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We have received a great deal of information about deaf children and their sad underperformance, which was quite an eye-opener and something that all MPs have become aware of thanks to the National Deaf Children’s Society. The 25 per cent. gap in performance as regards children gaining five A to C-grade GCSEs is alarming and again highlights the need for specialist teaching. When I recently spoke about sign language and interpreting, it was drawn to my attention that sometimes the assistants who are with deaf pupils only have NVQ level 2 in sign language, whereas the interpreting side of signing is particularly important in the classroom. We need to look at training needs right across the spectrum of special educational needs and of all those who contribute to those pupils in the school
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setting. We know that we are letting down a lot of children and young people, and training is a key means of addressing that failing.

I have been speaking to new clause 1, but I have taken the opportunity to comment on a number of important matters, and if some of my points were accepted, I feel that the Bill would be the stronger and better for it.

Kelvin Hopkins: I shall speak briefly. I listened with interest to the intelligent remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke). Like her, I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on dyslexia and heard the Secretary of State’s address at the meeting.

The hon. Lady made the point that the notion of special needs goes far wider than dyslexia, and there are a variety of other special needs that many of us would accept are not being properly addressed in our school and educational systems. Dyslexia is more typical, however, and I am afraid to say that there are a number of people, including teachers, who still do not accept that dyslexia exists. I am absolutely convinced that there is a strong genetic component involved, and we heard that on Second Reading from hon. Members who are dyslexic themselves and have dyslexic children. We have some way to go to convince some teachers that dyslexia really exists. There may even be something of a genetic pool in Britain because it seems that we suffer more from dyslexia than other countries. It might be a factor that affects Britain in particular.

The hon. Lady talked about parents and I am one of those Members—I am sure that there are others—who have had struggles with their local authority over provision for children with special needs. Parents are sometimes at their wits’ end trying to get such special needs provision. Knowing what is available, as the hon. Lady said, is at least a start, but many parents do not know about it. They may be unaware of what their child’s problem is; they may know that they have a problem, but are not sure what it is.

Another issue to consider is the range of special needs and their severity. Some conditions are mild and some are more extreme, and that is particularly so in respect of behavioural and learning difficulties. Physical disabilities are more obvious, and there is often reasonable provision for physical disabilities of one sort or another. Some behavioural problems may be genetic, and some may be environmental. We hear almost by the week of chemical factors in food that affect children, for example, so other factors are involved.

Ensuring that parents are aware of what is available is important, and in my constituency, the local authority have made provision available in schools. Some have special units for behavioural problems, and there are some remaining special schools, although there was a fashion, which I hope is coming to an end, for closing special schools and forcing children into mainstream schools, which, in my view, were not necessarily appropriate for those children. The teachers and parents certainly think that, but the local authority sometimes has a view—a dogma, almost—that inclusion at all costs is the best approach.

There are local special schools, and there are also, for smaller numbers of young people and children with
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more rare difficulties, residential schools, which may serve a much wider area. I have suggested, among other things, that public provision made by a group of local authorities in a region might be the way forward. Making information available is absolutely crucial to take pressure off parents, so that they do not get to the point where they are so desperate that they go to see their Member of Parliament. A battle may then ensue, which sometimes becomes public, to get the provision that they need. Providing information is crucial so that parents at least know what they can ask for from the local authority, and so that the authority cannot sidle away from its responsibilities.

My wife was an infants school teacher—she is now retired—and was the special needs co-ordinator in that school, and other relatives of mine and many of my friends have been teachers. Their minds are focused on the problems of children with special needs in their classes, not just because they are concerned about the children, but because they are concerned about the other children in the class and about the difficulties of teaching children with behavioural problems. We are moving in the right direction now, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us more, but we recognise that we need to make better and more specialist provision available for children with special educational needs.

I very much welcome the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on introducing it. I have been an enthusiastic supporter of her in that process because I have seen so much of the difficulties in question at first hand and the sort of unhappiness they can cause to children, parents and the communities in which they live. It is also economically sensible to address such matters because behavioural difficulties can lead to all sorts of social behaviour that is costly to society.

10.15 pm

Kevin Brennan: Would my hon. Friend agree that although there is always pressure to bring in provisions such as new clause in the name of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), there is also a need for us all to take responsibility in using existing regulations and legislation? All of us should ensure that we report non-compliance by local authorities in publishing information that they are already required to publish, as mentioned by the hon. Lady in her remarks. If the Secretary of State is informed, he does have powers to intervene.

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. In the past, getting any information out of my local authority was difficult because senior officers were not sympathetic to the idea of this sort of provision for those with special educational needs. There was a difference of view that caused tension between me and a senior officer, who has now retired, but that is another story and we have moved on.

I wanted to support what the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, and be sympathetic, but I will listen to the responses of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West and the Minister with interest. We are all essentially on the same side and moving in the right direction, but I
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want to ensure that we keep up the momentum. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the new clause and amendments, but I await the advice from my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Chope: This is an important group of amendments, but amendment No. 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) is the most important because it would remove from clause 1 the idea that subjective discretion should be left to the Secretary of State, and introduce an objective test instead. If considering the publication of information, we want information to be published that might assist people in the improvement of the well-being of children in England and Wales with special educational needs. It is not necessary for the Secretary of State to be satisfied that that is so; we want the information to be published on an objective basis without it being subject to the Secretary of State’s veto, which it would be under the Bill as drafted.

One of the problems that we encounter so often with private Members’ Bills is that the Government will allow them to proceed only if they have the power to control the outcome. In this modest Bill, the Government even retain the power to decide when it should be brought forward for commencement, instead of allowing that to happen automatically. Amendment No. 1 is important, and I shall use a constituency case to illustrate why I think that it is important. The Priory Church of England primary school in Christchurch has been using the Dore programme to which I referred earlier. The Dore programme is a well-established programme for assisting people with dyslexia, dyspraxia and other similar conditions. It has been made famous by the experience of that great Welsh rugby player—some call him a Welsh rugby legend—Scott Quinnell.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): They are all great!

Mr. Chope: I know that my hon. Friend is an active supporter of the Welsh rugby team, and he will remember Scott Quinnell’s activities. Perhaps the Minister’s attention could be drawn to the Dore programme, although I am sure that he is already familiar with it.

Kevin Brennan: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the fact that someone such as Scott Quinnell has been able to come out in public, very bravely, and talk about his problems with dyslexia shows that at least we have moved on from the bad old days when there was almost complete denial that it was a real condition and a real problem?

Mr. Chope: I do agree, and I would go further. Not only does Scott Quinnell talk about his problems and, indeed, the problems experienced by his two children—that is what really got him going on the Dore programme—but the programme has proved successful for him and his children. Indeed, it has worked not just for the Quinnell family, but for perhaps 20,000 other people in the United Kingdom over the past few years.

The Dore website contains more information about dyspraxia, dyslexia and autism than could be obtained from a local authority, so the information is available,
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but when the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) asked, at the beginning of 2004, if the Home Secretary would

the then Minister for Children, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), replied:

That meeting took place, but the only thing that has happened since is that the Dore programme has been withdrawn from Stafford prison.

Mr. Evans: Is it possible that one reason for the lack of publicity about the programme—of which I was completely ignorant until my hon. Friend showed me a piece of paper explaining it—is that the Government know that it is costly, and that they can save money if people do not know about it? The sad thing is that many people who could benefit from such programmes cannot gain access to them.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. The problem is not a lack of information, but the fact that parents are being starved of the information that is available, and are therefore not in a position to put pressure on education authorities to fund schemes such as Dore.

A number of pupils have benefited from the Dore programme at the Priory school, Christchurch. It is funded by their parents, because the school could not obtain any help from the local authority. The results have been so amazing that the parents are now using their voluntarily raised funds to support the programme for other pupils whose parents cannot afford it. However, Dorset local education authority—with which, along with Poole borough council, the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole has to deal—does not wish to support the programme, although it is of great significance and is transforming not only the lives of the pupils who benefit from it directly but the lives of other pupils in the same class, because pupils suffering from dyslexia often hold up the progress of others. The programme is therefore of great benefit to the school.

Given the proven success of the Dore programme, it might be imagined that the Government would want to provide information about it, but they seem reluctant to do so. If the Secretary of State does not want to provide information about it, as the Bill stands he will not have to, but if amendment No. 1 was passed and it was thought that such programmes might benefit children with special educational needs, the details would have to be published. It is possible that all that is indeed far too expensive for the Government to fund.

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Kevin Brennan: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as part of his investigation of dyslexia, Jim Rose will examine all the evidence to which he has referred, relating to the various ways of teaching children with dyslexia? That will include the Dore programme, and Jim Rose will make recommendations based on his review.

Mr. Chope: I am glad that that is going to happen, but I fear that it is an unnecessarily prolix way of dealing with the matter. The information about the Dore programme is already available, and, ahead of the initiative that the Minister has mentioned, the Welsh Assembly has been holding a detailed inquiry into the whole issue. In evidence given to the Assembly on 7 November last year, Professor David Reynolds gave a short presentation in which he put the whole issue in context. He said:

Certain things are clear, however. Dyslexia is prevalent among some 10 per cent. of the population. Later in his evidence, Professor Reynolds said that it would be prohibitively expensive if all, or a high proportion of, dyslexia sufferers took advantage of the Dore programme. That may be so, but on the other hand local authorities are having to teach English and a foreign language to scores of new pupils who have come to this country as a result of the Government’s immigration policies, and we have not had the opportunity—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have allowed some digression, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the need for information to be made available to parents.

Mr. Chope: Exactly, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that is what I am trying to concentrate on. At present the Government are suppressing information about the Dore programme, which is of proven benefit to a large number of sufferers.

Kevin Brennan: In the light of my earlier intervention, how can the hon. Gentleman say that the Government are suppressing information of any kind about the Dore programme? I have just informed him that Jim Rose will be examining the evidence independently, and publishing a report including evidence relating to the efficacy of the programme.

Mr. Chope: I am basically relying on the answer to the parliamentary question to which I referred. I accept that the Minister did not answer that question—one of his predecessors, who remains in the Government, did so—but the Dorset local education authority’s impression is that the Government do not wish to know about the Dore programme. I would have expected the Department to be inquiring into the effectiveness of the programme of its own volition. The Government have set up this inquiry and, as always happens, it is a way of trying to cover their tracks.

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10.30 am

The Minister has not addressed why he thinks it should be left to the absolute discretion of the Secretary of State to decide what information is made available, rather than making the matter an objective test, so that any information that may be helpful could be made available. If that had been the case up to now, we would not have been waiting since 2000, when the Dore programme was first introduced, for the Government to say, “Well, there may be something of benefit in it.” My concern is that an enormous amount of information is available for parents who seek it out on the internet or through their own contact. Unless this proposal is endorsed by the Government, the situation will not improve.

Everything that we are discussing in respect of the Bill and the amendments is already within the Government’s discretion. The distressing thing is that a Bill needs to be introduced by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson). She chose the subject well, on the basis of her own background family experience of the inadequate provision for special educational needs, but there is nothing in the Bill that the Government could not get on with straight away. That is what I find slightly depressing. They have taken some initiative by setting up an inquiry, but we know that it will take a long time to reach a conclusion.

Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend might be interested to know a little more of the detail of the inquiry by Sir Jim Rose that the Government have announced. My hon. Friend might share my concern that, yet again, the Government are just looking to evaluate the impact of specialist training for specialist teachers who might be dealing with dyslexic children. I echo his comment that the information is available. So, why do we need yet another review and report into evaluating the impact of this training?

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is an expert in this field and she has made a valuable contribution to this debate during the course of the proceedings on this Bill. She draws my attention to the lacuna in the Minister’s argument, and I look forward to hearing her speech, so that that can be spelled out in a bit more detail. The terms of reference to which she refers will not cover the Dore programme, because it is conducted by specially trained experts and cannot be carried out by ordinary teachers, however talented they might be. I look forward to hearing how the Minister thinks that an evaluation of the Dore programme’s effectiveness will fall within the inquiry’s terms of reference.

Kevin Brennan: I take it from the hon. Gentleman’s remark that his understanding of his Front-Bench team’s position is that the Dore programme should be universalised without awaiting the outcome of Sir Jim Rose’s review. Is that the hon. Gentleman’s understanding of his Front-Bench team’s position?

Mr. Chope: The best thing to do would be to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) on that matter. In a couple of interventions, she has not yet been able to expand on her argument. I can imagine that the Minister will be saying next, “This is Conservative party policy. It will cost x billions of pounds, so it is an unaffordable spending pledge.”

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