[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair] — Children and Young People with Autism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 8th October 2008.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 10:40 am, 8th October 2008

That is also a big argument, and we have problems with appeals for disobedient children who are allowed back into class, completely undermining the head's authority. We must work with teachers and heads for children with special educational needs, but the Minister has raised a subject that merits a debate in itself.

The big problem that many hon. Members have identified is the lack of expertise of teachers in mainstream schools in dealing with the children—the elephant in the room. There is also the problem of loss of places in special schools—some 9,000 places have gone since 1997. It is not just a question of inclusion or exclusion, which is an old debate. It is a question of getting the most appropriate participation in education for those children.

We have not talked much about statements today. In many cases, local authorities try to avoid classifying too many children as autistic for special educational needs purposes. The number of new statements has fallen drastically from 36,200 in 1998 to 24,000 in 2008. Concomitantly, the number of appeals has risen by 55 per cent. The problem has not gone away; it is just more difficult for parents to get their children identified, and even more difficult to get through the horrendous minefield that is the tribunal system. We know that about a quarter of the tribunals are for children with autism, who are again disproportionately affected by the system. The whole statementing process is adversarial: it is costly for local authorities to fight; it is more costly for parents to fight if they get to that stage; and it is costly to administer.