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In the current requirements, there is no compulsory requirement for SEN training that I can find articulated in any of the documentation for trainees or for qualified teachers; there is only a need to demonstrate an ability to make effective personalised learning provision for those with special educational needs. Does the Minister feel that that does as much as possible to ensure that this group of children are really and truly reaching their potential, because many feel that they may not be? The Training and Development Agency for Schools has developed two new modules with the Institute of Education at the University of London, but for initial teacher training only, despite the fact that the bulk—about 80 per cent.—of new teachers now come through the postgraduate certificate of education route, and it is not even compulsory. Little wonder that the problems of early identification and effective teaching in schools are at the level that they are today.

I pay immense tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham for the work that he does for the House and for communities throughout the country in the field of special educational needs. In his characteristic style and with his characteristic eloquence, he made many points, but I particularly want to pick up on the importance of early identification and of identifying special needs before the age of five. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) also picked up on the importance of training for people who work in the early education sector. The Minister needs to give us some thoughts on how the Government are progressing on that issue, given the consequences of failure to achieve early identification, which were graphically pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. As the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West said, perhaps consideration could be given to the inclusion of new work force census data in a format that parents can understand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham also talked about the importance of far-sighted local authorities. Some local authorities have a well-developed training programme for teachers to fill the gap that may exist in teacher training. Continuous professional development is a vital element of any professional training programme, but it can do little to help newly qualified teachers and those who are still on their training placements, to return to the experience of the hon. Member for Stourbridge. I applaud the excellent work done by the children’s services department at Hampshire county council, which is my own local authority. It has a comprehensive set of continuous professional development courses available to teachers in the Hampshire area, including a learning support assistant course that is accredited by the British Dyslexia Association, with 30 hours taught and school-based assignments. There is also a Hampshire certificate in dyslexia for teachers and special
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educational needs co-ordinators, with 27 hours taught and school-based assignments. I am sure that many other local authorities have similar supportive schemes for their staff, but there are no data on how many take that approach. Perhaps the Bill could help to establish how widespread this sort of good practice is and, indeed, how to spread it, or help to identify where the postcode lottery exists.

There are another couple of vital pieces of information that we may want to consider in Committee, such as information for parents to assess whether the delivery of SEN in their school or local authority ensures that children are making the progress that they should. That was brought up by Ofsted in its report of July 2006. We have discussed a wide variety of special educational needs. It is understandably difficult always to set objectives for children that will ensure that they achieve their true potential, but perhaps the Minister could say something about how things are faring with RAISE—reporting and analysis for improvement through school self-evaluation—online. In the Government’s response to the Ofsted report, they said that RAISE online could give schools the opportunity to monitor better the progress made by students with special educational needs. Perhaps the Minister will say how widespread the use of that system is and whether it is delivering the monitoring and evaluation of pupil progress that was suggested.

I raise the third candidate for data collection on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who is an assiduous champion of the importance of synthetic phonics for all children. My three children learned to read with the help of synthetic phonics and I know how crucial the system is. Importantly, the March 2005 report by the Select Committee on Education and Skills concluded that the use of synthetic phonics could have a significant impact on improving the ability of children who are at risk of reading difficulties to make good progress.

John Bercow: My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. I know that she will not be disappointed to hear that in the Education and Skills Public Bill Committee yesterday morning, which I had the privilege of chairing, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton did indeed dilate for an appreciable period on the subject of synthetic phonics under amendment No. 1 to clause 1, because I allowed him what I thought was an appropriate latitude.

Mrs. Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I, too, have been privy to some of the sermons by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton on the subject. I remain a great supporter of synthetic phonics as a tried and tested methodology for teaching all children to read, although it has a particular application for children with special educational needs. Again, despite the clear findings in the Select Committee report, no data are available on how many teachers can teach using synthetics.

Kelvin Hopkins: Does the hon. Lady agree that in addition to the problem of teachers not being trained to teach synthetic phonics, there is a problem of prejudice in the education establishment, which has existed for a long time? Just as there are those who have a problem with blanket inclusion, there are those who
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do not accept the need for synthetic phonics and other more formalised methods of teaching.

Mrs. Miller: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I know that he speaks with a great deal of experience on these matters. I certainly get the impression that synthetic phonics is not always given the support that the firm research results suggest that it should have.

Lynda Waltho: Let me reassure hon. Members. There is not necessarily a prejudice against synthetic phonics. Those of us who have worked with children of all abilities know that we cannot rely on just one system. Synthetic phonics should be a tool in the toolbox. Going for just one system could be as damaging as sticking to another tried and tested route. It is about having a varied toolbox.

Mrs. Miller: I understand the hon. Lady’s point, and I have heard that argument made in particular by people with a teaching background. I accept that that may be the case, but the available data overwhelmingly suggest that a great many children of them,—the Select Committee report suggests the vast majority— including those with particular needs would benefit from having synthetic phonics as a basis on which to learn how to read. I appreciate that she has far more practical experience than I do in this subject, and she makes a good point that no one methodology can be the only solution. We always need to have a number of ways of dealing with any problem.

No debate on SEN would be complete without reference to the role of statementing. The hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West spoke movingly about the impact of delayed statementing, and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole talked about parents’ worries about the independence of assessments of their children’s special educational needs. She spoke about local authorities’ role as a poacher turned gamekeeper in this complex area. Perhaps the Bill should monitor the time taken to put a statement in place, as that would put a little more pressure on reform of this important area. The biggest catalyst for change in SEN would be a complete reform of the statementing system—a point made by the Education and Skills Committee in July 2006. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, the Chairman of that Committee, is not in the Chamber, but I hope that he does not mind my recalling some of the comments that he made at the time. The Committee called for a “completely fresh” approach to SEN, and the Chairman felt strongly that

despite the fact that there was

The Government argued that there was no better alternative, but the Opposition do not believe that that is the case. In July 2005, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) established the commission on special educational needs under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Balchin. Its findings were announced in November 2005, and highlighted serious concerns about the processes and consequences of statementing, which were echoed by the Select Committee. The report recommended that statements be replaced by a special needs profile, which should be drawn up by
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an independent, accredited profile assessor. It said that funding should come from a national funding agency, removing the unnecessarily adversarial appeals system and the apparent conflict of interest for local authorities, which are required to act as both assessors and budget providers. Perhaps the Minister would comment in his response on what consideration has been given to the work of that important commission and the reform of statementing, which is vital to achieve the aim of his hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West of delivering genuine improvement, especially as that approach has received support from his hon. Friends including, tangentially, the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who raised the matter in his Select Committee.

In conclusion, may I reiterate my congratulations to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West? She said that she wanted the Bill to push things forward for children with special educational needs. We share that aim, and look forward to working with her in Committee to make sure that this is the Bill that she believes it should be.

12.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) asked me on several occasions to respond to the debate, but it would a gross impertinence for a Government spokesperson to respond to a debate on a private Member’s Bill. That honour lies with my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson), who introduced the Bill, but I will do my best to cover many of the points made in the debate. No doubt, there will be an opportunity in Committee for the detail of those matters to be discussed further.

May I add my congratulations to those offered by everyone who has spoken—and possibly Members who have not spoken—to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West on introducing the Bill? She has done a huge amount to champion the cause of children with special educational needs, and my Department supports the sentiments that she expressed when introducing the Bill. She gave a moving and personal account of her interest in, and commitment to, the subject, and spoke about the story of her son Joseph and the way in which that has informed her approach. The warmth and passion that she brings to the subject is no doubt responsible for the unanimous response to her Bill across the House.

We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate. It is not my job to respond to it, but it is my job to set out the Government’s position, and I will attempt to refer to the contributions from hon. Members.

Hon. Members brought a huge amount of expertise to the debate. Several of them suggested that this was the House at its best, although ironically at its least observed by the fourth estate—but that is something over which we have little or no control.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), like others, was unhappy with the quality of some parliamentary answers. That is not a new problem. As the hon. Lady will know, a former leader of her party, or a previous incarnation of it,
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David Lloyd George, is said to have got lost in north Wales and stopped to ask a local farmer for directions. When he asked, “Where am I?” he was told, “You’re in your car.” Lloyd George described that as an example of the civil servant’s dream answer to a parliamentary question: it was short, it was accurate, and it told him absolutely nothing that he did not already know.

I give the hon. Lady an undertaking to look carefully at any parliamentary questions tabled on these subjects, and to make every effort to establish whether information is actually unavailable because of disproportionate cost or because it is not collected centrally. I hope that the Bill will make answers of that kind rarer in future through its commitment to the collection of better data which would be available centrally and, perhaps, not at disproportionate cost.

We have considered the Education and Skills Committee’s 2007 report; the Committee’s Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), was present earlier. The Government’s response will be published on Monday. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt that, but we share the concern expressed by a number of Members about parental confidence in SEN provision, and our response will address some of the points that they raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) spoke passionately as always, in this instance about deaf children. She mentioned the wonderful work done by her constituent Eileen Hosie, who teaches deaf pupils. We share the concern expressed by the RNID and the NDCS about the attainment of deaf children, and the Department is working closely with those organisations to try to understand the issues and establish how data can be used to focus on improving provision.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) —who wrote me a note explaining that he had to leave early because of a constituency engagement—spoke of his personal experience, and of the need for relevant data and teacher training. I shall say more about that later.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) rightly drew attention to the lack of a media presence in the Chamber. She also made a plea for her own Bill to be taken up by a Minister. I can only say that I am sure her plea has been heard, although may I add—through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—“Not me, guv”?

My hon. Friend mentioned the importance of teaching assistants. The Training and Development Agency for Schools has been piloting specialist initial teacher training modules on SEN which we want to extend to all graduate teacher training courses. We have asked the agency to look into how we can apply it to the one-year PGCE course that my hon. Friend mentioned. She also raised the question of identifying children with disabilities. The Department has commissioned research on how schools can do that, and we shall probably be able to publish it in the next few months.

I think of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) as my honourable friend, because we go back a few years in this place and have had various jousts, as
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he always puts it. We also worked together on issues that feature in the Bill when we were both on the Back Benches. May I say, as a humble specimen, as he referred to me in his speech, that he spoke with his customary fluency on an issue about which he has a great deal of knowledge? On this occasion, he also included powerful, personal experience in his remarks. I thank him for the work that he is doing in his review, not just on behalf of the Government and the House but on behalf of the country. Clearly, he raised many detailed and important points, which I am sure we will explore much further as the Bill progresses, and when his interim review is published in March and his full review later in the summer. He called for a greater public debate on the subject, echoing the call by Jim Callaghan in the 1970s. That was a significant and important remark. He described one approach as a “low-dosage, high-volume intervention”. That probably categorises his contributions in the House—they are often low dosage but always high volume, and always effective, I should add.

We recognise the challenge of implementing the inclusion development programme at a local level in authorities and schools. That is why we are making that a priority for the national strategy’s new regional hubs of good practice. Those will bring together all authorities in a region to share practice on how best to increase the uptake of the training.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) reminded us of the old days, teaching 38 children in a primary school class. It was a timely reminder that perhaps things have improved to some degree in teaching. Those were the days when there were no teaching assistants in the classroom. It was important to remind us that that was one of the reasons why so many of her colleagues perhaps burned out at an early stage of their teaching careers, back in those bad old days.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) spoke, importantly, about the need for cross-government working. That is something that our new Department is keen to develop and is developing with the Ministry of Justice and other Departments, including the Department of Health, which is important in respect of the subject that we are discussing today.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) talked about the education village in her constituency and about the importance of good data and early intervention. That is why we are going to have children’s centres for every community by 2010, and why we are promoting the roll-out of the excellent early support programme in all local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) spoke about his educational experiences in school and the rap of the ruler on the knuckles. That was how I was taught to remember poetry when I was in primary school. I can still recite some at will. I will not bore the House with it now—on another occasion perhaps. I think that I developed my lifelong love of poetry from being rapped over the knuckles, but I do not recommend it as an approach these days. He is right to point out how attitudes have changed over the years. The fact that we have cross-party consensus here today about the importance
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of the Bill is testament to the way in which attitudes have changed from those bad old days, when my hon. Friend and his friends were in school experiencing that kind of treatment.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke spoke of the tremendous commitment of Secretaries of State to this subject. She went on to make many suggestions, which are matters best picked up in Committee.

I should now turn to the Bill and to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West in the time that we have available. The proposal that children with special educational needs should be specifically taken into account as the Secretary of State exercises his powers in relation to gathering data is sensible. It is our Department's highest priority that all barriers to education should be removed for all children, whether those barriers arise from physical, financial or family circumstances. It is even more imperative for those who are already at a disadvantage against their peers: the 570,000 children living with a disability, the 2.8 million children living in poverty, and the 1.6 million children with special educational needs.

We have come a long way—hon. Members acknowledged this—from the days of crumbling buildings and failing schools that we inherited 10 years ago. In 1997, it was not only school buildings that were dilapidated; so, too, was the infrastructure of children’s services as a whole. The Every Child Matters agenda has led to a transformation in how professionals work together to meet children’s individual needs better. Information has been at the heart of that process, which is why the Bill is so timely and welcome.

The children’s plan, which we published last month, will build on those foundations to help us to achieve our ambition to make this country the best place in the world for children to grow up. Any effective organisation must evaluate its performance just to remain effective, let alone to improve. Every child has unique talents and strengths—and weaknesses—and some need more support than others. What works for one child might not be appropriate for another. The variety and complexity of special needs has been pointed out in this debate—for example, by the hon. Member for Buckingham—and children often do not present with one simple, solvable problem.

Professionals need good quality information so they can share what works, put right what does not work and ensure that each child receives the right type of support. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West will know, my Department already gathers data on children with SEN from a number of sources, including the school census and the SEN2 survey. Those data are published annually and provide useful information from individual pupil to local authority level. I am committed to looking at anything that will help children further—over and above what we are already doing—and formalising the Secretary of State’s consideration of children with SEN when gathering data is a sensible suggestion. For that reason, I am happy to tell the House that the Government will support the Bill.

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