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16 May 2008 : Column 1662

Kevin Brennan: That was not the point I was going to make. I was going to ask whether the hon. Gentleman is urging his own Front-Bench team to pledge to universalise the Dore programme and make it Conservative policy to do so without awaiting the outcome of Sir Jim Rose’s investigation. That is what the hon. Gentleman is asking me to do; is he urging his Front-Bench team to support that position?

Mr. Chope: I certainly hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke sees the merit in the Dore programme and wishes to encourage local authorities to—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s remark about the programme that he is discussing; he has certainly spoken about it at some length. New clause 1 and the amendments do not just relate to one particular programme. Perhaps he would like to continue in that vein.

Mr. Chope: I accept that I am citing but one example of available information. May I explain what has happened under the programme so far? It is reckoned that 86 per cent. of those who have undertaken the programme have had their difficulty in reading out loud—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that I have already made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have heard a considerable amount about the merits of this programme. New clause 1 talks about information in general, and the other amendments refer to the training of specialist teachers. Perhaps he could now widen his remarks.

Mr. Chope: Of course I will widen my remarks. I shall begin by discussing the symptoms, which we know exist, of dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and so on. Given that we know what the symptoms are, why do the Government not publish information about those symptoms, so that teachers, parents and others can identify possible symptoms at an early stage and we can intervene at the earliest stage of a child’s education? Almost everybody who looks into this subject says that if we reach the children early, we are able to improve their lot much more than would be the case if we did not identify the problem until much later. Indeed, I think that was the point that the Bill’s promoter, the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West, made in her opening remarks on Second Reading.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab) indicated assent.

Mr. Chope: A couple of weeks ago, I visited the tennis academy in Roehampton. People there say that in order to produce the best tennis players, we need to identify the potential among tennis players at the ages of four, five and six. I saw children of those ages there. If we are identifying potential tennis stars at those ages, surely we should look at children of those ages to see whether they are, or are likely to, suffer from these various symptoms. The Government are not producing information on that, and they are certainly not training teachers to identify those characteristics, which may
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well be symptoms of dyslexia, dyspraxia or the other related conditions to which I have referred.

Teachers and parents know at a pretty early stage whether children are reversing their letters, words and numbers, whether they are having difficulty copying from a blackboard, whether they are writing very slowly, whether their written work is hard to read, whether they are having difficulty structuring ideas on to paper or writing in a straight line, whether they are writing the minimum amount necessary or whether their use of grammar is incorrect. Those writing characteristics become apparent at a pretty early stage.

Kevin Brennan: A moment ago the hon. Gentleman said that the Government are not training teachers in any of these measures. Is he aware of the inclusion development programme that was launched last October to help to boost the confidence of teachers and other staff in several SEN areas? The opening round of that programme is focused on training in relation to communication difficulties experienced by children, including dyslexia. It is just not true to say that there is no training in this area.

Mr. Chope: I am not saying that there is no training, but there is insufficient training. If there was more training, and it was more effective, the conditions would be discovered much earlier in children’s education, but they are often not picked up until much later. One of the reasons for that is that LEAs think that every child with SEN costs money, so they delay applying that label to children for as long as possible.

Why do not all teachers have access to the checklists that I have mentioned so that children can be identified when they first start primary school? If they were evaluated against a checklist covering speech, learning, reading, writing, attention, co-ordination, organisational abilities and ability to follow a daily routine, any issues could be identified earlier. I suspect that that is what the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West has in mind. We need much more openness about this issue, so that we can make the necessary investment and ensure that we do not have 18 and 19-year-olds going to university undiagnosed. I read in the report that at Bangor university, some 400 to 500 students have been identified as suffering from dyslexia, and the professor who drew that fact to the attention of the Welsh Assembly said that many of those cases should have been identified long before that stage.

Mrs. Maria Miller: My hon. Friend may be right to question the level of training that the Government are giving to teachers. While the Minister rightly pointed out in his intervention the inclusion development programme—a £2 million project launched in October last year—some people are concerned that it may not be delivering in the classroom and will just provide another set of materials. The programme may not do what my hon. Friend wants to see, which is to deliver training in the classroom, where it matters for children, teachers and parents.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a powerful case and I look forward to hearing her contribution to this debate shortly. We have now had 11 years of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality from this Government.
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I suspect that my hon. Friend has highlighted another example. When the Government come under enormous pressure we get platitudes from Ministers, and when we look at the detail we find that they do not add up to a row of beans. This is far too serious an issue for party politics. One of the great things about the Bill is that it has all-party support. There cannot be a single Member of Parliament who does not have, or know someone with, a child with special educational needs, and who therefore does not want to ensure that we make maximum progress in this area of policy.

As the leader of my party said yesterday, we are the fifth most successful economy in the world, so why cannot we help those children with the symptoms of dyslexia at the earliest possible stage? I shall not make the point about alternative expenditure, because you have already told me not to make comparisons, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is an issue of priorities. Do the Government regard this issue as a top priority or of secondary importance? The Opposition and—I am sure—the promoter of the Bill regard this issue as a top priority, and that is why we want some action now. We do not want a Bill weakened by making every aspect of it subject to a Minister’s discretion. The game is to ensure that there is no justiciability. The Government want to keep this issue for Ministers to decide and they do not want to allow any opportunity for the courts to intervene.

10.45 am

I am ashamed to say that this is my first contribution to the debate on this Bill. I have mentioned a school in my constituency that has made a lot of progress on this issue, with the support of active governors. However, my constituency also has the Shieling school, which deals with children with very severe intellectual handicaps, and the Portfield school, which is a residential school—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I repeat that perhaps the hon. Gentleman could relate his remarks to the new clause. Interesting as it is to hear of the schools in his constituency, we are not on Second Reading.

Mr. Chope: I appreciate that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and your admonition will enable my constituents to know that I am not picking on only one school.

Mr. Evans: In my 16 years as a Member of Parliament, many parents have come to see me about their children, who have certain problems; the parents do not know where to turn. They need the specialist advice that the information that the new clause would require would give them. Some of the more proactive parents are able to go on the internet, but there are others who do not know where to turn. I hope that the Bill will require several organisations to ensure that parents get the information they need to help their children.

Mr. Chope: Absolutely. New clause 1 defines the information to be provided as including

That does not mean just provision by the local education authority directly, but any other provision available in the area. The Shieling school is an example of such provision in Dorset, but people who are
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thinking about sending their children there are steered clear of it by the LEA, which conspires—I use the word advisedly—to ensure that the minimum number of pupils from Dorset attend that school, even though it is a beacon of excellence. The LEA, however, thinks that the costs are too high, and that is unsatisfactory, if not outrageous. If new clause 1 were included in the Bill, LEAs would have to make all the information available, whereas at the moment it is difficult for parents—

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree that full information about all provision should be made available. The hon. Gentleman mentions provision within a local education authority area. I have talked about special schools for smaller minorities of children with special needs that cover a much wider area. Information about such provision should be provided by the local education authority, so that parents have a full range of choice.

Mr. Chope: I agree. In some cases, the best provision might be in a neighbouring local authority area, or even several hundred miles or more away if specialist residential provision is required. I have not gone into that because new clause 1 talks specifically about

I imagine that new clause 1 is meant to keep it within that local education authority area. Pupils at the school I have mentioned are funded by education authorities from a wide area.

Annette Brooke: I should not be tempted to intervene, but the purpose of the new clause is to make it easy for parents to access information from neighbouring authorities. That is particularly relevant to Dorset, where we have three education authorities. It would then be easy for parents in Bournemouth, Poole or Dorset to get the same information. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s concern.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that explanation. I would include Hampshire as well, because much of my constituency is contiguous to that county boundary, and facilities are available inside Hampshire.

Mr. Evans: That information should be made easily available to parents, as it is important that they know where to look for it. Does my hon. Friend agree that certain pilot schemes, or even well-established schemes, operated by education authorities could be transferred, as best practice schemes, to education authorities that operate schemes that are not very good, or authorities that, woefully, have no schemes to help people with special needs?

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the moment, there is an element of forum shopping. Parents who are in the know, and who can afford to move, choose the education authority that they think will be best for their children because of the provision that it might make available. I have first-hand examples of that. For all those reasons, the new clause and amendments are important. I hope that the Minister, who is temporarily absent from his post, is absent getting extra fuel and briefing in order to respond positively to the debate.

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Mrs. Maria Miller: I welcome the opportunity to speak to the new clause and amendments, including amendments Nos. 2 and 3, which are tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Before I speak to the amendments, I must congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) on her skilful trafficking of the Bill through the House. To people outside, it might look like a simple Bill that should not take much time or effort to get through our procedures, but I know from my discussions with her that she and her researcher have spent a great deal of time and effort on it. I congratulate her and her staff on the excellent job that she has been doing. I hope that today’s debate helps to clarify the two main provisions in the Bill, which are about securing information about children with special educational needs to help to ensure that they are well supported and active and achieve their real potential, and about ensuring that the information is published.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who has particular knowledge of how these issues work practically, on the ground, in local authority areas. His contribution to the debate has really demonstrated that. He highlighted the lack of training for teachers in the classroom, and I shall build on those points when I speak to amendment No. 2. His comment about rhetoric versus reality, in relation to the Government, was well made. All too often, we hear a lot of announcements when we discuss special educational needs, but when we talk to our constituents, we find that practical changes in our classrooms can be more limited.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Lady has raised rhetoric and reality, and makes a political point on this issue. That is fair, as we are here to debate special educational needs, but we are seeking cross-party consensus. If she believes that we should keep rhetoric and reality together, why does she support getting rid of independent appeals when pupils are excluded, given that we know that would impact overwhelmingly on pupils with special educational needs?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is out of order, because we are discussing a particular new clause and set of amendments.

Mrs. Miller: Thank you for clarifying that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am keen to discuss the Bill, because it will give practical help to people in my constituency and in every constituency throughout the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch spoke in support of amendment No. 1, on which I shall briefly comment. The bulk of my comments will be on amendment No. 2 and training. On amendment No. 1, my hon. Friend discussed the importance of making data available and I commend the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) for tabling the amendment, which builds on an amendment that I tabled in Committee. The collection of data is not an end in itself; it has to be made available in a form that parents will be able to use. Some of the amendments that we debated in Committee were thought to be too complex, so I commend the hon. Lady for bringing simplicity with her amendment, which tries, in a much simpler way, to get relevant information published in a way that would be useful to parents. I
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hope that the amendment will therefore be more acceptable to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West, and that she might consider it, perhaps to be included at a later stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said that the Government cannot be allowed to control information, and I agree that it often feels that way. As I said in an earlier intervention, the Government said, in their 2004 document, that they were looking at effective teaching approaches for special educational needs, but four years on we are still getting announcements of pilots to identify ways of more adequately supporting children with dyslexia. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, a host of organisations have done work and obtained information in that area, and we should perhaps pay more heed to them.

Let me address amendment No. 2, which has become an important issue that needs to be clarified within the Bill. I am pleased that my amendment has been selected for debate, and I am sure that there is no need to remind the House of the evidence on teacher training that we discussed in Committee. Hon. Members will know of specific examples in their constituencies of good support for children with special educational needs. In Basingstoke, I am fortunate to have a number of specialist schools, including Limington House, Dove House and Maple Ridge, which do a splendid job in supporting many children and their families who have particular special needs. I should not forget the Loddon school, which specialises in dealing with autism. We are also fortunate to have a specialist unit for hearing-impaired children at Park View junior and infant school, as well as Aldworth science college. I am therefore well placed, in my constituency, to help to support constituents who have children with those particular needs.

11 am

However, that is not the general situation. We have heard throughout this debate that there are particular concerns about the level of expertise and professional development available to teachers in meeting the needs of SEN children. I am sure that there is no need to remind the House how teachers are left to cope, with little specialist knowledge on how to support such children. The situation certainly has not been helped by the closure of 158 special schools in recent years. That and the Government’s approach to inclusion have significantly changed the challenges faced by children, but that has not been reflected in the training that teachers receive. It is little wonder that we see such a high number of teachers deciding to leave the profession within a short period after qualifying.

SEN includes a wide range of learning disabilities—physical, sensory, developmental, and invisible disabilities such as autism and dyslexia. Some of these children will have high IQs and others lower levels, and some will have multiple disabilities. Yet we are leaving our professional teaching staff feeling ill-equipped to cope with this issue. One in five children are now included on the SEN register, so this is not a peripheral issue but a mainstream one that teachers are dealing with daily, and which has grown significantly in the past decade.

At a recent surgery, I was reminded by a teacher who has worked with children with autism in my constituency
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that it is still impossible to get SEN training at undergraduate level. We should consider the idea of having a specialism in SEN at that level. Interestingly, her school said that that situation was putting a particular burden on special schools, which had to take on graduates and train them from scratch in the needs of children with particularly acute SEN. Research by the National Union of Teachers suggests that training for teachers simply has not kept pace with what is going on in the classroom: just 16 per cent. of teachers have specific SEN qualifications. The work done by the NUT helps to enlighten us all regarding the gap between what is said by the Government and in this place, and what is actually delivered for teachers in the classroom.

I want to draw the House’s attention to the NUT report issued in 2006. A primary assistant head who took part in the related research referred to the demoralising of teachers

SEN children

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