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Mr. St. Aubyn: My hon. Friend makes an important point. With the power in the new Bill to close some special schools, the Government could achieve their target without quotas, although in an equally crude fashion.

Mr. Loughton: Indeed, unscrupulous local education authorities may use some of the provisions in the Bill to lessen their responsibilities. The legal responsibility of LEAs to provide appropriate and necessary education for children with special needs must not be lessened as a result of the Green Paper.

IPSEA also referred to the greater emphasis at annual reviews on ceasing to maintain a child's statement. That could be used by cost-cutting LEAs to reduce their liabilities, which I fully acknowledge is not the point of the Bill. We must be sensitive to that problem, and I encourage the Government to take those points on board when framing the final legislation.

I wish to refer to the more severe SEN cases and the pressure on local authority finance. I visited recently Heronsdale school in Shoreham in my constituency; an excellent SEN school with a first-class reputation which received an excellent Ofsted report. It provides an excellent service for parents whose children are not at that school, by advising them on how to deal with SEN problems. It is a real community asset.

Many parents who have visited my surgeries have not been able to get their children with special educational needs into that school, or others like it, because they are victims of the school's success: it is over-subscribed. Unless there is enormous additional funding to expand such schools, I fear that many children will be left outside it.

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I have a particularly desperate case of a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of four. He is currently at a non-specialist school, in a mixed disability class. His parents and grandparents are coping admirably with him but claim, with some justification, that the teachers cannot give him the special attention his severe autism requires. He rarely speaks and is constantly excluded from the school's mainstream activities. He also wets himself, and his parents are at their wits' end.

Two schools have been identified for the child--Hope Lodge in Southampton and Purbeck school in Dorset. They are excellent specialist schools, dealing particularly with autism. The parents visited the schools and spoke to parents from the same area with children who go to those schools and who have benefited enormously.

The problem is that, if West Sussex county council--the education authority--were to allow the child to go to one of these schools, it would cost more than of £40,000 per year. That is £40,000 which will come out of the general education budget, and £40,000 a year dedicated to one greatly deserving child means that a lot of resources, potentially, will be taken away from mainstream children in mainstream schools for a range of other activities. This is a problem faced by LEAs.

I have other constituency cases, but I will not go into them all. However, there is one desperate case of a family who have coped admirably with two sons, each of whom has cerebral palsy. It is very rare for two children in the same family to suffer that dreadful disease. One has gone to a special school within the county and is doing extremely well. Under the old terms of reference, he had help from social services for the special footwear he requires. His brother is now old enough to go to that school, but the county cannot guarantee him a place and social services cannot guarantee him the generous footwear allowance that his brother received. That raises enormous problems.

These are two comparable children in the same family. The system has worked for one, but due to the nature of the allocation of resources there is no guarantee that the younger sibling will have an opportunity to go to that school. That is causing real problems.

When my constituents see other children going to special schools because they have qualified on discretionary criteria while their own son or daughter--however deserving--cannot meet those criteria, desperation sets in. That is where I think that we have real problems, particularly with facilities outside the parents' LEA area. I appreciate the difficult position of LEAs due to the competing claims of SEN and mainstream children on the budget.

I wish to mention also the high cost of tribunals. The tribunal system is necessary and has worked well--the majority of parents who have gone through it are happy with it. More than two thirds of tribunal cases--as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford mentioned--have found in favour of the parents. However, the tribunal system involves a high cost to the local authority in preparing cases, many of which do not get as far as a tribunal hearing but involve an enormous amount of time and resources, which come out of the budget that would otherwise go into front-line SEN provision.

Local authorities also have a problem when children with severe statementing move into their area from another area: the local authority has to pick up the tab for

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something for which it had not budgeted, but just try telling the parents of a child who has moved to a neighbouring county that the special educational needs treatments that their child received in one county cannot be repeated in the county next door. Very real problems can be foisted on to local education authorities.

It is worth pointing out that more than 40 per cent. of tribunal cases are purely involved with literacy and numeracy need rather than severe disability requirements. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man to come up with a better procedure to simplify some of the more straightforward cases--current procedures take up time and resources and involve stress--without taking away the legal rights of parents to have their cases heard in another manner. That is an area of detail that the Government may be able to consider beyond the Green Paper.

I also mentioned earlier the implications of providing transport for SEN children. As many parents have complained to me that their children cannot get into a special school as have complained that they are not in a position to provide transport and cannot afford public transport for their children, but because they are out of area, the local education authority is not obliged to lay on specialist transport. In some cases, that has meant that children could not take up a much desired place at a local authority special needs school because their parents could not afford the transport to get them there. That is a most desperate circumstance for people to be left in.

I hope that a degree of ring fencing to finance special educational needs--aside from mainstream education budgets--can be found, because we put local education committee chairmen in an impossible dilemma when they have conflicting claims on their budgets, which will not be helped by the local government finance figures announced earlier this week. This will not get easier.

We on the Opposition Benches welcome the Green Paper, but there is scope for improvement, certainly for much greater sensitivity to the perceived--although the Minister denies it--quota system on statementing. More sensitivity is required towards greater integration. It must include appropriate resources to maintain the rights of parents whose children need specialist schools for more severe conditions, while enabling mainstream schools to take on lesser SEN cases without disrupting the existing pupil role. None of this will work while LEAs are straitjacketed on competing priorities for funding between SEN and mainstream schools.

12.38 pm

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) on a very fine speech, especially as his wife is expecting to give birth. I made my own maiden speech the day after my fourth child was born, so I know what the hon. Gentleman is experiencing. I wish him and his wife well on the birth of their child.

As I said, I have four children, and next to my wife they are the most important people in the world. That is something that all parents can say of their children. Therefore, it is impossible to explain to parents why the provision made for every other child in the street, borough and local education authority should not be equally open and accessible to their child.

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Last night, in my office, I responded to the following letter, which I had read with horror. It reads:


indeed I do, as I will explain--


    "when you visited Kingsbury High School to take part in their assault course for charity. As the only child in a wheelchair at the school he tends to be quite noticeable.


    It took a lot persuasion to get Simon into Kingsbury High as there are several levels and no lifts but Simon's determination showed them that it was worth a try and he is very happy working alongside his friends. As a statemented pupil he had to have a complete reassessment of his needs before moving into secondary education and a number of things were said to be essential. Ramps, a disabled toilet and a wheelchair at each level he would need to use were all stated by the various experts who assessed him. Kingsbury High (a grant maintained school) accepted him assuming that these things would be provided by the LEA or Health Service but to date neither these nor the lap-top computer clearly identified in the statement have yet appeared. Indeed I have just been told that as Parkside Wheelchair Service has run out of money Simon cannot have a chair to replace the one which they have agreed is dangerous and too small until they have more money--next April presumably. I enclose a letter I wrote to the Service manager which explains the situation more clearly.


    Given your Government's proposals in the Green Paper to fully integrate pupils with disabilities like Simon's I expect that you will be horrified to hear of his predicament. I hope that I can count on your help to get this matter sorted out at the earliest opportunity because I really do fear for his safety, not because he is in the wrong school but because he has not been given the basic equipment he needs to move around."

That letter touched me to the core and it goes to the very heart of our debate. Simon's mother says that I might remember him and indeed I do. The assault course was for Help the Aged. Incidentally, my wife tells me that I should remember that I really am one of the aged now and that doing assault courses is no longer appropriate. I remember running up a 10 or 12-foot ramp and jumping off at the beginning and then completing the rest of the course. As I got to the end, I saw a young boy in a wheelchair wheeling himself up to the top of the ramp, where he applied the brakes and propelled himself 12 feet into mid air and down so that he could continue the assault course.

Simon is no ordinary young man. He is, indeed, special and any school should be proud to have him as a member. Naturally, as soon as I had read that letter I wrote a strongly worded letter to the local education authority asking exactly why provision had not yet been made in accordance with the statement. I am acutely aware of the financial stringencies under which Brent local education authority operates. Its central hold-back per pupil, from which such provision might be made, is 47 per cent. below the national average.

I welcome the extra resources that the Minister announced this morning when she said that £11 million will become available next year for special educational needs. Simon's needs cannot wait until next year, so I shall work with the LEA to see how they can be met immediately.

The Green Paper has been a genuine consultative exercise. Earlier in the summer, I organised two meetings in my constituency at different schools on the education White Paper. They were well attended and I now have a group of some 140 people who will act as a sounding

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board for me on all educational matters. Next Thursday, I shall have a further consultation meeting in my constituency on the Green Paper, "Excellence for all children". I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I increase her postbag, subsequent to that meeting, with that group's concerns and responses to the Green Paper.

I welcome the way in which the issues have been set out in the Green Paper and the approach that the Department wants to take in listening to local people and their concerns. Through listening to local people who are intimately involved in those matters we can extend cross-party agreement--which has been so valuable this morning--into good, coherent and constructive legislation that will benefit all our children.

On emotional and behavioural difficulties, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)--I do not mean the juxtaposition to be offensive--said that the Government should consider not paying schools to keep children at risk of exclusion. I find it strange that he should question the wisdom of paying schools that took on that added burden and rose to the challenge. It is particularly strange given that when his party was in government it adopted a procedure whereby schools were given additional money to select children who were least likely to cause those problems. The sensible way to tackle the problem is to put resources where they are most needed--where children are at risk of exclusion.

Brent LEA has an extremely proud record. The House will be aware that in the past couple of years the national exclusion rate has risen by more than 20 per cent. per year, whereas in Brent it has dropped by 26 per cent. year on year. That has been achieved simply as a result of its approach, which is designed to try to maintain students in school for as long as possible. It has devoted to those students the resources necessary to provide them with a stimulating environment in order to bring them back into the mainstream.

In the Green Paper emphasis has been placed on practical support rather than on procedures. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham spoke about the safeguard of statementing and I agree that we must take that extremely seriously. I trust that my own Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley)--who I believe is to speak after me--may corroborate the example that I am about to give.

About four years ago, the Cambridgeshire LEA had an agreement with schools encouraging them not to put children through the process of statementing and not to statement those with special needs because of the stigma that might be attached to that and the lengthy process of statementing. Instead, it promised to ensure that the necessary resources to meet the needs of those children would still be supplied to schools, but according to a less formal arrangement.

I do not want to make a party political point, but control of the LEA changed hands and as a result the funds available within the education budget were reallocated. Resources previously made available for children with special needs attending local schools were taken away unless the children were statemented. Everyone in the county responded by reminding the LEA that there had been an agreement, but it was hard to try claw back the money because, as has already been said, the sums available for SEN have to compete with other demands on the overall education budget of an LEA. That money was desperately needed by those pupils.

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Yes, let us do away with unnecessary bureaucracy and procedures, but let us never lose sight of the fact that statementing offers a legal safeguard for the most needy children in our schools.


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