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I realise that I am digressing somewhat from the substance of the proposed education Bill, and I wish to return more tightly to it, while keeping a focus on SEN issues. It is extremely welcome to see that the Bill will provide teachers with the right to request time for training. Not only does that reflect the Government’s wider focus on upskilling our work force, but it allows scope for teachers to develop specialist skills in support of those with SEN. Last year, the Government announced £18 million of funding for a masters qualification in
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teaching and learning. If they are to match their words with action, it is imperative that the qualification be required to contain work on supporting pupils with dyslexia and other SEN. I know that is something that Dyslexia Action is keen to secure, and it has my full support in that.

We must also examine measures to improve the skills of those who work with our children without requiring huge time commitments from teachers over and above their already heavy work load. When the Government publish the children’s work force strategy, I hope that they will have considered the possibility of using rights for teachers to request training to deliver further training on SEN. I am considering a campaign calling for one in five INSET days—in-service training days—to be given over to our SEN children, who, as some hon. Members may know, make up one in five of our school population. I understand that there are potential barriers to making that a reality, but I cannot help thinking that “One in five for one in five” is a catchy campaign slogan.

Why not give teachers the right to undertake training in different special educational needs, when they are already required to teach pupils with such needs in schools every day? In the case of deaf children, there are things that teachers could learn in a matter of hours that would benefit children for a lifetime. Awareness of acoustics and the aural environment can make an immediate difference. I will continue to work with the National Deaf Children’s Society on the proposal. I hope not only that it will benefit deaf children, but that it can be adapted to help a range of children with special educational needs.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Lady on the points she has made so far. Does she agree that one major problem is that teaching assistants are not necessarily trained in sign language to a level sufficient for interpretation, which is important for maths and science? I therefore hope that she will call for those higher levels of sign language qualifications in her campaign.

Mrs. Hodgson: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We have worked together a lot in the course of my private Member’s Bill and on the Children, Schools and Families Committee, and I know how keenly we agree on a lot of SEN issues. I certainly do hope that teaching assistants and learning support assistants will be included in any SEN training, because they spend a lot of time with our children in schools. One-to-one time is often spent with the teaching assistant or a learning support assistant, so it is vital that they should receive such training.

The ultimate aim, which we all share, is to lift the level of support received by pupils in schools. I note from the information published on the Department’s website that the Bill will look at changes to learning in juvenile detention centres and prisons. It is an established fact that the prevalence of special educational needs among the prison population is far higher than it is in wider society. I hope that any eventual changes will look at the difficulties with learning that those in prison face and that any attempt to tackle the stagnant educational development of our young prison population will ensure that those unique challenges are addressed.

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Jeremy Wright: Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the problems in enabling young prisoners to continue their education or training is that when they move prisons, it is difficult for them to continue the course they were studying? Does she think that the Government should look into that as a matter of urgency?

Mrs. Hodgson: I do not have great expertise in the subject, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s word that what he describes is the case and urge the Government to look into that, too.

In addition, there will be measures to review school transport for those in post-16 education. There is already a feeling that a wider review of school transport is needed across all age ranges to plug holes in budgets through which money can often leak—I am thinking of the use of taxis, for example. The recent outrage felt by the public at the case of baby P was shared by all hon. Members. It is a cliché to say that lessons must be learned following such tragedies, but I want to make a couple of points about that. It has already been noted that we cannot allow such cases to lead to all child care workers being tarred with the same brush, but at the same time we cannot miss the opportunity to lift the level of professionalism among child care services. Whatever the whys and wherefores of today’s UNCIEF report, we are clearly lagging behind much of Europe. That cannot be allowed to continue. The report notes that provision here is hampered by a lack of well-trained staff.

I mentioned in the House recently that the Danish system uses pedagogues as professionally trained workers who form an extra layer in the protection and development of vulnerable children. It is so often the case that those of us in the House with a progressive viewpoint hold up the Scandinavian system as an example in the hope that it can be mirrored here. I was pleased when the Secretary of State said that there were already plans to look at trials of such workers, because such trials could reveal very interesting results. There need not be a presumption that we must put more children into care, but we should strive to ensure that the level of care that those already in the care system receive is world class.

Another Bill in the Gracious Speech that will put us on a stronger footing for the future is the welfare reform Bill. Those proposals caused a bulge in my postbag when they were first announced. Some constituents were worried that their benefits would be withdrawn, but the majority were happy at the prospect of ending a something-for-nothing culture. We all know the value of work, and it is not just about bringing home a wage; it offers much more. It is important for children to grow up with work as the norm, for adults to feel as though they are contributing to the community around them, and for the country to make the most of all its talents. That might sound idealistic, but I believe that that is the kind of future that we need to aspire to, and more so now, in these times of difficulty, than ever before. We need to get parents into work, to set an example to their children. We need to support those parents in equipping their children to take on a job that comes with rights, including the right to a decent living wage, the right to equal pay and conditions, the right to flexible working, the right to gain further skills and, above all, the most important right, which will now be enshrined in law: the right not to live in poverty any more.

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Mr. Kemp: My hon. Friend mentioned the right to training. Soon, millions of workers in Britain who did not fail themselves but who were failed by the education system in past generations will have the opportunity to demand and expect extra training. Does she agree that it is essential that education does not stop at 18 or 21, and that the millions of people out there who did not have the benefits of the system will now be able to enjoy the benefits of training? That is one of the key points in the Bill.

Mrs. Hodgson: My hon. Friend has made a valid point, which I was not going to cover in my speech, so I thank him for that. As he knows, I am a huge supporter of union learning representatives, who do amazing work in encouraging people back into education when, for whatever reason, they did not have adequate chances at school.

I definitely did not come into the House to quote literature, but there has been much talk of the hard times that we are now facing. As my learned and highly intelligent colleagues will know, “Hard Times” is also the title of a book by Charles Dickens that marked him out as an early supporter of the rights of the working class—something that I certainly did come into the House to be. Dickens used that book to call on people to strike the heaviest blow in their power. With the measures set out in the Gracious Speech, the Government seem to be striking their own blow. Some have said that it contains only a small number of Bills, but that does not worry me or my constituents as long as it has a big impact. I hope that it will do so, especially for children with special educational needs, as well as for those living in poverty. If it does, this year’s legislation will be not only about impact but about legacy, and I very much welcome the measures in it.

4.13 pm

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): I should like to start by making it clear that I pay tribute to members of the NHS—doctors, nurses and any other staff working in the service—and that none of my words imply any impact on them or criticism of them. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will see what I am alluding to. I particularly want to pay tribute to John Goulston, the chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust, for the work that he is doing in trying to turn the trust round, following its previous abysmal administration, about which I shall say more in a moment.

First, I want to talk about the amount being paid out in claims for negligence in the NHS. In my own trust, in the past four years, £33,534,380 has been paid out. That represents 179 claims. There are still 180 claims outstanding, so the final amount could be tens of millions of pounds more. My distress is compounded when I think that across London, £250 million has been paid out in the past three years. I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me to discuss the problem, and for his awareness of how to address it.

I shall refer to two cases, which I will simply call A and B, in order to leave the people anonymous. One lady went for a kneecap replacement, but it was put in the wrong way round, as she realised when she was unable to walk. Not only did she receive compensation, but the operation—with all its associated costs—had to
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be redone. More tragically, case B concerns a lady in perfect health who went into hospital to have a baby, but something went wrong and she was left paralysed, brain-damaged and in a very distressing state—with multi-payouts of moneys following on. My point is not to apportion blame, but to say that we must look more deeply into how such events are happening and why. Perhaps retraining through the General Medical Council is necessary, but we must stop this happening in the future. For example, my own area’s NHS trust has a deficit of some £90 million—and the vast bulk of it is due to cases such as those two.

The General Medical Council investigates the doctors involved in such cases. The problem is that that is not happening quickly enough: many of these cases drag on and on for years, yet while they are being investigated the doctors continue to operate on patients. I hope that the Secretary of State agrees—in fact, I know from the words he kindly exchanged with me the other day that he does—that patients have the right to know if a doctor who is operating on them is being investigated as a result of a serious complaint connected with another case. I hope that some measures in the Queen’s Speech will provide some assistance with such problems.

I mentioned earlier the previous administration of my area’s trust, which brings me to another point that I have previously raised with Ministers and the Secretary of State. A former chief executive—in this case I will provide the name: Mark Reece, whom I have named here before—left the trust in a bad position, with vast debts, yet received quite a sum of money as a payoff, and, indeed, for his pension. Once such payments have been made by the NHS, we must ensure that the people concerned cannot be re-employed as consultants elsewhere in the country and earn even more money from the NHS. That is simply rewarding failure, and it has to be stopped. I say that because this gentleman—together with his partner, a former chief executive of Maidstone and West Kent NHS Trust, who also had a pay-off—has indeed formed a consultancy with the hope of advising the NHS on how to run trusts up and down the country. I would say that those two people are not the right ones to be advising the NHS on anything anywhere in our country.

Together with my colleague the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), I recently visited the maternity wing of the Queen’s hospital, Romford, and I can only pay tribute to the work being done there. I say this in a completely non-political way, but I think that the Government have a facility there that they have done proud, as the services that constituents receive there are first class. But—I am sorry that there has to be a but—it can take up to one and a half hours for my constituents in Ilford, North to get there by two bus journeys. Today I received a complaint from a constituent about how long it can take to get there. Although that is a great facility, we must also enhance and improve the King George hospital, which also services my constituency, to ensure that my constituents can receive services as close to their own doorsteps as possible.

We heard earlier from the Secretary of State about the services of polyclinics, and I believe that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) paid tribute to one that opened recently in his constituency. One is opening in my neighbouring constituency, and I welcome anything that enhances services to patients. However, it
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will not help my constituents, so I very much hope that all GP services are protected, with no closures whatever, so that people can get the service they deserve as close as is humanly possible to their own doorsteps.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a point that resonates in Bromley and my area—which is not dissimilar to his, although mine is in south London and his is in north London—about the threat to our area of polyclinics. I think that the Secretary of State for Health said that polyclinics were mainly for areas that did not have many GPs, but in areas such as Bromley and Ilford, where there are enough GPs—even though too many of them probably work single-handedly—they are not a relevant solution, because they mean concentrating services in one area, which causes lots of transport problems. Polyclinics are not appropriate for our areas.

Mr. Scott: I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. Of course, there is a problem attached to polyclinics. I have said openly that although I am not against them, I do not want services in any constituency diminished because of them. People need contact with their own doctor, who knows them, has dealt with them for a number of years and can give them the services that they need and deserve.

On the subject of education, the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) referred to special educational needs, and I want to concentrate on one aspect of that: the teaching of our teachers. In a recent report by the National Autistic Society, a large number of teachers said that they were ill prepared to understand the needs of autistic children. Training is vital. I hope that that will be covered in the proposed Bills.

I recognise that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who was at a meeting that I attended not so long ago, has said that the needs of the most vulnerable children in our society will be addressed, and I believe that he honestly wants to do that. However, relief teachers come into schools and do not know the pupils. I want a system the same as the one used in hospitals, whereby a new team that relieves a shift is given the notes of the patients whom it is servicing. In a recent case, a relief teacher took away from the child of one of my constituents the bar of chocolate that was needed because the child suffered from diabetes; the chocolate was medication. The child had a bottle of Lucozade and a bar of chocolate, and was not being naughty or eating in class. Those things were necessary because of the child’s medical condition, but the relief teacher was not aware of that. Again, that is a matter of training, but also a matter of information being passed on by schools to relief teachers.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that Back Benchers could not speak for as long as Front-Bench spokesmen, and then went on to speak for longer than the Front Benchers. I do not intend to do that, but I do want to put across my final few points.

I am fortunate. The education system in the London borough of Redbridge is first class. Many people try to get into our schools and our education system, and I commend the borough for that. However, I want better provision of education for special needs children. We have two good schools, in Hatton and Little Heath,
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which are doing a fantastic job. I want to ensure that they get the resources that they need. I apologise—possibly to those on my Front Bench—for what I am about to say, but this is me saying it; I am not saying it on behalf of my party. I want resources ring-fenced for special needs children so that there is not a postcode lottery. We know about the burdens on local authorities, whatever the political persuasion of those running that authority, and there is a finite amount of money. However, I want the right sums of money to be put into the education of special needs children, and I want to ensure that they get it—and that will be possible only if we have ring-fenced funding. I ask the Secretary of State to consider that. As I said, it is my personal view.

If we do not help the most vulnerable children in our society, we should hang our heads in shame. We were all elected to this House to do that job and ensure that we protect those individuals and young people. I, for one, will do everything in my power to make sure that it is done.

4.24 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I want to focus on the proposed Bill to give the NHS a constitution. Unlike the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), I think that our public services need more public involvement rather than less, and on the basis of my constituency experience, I am sceptical about the suggestion that we should leave professionals to their own devices. I feel that that has led to a slightly unrepresentative NHS that sometimes makes decisions in its own favour as an institution rather than considering the needs of individuals.

In 1996, during the last days of the last Conservative Government, the authorities at St. Helier hospital, which serves half my constituency, made a private, closed decision that the hospital should close and move further into Surrey, further away from those with the greatest health needs living in my constituency. A process was set in motion by NHS officers, who concluded that the hospital should be moved to Belmont, in the Surrey suburbs—one of the areas with the highest incomes and the lowest health needs and, indeed, an area that did not want a big hospital.

How could such a decision be made? I wonder whether it was anything to do with the fact that not one of the 18 board members of Merton and Sutton primary care trust comes from, or lives in, my constituency. They all live in much more affluent areas, and know my area less well. What is more, in an area that is hugely ethnically diverse, all but one of the board members are white. I believe that such boards are set up as they are because people choose other people in their own image and likeness. Potential board members are judged on the basis of whether they are members of other quango boards and whether they have similar experience. The difficult people who tend to challenge the status quo are not included in the selection process.

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