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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 the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (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 the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (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 schoolssome 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.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (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 Governments 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.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): 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?
Mrs. Dorries: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I want the Minister to clarify whether the Government have a policy of inclusion or not, as LEAs appear to be carrying out such a policy without looking at individual childrens specific needs.
Roger Berry: May I ask the hon. Lady the question that I put earlier to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who did not answer it? I want to know what is the Oppositions 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 Oppositions policy?
is educated in either a mainstream school or a special school.
Mrs. Dorries: 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.
Mr. Hayes: The hon. Member for Kingswood (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 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 countrys 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?
Ms Angela C. Smith: I acknowledge the hon. Ladys 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?
Mrs. Dorries: I wanted to mention a remark made to me yesterday by a Labour Member, but I shall leave it till later, when it will be more in context. She said that the policy was not the same in all areas of the country. However, I shall give way now.
Dr. Blackman-Woods: 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.
Mrs. Dorries: 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 Warnocks 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 schoolsomething 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 childs 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 childs 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.
Jim Knight: 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 childrens 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 the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (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 the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), there is inclusion, but I am mindful that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (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 childrens 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.
Mr. Hayes: 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?
Jim Knight: 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 childrens 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 childrens 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.
Mr. Hayes: 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 the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (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 the Member for Upminster (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.
(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.'. [Mr. Hayes.]
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