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Lord Rix: My Lords, as I suspected when I first met the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, at a delicious dinner in Edinburgh last September, and as her maiden speech has confirmed, she will be a most valued addition to your Lordships' House and a formidable ally for those of us trying to represent people with disabilities which create special educational needs. I, and I am sure all noble Lords present, congratulate and welcome her.

The question is mainstream or special schools. The issue is appropriate education. Today's inspectorate report is about standards. Standards are individual things, and how well an individual child does depends on that child receiving an appropriate education.

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The experience which best explains the origins of MENCAP, which I have the honour to chair, is that of a mother taking her child to school on the first day of the child's school life, and being summoned later in the day to take the child away because it had been found ineducable, the same verdict passed on my own daughter some 46 years ago. She had to be certified as educationally subnormal. Children are no longer being turned away in that peculiarly heartless way.

But we do need to worry about the level of school exclusions of children with severe learning disability from special schools; and we need to be concerned about what happens to children when they are in school, mainstream or special. If children with the most severe learning disabilities are to be taught in school, including mainstream schools, they have to be taught by teachers who know how to teach these children, using methods by which the children can learn, and measuring their progress by standards appropriate to them.

Inclusion which involves putting children with very special needs in a mainstream classroom and keeping your fingers crossed for a fruitful social experience, denies opportunity; it does not provide it. I warmly support the Government's emphasis on standards, underlined again today. I simply ask for relevant standards. The issue is added value: it is what the school has done to ensure that each and every child has fulfilled his or her potential.

If that means good examination results, fine. If it means being able to communicate basic needs, fine. What is not fine is labelling as a successful school one whose very able pupils have not become any less able by the time they leave, while labelling as a failure a school whose profoundly and multiply disabled children have been helped to conquer mountains of achievement but will never come within hailing distance of an exam pass.

Perhaps I may make some suggestions: first, the issue of inspection. Effective inspection processes are a vital tool in raising standards and spreading good practice. I should like to see Ofsted working with schools and the teacher training agency to develop appropriate measures and finding ways for inspections of celebrating non-traditional achievements. Mainstream schools can learn from special schools. MENCAP's profound intellectual and multiple disability project is at the leading edge of this work and has a great deal to offer all interested parties.

My second area of concern is inter-agency working. It is so often the case that for a pupil with special needs, support is needed from a wider number of agencies than just the education department. That is hard to secure in many mainstream schools. As the Minister may know, I have a particular concern about speech and language therapy.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of such services. I should like to see the work being undertaken in Scotland extended to the rest of the UK. Scottish education authorities can negotiate contracts to purchase specified speech and language therapy services for pre-school and school age children with statements. In three years this has led to the creation of 80 additional speech and language therapy posts in Scotland.

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We shall never again say that children with special needs are ineducable. That battle has been won. But now we must continue to fight for the best education possible for all children if we are to create a society where all citizens are respected for their abilities and the unique contribution they can make. A society which fails to educate all its citizens has failed all its citizens.

8.8 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, it is a very great pleasure and honour to be able to congratulate my noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone on her maiden speech. She has effected that difficult and delicate transition by translating personal experience into professional and public service provision. It is not easy to do that successfully and in just five years her special school has become nationally known and highly regarded. As such, she brings both familial and professional experience to your Lordships' Chamber.

I thank my noble friend Lord Addington warmly for giving us the opportunity through this debate to look back at what have been, in effect, the results of the Warnock Report of the early 1980s which brought special needs children more into mainstream schools; and I fully support that thrust.

I wish to touch on two schools which are special schools. In that regard I speak against the thrust of the interesting and excellent points put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I, too, know from professional and personal experience, that special schools are needed for some children.

I take Kingsdown School in Southend. Its head is a Mr. Hagyard. It offers specialist provision for physical and neurological impairment for children from all over Essex--quadriplegics, those with spina bifida or cerebral palsy, those with no speech, and so on. Indeed, it contains 115 exceptional children who are also exceptionally fragile physically. It has received a first-class report from Ofsted. I have a list of the practical problems that those children experience in sitting exams. However, because of the shortness of the debate--just four minutes for speeches is insufficient--I shall put those problems in a note to the Minister and doubtless he and I can also discuss them. Much provision has been made for special needs children in examinations but experience shows that more is needed of a different sort.

I turn, secondly, to the Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf where the head is Ivan Tucker. It responded recently to the Government's Green Paper. It is a different sort of special school with 200 pupils. Indeed, I believe it is the only special school featured in the Financial Times top 1,000 schools in the A-level league table. That school reminds us that fewer than 400 severely and profoundly deaf babies are born every year in the United Kingdom. Its conclusion, and indeed mine, is that the current educational provision for such children--those who, in terms of decibel shortage, fall into the category of 71 to 95 minus decibels of severe and profound deafness--is, frankly, largely ineffective.

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That is because responsibility for them is scattered over 132 LEAs, 32 special schools and a large number of units in mainstream schools.

There is, alas, little consistency and, not surprisingly, remarkably little data on educational achievement; there is inefficiency and ineffectiveness due to the lack of critical mass. Those are proven facts and not suppositions. I speak of the educational and not the medical needs of profoundly and severely deaf children; for example, speech and language therapy, acoustical excellence, hearing aid provision and use, and so on. The school delivers the national curriculum profoundly well and still it has no core funding from the Government. It costs £17,500 a year for each child: some special schools can charge up to £45,000. The school has experience to offer us, but solutions cannot be given this evening because there is insufficient time. Again, if I may, I shall write to the Minister and perhaps he will be kind enough to grant me a meeting so as to allow these these two important sectors to be examined. They are positive proposals that I have for him.

8.13 p.m.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for tabling this very topical Question this evening. I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, on her most interesting maiden speech which reflected all her experience. Although there are many technical aids to help children with special educational needs, there will still be some children who will need to be taught in very small groups on a one-to-one basis in specialist schools. SENSE finds that most deaf-blind, multi-sensory impaired children fall within the group of children whose needs cannot be met within mainstream education. Inclusion should mean that every single child should have access to the highest quality education which will meet his or her individual needs. Mainstreaming every child, irrespective of his or her needs, will not serve the interests of many disabled children and it will not lead to social inclusion later on.

While most of us agree that it is best for children with special needs to be educated with their peers in mainstream schools, we must recognise that meeting that goal will take time and resources. Mainstream schools need support and advice on how they can meet individual children's needs and to ensure that the child gets an education appropriate not only to his or her needs but also to his or her abilities. Can the Minister say what work is being undertaken to ensure that a curriculum is developed to meet the needs of children with severe and profound learning disabilities?

In 1985, 200 teachers gained a specialist teaching qualification for teaching children with severe learning disabilities, but by 1995 there were just 40 of them. During their training, teachers receive a little training in special needs, but not really enough. Teachers used to teach for a time, and then take extra qualifications for specialist training in severe learning disabilities. It would seem strange that to teach the deaf-blind one needs a special qualification, but not for other equally complex children with a range of severe disabilities.

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The drop in the number of teachers with special qualifications will surely put a strain on mainstream schools to manage those children who need specialist help and who cannot manage a mainstream school without help. Can the Minister say what can be done to encourage more teachers to specialise in the teaching of children with severe learning problems, and others with mild disabilities who, nonetheless, sometimes find it difficult to follow the curriculum?

Does the Minister consider that there is too much concentration on assessment tests, especially at primary school level with children who have slight problems in learning, which discourages schools at secondary level from taking these children with less serious special needs, such as lack of concentration or dyslexia, which I realise can be severe at times?

The question of choice in education is important to all families, especially those families with children with special educational needs. I know of families who find it difficult to send a child with learning difficulties to the school of their choice because of difficulties with local education authorities which do not agree to pay the other authority. This is possibly a case of where the child lives. Is it still a case of where these children happen to live, or whether or not there is a school for those with special needs? In some areas of England and Wales there is a growth of local specialist services and support which is beginning to recognise and meet children's needs. That is to be welcomed.

I am sure that many will agree with both MENCAP and SENSE that a statement is, for many parents, the end of a long battle to get their child's needs recognised. Can the Government reassure parents that they will in no way undermine the rights that children have to funded education provision that meets individual needs, especially for those who cannot be educated in mainstream schools?

8.17 p.m.

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