Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

After Clause 91, insert the following new clause--

Children with special educational needs

(" .--(1) The Education Act 1996 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 316 (children with special educational needs normally to be educated in mainstream schools)--
(a) for subsection (1) there shall be substituted--
"(1) Any person exercising functions under this Part in respect of a child with special educational needs who should be educated in school shall secure that the child is educated in a school which is not a special school unless that is incompatible with the wishes of the parent and the needs and ascertainable wishes of the child."; and
(b) subsection (2) shall be omitted.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved and withdrew an identical amendment in Committee on 8th June. Its purpose is to ensure that any child with a statement of special educational needs will be educated in a mainstream school, provided that is compatible with his educational needs and the wishes of his parent. I stress again that it is only when the parent wishes it. I explained the details of the amendment at length, and the difficulties parents still encounter with some LEAs at cols. 824, 825, 826, and 827 of Hansard. I shall not repeat the arguments because I do not want to bore your Lordships rigid and I do not intend to divide on this amendment. I simply hope the Minister can give a somewhat stronger message to those LEAs which 17 years after the Education Act 1981 are still reluctant to offer a mainstream option to children with statements.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, has had to leave the Chamber but supports the amendment most warmly as she clearly demonstrated in Committee at col. 827 when she said that inclusive education when successful-- I accept that it cannot be rushed or skimped--benefits

2 Jul 1998 : Column 940

both children with and without special educational needs. That surely must be the way to a better understanding and relationship in the adult world.

From the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at cols. 833 and 834, and an extremely helpful meeting with officials for which I am grateful, it became clear that before embarking on any possible legislation the Government wish to consider the responses to the Green Paper and the wider work of the disability task force which will, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Whitty,

    "specifically review the present exclusion of education from the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act".--[Official Report, 8/6/98; col. 833.]
This is extremely welcome. I and others tried unsuccessfully to include education during the passage of the DDA. On rereading the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in Committee, I find that there is a strong message for the future. I have to accept--and the special education consortium accepts--that we shall have to wait until the responses from the Green Paper are received. But the task force may not report--unless the Minister can indicate to the contrary--for a considerable time. I hope we do not have to wait too long before resolving in law, if necessary, this problem of dilatory LEAs.

However, that is for the future. I very much hope that in the meantime the Government will send a strong message to the reluctant LEAs, whether it be with carrots, sticks or a combination of those. Carrots could perhaps be in the form of some incentive to LEAs, perhaps a bridging loan to those LEAs which provide a mainstream option; or there could be a stick, but rather more of a firm nudge than a stick in the form of a letter to dilatory LEAs; or perhaps a letter to all LEAs reminding them of their general duty to provide mainstream places where this is consistent with parents' wishes.

I look forward to the Minister's reply. The message for the future is clearly encouraging. I hope today that the Minister can offer a firm message for the immediate future and will at the very least be able to give a tangible reminder to LEAs of their general duty to provide a mainstream place, where it is a parent's wish, for any statemented child who would benefit from such an education. I beg to move.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth, the rest of the supporting cast having made their exit into the night. That leads me to a point about my exit on Tuesday last from the Report stage of the Bill. I am happy to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, is reported in Hansard as saying that I had been called away on other business. Like a well known American, I cannot tell a lie. I must confess that I was called away to watch England lose in the World Cup.

On the other hand, that early exit lent some colouring to the Bill that is before us. For one thing, it quite clearly illustrated truancy on my part. It also illustrated challenging behaviour on the part of David Beckham, and, furthermore, exclusion by the Danish referee as he was sent off. However, it also supported this amendment moved by my noble friend, in that it offered choice.

2 Jul 1998 : Column 941

There was the choice that I could have stayed. There was choice in that David Beckham need not have lashed out with his foot, and choice in that the referee could have shown him the yellow card instead of the red one. That is all we are asking in this amendment. We believe that choice for parents and for pupils with special educational needs to attend the school of their choice is of vital importance.

Last year there was the sad case, which was lost in the courts, of the girl with Downs syndrome who wanted to go from primary to secondary school. She wanted to go; her fellow pupils wanted her to go; and her parents wanted her to go. But unfortunately the school concerned said that it did not have the necessary facilities available. She was rejected, and had to attend a special school. That seems to be in contravention of all the circulars that have been published. The Government should make some sort of reparation in this direction. We are perhaps initially seeking letters to LEAs, schools etc. However, we hope that further legislation will eventually be forthcoming

When I visited officials at the Department for Education with my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, I left with them a study that had taken place in California. I know that comparisons between America and this country are not totally apposite. However, of children with special educational needs--some with profound disabilities--who attended mainstream schools and were given the correct facilities and support there, it was proved beyond doubt that after they left school and went into the world outside they became a decreasing cost to the state in terms of the support that they needed. Their performance in later life was considerably enhanced by their being absorbed into mainstream schools.

I know that it is a tremendous bone of contention between parents as to whether to send their child to a special school or a mainstream school. The amendment that was accepted today in relation to bullying--about which I am so happy--will help to lessen the problems facing parents. Bullying has been a very real fear on their part in the past.

The question of choice should be uppermost in the Government's mind. As more support is given to mainstream schools, a great deal will be gained by pupils, and by their parents, if they are able to attend such schools if they so wish.

Lord Addington: My Lords, this is one amendment to which I should like to have put my name, but I was rather elbowed out of the way in the rush to support it.

To continue the sporting analogy, football is a rather strange game. I have always felt that a game in which you do not use the world's most complicated tool--that at the end of your arm--is bound to lead to odd aberrations in behaviour. The young gentleman who decided, rather strangely, when lying face down on the floor that it was a good time to kick his opponent was exhibiting very strange behaviour. I suggest that his only safety lay in his being shown the red card rather than anything else.

2 Jul 1998 : Column 942

The debate about those with special educational needs attending mainstream schools has always been covered by a series of assumptions which have tended to be different depending on which part of the SEN world people come from. It depends on the appropriateness of the help that can be given to certain people. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, pointed out, there are certain groups where the case is proven that it is a positive aspect, provided there is sympathy within the school.

Other groups need more specialist help which may be provided in a more specialist environment, but we are arguing around the edges of the problem now. The amendment represents the compromise and agreement which have come from the SEN lobby itself. Surely it should be accepted, if not now, then very soon, or with other wording. What we are talking about is bringing the child on board with the parents and considering the appropriateness of the teachers. If those are all brought together, surely we will be able to integrate to a far higher degree.

In addition, if we start to pay attention to this matter with a true spirit, the interchange between special schools and the mainstream schools will become much easier. Most people with SEN problems will benefit from some mainstream education. It is silly to say that certain groups cannot be integrated; indeed, it may be a case of going outside the system to support units and then coming back in. An amendment like this must be included in the legislation at some point so that we can bring people in.

There will always be a degree of prejudice. I mention the demon word "dyslexia" again. I have come across teachers who have said privately to me, "I don't believe in dyslexia". You can then show them brain scans with different areas of electro-activity showing the difference between the two and they still say they do not believe it. One is rather under the impression that they believe that the world is round. But that goes on. Surely at some point we must have some such amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page