Orders of the Day — Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:01 pm on 20th March 2001.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 9:01 pm, 20th March 2001

I will not give way, as that would be unfair to other hon. Members. I want to tell the House that there are organisations that have expressed concerns about the Bill, among them the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. The letter from the National Association of Head Teachers, which has been referred to, shows that that association, too, has reservations, which it outlines.

I want to share with the House what has happened in Southend. The Liberal-Labour council, driven by the Government's intention to develop their policy of inclusion, decided to consult. The council's proposals have upset parents and children alike. I went round all the schools, and not one parent wrote saying "David, for goodness' sake, we must close these special schools and put the children into mainstream schools."

My constituency has magnificent schools, including Lancaster, Kingsdown, St. Christopher, Fairways special needs unit and Priory school, which, along with the school mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde, also received a magnificent Ofsted report. In the neighbouring constituency we have St. Nicholas school. I pay tribute to all the teachers for the magnificent job that they do.

The chairman of the education committee. Councillor Mrs. Sally Can, said to me that this was a fine policy, but did the Government realise that, perhaps uniquely, there was a teacher crisis in Southend? We do not have the number of teachers that we need in our secondary and junior schools. One need only look at The Times Educational Supplement, which advertises a huge number of vacancies, to realise that there is a dire shortage of teachers. Is it any wonder, considering the Government's policy outlined in circular 10/99? There are three cases in Essex of children who have been caught with drugs on school premises. Government circular 10/99 has enabled the parents to appeal against the exclusion of such pupils. The Government's policy is that if children bring drugs into school their parents can appeal against their expulsion and they can be taken back. Children can be permanently excluded only if they are actually selling drugs on school premises.

That has obviously undermined a number of head teachers, who have quite rightly expelled children caught with drugs on school premises. However, as a result of Government circular 10/99, whose potential consequences the Government presumably fully understood when they issued it, the good reputation of those heads has been completely undermined

I spoke this afternoon to Mr. Peter Brown from Essex Mencap about the Bill. He said that everyone welcomes inclusion in so far as it means assisting people with learning disabilities to access community facilities where it is their wish to do so. Those are not my words; they are the words of Mr. Peter Brown, who also said that although politically correct thinking says that the learning disabled should use community facilities, in fact in many cases they prefer to associate with people who are also learning disabled. Mr. Brown drew an analogy: people want to play tennis with others on their level, not necessarily with professionals. Mr. Brown said that of course Mencap was against discrimination and that it was not against the learning disabled having access to community facilities. However, he was wary of the danger of pushing people with learning disabilities to do something that they were not necessarily comfortable with for the sake of political correctness.

The head teacher of one of our excellent special schools said that if we are to begin the process of inclusion, we must ensure that mainstream schools have the right resources and staff to provide services.

I presume that Labour Members are putting it around that the Conservative party is opposed to helping children with learning difficulties and disabled children. However, we all know that that is not so. As parliamentarians, we want to be party to good, sensible legislation, so we should scrutinise measures.

I salute all those teachers who are working so hard. We have a tremendous teacher shortage at present. It is all very well for the Government to say that this Bill is wonderful and that it will help all our children, but it will fail if it is not carefully thought through and if we do not have the resources to back it up.