Language Units

Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 26th July 2007.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 10:30 am, 26th July 2007

What assessment he has made of the impact of the closure of language units attached to mainstream schools; and if he will ensure that full consultation with affected parties is required before such closures may be implemented.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Improving provision of speech and language therapy is a key priority for my new Department. When a maintained mainstream school has a set number of places in a unit reserved for children with language difficulties, statutory procedures have to be followed before units making such provision can be closed. The process involves preliminary consultation, and then, depending on the outcome, the publication of notices, allowing six weeks for objection or comment. Final decisions may then be reached locally, taking account of consultation responses and objections.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I thank the Secretary of State for that helpful reply, and I declare an interest, both as a vice-president of the charity Afasic, and as the parent of a child who is in a language unit—which, I am pleased to say, is not threatened with closure, and is doing an excellent job. Given that parents in Oxfordshire, Surrey and East Sussex have expressed concern about their local language units facing the threat of summary closure, without provision of comparable quality having been made elsewhere, will the Secretary of State accept that the Government need urgently and publicly to remind local education authorities of their responsibilities, and parents of their rights? Will he simply undertake to monitor the number, size and location of language units across the country, in the interests of some of our most vulnerable children?

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I am happy to make that commitment and to make clear to local authorities their responsibilities, as I have set out. I know that the hon. Gentleman has personal experience, and also a campaigning track record, in this field. I met him and the chief executive of Afasic a few months ago. I am happy to look into the issues that he raises and for my officials to work with him and Afasic to look at the particular cases that he raises. It is important that a proper consultation should occur. I will make sure that that happens, and monitor what is happening across the rest of the country as well. More generally, if we are to address the needs of these children to make sure that they have opportunities and to prevent problems in later life, it is essential that effective speech and language therapy is provided in the early years and through school. I will commit to doing everything I can to make that happen.

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