Orders of the Day — Children (Special Educational Needs)

– in the House of Commons at 5:07 am on 13th March 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr 5:07 am, 13th March 1989

I am grateful that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is present to respond, but as I have already told the Minister and his Department, the services for children with special educational needs are provided by the health authorities. That is an important point to stress.

In 1987 there were about 134,000 children with special educational needs in our schools. About 109,000 of those children are in special schools and the other 20,000 plus are in ordinary schools either in ordinary classes or in special units. Therefore, not all the children with special educational needs are in special schools, but only about three quarters of them.

Under the Education Act 1981 these 134,000 children were assessed in respect of their special needs; a statement of their needs and how they were to be met was produced. I shall not go into the details of the children's problems—their disabilities are many and varied. These children are our fellow citizens. They have brothers and sisters and mums and dads and they are as entitled as the rest of us to flower physically and intellectually to their maximum potential. The Education Act 1981 was an advance, and I pay tribute to it. However, all legislation passed by the House with good intentions should be carefully monitored so that it delivers and does not merely build up people's hopes, only to dash them again.

I want to discuss physiotherapy services for pupils. Later, I shall touch on speech therapy, too. Unless many of the pupils with physical disabilities can obtain the services and resources of a physiotherapist, their legal right to education under British and international law will be lost.

The Wilson Stuart special school in Kingstanding is in my constituency. It is a typical special school for children with disabilities. It is attended by about 140 pupils aged from three to 16. It shares a site with two other special schools, one for pupils with hearing difficulties and the other for children with a sight handicap.

The physiotherapy input to the school is provided not by Birmingham education authority but by the west Birmingham health authority. Wilson Stuart school has always served my constituents, as it has those living in Erdington, Ladywood and Sutton Coldfield. It has been in my constituency only since the boundary changes of 1983. I seem to recollect—as I watch the Minister's smiling face—that we both represent west midlands constituencies and share former membership of the Birmingham education committee.

I have raised the subject of this school in the House before. Back in 1987 I complained to the then Secretary of State for Social Services—my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), whose constituents' children attend the school—about the lack of physiotherapy. I do not want to be partisan in this debate, but the right hon. Gentleman dismissed my complaints as nonsense and said that the services were adequate.

Some of the parents who complained about the lack of physiotherapy for their children in early 1987 ended up having their children re-classified as needing no physiotherapy—just supervision. That did not go down too well. Late in 1987, the pattern of physiotherapy was adjusted to improve matters—that cannot be denied. On 27 October 1987 I asked whether Ministers were satisfied with the amount of physiotherapy for children in the special schools in Birmingham. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), the then Minister, replied: "Yes". In answer to a supplementary question, she pointed out that the school was affected by a shortage of … physiotherapists at the end of last year —1986— but is currently up to establishment".—[Official Report, 27 October 1987; Vol. 121, c. 158–159.] She also said that there had been an increase in the west Birmingham health authority physiotherapy levels.

Later in 1987, the parents had to form the Wilson Stuart parents' action group. During 1988, they had several meetings with the staff of the west Birmingham health authority. I do not mean just the staff but the leadership of the health authority, Mr. Gerry Goghlan, and the general manager of community medicine, Dr. Mike Hilburn, who have given this matter personal attention, having actually met the parents on at least two or three occasions in 1988 at a time convenient to the parents, and that, of course, does not mean office hours. Notwithstanding that, in January 1989, during the Christmas recess, at the request of the representatives of the action group, the parents asked to put the up-dated position to me because there were again difficulties.

It is, as I said to the Minister, a humbling process to listen to a group of parents describe how they organise their lives around their handicapped children. Some of them have, of course, other, perfectly normal children, who need the love and affection of their parents and do not need to be shut out because of concentration on one of the children. We all live together on this planet as equal citizens and it is remarkable what the parents of handicapped children have to do, and do willingly, to create as normal a life as possible for both their normal and handicapped children.

I give the Minister four of the examples I was given in January of this year in relation to 1988, having been told in late 1987 that matters had been put right and that, by and large, services were adequate. First of all, Liam, aged five, was at Wilson Stuart for two years but over an 18-month period received no physiotherapy. At one time this young lad was actually left off the speech therapy programme as he was thought to be uncommunicative. The whole point about speech therapy, I thought, was to increase and improve communication skills.

Next, Anthony, aged six, at Wilson Stuart for three years: during 1988 he received no physiotherapy at all. This young lad had a real problem with balance, with no chance to help improve it through physiotherapy, and the parents told me that he had indeed, stagnated.

Kate, aged eight, was assessed as needing intensive physiotherapy and yet over an 18-month period received virtually none, albeit this was partially due to illness among physiotherapy staff. Tragic though that is, and this is appreciated and understood by the parents, there were not enough resources to back up physiotherapy staff who became ill.

Then there was Katherine, aged seven. She again had had a period of almost 18 months with no physiotherapy. Indeed, she was removed from Wilson Stuart in September 1988, and was actually sponsored by Birmingham city council at a residential school near Cardiff.

Many of the pupils attending this school, which serves at least four of the north Birmingham constituencies, reside not in the area of west Birmingham health authority but of north Birmingham health authority, and I understand north Birmingham health authority makes no financial contribution to west Birmingham health authority in respect of those services.

I do not expect the Minister to deal with this point, as I know that this matter may well end up being addressed as a result of the recent White Paper on the Health Service, but the general issue of the input to special schools is not addressed at all in the White Paper. I do not intend to raise that here tonight.

In January I again took up these matters, and indeed other matters relating to Wilson Stuart School, with West Birmingham health authority and I had a considered response from the chairman on 14 February. He made it quite clear that the situation was improving from a managerial point of view and that the authority was to employ physiotherapists who would provide a better service than had been provided. Notwithstanding the points which the chairman made, he concluded: I think that the authority would accept that the need and demand for physiotherapy at the school outstrips supply, but I think that the measures that we have taken indicate our concern to maximise the use of limited resources. The "need and demand" for physiotherapy input at Wilson Stuart school "outstrips supply". It could not be clearer that there are not sufficient resources for the pupils at Wilson Stuart school. The parents and I do not criticise anyone at the school. We have no criticisms of the non-teaching staff including the caretaker, cleaners and the dinner ladies or of the teaching staff including Mr. Grantham the headmaster. We also have no criticisms of the physiotherapists. The school is extremely well supported by the local community. The school's annual fete attracts well over 2,000 people. It is impossible to move for the hustle and bustle of people willing to support that important school. The parents' action group and the governors have been very supportive in their fight for their rights.

I appreciate that the legal position has been slightly muddied. Until the end of last year I do not think that it was possible for a local authority under statute law to employ physiotherapists or speech therapists. That would have been classed as non-educational provision.

Unless pupils at schools such as Wilson Stuart, who are typical of the 100,000-odd pupils who have had statements written about them, can obtain physiotherapy, some of it on a daily basis, they cannot receive the education which is their right. As a layman I would say that there is a specific and direct connection between the input of physiotherapy servies and the receipt of education. I would argue that that input becomes an educational provision because those children cannht receive an education without it.

I accept that section 7 of the Education Act 1981 was changed during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988. An amendment was passed in the Lords at the third attempt against the wishes of the Government, but they accepted it in this place and there was no attempt to overturn it.

That change potentially allows local educational authorities to employ therapists, although there are no extra resources to enable them to do so. The change is referred to in paragraph 64 of the draft circular issued by the Department of Education and Science in December. I believe that that draft circular is out for consultation at the moment.

Paragraph 64 contains the only mention in the draft circular to the amendment to section 7 of the Education Act 1981. However, there is no mention of the resource implications and the resources are still a matter for health authorities and not the local education authorities. According to the draft circular, the local education authorities may provide services but the responsibility for provision rests with social services departments and district health authorities. There is no question of buck-passing there.

It has been put to me—although I do not know how far this might progress—that the position is so serious in many special schools that the deprivation of a proper education caused by a lack of those services might result in the Government being dragged before the European Court of Human Rights. That is being contemplated at the moment. Obviously the amendment to the 1981 Act referred to in the draft circular relates to the case involving Avril Muller of Colne and Lancashire county council in respect of speech therapy provision for Avril's nine-year old son Christopher. I understand that the Court of Appeal ruled on that case last week.

I make no criticism of health authorities, which work as closely as they can with local authorities in the provision of educational and social services. However, they are hamstrung. Last August, the Birmingham-based National Association of Health Authorities published a report on health authority concerns about children with special educational needs. That report resulted from a survey of health authorities concerning implementation of the Education Act 1981. My understanding is that up to last Wednesday, the Government had not responded to that report. Although the Minister is concerned with educational matters, I hope, that as there is a joint responsibility between two Departments, he will be able to comment on that important report.

That case, which may or may not go to the House of Lords, concerns the provision of speech therapy for Avril's nine-year old son, Christopher. It is claimed that speech therapy must be provided, and the courts support the mother in that contention. The same case could be made for physiotherapy as for speech therapy, where the potential damage to the child's education is such that he or she does not receive the education to which they have a right. We do not really want to refer all such cases to the European Court, if only because they take so long. It is the children who suffer from such delays.

It must be remembered that this country is not short of financial resources. We may think that it is now 5·25 am on Monday 13 March, but to the 55 million other people in this country it is Tuesday—Budget day. We all know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a tremendous surplus, but probably he is too frightened to spend it. If a little of that surplus could be given to health authorities for extra resources, such as physiotherapists and speech therapists to help the 100,000 children having special educational needs, it would not go amiss. It would not be wasted but would represent a fantastic investment in those children, in their future, and in their families and communities.

No fewer than 105 health authorities with responsibility under the 1981 Act for children with special needs responded to the survey, which represents a substantial proportion of those involved. The report kicks off with a quote from a health authority in the north-west that this district is unable to meet fully the physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy needs of children in either mainstream or special schools … The generally held opinion was that whilst the procedure imposed by the circular was both comprehensive and largely appropriate, it has the major effect of placing a heavy administrative demands on occupational physiotherapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, senior clinical medical officers, health visitors and all sectors' attendant clerical support staff. I ask the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend in the Department of Health to ensure that the circular, when it is published, removes some of the bureaucratic burden on the specialist professionals. It may be that more clerical resources—perhaps including specialist clerical resources—will release professional physiotherapists and speech therapists to do the job that they are trained and want to do, which is serving their patients.

Let me put on record part of the report's summary and conclusions for follow-up purposes, as I certainly do not expect this to be the end of the matter. Its powerful arguments include part of the submission from the district general manager of a Mersey region authority: It was one of the intentions of the 1981 Education Act that education authorities should first outline a child's special educational needs as perceived after a multi-professional assessment and then make a statement of how it was proposed to meet those needs. One object of this exercise was to use the assessments to ascertain levels of need in various respects, this information to be used for planning purposes etc. The reality has been that the distinction between these two stages has been fudged and blurred as much as possible because a clear separation of the two would simply indicate the stark reality of the gap between need and provision, and make life impossible for education authorities. The agencies involved have therefore entered into more or less of an implicit conspiracy to mumble about ascertained need sufficiently vaguely for the statement of provision to be made in terms of the grossly inadequate resources available. I am advised that this is a professionally and ethically unacceptable situation with which, however, we are forced to live. That is a powerful indictment from a health authority administrator concerned, I suspect, that parents were being conned.

According to the report, it was the generally held opinion that the continuing successful implementation of the 1981 Education Act"— for it has been a plus, and I do not knock it in that respect— did and will, depend on the allocation of additional resources to:

  • fund an appropriate number of paramedical posts to provide therapeutic services of good quality,
  • provide nursing care in mainstream schools for children with special physical needs,
  • provide adequate administrative/clerical support to professional staff."
I cannot over-emphasise the importance of that last item. We are not calling for a doubling or tripling of the number of therapists, but for the full potential of existing therapists to be released. Hospital consultants are not expected to do the filing: that is done by filing clerks and trained administrative and clerical staff so that surgeons can be released to perform operations. It is exactly the same at other levels of health care.

The report concludes: The general impression is of health and local education authorities struggling with greater or lesser success—in terms of administrative co-ordination—against the fundamental problem of under-resourcing. That problem is constantly reiterated.

The 1981 Act has, I think, been on the statute book for long enough. In view of this extra survey revealing health authorities' concern that they are unable to fulfil its full requirements, we should now put the necessary resources into making it a reality. The final paragraph of the report quotes the Trent region as saying: The Circular on its own, it is felt"— I presume that this will apply equally to the draft circular— could not be revised to assist health authorities in fulfilling their responsibilities. To put it bluntly, it is more people that are required, not more paper! That is putting it most bluntly. The report concluded that the National Association of Health Authorities requested that the Department of Education and Science, together with the Department of Health immediately respond to the matters detailed in this report, setting out a timetable for action to ensure that children with special needs do receive the assistance that is theirs by right." I emphasise that "by right. Under British and international law, children have an inalienable right to an education. It would be a tragedy if British citizens have to seek that right under international law because they cannot get it under British law. Therefore, the Government are required to respond sensitively and carefully to a matter which concerns every constituency in the country and involves 134 children statemented as having special needs.

I know that the Minister is a caring and sensitive Minister, so I stress with all the force as I can that the needs outlined in those statements must be met with sufficient resources to allow those citizens with disabilities that require special services to achieve their full potential.

The House of Commons must address the matter, particularly as we all know, and as will be confirmed later today, the country is not short of financial resources.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West 5:36 am, 13th March 1989

First, I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for raising the debate and for the manner in which he made his speech. Clearly he spoke not only for the interests of his constituents but on a number of general issues which have exercised his concern for some time.

I, too, have been impressed by the sheer commitment of parents of children with statemented needs. The way in which they deal with the pressure that puts on the family, whether or not they have other children who do not have statemented needs, extracts the admiration of many Members of Parliament who meet such parents. Those parents have to be, and nearly always are highly motivated and particularly dedicated. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to address the subject of children with special educational needs—an issue which transcends party differences and unites the House in a way that few other subjects can.

I shall spend just a few moments on definitions which are germane to a number of points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It needs to be recognised from the outset that "children with special educational needs" is not a term which defines a homogeneous group, easily identifiable and equatable with a label. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's supportive remarks on the objectives of the Education Act 1981. Although he is now looking at the follow-through and the practicalities, we agree that it was a good Act in its intention and most of its practice. Since that Act, and following the recommendations of the Warnock committee, the concept of special needs has been applied to children who have a learning difficulty which requires special educational provision to be made for them.

The Warnock committee estimated that perhaps 20 per cent. of children have, at some time in their school career, special educational needs, and that at any one time one sixth of the school population may have learning difficulties. The bulk of such children's needs can be met by special educational services—the 1981 Act uses the term "provision"—supplied by their own mainstream school. A small proportion of children, however—the Warnock committee estimated that it might constitute 2 per cent. of the overall school population—can be expected to have difficulties which are more severe and which call for something extra.

Under the 1981 Act those children will be formally assessed and provided with a statement of SEN. The statement specifies the nature and extent of the learning difficulty. It specifies also the special educational provision or services which they require in order to address those difficulties. The emphasis is rightly upon the individual needs of the child. The particular requirements of each pupil are assessed and provided for without regard to some general category of disability or a particular label. This was not discussed tonight, but it is all germane. It is the relevant backcloth to all discussions in this area. I think most people across the parties and across the experts welcomed the move away from labels categorising young people. That was a positive move.

For those children within the Warnock 2 per cent. the responsibility for assessing and determining the nature of the child's learning difficulty, and what the requisite provision should be, lies with the local education authority. The nature of the services or provision specified on the statement will depend upon the nature of the learning difficulties identified after a formal multi-professional assessment, which must include educational, medical and psychological advice, together with parental representations and any evidence submitted by or on behalf of the child's parents.

I will say a few words about the educational provision, although I know that the hon. Gentleman is only interested in the mix of the educational and health provisions and how the two relate. On the educational provision, a distinction is made in the 1981 Act between educational provision and non-educational provision which may be required to meet the needs of children with statements. The educational provision of services is to be specified in terms of facilities and equipment, staffing arrangements, the curriculum and teaching methods. Where relevant, educational environment, access and transport provision should be specified. Such educational services are the responsibility of the LEA. LEAs are legally bound to provide the special educational services which are detailed in the statement of SEN.

As to non-educational provision, an LEA is also required to provide details in a statement of any non-educational provision which it considers advantageous and is satisfied will be made available for the child by the district health authority, the social services department or some other body, if not made available by the LEA. The Education Reform Act 1988 changed the legal position to enable an LEA to provide noneducational services, but it does not place a duty on an LEA to do so. That is the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the recent dispute in the courts involving parents in Lancashire. I noted from a press statement of 11 March 1989 that the Court of Appeal ruled that speech therapy could be classed as a special educational provision under the 1981 Education Act, so the council had a duty to provide it. Further on, Lord Justice Balcombe said that the court accepted that such therapy stood between medicine and education. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's comment in the High Court was that at one end of the scale it was akin to teaching while at the other it might be regarded as purely medical.

According to The Independent report, a very interesting parallel was asserted: to teach an adult who had lost his larynx because of cancer could well be considered as treatment rather than education, but to teach a child who had never been able to communicate by language seemed, according to the judge, just as much an educational provision as to teach a child to communicate by writing. The judges refused the council leave to appeal to the House of Lords, but that does not prevent a direct application for leave. For reasons with which I am sure the House is all too familiar, I shall not comment further on that matter, except to say that it goes to the very heart of the debate that the hon. Gentleman has raised on this occasion and, indeed, on other occasions.

I want to deal now with the hon. Gentleman's point about physiotherapy in special schools and to the resource implications to which he referred. The provision of physiotherapy services for children in both special and ordinary schools remains the responsibility of individual health authorities, although, under paragraph 83 of schedule 12 to the Education Reform Act 1988, education authorities can provide any therapy specified in a child's statement of special educational needs. We would expect them to co-operate with health authorities in the provision of physiotherapy for such children. Health and local education authorities must work closely together to make the best use of available resources to meet the needs of individual children. We should not object to a local education authority funding physiotherapy provision where this had been discussed with the health authority and was in the best interests of the child. Physiotherapy services are required by many groups of patients with acute and chronic conditions. It is for individual authorities to determine the priority that can be given to services for children in special schools, in the light of the particular local circumstances.

As for resource implications nationally, expenditure on physiotherapy services has increased from £38·2 million in 1978–79 to £115·3 million in 1986–87. Expenditure on community physiotherapy services, which are particularly relevant to children with special educational needs, is increasing at about twice the rate of the increase in expenditure on the hospital physiotherapy services. If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health were here he would probably talk about the Health Service index. Even making that allowance, the growth that I have cited is real, and I suspect that the debate will turn on targeting and on the link between educational provision and Health Service provision.

The numbers of physiotherapists employed in the NHS in England continues to increase. The total went up from 6,430 whole-time equivalents in 1979 to 9,330 whole-time equivalents in 1987—an increase of 45 per cent. The Department of Health is looking at the longer-term demands for, and supply of, physiotherapists through a joint Department of Health—National Health Service manpower advisory group. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is co-operating in a study of manpower issues, and an initial report is expected later this year

The Wilson Stuart school is, of course situated in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. That school has had difficulty in securing adequate levels of physiotherapy. The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter with the Department and with the West Birmingham health authority, which is responsible for such provision. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I begin with the time-honoured words "I am informed that". I will unravel my own conclusions, but I am informed that the position at the Wilson Stuart school has improved. There are now four physiotherapists working full-time at the school throughout the year, including the school holidays. In addition, the school has a full-time physiotherapy helper and a part-time helper, who works 20 hours per week

The relevant unit general manager meets the head teacher each term to discuss and review provision. I am advised that there are currently no unresolved issues between the school and the district health authority. Having said that, however, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will very carefully and clearly draw the attention of my hon. Friends to his comments.

We shall look especially at the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave—of Liam, Anthony, Kate and Katherine, who could provide interesting exemplars about the change of requirements and therefore of provision that the hon. Gentleman is commending. I am afraid that I cannot go any further tonight than to use the word "interesting" because, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, I cannot commit a colleague to a particular response. However. I am sure that colleagues at the Department of Health will respond to the hon. Gentleman in detail.

I turn now to the report of the National Association of Health Authorities in England and Wales on the implementation of the Education Act 1981 to which the hon. Gentleman referred, having had the courtesy to advise me that it would figure in his speech. The report adds little to what is already known and is a disappointingly anecdotal and, some would argue, even superficial report that provides no firm evidence on the level of manpower resources that health authorities need to fulfil their role. Several initiatives are already under way, aimed at solving some of the problems that have been highlighted. They include a major research project undertaken by the Institute of Education and jointly funded by the then Department of Health and Social Security, and Department of Education and Science. Although originally three separate research projects, the findings have been pooled to produce a training pack and a manual for use at local authority level, which is aimed at improving local collaboration for children with special educational needs. The training pack and manual are due to be published in the near future.

There has also been recent agreement on a revised pay and grading structure for speech therapists. There is also a joint Department of Health and NHS manpower advisory group to consider the long-term demand for and supply of physiotherapists. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is also co-operating with a study of the manpower and an initial study is due—

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

We in the south-east would be peculiarly pleased if the proposals to allow district health authorities to pay the going rate for services such as speech therapy are implemented as proposed in the White Paper because in my constituency at the moment the acquiring and retaining of speech therapists has become virtually impossible because of the price of housing, and that that is putting a huge strain on the treatment of children with special educational needs.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

That is potentially a major debate in its own right. Indeed, if I were sitting where my hon. Friend is sitting, I would join him in making a fairly lengthy speech about the rigidities in national pay systems and structures. I suspect that that will loom larger and larger in my Department, the Department of Health and in other major employers of public service personnel and I hope that it will do so as much in the minds of trade unionists as in those of Ministers. I have no doubt that several of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the south-east and in London are becoming anxious about that question. I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind if I do not launch off into that at this time in the morning, whether in the context of speech therapists, teachers or other public servants. However, his point was well made.

I return to the report by the National Association of Health Authorities in England and Wales and the comment that the joint DHSS-DES circular 83 will be taken into account in the current review of that guidance.

In conclusion, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that his concerns will be brought carefully to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Department of Health. I was interested in his view that circulars should remove the bureaucratic burden. They certainly should, and I suspect that in the future someone will do an audit of the impact of circulars on education or health. For the hon. Gentleman's money, and mine also, it is what they do for costs, simplicity—or the lack of it—as well as resources, manpower and womanpower, that is important.

At this time of the morning, a number of matters fall out of context but others return into it. The hon. Member for Perry Barr has done the House a service in raising the subject today.

At 4.15 am, the blackbird in Mr. Speaker's Court was singing with gusto. Such a welcome when one arrives at the House at that time of the morning tends to cheer one up a bit, but one is also cheered by the quality of debate on an occasion such as this.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson 5:55 am, 13th March 1989

If the House will forgive me, I shall say a few words.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on raising, with his usual sincerity, what is happening in his area, which is reflected throughout the country. That is one of the most important points to be made following the Minister's speech.

I understand the problems that the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) is experiencing in the south-east, but it is important to recognise that they are being faced nationwide. In my constituency, the employment position is different to that in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. A major report appeared recently in the local press about the shortage of speech therapists and the problems recruiting them. I hope that the Minister will not mind me saying that he mentioned manpower, when womanpower would have been appropriate. Most of the people employed in speech therapy and physiotherapy are women.

Speech therapists' pay is a major issue. The Minister will be aware of a case that has been before an industrial tribunal and is now before the European Court about equal pay for speech therapists for doing work of equal value. I have been involved in the case because the speech therapists are members of my union. Indeed, I have met the women who brought the case.

The main issue involved in this subject, as in quite a few others, is resources. There is the commitment and will to move forward and resolve problems. As the Minister said, there is cross-party support about need and even the way in which it should be met. We know what we should be doing, but the resources are not being provided to meet those needs.

A major crisis is facing speech therapists especially, but also physiotherapists. As we are becoming an aging society, we are making more demands on physiotherapists. The problems of speech therapy for children who are or are not statemented is becoming increasingly acute. There is hardly an hon. Member who has not had respresentations made to him or her about shortages in their area and children whose needs are not being served. There was widespread support for the Education Act 1981. I was in a primary school yesterday where the head said that the best piece of legislation for education passed under this Government was the 1981 Act. However, he said that the problem is that the resources required have not followed to ensure that the Act can be brought into effect. The welcome for that Act is now tinged with near despair at the lack of resources to fulfil its aims and the aspirations of parents of children with special needs.

I appreciate that since his appointment the Minister has been studying special needs with some attention and in some detail. I hope that he will continue to do that. The resolution of the issue that we have raised tonight requires some national direction because, with the implementation of local financial management for most of their schools, local education authorities have had the resources that they have available constrained, if not restricted. In talking to the authorities, they have expressed to me concern about health authorities being frequently unable to meet the demand, so education authorities may have to meet the demand, but with a diminishing resource base.

I hope that the Minister will continue to study this matter. The Opposition will return to the matter fairly frequently, I hope, over the next year. The will and commitment of parents, local communities and local authorities is there. It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that adequate resources are made available so that that will and commitment are not frustrated and the aspirations of parents and the abilities and prospects of the children are given the fullest support from the House. That inevitably means resources. I hope that we can come back to that subject and reassure parents and authorities soon that the resources will be available so that the children will be given the opportunities and support that they need.