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The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) mentioned the cost implications. The Government should establish what information is and
is not already collected and useful, and devise a more integrated strategy for collecting it across the country so that it is available to Ministers and local authorities, and alsojust as importantto parents and members of the public.
Several Members have mentioned the importance of training, not just for teachers but for everyone involved. I will not labour the point, because I raised it in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, but continuing education is key. Talking to parents about their childrens needs reveals that those needs can be incredibly diverse. Staff in a small primary school may not perceive every special educational need, because it is not possible to train people to do that at the outset. They must of course be aware of the existence of such needs, but if a child arrives at the school with a particular need, there must be enough flexibility for them to have speedy access to training so that they can support the child from day one.
Other Members have mentioned TreeHouse. A few weeks ago, I visited TreeHouse school to see some of its excellent work. I have also read TreeHouses research on parliamentary questions about autism. As several Members have observed, the trend in the number of questions showsin this and many other areasthat there has been increasing interest in the subject over time, but there are a good many missing answers. I am sure that the answers that have been given are genuine, but when I read, The data have not been collected, No estimates have been made, The information is not held centrally or The information is not available, I cannot help feeling as though I am reading volume one of The Ministerial Guide to How Not to Answer Questions, paraphrased beautifully by TreeHouse.
As TreeHouse points out, the questions are being tabled not just to the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families but, increasingly, to a range of Departments. It is important to ensure that understanding of special educational needs exists across government and the public services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, that does not apply only to education. If we do not do a good job in this area, there may be implications for the Ministry of Justice in relation to prisons and the criminal justice system.
Some of us have been lobbied about underachievement among deaf pupils, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley). I have discussed the subject with the RNID, which is pushing for an improvement in information as a catalyst for improvement in services and educational outcomes for children with hearing impairments.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said in his powerful speechinformed by his personal experience and that of his son Oliver about the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. When I visited TreeHouse, I was given a report on the economic consequences of autism, funded by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities. I was struck by the fact that the lifetime cost of providing for someone with high-functioning autism is estimated at £2.9 million, not including the cost of informal care provided by families. For someone who also has a learning disability, the lifetime
cost could be as high as £4.7 million. It would be interesting if the Government were to make a proper financial assessment. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham talked about the effectiveness of early diagnosis and early intervention. Investment up front will pay for itself financially over time but, more importantly, as he said, it will have a human impact on both the child and their family.
John Bercow: What my hon. Friend has said about the work of TreeHouse is right. I visited TreeHouse and it provides an outstanding service. In making the point that he has just made about spending to save and avoiding long-term costs, does he agree, go slightly further and acknowledge that, making a priority of special educational needs provision, is not a question of being compassionate or altruistic? It is a question of doing what is right both for the realisation of the individual potential of the child and for the maximisation of the benefit of their potential contribution to the success of our work force and our country.
Mr. Harper: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are two ways of looking at this. There is the human sidemaking sure that we enable people to reach their own potential and maximise their own capabilitybut there is a sensible reason for society to do that. A significant number of people want to be in the work force and to contribute, but they are unable to do so because of the lack of opportunities that they had early on, and the fact that those opportunities continue not to be available. It is not just in their interests but in all our interests to ensure that we give them those opportunities. If the Bill can be a catalyst to produce the information, to drive forward the debate and thereby to improve the services available, the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West can rest content that, as my hon. Friend said, whatever else she may achieve in her career in Parliament, this achievement at a relatively early stage will mark her out as having done something significant.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am pleased to be able to support the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on introducing it and on her great wisdom in coming so far up the ballot list. I also pay tribute to her enthusiasm and ongoing commitment to improving educational outcomes for children generally and for children with special educational needs in particular.
I, too, have a personal interest in the matter, although it is not perhaps quite as direct as my hon. Friend's. My sister has been a special educational needs teacher for about 25 years and, like my hon. Friend, she never misses an opportunity to champion the needs of her pupils and to tell me what the Government must do to improve matters further.
One of the key issues in making provision for children with special educational needs is ensuring that parents have confidence that professionals are genuinely seeking to provide appropriate support for their children.
To achieve that confidence, of course, parents need to have better information about the educational outcomes achieved by their children and how that relates specifically to the support available to them. Providing that information is exactly what my hon. Friends Bill seeks to do. A strong theme of the report is that there is not enough information in the public domain to enable comparisons of provision and support and how they impact on SEN children to be made across local authorities and nationally.
The Committee carried out detailed visits to a number of schools throughout the country. We saw examples of best practice in a wide range of authorities as diverse as Essex and Darlington. Darlington had the only education village that we visited. A number of professionals in the field suggested to us that that was a model of best practice and that it signalled the way forward for SEN education. I agree, and I pay tribute to two people and two schools in my constituencyJoan Sjøvoll of Framwellgate school and Julie Connolly of Trinity schoolfor putting forward a proposal for Durham city to have an education village that is not only science focused, but has a special school integrated into the plan. If Treasury Ministers are listening, I would like them to fund that proposal. Before concluding that that is the best way forward for special needs education, however, we need to know that the strategies adopted by the village are reflected in improving educational outcomes for the children involved.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am sure that what is taking place in Durham is effective for the youngsters and parents who live there, but will the hon. Lady also say something about the needs of those in rural areas with SEN? There should be appropriate levels of assistance for the youngsters and their parents who live in rural areas, but that is sometimes forgotten.
Dr. Blackman-Woods: I agree. Part of my constituency covers a rural community, and I hope that the needs of the young people who live there will be incorporated into the education village through better transport.
John Bercow: The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is important and we hear a lot about it from parents in rural constituencies, but may I put a slightly different point to the hon. Lady? We often talk about people going to access services, but we have to accept that some families who might be afflicted by a vast range of problems will not go to help, and therefore help must go to them. I have encountered many such families in recent months. That underlines the importance of effective outreach provision.
Dr. Blackman-Woods: I accept that point. There are examples in my constituency of childrens centres reaching out through their outreach work to such people. May I also in passing pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his undoubted expertise in this area, which the House and the country at large benefit from?
In their detailed response to the Select Committee report, the Government acknowledged that it highlighted the need for better use of data on childrens progress by schools. It was also stated that parents needed to be able to access good information, as well as good support. The Committee also suggested that it is necessary to improve accountability, so that parents can assess their childrens progress and the outcomes they achieve. There was also an acknowledgement that Ofsted has urged more effective use of data in setting appropriate and suitably challenging expectations for children with SEN and in tracking their progress. I hope that the Bill will contribute to that.
Better use of data is at the heart of school improvement and should also be a key part of the evaluation of services. The Government acknowledged that in their response to the Select Committee report. They said that they needed to improve accountability regarding the outcomes that children achieve, as well as improving provision for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, and with autism. Members have mentioned today the need for services to be more focused on the latter category.
The Government said that the Department for Education and Skills, as it then was, would need to take forward the inclusion development programme from 2006-07 onward, and that it would hopefully transform the understanding of SEN and disability in schools and significantly improve earlier identification and intervention. They mentioned the need to do this specifically in the areas of speech, language and communication needs; dyslexia; autistic spectrum disorders; behavioural, emotional and social difficulties; and moderate learning difficulties. However, I contend that it will not be possible to measure whether the Government have taken these steps forward unless more information is available and is put into the public domain to enable a proper assessment of the strategies.
We know that we need better use of data to track progress and to evaluate services correctly, but we must ask ourselves why we are doing this. It is not about putting information into the public domain for the sake of the information itself, but about knowing which approaches work best for specific difficulties. Parents want to have a better understanding of the needs of their children with special educational needs, what is being done to meet them and how effective those approaches are. This Bill will assist us in securing not only more help for parents and better and targeted support for young people, but, most importantly, for SEN pupils themselves.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) was entirely correct in saying that early intervention is the key to securing better outcomes for all children with difficulties, but particularly for those with special educational needs. When I started teaching in a university more than 20 years ago, nobody mentioned dyslexia or, indeed, any learning difficulties. There were no diagnostic tests or special measures in place to support students with reading difficulties in particular. It is a measure of how our discussion of this issue has moved forward over the years and how our services have improved that such measures are now fairly standard in universities and colleges throughout the country. However, it is a failure of our system that someone can get to university or
college before having dyslexia diagnosed; it will have impacted negatively on their life chances along the way. I therefore really want to push the Government for early intervention and proper measures to show us how the life chances of children with special educational needs can be improved.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on promoting this excellent Bill. I was particularly delighted when she invited me to sponsor it, which I am very pleased to have done.
Special educational needs is an issue that has always required more serious attention, but only recently have I had serious problems with my own local authority regarding such matters. My hon. Friends Bill will make a significant advance, and I hope that the Minister will take it forward, that the Government will help it on to the statute book, and that they will move on from there and make better SEN provision for all our children.
My interest in, and concern about, SEN goes back a long way. I am certain that I went to school before anyone else in the Chamber. I started primary education in 1946. [Hon. Members: Never!] Hon. Members flatter me, but that is the truth. I went through school not being chastised, but I remember lots of my school chums being frequently chastised in a fairly brutal wayrulers were used on the back of knuckles; that was commonplace in those days, but I am glad to say that it now illegal. Looking back, it is clear that several of my friends had special educational needsbehavioural problems, dyslexia and learning difficultiesfor which they were being punished. Later in life, I read the Victorian satirical novel Erehwon by Samuel Butler. He portrays a world in which the fortunate are rewarded and the unfortunate are punished, and that is precisely what happened in my primary school. Some hon. Members may say that I have difficulties, but I did not have behavioural difficulties and I did quite well at schoolI only started to misbehave when I came to this Chamber, as the Whips will confirm. There is no question but that what happened at my school was cruel. There was no recognition of what were obviously special educational needs.
I move on to the iniquities of the 11-plus. I was fortunate enough to pass it, but several of my friends, who were very bright, actually failed it. Later in life they did very well, and they discovered that they had failed it simply because they were dyslexic and could not spell. My closest friend is a highly intelligent manhe is a lecturer in social sciences and a fine man in every waybut he is dyslexic. Believe it or not, he used to win the English prize when he was at school, despite his dyslexia. He used to write an essay in his own dyslexic language and then spend hours going through it word by word with a dictionary to ensure that he spelt everything correctly. Sometimes he could not spell a word even then, because he could not work out what the second letter wasone needs to be able to do that when one is looking at a dictionary. He struggled but he got through.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) alluded to his own dyslexia and the fact that his sons are
dyslexic. There used to be an assumption that we were all born with equal abilities and that what happened after that was purely environmental: if ones child could not spell it was somehow to do with parenting, teaching and so on. We now know that there are inherited characteristics in some of these matters. There is certainly strong evidence to show that a degree of inheritance is not uncommonly involved in dyslexia; as the hon. Gentleman says, his sons are dyslexic too. These factors are starting to be recognised, but there are still those in local education authorities who do not recognise that some disabilities need to be treated individually, sensitively and properly.
Even today, special educational needs are still prone to a range of presumptions and prejudices that we must set to one side. I taught A-levels in St. Albansas one can imagine, not too many people doing A-levels there have special educational needsbut my wife was a primary school teacher in a much more deprived area. She was a special needs co-ordinator in her school before she retired. She used to identify children as having problems early on, and she would tell the local authority that certain children needed to be statemented. She was not making prejudicial decisions to exclude childrenshe saw that they needed support and that they needed statementing. The LEA would take months, if not years, to do the job because it meant extra cost and because some people did not really believe in special educational needs.
Let me discuss one experience that my wife had. I can speak safely about this now because it took place in her previous education authority, before it became a unitary authoritywe were in Bedfordshire. The special needs adviser from the county came down one day to look at a particular child. He said to my wife, Well, Mrs. Hopkins, it is quite simple. You have to give him one-to-one teaching. She said, I have a class of 34 children, how can I do that? I cant do one-to-one because there is no resource. This was before the increase in classroom support.
John Bercow: Many of us believe that local authorities are in an unacceptably powerful position as the bodies that assess, decide on, pay for andfor the most part, through in-house servicesprovide the services that SEN children are designated to receive. Given that the Children, Schools and Families Committeethen the Education and Skills Committeeproduced a compelling report in summer 2006 that, among other things, recommended a separation between the assessment of need and the funding of provision, and that we await the Governments reply to a follow-up, even more detailed report, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is something to be said for that separation, so that the in built conflict of interest is removed?
Kelvin Hopkins: In an earlier intervention, I suggested that funding for children with serious special needs should be provided centrally, so that expense would not influence the decision of the local authority officers.
To finish my anecdote, the special needs adviser for the county visited the school to speak to my wife. My wife had said that she could not provide one-to-one teaching, much as she would love to do so, with a class
full of kids, so the adviser said to her, Oh well, Mrs. Hopkins, Ill have a word with him and try to do a bit with him myself. Half an hour later, he came back and said, Mrs. Hopkins, I can do nothing with him. That was the special needs adviser from the county authority. My wife asked whether the child needed statementing, and a year later he was statemented and went to a special school. The resistance of the education authority on the grounds of cost, and sometimes prejudice, was clearly evident.
In my early days as a Member of Parliament, I had a tense relationship with the senior education officers in the new unitary authority. Fortunately, they have now moved on so I can speak a little more freely about them. We had a difference of view. Schools in privileged areas want to exclude all children with difficulties because they like nice, bright, university-bound children to teach, and do not want to worry about the rest. On the other hand, some people, for the best of motives, want blanket inclusion, although that may not be the right course. I had three cases in which the authority refused point blank to contemplate giving a place in a special school to children with serious behavioural problems who clearly needed that place. It took a long time, involving the media, before the authority relented. I know that some of those children are now doing very well in special school provision.
I supported the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), who has a strong view about the need for special school provision, and I spoke in her debate a year or so ago on the issue. We have campaigned together on it. I do not suggest that all children need to be excluded, but neither do I suggest that all children can be left in mainstream schools without proper support. Children have a range of needs, and the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) made that point very powerfully. One has to look carefully at the specific needs of every child. Some of them are simple, and some are complex, but all relate to that particular child. Provision needs to be made for those specific difficulties, sometimes through special schools.
John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically powerful speech. What really worries me and, I suspect, many hon. Members is that access to what is required for a child is dependent on ability to pay. My sense is that if parents are educated, articulate, not completely broke, willing to joust with authority and capable of writing a letter, they will in the end probably get what their child needs. The people who trouble my conscience are those who are possibly afflicted by all sorts of problems, not necessarily educated, may not have the willpower, have other issues weighing them down, do not know where to go and cannot get help. They may not go to SENDISTthe special educational needs and disability tribunaland if they do, they are up against a resourced local authority that can crush them. That is not on, is it?
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