Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Sign Language Support

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:46 pm on 6th March 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills 1:46 pm, 6th March 2007

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says. In a couple of moments, I shall speed through some of those points and come to the funding side of things, specifically as it relates to local authorities.

The Government have already taken action to improve access to BSL and steps to ensure that deaf children, young people and adults generally have access to BSL provision where it is appropriate to their needs. Many teachers and other staff have taken the opportunity to make use of the resources that the Government have made available that can be used to support training in special educational needs and disability, to improve their understanding of BSL. Courses in BSL are widely available in local colleges and through other training providers throughout the UK.

The Government will seek to ensure that teachers and other staff have access to appropriate training in BSL wherever appropriate. For instance, as part of its programme for raising standards in schools, the Department is focusing specifically on improving the education of children with SEN through training and professional development, including in BSL. We have worked closely with charities such as the RNID, which co-badged the early support materials, and the National Deaf Children's Society, which sits on working parties such as our early support management group. There is more that can be done, but we are working with stakeholders.

We are also working with the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Children's Workforce Development Council on a number of initiatives to build staff skills at all levels. Through the specialist schools programme, we are enabling many more special schools to develop their outreach capacity and provide access to specialist advice and support for mainstream schools. We are encouraging all schools, mainstream and special, to collaborate and share their most effective practice in SEN. We shall also use the findings of the national audit of specialist provision for low incidence needs to promote collaboration between local authorities and other agencies, to provide for children with the most complex needs.

The Department has produced a leaflet, "Access To Achievement", which publicises the role of teachers of the deaf and other specialist teachers working with children with sensory impairment. "Removing Barriers to Achievement" is the Government's long-term strategy for giving children with special educational needs and disabilities the opportunity to succeed. The strategy sets out the Government's proposals for working together with local authorities, schools, early-years services, the health service and the voluntary and private sectors, to enable children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities to achieve their potential.

I am aware of the work being done in places such as Gloucestershire, where my child—I am the father of a one-year old—has had the chance to learn baby signing. There have been similar schemes in other parts of the country, often run by local private sector firms, to encourage children at an important stage in their development to learn those new skills.

The right hon. Gentleman made a good point about bilingual countries perhaps being more aware of the benefits of picking up BSL as another language. Our early support programme is making a step change nationally, regionally and locally to the delivery of family-centred local services for disabled children. For example, there is a local authority monitoring protocol for deaf babies and young children, guidance for lead professionals and a range of materials for parents of hearing impaired children.

We have made progress in recent years in improving provision for children with special educational needs, but there is further to go before we can achieve our aims. The work of the Select Committee on Education and Skills, in its report on SEN, has helped us to review our priorities. Over the coming years, we intend to raise the awareness and skills of staff in identifying special educational needs and personalised learning. We shall also improve the specialist support to schools and early years settings in meeting children's special educational needs, so that all children with special educational needs and disabilities receive the support that they need.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of children in pre-school settings. I do not have those figures, but I shall write to him as part of the dialogue that I hope we can have. After that he might wish to request a meeting, which I should be happy to facilitate.

We want to ensure partnership working between education and health services, and social care and the voluntary sector, to provide integrated services organised around the needs of children with SEN and their families. We shall build on the proposals for integrating children's services in "Every Child Matters"—in particular, the common assessment framework, multi-disciplinary teams and children's trusts—to deliver joined-up services for children and families.

Considerable funding is already in the system to support the education of children with special educational needs, including hearing impairment. Expenditure on SEN nationally has increased from £2.8 billion in 2001-02, to £4.5 billion in 2006-07. That is an increase of 60 per cent. and represents approximately 13 per cent. of all education spending. Local authorities decide how best to distribute funding and how to allocate their budgets between and within services. It is right that we work with local authorities and that they should be able to set their local priorities, because every area is different and every cohort of children in a locality is different.

I accept, however, that there may be some patchiness in provision. I am willing to hear that case and to have the dialogue that I have promised with the right hon. Gentleman. Local authorities decide how best to distribute funding and how to allocate their budgets. The Government's view is that a range of educational provision should be available to deaf or hearing impaired children. Four fifths of deaf children and young people in the country as a whole are currently educated in mainstream schools, but that will vary among authorities.

There are other points that I would like to answer, about the siblings and parents of deaf children, but we are running out of time, so perhaps we can do that as the right hon. Gentleman and my Department enter into, I hope, an honest and open dialogue on the issue.

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.