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There have been discussions in the other place and outside about amendments to the Bill to place an obligation on Ministers to monitor both initial training and ongoing professional development, and there is significant support for that across the sector. However, this Bill cannot be the vehicle for achieving that goal. I hope that as part of a wider and sustained campaign we can not only monitor teacher development but improve it. It may well be that having this Bill on the statue book would be a useful hook for such a campaign. As a former campaigner, I know how important ongoing campaigns are, and I know how tremendously important it is that the charities that have these children as their main concern have given their support. I thank them for the crucial part that they played in building the necessary groundswell of support to see it make progress.
I pay tribute to the Special Educational Consortium, which is an umbrella group of over 100 organisations that have an interest in special educational needs. Its briefing paper, which I am sure many noble Lords have received, states that the,
The autism charity TreeHouse has a vision to transform through education the lives of children with autism and the lives of their families. TreeHouse has put its weight behind the Bill, having found that 60 per cent of Written Questions to Ministers go unanswered. The needs of deaf children also deserve strong consideration when looking to improve provision for children with SEN. I am pleased that the RNID has given the Bill its support, on the basis that 42 per cent of deaf children are less likely than their hearing peers to get five GCSE grades A to C and that the educational achievement of deaf pupils is well below the national average.
I must give a mention to the dyslexia charities Dyslexia Action, the British Dyslexia Association and Xtraordinary People for their input. The challenges faced by dyslexic children in our schools must be overcome so that we can unlock their tremendous potential.
In conclusion, I return to the underlying reasons for the Bill. None of us can pretend that securing the publication of information relating to a wide range of
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Millions of people will be waiting to scrutinise this information should it be collected and published, and they will all have but one motive: to improve the lives and life chances of children with special educational needs. The Bill would ensure greater collection of information and greater publication of information. That information would be just one tool, but a very important tool, so that parents, schools, teachers and campaigners will have more of what they need to build a better future for children with special educational needs. That is what we all want to see. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, for introducing the Bill. She used the analogy the hard yards in explaining how such Bills make progress and function. As someone who has experience with Private Members Bills, she is probably the right person to do it. I declare my series of interests, primarily around dyslexia. I am vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association, and I have connections with numerous other related charities. A report in the Guardian claims that the dyslexia movement is primarily responsible for the Bill. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, even if it might have been the inspiration behind the Bill, the information provided will not be exclusively for that group. We discovered a long time ago that in special educational needs, any disability rights tend to cross-reference across the field, no matter which group they come from initially.
What really attracted me to the idea the information should be published and recorded is that we might find out what does not work. It is odd, because we are always told what does and does not work, and the lack of information and clarity means that we do not know what is going on or what is appropriate for which situations. Being able to say, This used to work, or This worked for X and Y, and being able to clarify what we have done and what is appropriate will be very helpful.
I have taken it as a bit of a campaign of late to talk about not only trying to solve problems but coping with problems. That comes from my experience with dyslexia. There is something of a mantra, which I
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I hope that the Bill will provide a few more levers on the system of government to allow it to fulfil what it states its objectives to be. If one wants to look for a down side, the middle-class parent, who is good at finding out information and pushing local authorities, may, unfortunately, benefit the most and more quickly. But once the education authorities find out what works and what does not, what works best and what works in certain areas, they are much more likely to take action themselves.
This is a very good Bill. I also congratulate Members of the House of Commons on sending us a Bill that does not need amendment. They can take a pat on the back for that and we hope that they do it more often. That is where we are. The Bill is a good step along the path and has practical suggestions on how to tackle later life and the ongoing process of life, particularly when people are in education until they are 18. This Bill may be a small building block, or, perhaps I should say, the first step down a very practical road. I wish it well.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, it is very satisfactory to welcome such a sensible Bill. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, on bringing it forward to the House and on explaining its contents so clearly and what it implies. The idea behind it is simple, as the noble Baroness said. I am sure that we shall sometimes hear from local authorities that its execution is not simple and there may be objections regarding the bureaucracy that might be involved in keeping, publishing and monitoring the information that we need; but it is essential that the Bill should be executed and should become part of the framework within which local authorities make their provision for special needs. I cannot think why the amendments to the 1996 Act in the Bill have not been brought in previously, nor can I think of why they were not part of the original 1981 Act, because the need for the knowledge that the Bill will provide is pretty obvious.
It is necessary partly because endless claims are made and much heat is generated on the question of what does or will work and what does not work, as the
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Until now most of the claims of what is best for children with special educational needs have been based either on theory or anecdote. Many noble Lords will have shared my experience of receiving a flood of correspondence from dissatisfied parents who are desperately seeking to do the best that they possibly can for their childrens education, but who find, as we have heard, that it is almost impossible to fight their way through the difficulties because they have no evidence on which they can base what they are going to argue if they have to face a tribunal. I hope that if this Bill is passed it will enormously help those unhappy parents and those of us who have been more theoretical in our claims regarding different forms of special educational needs.
The concept of what works for a child, however limited the progress is, must relate to the progress that the child makes. In educational progress I of course include, as does the Bill, progress in interacting with other people, joining in shared activities and all the things that were included in Every Child Matters. Provided that the methods of recording a childs progress and that the methods of monitoring it are properly and professionally devised, and strictly carried out, now at last we shall be in a position to know what works and how it works. Publication of these results will greatly aid the sharing of best practice, wherever it is found.
Touching on the concept of the Bill as a building block, I hope that the new knowledge that we can obtain will lead us in the first place to a much greater and a much more honest communication between schools and parents, which, in turn, might help to generate a more co-operative and less adversarial relationship than is often the case at present. That is one of the horrors for parents, who come to regard their local authority as an enemy to be overcome by every possible strategy that they can think of. I hope that if local authorities see from the records that a child is not making educational progress in this wide sense they may be willing with the parents to explore alternative placements, especially for those children who are difficult to place, or whose parents are deeply dissatisfied with what is being offered. I hope that local authorities will not adopt the attitude that they sometimes adopt, which is, We are doing our very best and it is working, whatever you may think.
I hope, too, that the evidence that we shall now have will show how different from one another children are and how differently their disabilities affect them. I hope that local authorities may cease to lump all SEN children together and all support for them together as if they were all one and the same and as if that support were a kind of substance like milk which everyone should have but what it is and how it differs is totally disregarded.
Above all, I hope that the new duty to be laid on local authorities may make them more open, especially with parents. I believe that most parents would prefer to deal with the local authority if, instead of being told sometimes that the extra help offered to their child is working perfectly well for his good, they were told that more could not be afforded. It should come out in the open that the provision for children with special educational needs is very expensive. Local authorities would win the support of parents if they were more honest and said, We will do what we possibly can to meet the childs needs, but we cannot afford everything. Only then can we go back to a situation that obtained many years ago when parents of children with special educational needs trusted local authorities that they really did have the best interests of their children at heart and that they really did have an interest in their widely interpreted educational progress.
Finally, I congratulate the Government on the spirit that lies behind Every Child Matters and the broad understanding of what education is, which has sometimes been lacking and was certainly lacking back in the 1970s when I first became interested in this subject. I congratulate the Government warmly and very much hope that the Bill will go forward smoothly.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I shall not detain the House overlong on a Friday morning. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, on having taken up the Bill and bringing it before this House, as well as Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP, who took it through its various stages in another place. It is always a particular pleasure and privilege for me to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, who is such an authority on these questions, and with whom I have shared a commitment to these issues for over 30 years.
My purpose in speaking today is simply to add my voice to all those others in welcoming the Bill as a modest but useful measure designed to strengthen the resources available for meeting the needs of children with special educational needs in our education system. I will make one small but important point in its support and I encourage your Lordships to give it a speedy passage on to the statute book.
The Bill seeks to strengthen the system for meeting the needs of children with SEN in respect of information, which even after all this time still appears to be defective in a number of ways. Specifically it is inadequate for enabling a sufficiently refined analysis of needs, which of course limits the scope for any kind of sensitively targeted planning of provision to meet needs. The Secretary of State has wide powers to require information from schools. The Bill would require him to use those powers to collect and publish information about pupils with SEN that will facilitate better planning of provision nationally and locally to meet their needs.
I can illustrate the value of this from the field of visual impairment, which of course I know best from my work as chairman of RNIB. I declare an interest. Let me tell your Lordships about the children whom
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This is particularly important for children with multiple disabilities and complex needs. We estimate that at least 30 per cent of visually impaired children have severe, profound and multiple difficulties and that a further 20 per cent have other, additional difficulties. If this is correct, it means that the incidence of multiple disability is far more widespread than is disclosed by official statistics. Visual impairment is a low-incidence disability. If, as I suspect, it is not untypical of other low-incidence disabilities, in that strategies and services are based on underestimates, we have some way to go to develop services that are sufficiently sensitively attuned to meeting the true needs of such children.
The aspirations of this Bill may seem simple and modest, but the greater understanding of the needs of children with SEN that they could bring about could be out of all proportion to their modesty. I warmly welcome the Bill, therefore, and commend it to the House.
Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, when I first came to your Lordships House, the kindly noble Lord who was coaching me said: There is a thing called speaking in the gap. Know about it. Never do it. This is the first time in two years that I have been tempted to do it. I find it irresistible, out of a sense of obligation to others who have been placed in a similar situation to mine. I have never admitted it to this House, but I think that I am classified as some sort of mental defective. That may have become apparent to most of you during the past two years, but I want to explain how it occurred, and why I believe that one potential impact in this otherwise excellent Bill needs a little attention.
In 1940 we were bombed and evacuated. We came back to London in January 1945 and I was sent to the local school. The local school had also been bombed and was overrun with rats and mice. As a result, we had a cat in the classroom the whole time. Nobody knew it at the time, least of all me, but I had the worst cat allergy ever. I can get cat allergy from just sitting next to a cat owner in a theatre. As a result my eyes streamed and closed, and I could not hear or understand a word of what was going on. In 1947 the school reported me to the local education authority as unteachable. I was classified as educationally subnormalthat was the phrase on the certificate at the time. The authority was quite right. I could not even read the 11-plus exam paper. I was first asked the alphabet and I could not get beyond the letter F.
It was a great misfortune, but it had one great benefit. My mother contacted my father, who had left us at the end of the war. He came back and never left my mother again. He also engaged a retired schoolteacher who taught me to read in three weeks, and four years later I played for England at chess. So I could not have been that stupid. Eight years later, I gained entrance to Oxford but could not take it up because there was not enough money.
My point is that many years later, when I was 24, my career had prospered to the extent that I had got a very good job in Ford Motor Company and was offered a very good promotion at a point where they had to bond me, because it was a big financial-exposure job. When they tried to get me bonded they could not, so instead of confirming the promotion they called me in and said, We have got to fire you because you are registered as a mental defective. We found it on the record. You didnt declare it when you joined us. I was horrified at this and pleaded. Eventually they let me keep my job in Ford albeit at a lower level, and I had another 10 wonderful years there.
More recently, in the two years I have been here, I have been on the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. One day I found myself at an interview with people from the Department for Education about an instrument that was coming through. I recounted this story to them and said, Why am I still on the record? Why not have an arrangement whereby it is cancelled when you work your way out of it, so that it doesnt haunt you for the rest of your days?. I was told that it cannot be removed. It is there for ever. I get up in the gap today to say to you: please, do something about this and, please, do not let the past cast such a long shadow on those who, like me, had the problem and got out of it. Thank you.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, on introducing the Bill and Sharon Hodgson MP on blazing the trail in another place. The Bill is deceptively simple because it appears only to allow the Secretary of State to collect and publish information on children with SENs in England in order to improve their well-being. That is focused on the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda, not just on educational achievement. Would that the process of evaluating all schools had a better balanced focus on all five outcomes and not just the achievement bit of the enjoying and achieving one.
Before I go any further, I shall say that I share the cat allergy of the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, although mine is nowhere near as bad as his. It causes your eyes to close and is extremely painful and debilitating. I have great sympathy with his suggestion that these situations should be expunged from the record so that they have no further effect on peoples lives. Misdiagnosis can have a long-term effect. My noble friend Lord Addington tells me that at the age of seven he was thought to be blind because he was unable to repeat the names of the letters on the blackboard. That was because of dyslexia, not because of any visual problem. It is important that we identify special needs early, but it is not the only thing that we need to do.
In preparation for this small but important Bill, we have had some good briefings from the Special Educational Consortium, the RNID and the National Deaf Childrens Society. They all support the objectives of the Bill. The lack of information about children with special needs prevents us having a clear focus on whether the provision made for such children promotes the best possible outcomes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said, it must be extremely frustrating to ask a question to which the answer is important and find that the information is not collected. Ofsted has looked at these issues. Its 2004 report found that only a quarter of local authorities had strong strategic management of special needs and the majority had weak evaluation systems. High-quality information is a crucial element in evaluating outcomes and informing the development of local provision and is important for the Department for Children, Schools and Families in order to produce national policy. In the same report, Ofsted found that underexpectation was a significant factor in the underachievement of children with SENs.
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