asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, having considered the views of the seven voluntary organisations representing deaf and blind children, he is now in a position to make a statement on the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers' report on teacher training and special educational needs.
Will the Minister acknowledge that the ACSET report caused considerable concern among teachers of the visually and orally handicapped? Will he now recognise that he should announce as quickly as possible that special qualifications will continue to be required? Will he further recognise that the move towards care in non-specialist schools should not be used by the Government as a means of downgrading standards, and that special schools and special teachers will continue to be required on a proper scale?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's sincere interest in this matter. Our aim at all times is to improve standards. I am afraid that he must wait a little longer before my right hon. Friends are in a position to make an announcement.
Is my hon. Friend aware that not only those involved in the training of teachers of the deaf but the parents of deaf children are very concerned about the proposals in the ACSET report, and that the sooner the fears that have been raised are laid to rest, the better?
I can only refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago. We have been made fully aware by hon. Members and directly of the concern that parents, teachers and those responsible for the provision of education for the deaf and blind feel about the proposals. Again, the House must wait a little longer before we are in a position to make an announcement.
Will the Minister acknowledge that deaf and blind children have special educational needs, and that removing the mandatory requirement for special educational qualifications for their teachers can be justified only if the special education need is removed? Since, in the nature of the case, that is impossible, it would be quite wrong to remove this specialist qualification for teachers of blind and deaf children.
The House will know of the right hon. Gentleman's deep feelings on this matter. However, I must remind the House that the ACSET report on teacher training and special educational needs included a wide variety of recommendations on training generally and on the staffing of schools. The House will understand, I am sure, that these recommendations and the comments that my right hon. Friends have received deserve careful consideration.
Would my hon. Friend care to count the number of times that he has given a virtually identical answer to this question? While it is accepted that these matters must take some time, would he spare a thought for those teachers in deaf units and deaf schools whose anxieties seem to them to have been held in suspense for a very long time?
I note the views of my hon. Friend, but again I must ask him to be patient. We are fully aware of the uncertainty over the proposals and the need to reach an early resolution of them. We shall do the House and the education service no benefit if we rush into early decisions which might in themselves cause a deterioration of the service provided.
Will the Minister accept that at present there is great uncertainty in the universities and other places providing specialist courses and that he must make a statement urgently? Is he aware that particular alarm is felt by all those involved in special education, in that the Government's White Paper on public expenditure refers to cutting expenditure on special education by approximately 10 per cent. in real terms, when the number of children involved is falling by approximately only 1 per cent.?
Because opinion was so divided on some of the recommendations that were made, we felt it necessary to take a great deal of time in considering the proposals and their effects on those who teach the deaf and the blind. None the less, I note the views of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett).