The Education Act 1993 and the code of practice that came into force last September provide an improved framework for meeting special educational needs. The Department has in place a range of measures to support and monitor the implementation of the code.
Does the Minister accept that one of the advantages of nursery education is that a child's special educational needs can be diagnosed at an early stage? Does he agree that the proposed voucher scheme will mean that children from poorer families will be disadvantaged and their special educational needs will not be diagnosed at such an early stage?
No, I cannot agree with the point that the hon. Lady makes. With expanded pre-five provision, there is the potential that many special educational needs could and should be diagnosed much earlier. Whatever delivery mechanism is eventually determined, those advantages could, would, should and will be spread to everybody, regardless of his or her means.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there seems to be a wide divergence throughout the country in terms of the amount of money spent on special educational needs? Is he aware of the growing support on the Conservative Benches for a national funding formula for education, so that we can have transparency in educational funding throughout the country rather than some of the money being salted away by local education authorities?
Yes. My hon. Friend, typically, has hit on an important point. One of the great advantages of the code of practice and the procedures surrounding it is that, for the first time, we can see much more clearly where special needs money is directed, what use is made of it and who is doing what. As we see that increasingly clearly, authorities that shortchange parents and pupils, particularly those with special educational needs, will be identified, flushed out and shamed into doing something significantly better.