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Guidance is also published in the special educational needs toolkit on parent partnership services, which advises the services to promote the sharing of information between parents, schools and local authorities. The exemplification of the SEN code’s minimum standards makes it clear that the parent partnership services have
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a published policy on how they act impartially and provide a comprehensive and balanced range of information for parents. So I hope that, in the light of what I have said about the duties and guidance that encourage local authorities to publish information on SEN and about the effect of the new clause, the hon. Lady will feel able to withdraw the motion when the moment arrives.

Mr. Chope: The Minister has comprehensively dealt with that issue, but can he assure the House that, when he has the information in response to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), he will make it his job as the Minister to ensure that tough sanctions can be imposed on local authorities that do not comply with all the duties that he has set out?

Kevin Brennan: I will certainly undertake to consider that suggestion in conjunction with my colleague, Lord Adonis, who has direct responsibility for such matters—I speak on them in the House of Commons—and I certainly undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Basingstoke in relation to the sanctions that are available and any further measures that could be taken.

Amendment No. 2, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Basingstoke, would place requirements on the Secretary of State to collect specific information on the training received by members of the school work force. Again, I do not apologise for saying that any new data requirements—I am sure that the hon. Lady’s friends in local government would agree, as would mine—must be considered carefully in the light of the burdens placed on schools, local authorities and other data providers to comply. Although I agree that our principal concern is the burden placed on parents and young people, we must ensure that we do not divert resources from meeting those needs.

Careful thought also needs to be given to whether the information collected is likely to be of the right quality and meaningful in a way that could bring benefit to those people who are trying to help. I am not immediately convinced that collecting the data proposed would, in itself, lead to improvements in the ability of the school work force to support and help children with special educational needs and disabilities and to improve outcomes—obviously, that is at the bottom of all this—for those children and young people, which is what all hon. Members want, or that that would necessarily influence the prioritisation of professional development in SEN and disabilities at school or local level.

I believe instead that improvements will come through the work that we are already taking forward with the Training and Development Agency for Schools—the TDA—our national strategies and others both to improve initial teacher training and to provide resources to support the continuing professional development of those staff who are already in post. Again, we share that objective across the House. I should like to say something about that before I return to the specifics of the data collection.

The TDA has been developing new specialist units for trainee teachers that are designed to improve their skills in identifying, assessing and supporting the needs of pupils with SEN and disabilities. Those units, which
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were developed for primary undergraduate initial teacher training courses, have been successfully piloted and will be rolled out to all course providers this September. That is the right way to do things. We are being urged to move more quickly and I understand people’s concerns, but it is right that those initiatives should be properly piloted and tested before they are rolled out universally.

Work is also under way to develop similar materials for secondary undergraduate courses and for postgraduate certification in education courses, and that will be rolled out in September 2009. Ofsted has also been undertaking a thematic review of the journey taken by trainee teachers in acquiring SEN and disability knowledge and skills during their initial training and induction. The results of that review are expected shortly, and they will help us to understand where further improvements can be made—again, based on the evidence.

For those who are already in post, our inclusion development programme, which was launched in October 2007—the hon. Member for Basingstoke made some observations about that, and I shall refer to them in a moment—will help to boost the confidence of teachers and other staff in a number of SEN areas. The opening round of the inclusion development programme has focused on training in relation to the communication difficulties experienced by children. Of course, that includes dyslexia, which has been mentioned during the debate. New specially produced training material is being distributed to schools via their local authorities. In subsequent rounds, the IDP will focus on the autistic spectrum disorders, ASD, and behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, BESD.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke is critical of the IDP because she feels that it does not have support beyond the Government’s walls and that, out in the country, there is an upswell of opposition to it. The IDP was developed in conjunction with I-CAN and Dyslexia Action, and it is endorsed by a wide range of voluntary organisations involved in communications and dyslexia. I fear that we may never be able to please all the various organisations—whether teaching unions or others—who write to us at the House and send their briefings to Front and Back Benchers, but we do not introduce such programmes without seeking input from stakeholders. They have a very extensive input into the IDP, which is widely endorsed. So I should like to paint a more complete picture of it, rather than the partial pictured painted by the hon. Lady.

The Department also already plans to introduce a school work force census from 2010—again, that has been referred to during the debate—and it will provide the Department with individual-level information that relates to all teachers and support staff. I accept that the census is not intended to cover the detail of SEN-related training that is sought in amendment No. 2, but any data collection exercise on that scale requires a long lead-in time. Some data providers are already calling on us to reduce the existing scope of the planned census. It is a continual tension in government that hon. Members call on us to reduce burdens, bureaucracy, red tape and so on and that, sometimes almost before they have reached the full stop in the same sentence, they then ask us to impose more data collection and more activities on local government and schools.


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We must try to make a judgment on these matters, and any data collection exercise on a big scale must be considered very carefully and not undertaken without extremely good evidence that it will produce results on the front line. It is important to strike the right balance between collecting useful data and minimising the burden on service providers. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be aware of the old Welsh proverb, “You don’t make the goose any fatter by weighing it all the time.” We must ensure that the activities that we undertake will result in real delivery on the front line.

The census may prove to be a suitable vehicle for collecting such information, but it is a complex undertaking. We are piloting it in 2008-09 so that we can ensure that the burdens placed on schools are in fact manageable. If the pilots are successful, the census will be extended nationally in 2010. After that, we would be prepared to enter a dialogue with the interested partners about how the scope and coverage of the census might be expanded in future years. Perhaps information about the training and qualifications of teachers and support staff could be collected with effect from 2012 as an additional data item, but that would be contingent on several factors, including burdens on schools. I am not going to apologise for that, because it affects burdens for pupils at the front line, including burdens on schools and other candidates imposed by extra data items, of which there are likely to be many, because there is a long list of data collections that people would like to be undertaken but which have to be weighed carefully in relation to the burdens that they can create. We must be careful not to place unreasonable and undue burdens on schools and local authorities, and in the light of that, I invite hon. Members to withdraw amendment No. 2.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole referred to services for deaf children. I have reminded the House of the all-party parliamentary group announcement by Lord Adonis about British sign language, and I can provide more details. The tender has been published, and we look forward to organisations coming forward to run the project, which will allow families with deaf children to make informed choices about whether their children should use British sign language. That has been welcomed by a wide range of organisations representing deaf children, and we are working closely with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the National Deaf Children’s Society to address the gap in attainment between deaf and hearing-impaired children and their peers, so I hope that that information is useful for the hon. Lady.

Part of the inclusion and development programme is the “Removing Barriers to Achievement” initiative, which is based on what is known about effective teaching for SEN children. It is a national programme, and we have just published a DVD on meeting the needs of children with dyslexia and speech, language and communication disorders. We are now developing materials for teaching children with autism, which will be followed by material on social, behavioural and emotional difficulties. I hope that that information is useful to the House, given the points that have been made.

Finally, amendment No. 1 would oblige the Secretary of State to publish a report on how special educational needs information may assist him or other persons to improve the well-being of children in England with
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special educational needs. I am sure that it is intended to develop the purpose of the Bill and improve the provision of SEN information, but it is unnecessarily prescriptive. It will limit the way in which the Secretary of State can publish information to assist him or others in improving the well-being of children with SEN in England. The amendment would mean that that information would have to be published in the form of a report, which would not be helpful.

The Bill as drafted does not preclude the possibility of a report being published, but it allows information to be published in any way or form that the Secretary of State considers helpful in promoting the well-being of children with SEN. A report is not the only way—and it may not be the best one—of achieving that end. As ever, I want to be helpful, because I understand the point that has been made by hon. Members and the sincere intention behind the amendment. The Department publishes an SEN statistical bulletin every year. Following the passage of the Bill, I undertake to look at how we can expand that bulletin to include more information—for example, information on attainment—to highlight which children with different types of SEN are not making as much progress as we would like, and to point the way towards action to address underperformance.

The problem with the amendment is that it appears to force the Secretary of State to abandon that approach in the bulletin and instead publish a discursive report on SEN information. Publishing only a report would not be the best way of achieving the ends that we share across the House and that we all want to achieve.

Mr. Chope: If the Minister is about to announce an important concession, I apologise for intervening. However, he has not yet addressed the question of why the Secretary of State should be the sole judge of what information will provide assistance. That is the position under the Bill as drafted, which would be changed by amendment No. 1.

11.45 am

Kevin Brennan: It is the job of the Secretary of State to do that, and it is right that he should do so. Moreover, in the Education and Skills Bill, a general well-being duty has been introduced in relation to children’s welfare. It is therefore appropriate that it should be the Secretary of State who performs that role. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting this, but the Secretary of State is not trying to hide anything; he is making a judgment about how best to exercise his duty to promote the welfare of children in the broadest sense by publishing that information.

I do not want to shut down completely the possibility that the Secretary of State may publish the sort of report envisaged by the amendment. As hon. Members will know, we have asked Ofsted to review progress in special educational needs next year. If Her Majesty’s chief inspector, having conducted that review, recommends that we publish the sort of report proposed in the amendment, I undertake to consider that recommendation very carefully. I hope that in the light of what I have said that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will not press the amendment further. I will conclude simply by reiterating my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West on the Bill, and I wish it godspeed in its remaining stages.


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Mrs. Hodgson: I welcome the issues raised by the amendments, and I have some sympathy with their intentions. I hope to be able to offer my support in ensuring that something can be done to address the concerns that led hon. Members to table them.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) first raised the issues in new clause 1 in Committee, and asked me to consider them. I wholeheartedly agree that we must ensure that all parents have access to good-quality information that provides fair and impartial advice about the services available to them. In fact, I see no reason why the Government and individual Members should not encourage local authorities to publish that information because, as we heard today, authorities are already supposed to do so. However, it should be available in a format that is far more digestible for parents than the form in which it is often provided. Indeed, that is if, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), pointed out, it is even provided in the first place. I was interested to hear the Minister say that the Government would go away and look at how they could deal with local authorities when it is brought to their attention that they are not providing that information.

The Minister explained in detail that the information was supposed to be available, but simply because information is made available does not necessarily mean that it is accessible. I hope that the recent guidance that the Government have sent out on improving parent partnership services will go some way towards addressing the issues. A series of regional workshops has thrown up problems concerning perceptions of partiality and impartiality. That would not be affected by the new clause, but I have sympathy with the points that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole raised in Committee, which were supported by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), who was sadly unable to be present today.

I have concerns about one aspect of the new clause: it states that the publication should also cover any relevant local authorities. A report published by the Audit Commission this year shows that the cost of placing a single pupil outside their local authority is well above £100,000 a year. I do not for one minute mean to propose that we put a price on the quality of a child’s education, but we should carefully consider the effect that any increase in the number of children in external local authorities will have on the overall SEN funding available.

Another smaller concern is that by prescribing an annual publication, we may force local authorities to waste resources in years in which SEN provision does not change at all. If we were to legislate for such a report, it might be better to state that it must be produced from time to time, when significant changes in provision take place.

I appreciate the aims behind the new clause, and I know how strongly the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole feels about the issue, but I fear that the new clause, in its current form, is not the best solution to the problem. It could unintentionally force councils to produce information that is not necessary at a cost to the public purse, and may encourage parents to shop around unnecessarily. It may encourage parents to go outside the local authority, which, as I have said, is hugely expensive, when local provision
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may be almost identical. That brings me to an important point. One of my main intentions in the Bill is to ensure that provision, availability and standards across all local authorities improve to such an extent that parents will not feel the need to go out of the borough, because the provision in their borough will be as excellent as the provision anywhere else in the country. That sounds like utopia, I know, but why should we not strive for that to become a reality? That is why many of us are in politics.

I welcome the spotlight on local authorities, but I would not want the most well-off parents to buy into the better performing local authorities—a point that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) highlighted. We need to ensure that parents have access to good-quality, impartial advice, but the new clause is not the best legislative vehicle for achieving that aim. I respect the reasons behind the new clause, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will know, but I fear that pressing it to a Division would do more harm than good. With that in mind, I ask her to withdraw new clause 1.

I turn to amendment No. 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller). First, may I state my wholehearted support for the intention behind the amendment? I know that it has the support of the National Union of Teachers, and I am sure that it will have been interested to hear the Minister’s response. We all know that improving teacher training has to be right at the top of the agenda when it comes to improving overall support for children with SEN, and I agree that we need to monitor both what training is given to teachers at the start of their career, and what ongoing professional development they receive throughout their career.

We do not want information for information’s sake. That may sound a little strange, considering that I am pressing the case for more information in other areas concerning SEN, but there is strong consensus that information concerning outcomes for children will be of greater use, as a tool, to campaigners. I cannot see how the proposals in the amendment would have the same effect for teachers. I welcome the NUT’s interest in the Bill and its support for strengthening the Bill’s provisions, but I believe that we would be wise to wait and see exactly what the work force census, which the Minister spoke about, will entail, so that we do not pre-empt the decision on which qualifications will be recorded.

We are rightly mindful of the administrative burden on teachers, and I am unsure of the views of other teaching unions, such as the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women and the National Association of Head Teachers, on recording training. I imagine that a lot of the burden of recording the information would fall on head teachers, or heads of departments. The Minister outlined in far more detail than I could exactly what the current framework is for the work force census, and I hope that that will give the hon. Member for Basingstoke food for thought.


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