Special Educational Treatment

Part of Orders of the Day — Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st July 1976.

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Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough 12:00 am, 1st July 1976

I agree with many of the remarks of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), but I believe that our capacity to implement these proposals at present does not exist.

As a teacher for most of my adult life, I first came into contact with the problems of special school children and handicapped children not only on the "shop floor", as it were, but because many children were sent from ordinary schools to special schools. As a member of the National Executive of the NUT, I became a member of the Special Schools Advisory Committee. When I went on that committee, I realised how little knowledge I had of the problems of the handicapped. I met teachers from hospital schools who faced enormous problems—problems of which up to that stage I knew nothing and about which I had to learn.

I was chairman of the Primary School Advisory Committee and understood the generality of problems, but when I became a member of the Special Schools Advisory Committee I came face to face with the problems of the multiple-handicapped. I spoke to teachers who worked with those children and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), they were utterly dedicated to their pupils and constantly discussed better ways of carrying out their tasks. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South is an internationally-known figure in this sphere, and he and many other hon. Members are experts in this area of activity.

The point repeatedly made in this context is that handicapped children should not be segregated from other children—in other words they should not be made to feel apart from others. This view has now been accepted throughout the teaching world. The only dispute that takes place among teachers relates to the methods of bringing handicapped children into the work of ordinary children. Teachers in the special schools believe that handicapped children should be among other children, and yet difficulties are discovered because of the nature of the handicap of many of the children.

We must not make light of the grave difficulties that we shall face if we implement this new clause. There are many special schools in the city of Sheffield. There is a great expert in the teaching of the blind called Mr. Frederick Tooze. He constantly visits Africa and advises the authorities there on how to deal with their problems in a country where there is a great deal more blindness than exists in this country. Mr. Tooze is the distinguished head teacher of a local school for the blind and he took the initiative of mixing his blind children with children in the nearby comprehensive school.

Naturally, there is now an attempt to organise work of this kind on a central basis. It will involve the installation of equipment such as lifts in schools. Furthermore, I recently spoke to one of the leaders of the blind teachers, Mr. Milligan, and I found myself in almost total agreement with his views.

This debate has given a welcome airing to this important subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) asked the Minister about the Warnock Committee. I hope that action on the recommendations of that Committee is taken more quickly than action that was taken over the findings of the Bullock Committee on the subject of reading.

Although I find myself in total agreement with the sentiments behind the clause, I regret that I shall have to vote against it. I do so because I believe that we lack the ability to carry out the implications that lie behind these proposals. My hon. Friends can rest assured that I am with them in their sentiments, but I am agraid that I cannot support proposals of this kind at the present time.