I welcome choice and diversity in education, but many parents should be concerned about the erosion of the schools psychology service, in view of the dramatic changes taking place in both the funding arid the management of schools.
Is the Minister aware of the recent audit report which states that the schools psychology service is extremely professional, is very well run, and provides good value for money? Will he avoid his officials persuading him otherwise?
My hon. Friend has an intimate knowledge of these matters, despite which I am sure that he will be entirely impartial in his assessment of their value. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind about the essential nature of and value provided by the educational psychology services, both now and under the continuing obligations laid on local education authorities in the Bill now in Committee. I expect educational psychology services to develop and change and to show flexibility as the Bill progresses. The treatment of special educational needs is strengthened under that Bill.
Does the Minister accept that there is real and widespread concern that the schools psychology service and other learning support services for children with special needs are under threat, and that some of those services have already been diminished by the impact of the Education Reform Act 1988? If he is not prepared to accept that from me, will he undertake a survey of local education authorities to find out what has happened to these services since 1988? If they have declined, will he take steps to put that right?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. He does a great disservice to local education authorities and to professionals in educational psychology and other services in making such assertions. Local education authorities' statutory obligations are clear now and will continue to be clear under the Education Bill. It will be for local education authorities to ensure that they discharge their statutory obligations properly. That is what we shall be ensuring and I join the hon. Gentleman in looking to local education authorities to do just that.
Does my hon. Friend accept that educational psychologists undertake much preventive work which is often overlooked? Much as we all welcome my hon. Friend's important statement that local education authorities will continue to be responsible for educational psychology services, will he confirm that it is crucial to the future of the child statementing process that the psychology service should continue at its present level, if not at a greater level?
My hon. Friend is correct. He will know from the Education Bill now in Committee that we have sought to strengthen the provision for children with special educational needs. The statutory obligations on local education authorities continue, and we are strengthening, speeding up and making more specific the way in which they will work. I am confident that generally, and in terms of the role played by educational psychologists, that can only mean a great improvement in provision for pupils with special educational needs.