'In EA 1996, for section 316 substitute:—
"316 Education of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools
(1) This section applies to a child with special educational needs who should be educated in a mainstream school.
(2) If no statement is maintained under section 324 for the child, he should ordinarily be educated in a mainstream school.
(3) If a statement is maintained under section 324 for the child, any person exercising any functions under this Part in respect of a child with special educational needs shall ensure that he is educated in either a mainstream school or a special school, having due regard to—
(a) the wishes of his parent,
(b) the provision of efficient education for other children, and
(c) the efficient use of resources.
(4) Any person exercising any function under this Part must ensure the parents of a child with special educational needs are given sufficient information about the possible options open to them, including both special schools and mainstream provision.
(5) A child with special educational needs being provided for under section (3) above shall not be educated in a mainstream school if that is incompatible with the wishes of his parents.
(6) In this section and section 316A 'mainstream school' means any school other than—
(a) a special school, or
(b) an independent school which is not—
(i) a city technology college,
(ii) a city college for the technology of the arts, or
(iii) a city academy.".'.— [Mr. Hayes.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 5— Restrictions on special school closures—
'(1) No special school shall be closed by a local education authority without the consent of the Secretary of State.
(2) The Secretary of State shall only consent to the closure of a special school if there are places at nearby special schools in sufficient number and sufficient quality to replace the school adequately.'.
New clause 30— Professional standards for teachers—
'Professional standards for teachers shall require that all those receiving—
(a) initial teacher training,
(b) assessment for induction or as a main-scale teacher,
(c) assessment for threshold or as a senior teacher, or
(d) assessment for suitability as a head teacher, shall be required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs and disability legislation.'.
New clause 31— Permanent exclusion of pupils—
'(1) This section applies in relation to the permanent exclusion of a disabled pupil or a pupil with special educational needs by any school at which education is provided for him.
(2) No such pupil shall be excluded unless a review has been held of—
(a) the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments being made for him if he is a disabled pupil, and
(b) the special educational provision being made for him if he is a pupil with special educational needs.'.
New clause 52— Circulation of materials in relation to course of study—
'After section 85A of EA 2002 (inserted by this Act) insert—
"85B Requirements relating to materials for courses of study in specified entitlement areas
Where a course of study within an entitlement area specified by the Secretary of State under section 85A(1)(b) is to be introduced, the Secretary of State must ensure that all necessary materials are circulated to schools and other relevant learning providers at least one full academic year before their introduction and that due consideration is given to the time it takes to translate such material into Braille.".'.
New clause 77— Duty of local education authority in relation to excluded pupils with special needs—
'(1) Section 19 of EA 1996 (exceptional provision of education in pupil referral units or elsewhere) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3B) (inserted by section 93 of this Act) insert—
"(3C) Where a statement of special educational needs is maintained by the local education authority in respect of a pupil pursuant to section 324, the period following which education referred to in subsection (3A) must be provided must be sufficient to permit the authority to amend or otherwise reassess the statement where required by law.".'.
New clause 78— Responsibility of governing body for discipline (supplementary provisions)—
'The governing body of a relevant school must not delegate responsibility for the policy drawn up under section 80(1) to anyone unless that person has demonstrated an understanding of special educational needs and disability legislation.'.
New clause 79— Determination by head teacher of behaviour policy (supplementary provisions)—
'The head teacher must, in determining measures under section 81(1), show—
(a) how reasonable adjustments are made, taking account of the particular circumstances of pupils with disabilities, and
(b) what special educational provision is made within those measures for pupils with educational needs, with or without a formal statement.'.
New clause 80— Duty of local education authority in relation to excluded pupils with disabilities or special needs—
'(1) Section 19 of EA 1996 (exceptional provision of education in pupil referral units or elsewhere) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3B) (inserted by section 93 of this Act) insert—
"(3C) The local education authority shall have particular regard to the appropriateness of educational provision made for excluded pupils where those are disabled pupils or pupils with special educational needs.".'.
Amendment No. 16, in clause 35, page 25, line 17, at end insert—
'(6A) In discharging those functions, the governing body of a maintained school shall also have regard to the provision of appropriate teaching and learning support for any child with special educational needs.'.
Amendment No. 17, in clause 37, in page 26, line 38, after 'requirements,', insert—
'which shall in particular include a requirement to give priority in admissions to disabled children and children with special educational needs who do not have a statement under section 324 of EA 1996,'.
Amendment No. 18, in clause 38, in page 27, line 29, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
Amendment No. 19, in clause 38, in page 27, line 31, at end insert—
', and these shall include a report on the numbers of disabled pupils and those with special educational needs admitted to each school in the area.'.
Government amendment No. 67.
I am delighted to speak to new clause 4, and the other new clauses and amendments in this group.
For the benefit of the House, the new clauses that I have tabled with my hon. Friends mount a strong defence of the role of special schools in the service of special needs children. Last night, we ended our consideration of the Bill with a debate on school discipline and the quality of life in schools: their ethos and atmosphere. I hope that that debate marks the start of a war on thugs and bullies and a crusade for their victims.
Most strong, confident, able children will survive any school, but that is not so for the most vulnerable, including children with special educational needs. They are indeed special, and they deserve our special care and concern. Every parent knows the protective instinct evoked by a fragile, innocent child as we wonder at their beauty. Imagine the intensity of those feelings in the case of a child who is especially fragile, physically or emotionally, because of special needs.
I invite the House, in considering the new clauses and amendments, to attempt for a short time to share those emotions. I do so with little doubt about the good will in all parts of the House on the subject, which is not a matter of party affinity or prejudice. It is not, however, unaffected by ideology or even dogma. The unrelenting pursuit of the integrationist policies that followed the Warnock report in 1978 and the Education Act 1981, which was introduced by a Conservative Government, could hardly have been more dogmatic.
That dogma has coloured our perception for too long. When introducing the Special Needs and Disability Bill—I was pleased to serve as a Front-Bench spokesmen on the Standing Committee that considered that Bill—Baroness Blackstone said in the Lords that
"commitment to inclusion has been strong and constant...The potential social, moral and educational benefits are significant."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 19 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 635.]
As I said in Committee, the order in which she listed those benefits is interesting. We are, of course, concerned about the social, moral and cultural needs of people with learning difficulties, but their educational needs are always more significant than any cultural or social benefits that we might derive for them, their contemporaries or their schools. I could put it more bluntly: children's futures count—not the guilt-ridden consciences of the liberal bourgeoisie.
Closed minds have closed schools, and thus damaged lives. Of course, none of that was malevolent, and much of it was fuelled by the best intentions. But as we know, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The integrationist broad-brush approach to an infinitely complex issue has damaged the educational prospects of countless children.
Of course, many children with special educational needs, where their parents wish it and where their needs can be accommodated, do well in mainstream schools and in special units attached to mainstream schools. I celebrate the work of those schools and of the teachers so committed to their important duty. However, there are two fundamental problems with integration. The first is that the resources necessary properly to meet the stated needs of children rarely follow them into mainstream schools. That is certainly true of staff training.
The former head of a middle school with a special unit tells of the practical costs of the policy in a letter referring to these matters published in the national media this week. He writes:
"When I was appointed head, I was not asked at the interview if I had any experience of children with special needs. I didn't. When I took up the post, I discovered that the teachers at the unit of 24 children with special needs ranging from emotional behavioural difficulties to mild autism also had no specialist qualifications. In a school of 400, these children took up at least half of my administrative time. The teachers were often off sick and most of the children in the unit would, in my view, have been better served in special schools. Inclusion may sound good in theory, but the practicalities often tell a different story."
So it is not surprising that, according to the comprehensive review conducted by The Times Educational Supplement last year, two thirds of teachers receive less than one day's training in how to teach children with special needs, and 90 per cent. of head teachers thought that their schools did not receive sufficient resources to fund integration.
That is perhaps why the amendments have been welcomed by the National Union of Teachers as an important set of improvements to the Bill. It is why the orthodox thinking on the subject among teachers and others has moved to the position that I have held from the early 1980s onwards, when I first became interested in special educational needs. I recall from that period—the mid-1980s—supporting many struggling parents who wanted their children taught in special schools, sometimes out of authority or even out of country, because they knew that that was the best way of allowing their children to fulfil their potential.
In new clause 4(5) the proposal is that a child with special educational needs
"shall not be educated in a mainstream school if that is incompatible with the wishes of his parents."
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he would also subscribe to the view that a child with special educational needs shall not be educated in a special school if that is incompatible with the wishes of his parents?
The hon. Gentleman makes a telling point, and he is right that parental wishes are paramount in these matters. I would not wish any child whose parents did not wish it or whose needs were not best catered for there to be educated in a special school. As I said at the outset, the educational needs of the child should be paramount in our considerations. I know the hon. Gentleman has a longstanding commitment to the subject and a detailed knowledge of it. I pay regard to that. He, like many hon. Members, wants the best for children with special needs. This debate is about how we achieve that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There is an issue about the needs of the child and the wishes of parents, which may come out in the debate. If the hon. Gentleman agrees that where educating a child in a special school is incompatible with the wishes of his parents, that child should have the right to mainstream education, why has he not made that clear in the new clause?
Because the war that has been waged since Warnock has not been a war against children being integrated into mainstream schools. It has been a war against special schools. The prejudice that has underpinned much of the policy that has emanated since Warnock has not been a prejudice in favour of special schools; it has been a prejudice against them. So parents who wanted their children educated in special schools have found it increasingly hard to get places in them as those schools have closed, as I shall describe later in my long but fascinating speech.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that in addition to people campaigning for special schools, as indeed they have for various reasons, there has also been a major problem for parents of a child with special needs who want that child in a mainstream school and want the necessary support? Many, many of my constituents campaign to get that support, because they want their child in a mainstream school.
The hon. Lady makes another important point—a slightly different one from the hon. Gentleman's—about resources, which I was dealing with. It is crucial that if a child is to be successfully educated in the mainstream, proper resources and training be put in place to facilitate their progress. It is often difficult for parents to achieve a statement in the first place. The statementing process is still too often long, complex and bureaucratic. It bamboozles many parents. They are intimidated by the whole subject of their child's education and opportunities. I agree with the hon. Lady that it can be a struggle, therefore, for them to find their way through that maze, get the necessary resources put in place, get a statement that is appropriate to their child's needs, and get the education they need where they want it delivered.
I argue for parental choice and for the needs of the child to be paramount. I take the hon. Gentleman's point— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman points in a rather theatrical way to the new clause. No doubt he will make an interesting contribution to the debate when he has a chance to speak. I want to know whether he is on the side of the mainstream thinking, or on the side of the growing weight of opinion that regards the policy that has been put in place since Warnock as having failed. Baroness Warnock thinks so, the teachers think so and I think so. Does he wish to intervene and tell me?
The intellect of Einstein and the eloquence of Demosthenes warrant a bigger audience than my hon. Friend enjoys today. May I put it to him that the sensible mainstream non-ideological rejoinder to the noble Baroness Blackstone in asserting the merits of inclusion should be, "Up to a point, Lord Copper"? In the case with which I am currently concerned—the future of the Nuffield speech and language unit—it is a matter beyond argument that the reason for a significant decline in the referrals to the unit is that there is pressure on local authorities to reduce the number of statements and, in particular, to avoid wherever possible the fact and cost of out-of-area placements. Should not we accept that sometimes it makes sense to include and sometimes it does not?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend has been a great champion of Nuffield. I was able to add to his campaign in a humble way in Committee by drawing attention to the excellent work done there. I congratulate him on all he does. He is, if I may say so, Jonathan to my David, Ernie to my Eric, Bosie to my Oscar in this respect.
My hon. Friend says, pertinently, that part of the problem is getting the right referrals. Because of doubts about resources, there is a reluctance to statement and to refer. Consequently, parental choices and children's needs are neglected along the way. I said at the outset that I celebrated the work of all those who made integration work for the very many children who have integrated into mainstream schools and enjoyed and benefited from the experience. My hon. Friend John Bercow is right when he says that a one-size-fits-all policy—a broad-brush approach—is not right and not sufficient in relation to special needs.
If the hon. Gentleman does not want a one-size-fits-all policy and wants to be non-ideological and reasonable, why on earth does subsection (5) of new clause 4 refer only to the right to attend a special school and not to the right to attend a mainstream school? That is as moderate and as reasonable as I can be.
The hon. Gentleman needs to study the new clause. Subsection (3) says:
"If a statement is maintained under section 324 for the child, any person exercising any functions under this Part in respect of a child with special educational needs shall ensure that he is educated in either a mainstream school or a special school, having due regard to—
(a) the wishes of the parent,
(b) the provision of efficient education for other children, and
(c) the efficient use of resources."
We make it absolutely clear that, given those important caveats about efficiency and appropriateness, a child could be educated in a mainstream school or a special school to good effect.
I will indeed give way to my hon. Friend, because whereas the hon. Member for Kingswood has had three bites of the cherry, he has had only one.
May I simply underline the rather obvious point that we do not need to have some sort of Manichaean divide between mainstream on the one hand and special schools on the other? I put it to my hon. Friend—I think that he understands the point extremely well—that when one intervenes early in cases of people with very severe learning difficulties and has specialist provision outside mainstream for a period, one can then facilitate re-entry to mainstream, but to suppose that all children can get by in mainstream represents a triumph of hope over reality.
The point is twofold. First, special needs are dynamic, because their causes are often dynamic. A child's needs will vary; that is why we need to look at the statementing process to ensure that it is sufficiently sensitive to deal with those changing needs. Secondly, a child's educational progress may mean that they are better educated at different points in their education in different places. Again, we have to be sufficiently flexible to take account of that. A good example is indeed that of the Nuffield speech and language unit. My hon. Friend knows better than I do that the average time that a person spends at Nuffield is two years, because they move in and out of provision as their needs require. He is absolutely right that a static view about appropriateness has been one of the problems with policy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. The Education Act 1996 makes it clear that one of the criteria for placing a child in a special school is the appropriateness of the provision. The new clause would remove that criterion, and in effect prioritises the efficient use of resources over the appropriateness of the provision. Does not he agree that that in itself invalidates it?
The difficulty, as the hon. Lady will know from her experience in this House and previously, is that in practice a balance is often struck between appropriateness of provision and resources. Sadly, integration, if it is to work well, is often very resource-hungry. I do not want to be too simplistic about this because it depends on the need of the child at any one point in time, but the resource issue that the hon. Lady properly raises is one of the reasons why integration sometimes fails. That will be an ongoing concern and something that Members on both sides of the House will want to scrutinise and raise when appropriate, both nationally and in their own localities.
I must make a little more progress, or I will be chided by my own Front Benchers and other Members. [ Interruption.] Well, I know that they are enjoying it, but like all good things it must eventually come to an end.
The results of last year's comprehensive survey of schools by The Times Educational Supplement were shocking. It revealed that teachers believe that up to 25,000 children in mainstream schools in England and Wales would be better off in special schools. More recently, the National Union of Teachers has said that inclusion amounts to" child abuse" in some cases. It speaks particularly of those children with the most serious conditions who struggled in the confusing regime of secondary schools, where they could be taught by 10 or more teachers a week in different classrooms. Those findings followed a report that the NUT commissioned from Cambridge university. It is certainly true that teachers, head teachers and governors around the country are increasingly alarmed about the effect of inclusion when resources and training do not follow the child.
The second problem with the policy that followed Warnock is that many secure, supportive and vastly experienced special schools have closed, as a direct result of the pernicious Warnock effect. Ninety-three schools have closed since the Prime Minister promised that things could only get better in 1997. Before the Minister tells me, as I am sure that he will, that the same number of children with special needs are educated in special schools as always were, which is usually the rejoinder when one talks about special school closures, let me give him the figures. From January 1999 to January 2005, the number of children educated in special schools has declined by more than 85,000. The truth is that many fewer children are being educated in special schools.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I have been very patient. As he is interested in statistics, I remind him that in the past 10 years, 122 special schools have closed, while in the previous 10 years, 234 closed. The trend is going in the right direction. Since 1997, more than 300 special schools have opened, 90 in the past two years. We often use the statistic about the proportion of children who are in special schools, which has gone up by 1 per cent.
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman will know that many of those openings have been special units within mainstream school campuses. By the end of the debate, can he unpick that figure a little more, break it down, and tell us how many of those schools are freestanding independent schools with their own governing body and so on?
I want to speak against the hon. Gentleman's new clause. As he has been addressing the House, I have become increasingly concerned by his repeatedly saying that the most important thing is structures, whether special schools or mainstream schools. Last week, the Education Committee went to Darlington to see a truly excellent example of an establishment that brought together a secondary school, a primary school and a special school, and where the education was entirely centred on the children's needs. The whole educational debate is moving on to be child-centred, so that we look after the educational needs of all children and stop having this obsession with structures.
As ever, the hon. Lady makes a good contribution to the debate. I was enjoying it immensely until she used the term, "child-centred" and then I began to think of all the dreadful, progressive, post-Plowden dogma about child-centred learning that did so much damage and to which my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb has drawn the House's attention on more than one occasion.
However, the hon. Lady is right that good education depends on much more than structure. It is sad that the Bill has necessarily focused our attention on structure when we should be discussing quality, as she so often does. Good education depends on the quality of teaching and learning; leadership; the home-school environment; and a proper understanding of children's needs. That mix makes for high quality education. Most important of all is the need to raise the status of teachers and to believe in education and in those to whom we entrust our children.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. He is being as generous as he was in Committee. New clause 5 deals with the closure of special schools. I am puzzled by an action by Mr. Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, who declined to help the Vines special school in Battersea to prevent its closure. On
The hon. Lady knows me too well to believe that I would make nakedly party political points about the subject. I do not make them. I acknowledge the point of the Minister for Schools that even more special school closures took place before 1997, when we were in government. I pointed out that the Education Act 1981 was introduced under our stewardship. My pedigree on the subject goes back to the 1980s when, as a county councillor, I defended, for example, Foxwood school in Bramcote from closure.
I shall not comment on the case that the hon. Lady mentioned, but I emphasise that although I am not interested in my advancement in this place and I would never toady to my leader or be a sycophant, I believe that my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron is not only noble, an intellectual giant and a fine leader of men, but that, in a short time, he will prove to be one of our nation's greatest Prime Ministers. Is that enough?
We should not ignore the cries from the heart and from the front line that we hear from teachers about special needs education. The practical cost of inclusion when it is not appropriate is clearly high, but that is not my main consideration. What we cannot quantify often counts most: the joy of a child who can relax, play and learn in the knowledge that he is safe; the relief of a teenager who no longer feels different; and the peace of mind of parents who simply want to entrust their children to people with the specialist skills and experience to help them achieve their potential.
One such parent wrote movingly to The Times only a few days ago. The letter stated:
"My 15-year-old son is autistic and has severe learning difficulties. He has flourished since he was 5 in a special school... where he has had specialist teaching and therapy and loads of support. Why on earth would I want him to be the odd one out, taught (or more realistically babysat) by an unqualified classroom assistant in a mainstream school? He isn't like most other kids and I won't have him sacrificed on the altar of political correctness... Inclusion, for kids like mine, doesn't work and never will."
Such stories are common and the consensus among the parents of special needs children, who are surely best qualified to judge, is clear. A special needs child has special needs, which are best served by specialised teaching and care in an environment that caters for them.
I repeat that there are many good special units, fine leaders and teachers in mainstream schools and that many children prosper in them. However, let us end the prejudice against special schools and special education. Denying parents of children with special needs the choice of a school that is tailored to their needs is dangerously proscriptive. Closing special schools denies that choice and that is why we have tabled the new clauses.
There are many other aspects to the complex subject that we are discussing. We must consider the early identification of need much more seriously. Hon. Members with an interest in specific elements of special needs know that that is vital for autistic children—early identification of need can make a great difference to their progress. Hon. Members also know that it is profoundly important in the case of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties whose lives can be changed if they are statemented and supported in the right way. Hon. Members know that the House—not the Government; I make no party political point—needs to get better at concentrating on the critical matter of early identification of need.
As I have said, 8 per cent. fewer special needs children are now secure in special schools. I was going to speak at length about Nuffield school, but I did that in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham asked a question about it at Prime Minister's questions and there has been an extensive Adjournment debate on it. I know that hon. Members will want to pay attention to it if they have not already done so. It is one of many examples that I could list.
A recent report published by Rathbone, the national charity that provides advice and support to parents of children with special educational needs, is a damning indictment of the current SEN system. Evidence collected from 570 schools in 36 local education authorities reveals that alarming numbers of parents feel frustrated and let down by their child's school. Forty-two per cent. of parents questioned believed that their children had made no progress since being on the SEN register and 10 per cent. felt that they had regressed. I draw hon. Members' attention to the Rathbone study, but I will not detain the House with details now because others want to contribute to the short debate.
Parents of special needs children already have to contend with so much. At the beginning of my contribution, I asked us to try for a moment to envisage their circumstances. Is it fair that they should also have to take the flak for a failed and failing education policy? Baroness Warnock, the architect of inclusion, has admitted that inclusion, as an aspect of her report and the subsequent Act, was "disastrous".
Special schools do a special job for very special children. The teachers and those whom they teach invariably show great commitment and immense courage. Let us now have the courage to admit that we got it wrong, as the architect of inclusion has done. Let us have no more closures, broken dreams and shattered lives. I am delighted to invite hon. Members, in the spirit of generosity that has permeated our consideration of the measure, to embrace the new clauses with relish on behalf of those very vulnerable children.
I greatly enjoyed the comments of Mr. Hayes. He must have had one of his lunches at the Savoy in order to perform so well.
Much of our recent debate on these issues has become rather adversarial, which has polarised philosophies. A belief has grown that there is a stark choice to be made in regard to the means of educating special needs children between inclusion and special schools. That view is unhelpful, because it ignores the fact that children with special needs are as individual as the rest of us, that they often present with complex sets of needs, and that their education should to be tailored to reflect that. The hon. Gentleman's comments hinted that he understood that and showed some movement from the position that he held some time ago.
Our debate should therefore focus on how best we can develop a spectrum of provision in each local authority area. Such a spectrum should encapsulate special schools and special educational needs units in mainstream schools, as well as learning support units—which have a role to play—and pupil referral units, alongside provision developed and managed by the voluntary sector. In my constituency, for instance, we have an excellent facility called Pit Stop, which takes children with learning difficulties out of school and gives them the breathing space and focused attention that they need to get them back on track. Pit Stop works closely with its partner secondary schools and has a wonderful record of bringing children back into mainstream education. It is an excellent example of how special needs education can work more flexibly in the interests of the individual child.
It is true that many special needs children need the kind of education that only a special school can offer. I have no problem admitting that. However, those children can also benefit from mixing with their peers in a mainstream setting. Increasingly, special needs professionals are recognising that a flexible mix of provision, achieved by schools working together, is the way forward. That is why my local authority is redeveloping its provision, and building new fit-for-purpose special schools across the city, alongside the development of a series of SEN units in mainstream schools. This is not an either/or approach; it uses both options.
New clause 5 is unhelpful because it would limit the ability of local authorities to plan strategically the spectrum of provision that I have described. It would, for instance, limit Sheffield's plans slightly to reduce the number of special school places available for children with learning disabilities while increasing the number of special school places for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Local authorities are best placed to recognise and to consult on local need, and to remould the spectrum of provision accordingly.
New clause 4 would replace section 316 of the Education Act 1996. In so doing, it would remove the requirement for local authorities to consider in the statementing process the need to ensure that a child receives the provision that his learning difficulty calls for. It would replace that requirement with proposed new subsection 3, which asserts the rights of parents. That substitution ignores the fact that schedule 27 to the 1996 Act makes it clear that there is already a presumption in favour of parental preference for the placement of a child in a particular school. The schedule also contains the important qualification that, if a statement names a school, the school should be suitable in relation to the child's age, ability and/or special needs.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and for mentioning the naming of a school in a statement. Is she aware that the Government have plans to build another 200 academies, and that local education authorities will not have to name an academy in their statements unless the academy agrees to be named?
My local education authority has an agreement with our academies that they will take children with special needs as a top priority, and I call on all local authorities to work constructively towards doing the same.
The hon. Lady rightly says that there is merit in mixed provision. I entirely accept that. However, she said a few moments ago that local education authorities were best placed to make judgments on these matters. May I suggest that there is often a well-grounded concern, even among those who are not overly suspicious or cynical, that LEAs are at least partly motivated by the consideration that they need to save money where they can? In that context, is there not sometimes a conflict of interest between the LEA commissioning and providing the educational provision, and its being obliged to pay for it? Would it not be better if there were an independent element in the process, so that there would be no reason to question or impugn the motives of the LEA?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it is important that the local people who elect their accountable representatives are listened to, and that they have the chance to remove a particular elected body if they feel that resources are being prioritised over need. That option is available and should be used.
The approach outlined in the Education Act 1996 is reasonable. It directs that parental preference should be strongly favoured, but requires that such preferences should be balanced, where necessary, with a professional assessment of a child's needs. New clause 4 would effectively prioritise the requirement to secure efficient use of resources over the need to provide the appropriate provision necessary to meet a child's special needs. I therefore believe that the new clause does not merit support today.
Amendment No. 16 is interesting because it draws attention to the needs of children who are sometimes badly served by our education system, a point to which I will return. However, the amendment, as it stands, is flawed. Non-statemented children with special needs are at present registered on school action or school action plus, but the code of practice that triggers entry to those registers allows for a great deal of flexibility in how schools interpret the criteria.
The criteria are drawn incredibly broadly and have led to wide and significant variations between local authorities. For example, Knowsley registers 21.6 per cent. of its pupils as having non-statemented needs, Rotherham 18.3 per cent., Doncaster 12.3 per cent. and Cornwall 16.3 per cent. Given those variations, it would be irresponsible to give admissions priority to children on those registers.
That does not mean that we do not need a debate about provision for non-statemented SEN children, because we clearly do. For instance, we need to discuss why there are such wide variations between local authorities. However, I suggest that the real challenge is to ensure that all our schools are equipped effectively to meet the needs of low-incidence special needs children.
New clause 31 would require governing bodies to secure the necessary support for SEN children, yet the SEN code of practice already places that statutory duty on those bodies. We have all heard stories of schools that fail to satisfy the demands of the code of practice and all MPs get complaints about children whose needs are apparently neglected. That point was also made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.
I therefore ask the Minister to look closely at the evidence relating to provision for non-statemented children, and to act if necessary to strengthen the role of local authorities as champions of parents and children, in order to help to drive forward improvement in this often neglected area of education provision.
Mr. Hayes suggested that Warnock had been pernicious, but I remind the House of what was happening pre-Warnock. We need to reflect on that, because we certainly do not want to go back to a situation in which children were institutionalised, regardless of the nature of their special needs, with no entitlement to a full and rich curriculum, and without the ability to mix with other children that they have today. We have had one of those infamous pendulum swings that take place in education over time and, possibly, it has swung too far. If the Minister shows total resistance to all the amendments, there is a denial that something is wrong, or at least a pretence that everything is right when, clearly, it is not.
It is well researched and proven that the main inclusion agenda, which I broadly support, has simply been under-resourced. The problem with inclusion is that it was never going to be a cheap option; it was going to cost money. Unfortunately, with pressure on resources, it has been seen as a cheaper option, which has led to certain actions. We must accept that under-resourcing has created a great deal of problems. First and foremost, it has created problems for those pupils who inadvertently, in so far as they are not in full control of their behaviour, make up 60 per cent. of exclusions. That is unhelpful for everybody. New clause 31, which we want to strongly support, picks up that point. When there is an exclusion, a full assessment of the special needs of the child involved is required.
As we know, parents do not feel fully supported and involved in the current system, which causes problems, and many teachers in mainstream schools find it hard to cope because of lack of resources. The report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, "The Cost of Inclusion", has made a valuable contribution to the debate in highlighting the wide variety of special needs. Given that there is such an array of special needs, we should not use a single terminology. Obviously, individual children will need their requirements met in different ways.
The NUT report also highlights that, once one moves from primary to secondary school, the situation becomes even more complex. Children with special needs relating to mental health face a huge gap in resourcing for children's mental health services. While I acknowledge the massive increase in resources from the Government, I am sure that all Members know of inadequate provision locally. That puts enormous pressure on teachers and, although I have not seen the statistics, I think that that is a good reason for teachers deciding that they cannot cope any more. That is reflected in the point that more learning support assistants and teaching assistants—whatever we like to call them—are probably needed to make inclusion work. Being able to give more individual attention to children with behavioural difficulties is the No. 1 item that teachers mention to me. If they had that ability, they could make inclusion work. They want to make it work and feel proud when they do so, but it is difficult with all the constraints.
In relation to the points made by Ms Smith, I agree strongly about the need to have a spectrum of support. That fits into my argument that we have swung the pendulum instead of getting the right balance. It is important for a local education authority to give a strong, strategic lead on special educational needs. Perhaps we should not rehearse the arguments again, but with different types of schools, including those becoming more autonomous from the local education authority, it is more difficult to promote collaboration, which is especially important in relation to special needs, between all the schools within an LEA. A special school's numbers might fall for all sorts of reasons, but it is important to keep the resources of that school together and to have outreach workers with specialities supporting mainstream schools. However, such collaborative working requires the local education authority to pull everything together. I agree that pupil referral units, learning support areas and learning zones are needed in which specialist intensive help can be provided alongside mainstream school.
Training is essential and is probably mentioned in one of the many new clauses in the group. As we discussed in Committee, that applies to teachers, special educational needs co-ordinators and, I would add, the various teaching assistants—that is a slight omission from the new clause concerned. I still feel nervous about the idea that any closure of a special school should have the authority of the Secretary of State. I find that a surprising proposal from the Conservatives, as they keep telling me that the Secretary of State is causing all the closures in the first place with the policy being operated. I do not therefore know why they have such confidence in central Government in that respect.
My main concern is about the proposal that the Secretary of State shall consent to the closure of a special school only if there are places at nearby special schools. Of course, when one is managing a comprehensive policy for special educational needs, one might close a special school that does not have technology and science facilities—because it was built in the years when children with special educational needs were neglected—in order to build a brand-new unit, which might be on the site of a mainstream school. I cannot see the amendment concerned working.
Generally, we greatly support the sentiments behind this group of amendments, because this is a debate that should be held, and it would be a good idea, as the NUT's report suggests, to have an independent review of inclusion. Perhaps we should stop pretending that we can carry out a policy of inclusion on the cheap.
The hon. Lady might know that the Education and Skills Committee is nearing the end of a thorough inquiry into special educational needs. I have been listening intently to the discussion, but in relation to the automatic suggestion that there should be an independent inquiry, I assure her that the House has an effective means of carrying out good, independent inquiries.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I know, of course, that the Select Committee is carrying out that inquiry. The suggestion came from an earlier debate on special educational needs and I remember him responding during that debate. I hope that I was not ignoring the role of the Select Committee by pointing out that we need to have this debate about cost and make sure that the money is following the pupils, especially in this area.
Apart from the caveats that I have mentioned, we are sympathetic to the new clauses. I hope that the Minister will take our comments on board and give us some indication of the way forward. The severe pressures in mainstream school, which are not serving pupils, teachers or parents well, cannot continue.
I am delighted to speak to new clause 30 and other new clauses and amendments tabled by me and my hon. Friends.
Perhaps I can begin, as an effective way of structuring my remarks, by referring to the briefing on the new clauses and amendments, which states that they are designed to strengthen the rights and position of disabled children and those with special educational needs, with or without statements both for existing and for future schools. That follows on from discussions with the Special Educational Consortium and other disability and special educational needs groups about their concern that, in certain key areas, the Bill needs to be beefed up to ensure that the position of such children is protected. My hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman has already mentioned the fact that his Select Committee is conducting a dedicated SEN inquiry. In its inquiry into the White Paper, we also took evidence on some of the issues, albeit briefly. I share the concerns of others that these matters need a broader airing on the Floor of the House, not least because they did not receive an adequate airing in the latter stages in Committee.
The amendments and new clauses tabled by my hon. Friends and myself cover three separate areas: setting training standards in special educational needs and disability issues for teachers; ensuring that fair admissions are a school requirement and are properly monitored; and, perhaps most importantly, strengthening the rights of SEN and disabled pupils in exclusion matters and educational support for excluded categories. I merely add at this stage that that is essential in view of alarming figures showing that SEN children have a disproportionate number of exclusions from school and that parents often fail to receive sufficient support and advice in those circumstances.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate and, indeed, the important new clauses that he has tabled. May I invite him to suggest to the Select Committee that it looks specifically at the issue of exclusions, which was raised in Committee by my hon. Friends? It is a profoundly important issue, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to encourage the Select Committee to deal with it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. I would not want to prejudge the final deliberations or conclusions of the Select Committee, but I would say—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield would endorse this—that we have taken a broad range of evidence, both oral and written, and that the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised are covered by it. I wholly accept that they are vitally important.
It is important to mention that about two thirds of all children excluded from school have special educational needs; that is, two thirds of the total number excluded at any one time.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She will see, as I continue with my remarks, that I will provide further statistics that underline her point.
New clause 30 specifically deals with professional standards for teachers, aiming to ensure that they demonstrate an understanding of SEN and disability legislation. That is terribly important because, without ensuring the inclusion of SEN children and without specialist support services, many children will not achieve their potential. The majority of deaf children, for example, are now educated in mainstream settings, but many still need appropriate support and provision.
I refer hon. Members to the Ofsted report of 2004, which dealt with the issue of inclusive schools and children with special educational needs and disabilities. It states that only a minority of mainstream schools meet special needs very well and that others are becoming better at doing so. However, the report also notes that few schools evaluate their provision for pupils with SEN systematically so that they can establish how effective the provision is, with many schools undertaking too little forward planning to ensure that provision was in place. It said that
"when they coped poorly, this was often attributed to pupils' difficulties rather than the school's inability to provide adequately."
That is a leitmotif, highlighting an issue that we must deal with.
Reference has already been made to the recent NUT report, "The Costs of Inclusion" published by Cambridge university. I shall cite from it because it provides important evidence about standards. It states:
"In the absence of professional development, teachers are sometimes 'trained' by parents, placing reliance on parental knowledge and expertise. Input on most initial training courses is minimal and few new teachers are able to develop strategies for meeting the needs of pupils with specific learning difficulties. 'On the job' training is also inadequate."
There is also sometimes a strong lack of understanding in schools of the requirements of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Act 2001. The National Autistic Society report, "Make School Make Sense", concluded that in mainstream schools, only 27 per cent. of parents say that all their child's teachers have been able to adjust their approach and teaching materials, thereby meeting their legal duties under the 2001 Act to differentiate the curriculum for SEN children.
Finally, on the matter of training and development, I would like to cite two specific examples because I am mindful of the point made by Mr. Hayes in his opening speech—that we should view the problem in the context of real individuals, real families, real pressures and real crises rather than by trading statistics across the Floor of the House.
These examples come from the National Autistic Society. A 13-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome attended a mainstream school, part-time, to facilitate his integration process. His mother and a neighbour went to the school to find him standing facing a wall with a female teacher and assistant head teacher on the other side of the room. She went to talk to him. He had a tantrum, but was not physically aggressive. The female teacher intervened and tried physically to restrain the boy. The tantrum worsened and the boy ended up on the floor with all four adults trying to restrain him. He is then alleged to have kicked the female teacher and the police were called. The boy was calm when they arrived and was allowed to leave the school without comment, but he was formally excluded as a result of the incident. Three months later, he was actually arrested, with no recollection of the earlier incident being made, and he probably had no understanding of why he had been arrested.
Three important implications apply. First, there should be proper training in and guidance for staff on the appropriate use of force. Secondly, appropriate provision should be made in respect of behaviour policy and disciplinary penalties. Thirdly, as I have already said, it is vital that teachers are trained in SEN and disability legislation and requirements. A range of other examples across the autistic spectrum disorders could be mentioned. In that context, it is worth saying that there is often a false assumption that children with disabilities have low intelligence. In certain groups, and particularly among children with Asperger's syndrome, nothing could be further from the truth. That is a major misunderstanding that must be dealt with in training and related areas.
I want to put on record the fact that my hon. Friend Roger Berry and I have had useful discussions with the Under-Secretary in the other place. We have already had a very helpful and supportive response from him and I am sure that the Minister will want to add to it today. I do not want to trespass on what he may say later, but on the issue of professional standards for teachers, I am reassured by the fact that a revised set of standards for qualified teacher status will be produced shortly. They will help to tackle some of the problems that I have mentioned. I understand why Ministers should think that there is no need to incorporate or update these references in statute, but the new clause does not preclude the updating of guidance or professional standards for SEN. I am sure that the Minister will respond to the point later, but what we are attempting is simply to set basic minimum requirements that could and should be supplemented and complemented by further guidance.
The other point that I would make about the proposed consultation on the standards is that, assuming their wider acceptance, they will be initially used in pilot schemes only—they will not be compulsory—because of which we should have a further discussion of whether we need to include more explicit standards in the Bill or, indeed, in other guidance. If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot develop that suggestion today, I hope that that will happen when the Bill passes to the other House.
Time is pressing, so I want to focus specifically on new clause 80, which was alluded to by Annette Brooke. New clause 80 and the associated new clauses that my hon. Friends and I have tabled are designed to address behaviour policy and exclusions. From my example of the boy with Asperger's syndrome, I hope that it is clear to the House how vital it is that we get things right in this respect. There is a lack of understanding about the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in schools. Of course the DDA requires schools to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that pupils are not discriminated against because of their disability, but Mrs. Dorries made an entirely valid point in intervening on me a few moments ago: two thirds of all exclusions involve pupils with SEN.
The Audit Commission report of 2002, "Special Educational Needs: a mainstream issue", suggested that children with SEN, including those without statements, account for the vast majority permanent exclusions—almost nine out of 10 from primary schools and six out of 10 from secondary schools. So it is important to evaluate behaviour policy and disciplinary penalties to ensure that they are justified in the particular circumstances of pupils with SEN and those with disabilities. It is essential that we ensure that appropriate special provision is made for pupils with SEN that will reduce the risk of unnecessary exclusion. The Department for Education and Skills has very strong guidance on the issue: schools should try every practical means to maintain the pupil in school, including seeking LEA and other professional advice and so on. Again, all too often, that advice is not taken up.
I also want to talk about pupils with SEN who have multiple fixed-term exclusions. Almost 4 per cent. of pupils with statements of SEN and 2.6 per cent. of pupils with SEN without a statement have one or more fixed-term exclusions in a year. It is very important that children who are not registered as permanently excluded but who still do not attend schools regularly due to multiple fixed-term exclusions should be provided for appropriately, especially given the number of informal or unofficial and, quite frankly, sometimes illegal exclusions of pupils with SEN. That issue will be familiar to many hon. Members because it comes to them by way of their casework, and for many hon. Members and certainly for me, it is one of the things that makes us have such a strong focus on the importance of the issue.
I want to refer to what has been done in this respect since September 2002, when the Special Education Needs and Disability Act 2001 came into effect, and to refer to the new disability equal duty that schools and local authorities have under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. Again, I am grateful to the Minister in another place and his officials for the comments and assurances that they have offered in that respect. They say that
"the resource was developed with schools and local authorities for schools and local authorities and fulfils a commitment we gave in our SEN strategy, 'Removing Barriers to Achievement'".
That shows how some schools are already meeting the duties effectively and provides a range of guidance and training activities. I understand that that guidance will be available in printed form very shortly.
The key phrase to consider, however, is "some schools", which suggests that the standards are very good, but that they are still not being implemented widely enough. They need to be stated more explicitly and more needs to be done to implement them. Although I accept the Government's assurances on the issue and that the new duties under the DDA 2005 will help with the exclusions issue, it is important they do not consider that the job is done. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reflect on the fact that the Government should use the opportunity of the time between the Bill leaving the House if it receives its Third Reading and passing to the other place to talk to the Special Education Consortium and the other disability charities that have made representations to discover whether such things can be strengthened above and beyond the existing DDA legislation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that quite a number of the exclusions from schools and LEAs that involve pupils with special educational needs are caused by the delay in statementing those children? If the statement is not made at an early stage, all the members of staff will not be aware of that child's needs. That leads to more serious behaviour problems if it is not addressed very early in that child's life.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I know of her strong interest in these issues, and she is absolutely right to pinpoint the issue of early intervention and the concerns that she expresses about statementing. Statementing is very complicated, but the sort of delays that she refers to are apparent. Despite the legislation, delays occur in providing alternative education for children with SEN who have been excluded. I caution Ministers not to believe that, merely because the extremely welcome new clauses on discipline will reduce the period in which action should be taken, we should automatically assume that that will mean that everything is splendid. A conscious effort needs to be made to monitor the implementation of those provisions, to consider the way in which local authorities deal with the issue and, where and if appropriate, to give further guidance and support in that respect.
I want very briefly to return to where we go on these issues. It is evident from what I have said and from the helpful responses that we have received that there is no one solution to the sorts of the problems that I have been highlighting today. The solution is not just a question of legislation, nor of guidance; it is not even just a question of good practice. It is a question of ensuring that all three of those aspects are joined together.
Yes, I believe that the Government should look carefully at the new clauses and amendments that we have proposed to see whether more could be done to strengthen the legislation, but the most important thing is that they see, and we all see, the connection between those three areas and the need to keep the pressure on, to put it bluntly. Only by keeping that pressure on will the needs of children with disabilities and SEN and of their parents be met. We must remember that a substantial number of children with SEN have parents who either have or have had special educational needs. Sometimes, it is a question not just of dealing with the needs of one generation, but of dealing with those of two generations.
I make my final point in reference to a previous discussion. I think that someone used the word "Manichaean" earlier, but please let us not get hung up on the idea that the special schools issue is a complex battle between good and evil, or this year's zeitgeist as opposed to last year's zeitgeist.
There are three excellent special schools in my constituency, Highfurlong, Woodlands and Park. They all co-operate, and in some instances there is very close collaboration. One of the schools is adjacent to a mainstream local authority school. I have visited all three regularly, and visited Highfurlong very recently. A mixed class there also included children from a local primary school and a local high school. The benefits of working together and using the same facilities were felt by both the children with disabilities and special educational needs and those without.
As I have said, we should not become too hung up on the struggle between good and evil. While many of us accept past criticisms of special schools policies—from Baroness Warnock and others—we should not assume that one set of false absolutes should be replaced with another.
I want to speak in favour of new clauses 4 and 5. New clause 4 relates to the provision of education for children with statements of special educational needs. Subsection (3) of the proposed new section 316 refers to ensuring that a child with special educational needs
"is educated in either a mainstream school or a special school".
There is no trench warfare between mainstream and special schools. It is acknowledged that each child has individual needs, on which will depend whether that child is placed in a mainstream or a special school.
The wishes of the parent are very important. New subsection (3)(b) refers to
"the provision of efficient education for other children", which is indeed an important consideration in mainstream schools. It is essential for proper provision to be made for the support of a child with special needs in a mainstream classroom, especially in practical terms. The practical tasks involved in looking after a child who is a wheelchair user and is unable to transfer from the wheelchair to an ordinary chair, or who needs a standing frame, are very time-consuming. There must be sufficient teaching and welfare support in the classroom, so that the education of the other children is not compromised.
New subsection (5), which has already been mentioned several times, states:
"A child with special educational needs being provided for under section (3) above shall not be educated in a mainstream school if that is incompatible with the wishes of his parents."
New subsection (4) is central to the decision that parents must make. Many parents, particularly if the child with special needs is their first and they have no recent experience of schools—perhaps no experience since they were at school themselves—will not know which is the best placement for their child. They will need to be presented with all the options and all the information that is available. They should be able to visit both local mainstream schools and special schools to gain an impression of provision there. They should be able to speak to head teachers, past teachers and assistants, and to members of the education authority, so that they can reach an informed decision about the best provision for their particular child.
I worked in a special school for many years during the 1970s and 1980s. The first thing that comes to mind is that it is impossible to generalise about children with special needs, and that therefore provision cannot be generalised. There was a fair amount of movement between the school where I worked, which is not there any more, and local mainstream schools, in both directions and with varying degrees of success. Again, it is impossible to generalise about whether movement from special school to mainstream or from mainstream to special school will succeed. It is necessary to take account of the individual child.
I recall one child with brittle bones who was highly intelligent. Her parents wanted her to try her luck in a mainstream school. She acquired a large degree of independence in a special school, because one of the rules was that, whatever a child's disability, that child should enjoy as much independence as possible. Unfortunately, when the girl went to a mainstream school, she was seen as a novelty: everyone wanted to help her, particularly the other children, who would fetch and carry for her. She lost much of the independence that she gained in the special school.
There was an enormous spectrum of disability at the school where I worked, from complex conditions affecting mobility such as Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, Friedrich's ataxia and spastic quadriplegia to disabilities that are not visible, such as chronic asthma, diabetes and heart conditions. In the middle of the spectrum are all sorts of other conditions which require very sensitive handling.
Special schools provide much more than education. Because they are so used to dealing with children with profound special needs, they are sensitive even to changes of mood, and to how a child may be affected by an incident in the classroom. They can avert episodes of children being unable to cope. It is that experience, built up over many years, that is so valuable to children, in terms not just of education but of emotional support. It enables them to cope with life as well as learning.
I recall another child. Mr. Marsden observed that people are not always conscious that children with special needs are often highly intelligent. There is an assumption that they are of low intelligence, which is wrong. One of our pupils, aged 16, had very mild cerebral palsy which affected only his speech. We discovered belatedly that his own family did not realise that he understood what they were saying to him. Because they did not understand what he was saying to them, it did not occur to them that his thought processes and intellect were perfectly normal. He reached the age of 16 before we were able to discover that, and to explain to the family that they could speak to him perfectly normally, as they spoke to everyone else, and he would understand: the mechanics of speech were his only problem.
Speech and language have been mentioned several times today. Even in the 1970s, there was a chronic, long-standing shortage of speech and language therapists. Since I have been in the House, I have conducted some research into why that might be. It is very difficult to get to the bottom of it. We have plenty of colleges and courses involving speech and language. They are full—they are not short of students—and they have a high success rate. Many students qualify, and there is not an unusually high drop-out rate. The mystery is, where do all the students go when they have qualified? They do not seem to go into the national health service, because my primary care trust cannot recruit speech and language therapists, and they do not go into special schools. The challenge for all of us is to redirect speech and language graduates to special schools and the NHS, where there is an enormous need for speech and language therapy. Whatever other problems they may have, if children cannot communicate with people whom they meet, that is almost the worst handicap that they could suffer.
Like the hon. Member for Blackpool, South, I have three superb special schools in my constituency: Corbets Tey, Dycorts and Ravensbourne. None of them, thankfully, is threatened with closure, which would be unthinkable. I cannot think of a single pupil in any of those schools who would be better off in a mainstream school. The children are flourishing, and their educational and social needs are being met. The schools also provide a support system for families. They often have great difficulty in conducting anything resembling what we would recognise as a normal daily life, particularly if they have children on the autistic spectrum. One function of those schools is giving additional support to parents and siblings. With the best will in the world, mainstream schools—given how busy they are and the enormous demands and pressures that are placed on them—do not have the time to provide such extra services to families with children with special needs.
My hon. Friend made some important remarks a moment ago about the need to improve and to maximise recruitment of speech and language therapists, and to get them into the national health service and, in many cases, special schools. This has been a good and stimulating debate so far, and I want to underline her point by saying that it is incumbent on all of us in public service to re-double our efforts on that front. It always strikes me that, when a popular local school or hospital is to close, there is a ready supply of articulate protestors. However, when a special school facility is to close and that closure will affect only a relatively small number of children, many people either are not aware of that threat and shortage of specialists, or, frankly, do not care enough about it. So Members across the political spectrum have a duty to step up efforts to meet the challenge.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. We are all only too well aware of the shortage of such specialists. All of us do whatever we can, wherever we can, to encourage the greater availability of speech and language therapists. Even in the 1970s, children with speech and language problems in my school had a visiting speech and language therapist, who was able to give each child a quarter of an hour a week. Anyone who knows children with speech and language problems knows that that is hopelessly inadequate. So we all need to work very hard on the issue.
I turn to new clause 5, which deals with restrictions on special school closures. As I said, it would be unthinkable for any of the special schools in my constituency to close. New clause 5(2) states:
"The Secretary of State shall only consent to the closure of a special school if there are places at nearby special schools in sufficient number and sufficient quality to replace the school adequately."
I should be surprised to learn that there is a single constituency in the entire country in which special school places are available. Most such schools have no spare capacity and are unable to take more children who would like to be placed there. It is highly unlikely that any area has sufficient spare capacity to enable a special school to be closed in the light of the caveat in the new clause. That caveat is important in protecting special schools and the enormously good work that they do.
I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to support not just new clause 4, but new clause 5.
I confess to Mr. Hayes that, at one time, I was dogmatic. I was dogmatic for a brief period—I promise that it was brief—when I came out of a special residential environment. I spent six years in integrated education for the first time, on day-release from work and at evening class, before going into full-time integrated education for the first time at university. I was dogmatic because my experience had been a difficult one. My schooling had not offered the academic achievement that we would want for our own children, and, as with so many schools, the physical environment left something to be desired.
In the 1960s and 1970s, special schools, be they day or residential, were not what they are today. One precise reason why Baroness Warnock has changed her mind on this issue—and why, by the time that I became Secretary of State for Education and Employment, I began to see that it was absolutely crucial not to be dogmatic—is that the world has changed.
When I went to primary school, most of those whom I was at school with had just one special need: they could not see. By the time that that school closed because the number who simply could not see had dropped, the incidence of multiple disability—the multiple special needs that children had—had grown to the point where that type of education could no longer cope. So the school closed not because people wanted to eliminate a facility, but because it needed to be re-shaped for a different era, in which medical science had eliminated the original causes of special need, but had also kept alive children who previously would not have been in school at all, because they would not have reached school age.
So we are dealing with a different environment, and I appeal to the House, as my hon. Friend Mr. Marsden did, to come together. None of us wants a system that does not take account of the special needs of the individual child and their family. Various issues have been raised this afternoon, such as the proper training of teachers, professional development, the training of learning support workers—there are now 110,000 such workers in mainstream schools throughout the country; they did not exist nine years ago—and the ability of learning mentors to develop, alongside special educational needs co-ordinators, the specialism of guiding and supporting families and others in the school environment. We need to recognise that those issues are crucial.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools on intervening to get the statistics right, and I believe that the Government are listening and responding. However, I have two or three regrets that I want to put on the record. In 1998, when I was Secretary of State for Education and Employment, we moved towards regional planning. I believe strongly that, without it, we cannot maintain centres of excellence, expertise and the necessary facilities. Even with the best resources in the world, no single education authority can possibly provide for every specialism and every need. In any case, the level of expertise across the country is limited. My hon. Friend Ms Smith described what my own authority is doing, but there are authorities such as Derbyshire that come very close to being exemplars. It is at the local level that an understanding must be shown of people's specific needs. However, we can do things at a regional level that cannot be done at the purely local. I now regret that the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 did not place greater emphasis on ensuring that that happened.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point, and I have been of the same opinion for years. Small unitary authorities, in particular, are unable to provide the breadth of special needs education that larger authorities such as Derbyshire can provide. I hope that the Minister is listening to my right hon. Friend.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Derbyshire has understood the message that is coming across loud and clear in this very good debate: unless we train teachers and assistants properly, and unless they are prepared for what is likely to happen, there will be resistance to sensible integration. If integration is done badly, it should not be done at all. We therefore have to get the balance right in providing training and expertise in centres of excellence. If special schools that can cater for specific requirements are no longer available, the expertise will die with them.
Providing good teaching in the classroom means providing adequate and supportive resources not just in the school itself, but during out-of-school activities, in order to make integration a reality. I took slight umbrage at the beginning of this debate at the idea that inclusion is a dogma, which is very silly. Inclusion is not a dogma; it is a sensible objective, which is to be met by not attempting to include children in mainstream education where doing so would be detrimental to them and to those around them.
That raises one further point. Because multiple disability needs and special needs are very different, we have to adapt the way in which we behave towards and think about them, in order to deal with those different layers. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough mentioned the non-statemented special educational needs child. I hope that the Government will place greater emphasis on supporting schools in that regard. What my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South said on the issue—it was repeated by Angela Watkinson—is absolutely true, and, although it pains me to say so, I also agreed with quite a lot of what Annette Brooke said.
Would the right hon. Gentleman join Mr. Marsden in calling for an independent review of some of these issues? I have in mind particularly the issue of non-statemented special needs, which were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and which the right hon. Gentleman rightly amplifies now.
I am hoping that the Education and Skills Committee review that is taking place, and the Ofsted thematic inspection will also highlight what needs to be done in a constant monitoring review. I learned as Secretary of State that monitoring is even more necessary than vision or legislation in order to achieve anything. That was the point that I was going to make about the 2001 Act—we left it with a hope and prayer that people would do the right thing, but limited progress has been made in the past five years.
In supporting schools with a high number of special educational needs pupils, we need to recognise the point that has been made this afternoon that such needs can be passed from one generation to another, not just genetically but through the gross reinforcement of disadvantage that often leads to the exaggeration and emphasis of special educational need.
I found out that two of my older sons had quite severe dyslexia at a time when the teaching profession dismissed dyslexia as though it were a middle-class fad. Because I was emerging into the middle class and have always been tenacious, I managed to engage with the Dyslexia Institute—it has now changed its name—which did a superb job in finding out what was wrong. I do not think that my sons would mind me saying that the change in confidence, self-esteem and behaviour was dramatic once what was required was identified. Early identification, sensible assessment, proper decision making about the right environment, and training and support for teachers are all more important than any disagreement over whether an individual school should close. I hope that that will be the message from today's debate.
We have all been elected to represent the most disadvantaged in our constituencies. From that perspective, and in the spirit of consensus, I hope that the Minister will accept that any points that I make are not party political but made with the view of representing those of my constituents in the unfortunate position of not receiving appropriate educational provision.
I wish to speak about new clause 5, with brief reference to new clause 4. I notice that the Minister mentioned the number of schools that the Conservative Government closed before 1997, and he was right to do so. All Governments have made mistakes in education, and it is about time we all started getting it right. However, I am reminded of the point made by Baroness Warnock when she described the need to close down special schools because too many children were being isolated in special provision. She said that the pendulum had swung too far. Perhaps not all those 200 schools needed to close, but too many have and that has resulted in a crisis, which is why hon. Members are receiving so many representations on the issue.
One of the organisations with which I liaise contacted me this morning and asked me to make a point about something that the Minister said yesterday. I have not had a chance to check Hansard yet and I was not in my place when it was said, but the organisation said that the Government referred to the school admissions code as a panacea to protect the rights of children who benefit from a statement of special educational needs, but we should all be aware by now that the protection of children with statements of special educational needs is not dictated by the admissions code or the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, but by the criteria specified in the Education Act 1996, especially schedule 27. I have now put that on the record on their behalf.
The Minister mentioned the 300 schools that have opened, and I have tabled questions to ask where they are and how many children they will take, because they are not in my patch nor in those of the many people who have asked me to speak on their behalf. It was fascinating to hear Ms Smith say that schools were opening in her area, because I wish I had such provision in my constituency. Perhaps some areas are better served than others, and the crisis arises in areas that are poorly served. When things go wrong for a special needs child, they can go spectacularly wrong, and that is why we tend to hear about such issues in that way.
The way in which many of our SEN children are educated is described to me as a scandal. I do not like to use that word, because it is emotive, but when we hear some of the stories, such as that told by Mr. Marsden about the little boy against the wall, we realise that it is shameful that children are educated in such environments today. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the statistic that two thirds of all excluded children have special needs, including nine out of 10 of those excluded from primary schools and six out of 10 from secondary schools—some 27 per cent. of autistic children. I prefer to use the word "expelled" as do the organisations I talk to, because it expresses the nub of the matter. I shall talk in a minute about a six-year-old girl who has been excluded, but the reality is that she has been expelled from future education. Can hon. Members imagine the outcry if 27 per cent. of the generic school population was excluded or expelled each day? There would be an outcry. Despite that, special schools are still being closed.
When Lord Adonis gave evidence to the Education and Skills Committee I asked him whether the Government had a policy of inclusion, because I believe that the inclusion agenda may be driving the closures. He said that inclusion was the will of Parliament, which was a very strange answer. I asked the Minister in Committee whether the Government had a policy of inclusion, and he did not answer, so I ask again. Do the Government have a policy of inclusion? That is the fundamental question in special education today, and education authorities, parents and governors all deserve to know.
While the Government refuse to confirm whether they have an inclusion agenda, there are policies in the background that are driving forward and enabling that agenda. For example, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 states quite clearly:
"If a statement is maintained under section 324 for the child he must be educated in a mainstream school unless that is incompatible with the wishes of the parents or the efficient education of others".
Those words lead to the presumption that all children should be educated in the mainstream, and they are backed up by the "Removing Barriers to Achievement" document, which acts as a reinforcement to the inclusion agenda.
Annette Brooke asked whether the Secretary of State is going in and closing down special schools. Of course he is not walking into a special school and saying, "This school closes today", but LEAs are implementing policies that they believe are the Government's agenda. LEAs are reluctant to statement children or to refer them to special schools. In a neighbouring constituency, referrals from the LEA have dried up completely since the 2001 Act. As a result, the local special school will be financially unviable by the end of the educational year. Referrals have dried up because the LEA is reluctant to statement. It believes that it is carrying out the wishes of the Government and using the 2001 Act as its justification not to statement or refer. It is also using the "Removing Barriers to Achievement" document to back that up.
The hon. Lady will know from her recent Adjournment debate that I agree with what she has been saying. Does she agree that the issue is not only money, but a political pre-disposition at local and national level, in some cases, towards general inclusion, instead of the objective interests of the particular child?
May I ask the hon. Lady the question that I put earlier to Mr. Hayes, who did not answer it? I want to know what is the Opposition's policy in this area. New clause 4(5) asserts that parents should have the right to choose a special school, but the new clause as a whole contains no assertion that parents should have the right to choose a mainstream school. Does new clause 4 represent the Opposition's policy?
In fact, my speech is concerned with new clause 5, which deals with the closure of special schools. However, our policy is that children with special educational needs should have the right to be educated in a special school. If they want to be educated in a mainstream school, they should have that right too.
Roger Berry is being untypically obtuse, even though he has been in the House a long time. Does my hon. Friend agree that he should know that new clause 4, in proposed new subsections (3) and (5), deals with the question that he poses? Proposed new subsection (3) is not subsumed by proposed new subsection (5), and neither is it incompatible with it.
I thank my hon. Friend for rescuing me from my difficulty.
I want the Minister to say whether the Government have a policy of inclusion, because he may be aware of the 2020 group, whose sole purpose is to ensure that all this country's special schools are closed by 2020. Its founder, Richard Reisner, told the Select Committee that the group had been given £460,000 in Government funding. Would an organisation campaigning to keep special schools open be given an equivalent amount of funding? By giving the money to that group, are not the Government endorsing its policy?
I acknowledge the hon. Lady's kind words about Labour Sheffield, but if the Government have weighted their policy so heavily towards inclusion, why have authorities such as Sheffield been able to develop such a broad spectrum of provision?
Does the hon. Lady accept that the Education Select Committee heard a lot of evidence from local authorities? They are planning a range of provision to meet special educational needs that involves special schools, mainstream schools and special units in mainstream schools. The range of provision is becoming wider all the time.
I agree that LEAs perform what is called provision mapping, which works for some but not for others. The fact is that 27 per cent. of children with autism are excluded from school every day. Those are the national statistics, and they apply to all LEAs, regardless of their provision policies.
I hope that the Minister will follow Baroness Warnock's lead in respect of inclusion and say, when he replies to the debate, that he will not continue with the policy. I have mentioned a little boy called Jack a number of times in the House, and the one thing that I want him to take away from this debate is the fact that the Minister mentioned his name in the wind-up.
Jack was the first child to come to my surgery. He has special educational needs, and on that visit he emptied my bookcase, turned my chairs upside-down and fizzed the lights on and off. He was excluded from school: his parents had taken him out of the school because the teachers could not cope with his very specific needs. He was beginning to be bullied, as happens to many autistic children in mainstream schools.
Jack now attends the Moorhouse school, thanks to the fact that his well educated and articulate parents were able to go to a SENDIST tribunal and argue his case. He is flourishing there, but he offers a perfect example of what happens when a child is placed in the wrong school—something that happens to many children in this country.
Some children have very complex special needs because they have physical as well as learning difficulties. I spoke recently to a teacher who has in her class a child with severe disabilities. The funding associated with that child has gone into the school pot, and the teacher has only a teaching assistant to help her. She believes that the funding allocated to a child should be velcroed to that child and used only to help him or her.
The teacher to whom I am referring gave evidence about her job which was used in a recently published report. Once an hour, she has to suck out that child's' tracheotomy tube. She has to wash her hands, use the suction machine to clear out the tracheotomy tube, then wash her hands again and return to teaching the class. The process takes 10 or 15 minutes, every hour of her working day. Is that really something that teachers should be doing, on top of trying to teach the other 28 children in the class the national curriculum? The teacher has had training only from the child's parents. She has had no specialist instruction, not even in how to lift the child. Is that to be the role of teachers? Do the Government expect them all to have a special needs child in their classes?
I shall conclude by quoting the evidence that Baroness Warnock gave to the Select Committee, which reinforces my belief that LEAs are driving forward a policy of inclusion. Although the Bill emphasises parental choice as the great good, Baroness Warnock said:
"I think that produces a hollow laugh on the part of parents with children with disabilities because they have no choice. Everything depends on the assessment that their child gets and it is the local authority which conducts the assessment and also has to pay the money and naturally the parents do not believe the assessment is truthful because it is pitched as low as the local authorities can get away with because of the money. They really have...no choice."
Parents of children with special needs do not have any choices. It is sad that special schools are being closed, and I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the inclusion agenda will be abandoned.
This has been a good debate, which deserves more than seven minutes for my response. It is occasionally a frustration of ministerial life that we do not have anything near as much time as the Opposition or Back Benchers when we respond.
I think that we are agreed on both sides of the House that we need a range of provision to deliver for the range of children's needs. We all agree that there is more to be done, but the picture is in shades of grey rather than the black and white presented by Mr. Hayes.
I shall say a few words about Government policy. Schools and local authorities already have clear duties in relation to children with special educational needs and disabilities. Our policy is to achieve better outcomes for those children by ensuring that provision is tailored to individual needs and that all children have access to a broad and relevant education and maximum engagement with their peers. In that respect, I point out to Mrs. Dorries, there is inclusion, but I am mindful that, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett said, inclusion is a good aspiration but it has to deliver appropriate education for every child, which may be in a special school.
Our policy is also that agencies work together to provide children and families with co-ordinated services. We see the fruits of that in high-quality teaching and learning, in children's centres and extended schools and in better arrangements for accountability for the outcomes achieved by different groups of pupils in the new relationship with schools.
We are backing that change with real investment. Funding per pupil with SEN has increased by nearly 40 per cent. in real terms. Budgeted expenditure by local authorities is £4.1 billion, about 13 per cent. of all education spending, and the building schools for the future programme is delivering better schools and facilities for those children.
Ofsted reports improved local management of SEN, growing awareness of the benefits of inclusion and some improvements in practice. It also notes that many of the children with the most complex needs are in special schools or other specialist provision. I used statistics about those schools in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings: all 300 of those schools are new; they are not units added to existing schools. Contrary to what is reported in the media, they demonstrate our commitment to special schools alongside mainstream provision.
I can respond to interventions or to the debate—I am in the hon. Gentleman's hands.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and I take his point, but will he tell us why in 2001 the Government dropped the provision in the Education Act 1996 that special education should be related to the learning difficulty of the child? Why did they drop the appropriateness provision in that Act?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer because I was not an Education Minister at the time. I can only imagine that it was because the provisions that were already in place and that we had introduced were delivering what he described.
The proportion of children with SEN statements and taught in special schools has increased by about 1 per cent. over the past five years, despite a fall in the total number of children with statements. We are not an anti-special school Government. We want children's special educational needs to be met so that, as far as possible, exclusions are unnecessary. Through our long-term SEN strategy, we are working to build the skills and capacity of schools to meet children's special educational needs earlier and more effectively.
We are mindful, however, that the Select Committee on Education and Skills is looking into SEN and we want time to consider the outcome of its inquiry. The Bill will go into another place after a very good debate, although I cannot respond to the amendments or the various contributions that have been made. My noble Friend, Lord Adonis, has met my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and we shall continue such engagement.
We will continue to listen to the House and to try to improve things. I am particularly impatient about the exclusion figures for children with special educational needs. It is not right that two thirds of excluded children have special education needs. The issue should not divide us; we should all work together to resolve it.
This has been a good debate, albeit a short one. It has illustrated the strong feelings on the subject on both sides of the House and perhaps, as various Members have said, that we need more time to debate the issues over the coming weeks and months. I hope that the Government will make more time for that.
I do not have time to deal with all the points that were raised in the debate, but important things need amplification. Of course, the continuing and particular role played by special schools must be defended, but non-statemented special needs must be given closer consideration, as was pointed out. As Mr. Marsden said, we need to look at the training and resources provided to our teachers to educate children who are especially vulnerable and have particular needs. Where schools are doing the right thing they need our support, whether they are mainstream or special schools. As my hon. Friend Angela Watkinson said, that means providing the services of speech and language specialists and educational psychologists.
This has been a good debate. I am determined that the Opposition will continue to fight the battle on behalf of special needs children. We will continue to defend special schools. We will not relent in defending those vulnerable people. I hope other Members will join us.
It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [
Question put and negatived.
Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.