for any Government.

Any parent who has experienced the diagnosis of their child with a specific learning difficulty, whether it is moderate or severe, will know how distressing that can be, yet they will also take comfort from the fact that with the right education and support a child with SEN can lead a fulfilling and accomplished life. The Government have made efforts to increase the integration of children with SEN into mainstream schools. The argument is that inclusion will be beneficial to those with learning difficulties. As a consequence, in the past decade about 93 special schools have closed down.

Mixing the education of children with learning difficulties with that of pupils who are, broadly speaking, in the average and above average range can produce positive results. However, for children with severe learning difficulties, the classroom can be an isolating and demanding environment if appropriate inclusion strategies are not followed. Does the Minister accept that it is vital that local education authorities, schools and parents have the relevant data, so that they may see the successes, the failures and where there has been progress? All in all, we need a clear and coherent picture across the board.

As we have heard, LEAs are not required to publish their data on SENs in a standardised format so that they can be brought together to be analysed and compared with the data of other LEAs in order to allow bad practice—and, most importantly, good practice—to be identified. On top of that, the categories into which children with SEN are placed are too broad to be truly effective in allowing us to understand the complex needs of pupils with different learning difficulties. The information that does exist falls under one great umbrella that does not take into account the very specific support and provisions that individual learning difficulties require. For example, a child with autism has a set of needs different from those of a child with dyslexia. Does the Minister accept that there is a common belief among many SEN specialists and charities that the system does not sufficiently take that into account?

Discussions with colleagues in Norfolk have shown that there is certainly agreement that the gathering of SEN information in a way that promotes clarity and transparency would be most effective as a planning tool. I am pleased to announce to the House that Norfolk county council, entirely of its own accord, has
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already started to collate such data for that reason. I commend the council for doing so.

Initial teacher training is another important issue to bear in mind. Although the Bill does not cover teacher training, does the Minister agree that it is crucial that we should have a joined-up approach to dealing with SEN? We need to have the right information on SEN, but teachers also need the necessary skills to support and guide children with learning difficulties. That is all the more important in light of the Government’s determination to continue their policy of inclusion. What are the Government doing to expand the SEN aspect of initial teacher training? Does the training take into account the different needs of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and of a child with severe dyslexia, for example?

Children with learning difficulties have a right to an education that considers fully their specific requirements. They should be able to have a fulfilled life because of the education that they receive, and that right should be equal to the rights of more able pupils. I strongly urge the House to support the Bill so that we can achieve that.

10.47 am

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on introducing the Bill. I am proud to support her Bill, which is a model of its kind. May I say how disappointed I am that the Press Gallery is not bursting at the seams? We in this House are criticised, rightly, when things go wrong. On days when we consider private Members’ Bills, many hon. Members promote Bills such as this one, which gain support across the House. They do noble things, yet the press are not present to listen. I understand that notable members of the Press Gallery have children with special needs, and it is a shame that the Bill will not reach the wider audience that it deserves. However, I am sure that we will do our best as individuals to ensure that it receives wide approbation in our constituencies.

My hon. Friend has worked tremendously hard to gain Government and Opposition support for her Bill. She has had many meetings, which she has enjoyed, to negotiate with Ministers and others. I shall use that model for my private Member’s Bill once the Government finally decide which Minister is responsible for it—after all, it was published only two months ago.

I have been involved in special educational needs since I was a volunteer assistant at a special school at the tender age of 16. It was as a result of that experience that I became interested in a career in education. As we used groundbreaking drama techniques and trust exercises with the young people, I also became interested in pursuing an educational drama career, which was quite unusual for someone from my school. It was tremendously inspiring and I remember that time well, even though it was many years ago. Since then, special educational needs training and teaching have come on in leaps and bounds, but we have still not done enough. People are still teaching in schools where the necessary information on the children that they are teaching is not gathered, and that teaching is not as good as it could be if we had the right information and could properly target in-house teacher training courses.

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Mark Williams: I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for the Bill. We have talked a lot about the confidence of parents and children—it is at the core of the Bill—but teacher and staff confidence is an issue as well. I recollect what a challenge it is for a teacher who has had no professional development or initial teacher training whatever in the challenges of autism to be summoned to the head teacher’s office and told that a severely autistic child will join their class the next week. Does she agree that the issue relates to teacher and staff confidence as well as parents and children?

Anne Snelgrove: Absolutely. The Government are to be commended for increasing the number of teaching assistants working alongside teachers. If I had had a teaching assistant to work alongside me when I was teaching in middle and secondary schools, my teaching practice would have been so much better. It would have enabled me not just to cope but to teach all the children in my class to their full ability. Secondary school teachers in particular need the kind of help that the hon. Gentleman recommends, because they often miss out. The teacher training that they get is very much subject-based, not child-based. That is a generalisation—it is not so everywhere—but it is, unfortunately, true for many teachers.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Does the hon. Lady share the concern of the organisation Xtraordinary People, which found in a recent survey of 1,000 parents of children with special educational needs that 70 per cent. of those children were not receiving learning support from a teaching assistant with training in dyslexia or any other special educational need?

Anne Snelgrove: I have not seen that survey, so I shall just make some general comments. I shall come to definitions in a moment; it is important that we unpick what we mean by dyslexia and special educational needs. I agree that teachers and teaching assistants should have training in those issues, and we need to look closely at whether dyslexia and other special educational needs are recognised in local authorities and teacher training institutions. That is why the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West is so important. Until we have the relevant information, we cannot come to definitions or concentrate on the gaps in initial and continuing teacher training provision.

Information is needed about all aspects of special educational needs. When we discuss the issue in this House, hon. Members, myself included, often use “special educational needs” as a blanket term to cover all sorts of disabilities, and sometimes even abilities, but it refers to many disparate conditions. It includes children with physical disabilities who may be academically able and those with severe or moderate learning difficulties who may be physically able. It is important that we start to consider better categories for use when we talk about the issue, as well as for use by local education authorities and in teaching.

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