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House of Commons

Friday 1 February 2008

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

9.33 am

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 38.
Division No. 67]
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Anne Snelgrove and
Mr. Andrew Dismore

Baird, Vera
Bercow, John
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Annette
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Clark, Paul
Duncan, Alan
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Field, Mr. Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gove, Michael
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Hill, rh Keith
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Hopkins, Kelvin
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McDonagh, Siobhain
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Selous, Andrew
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Waltho, Lynda
Williams, Mark
Wright, Jeremy
Tellers for the Noes:

Barbara Keeley and
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods
Question accordingly negatived.
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Orders of the Day

Special Educational Needs (Information) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.45 am

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I place on the record my gratitude to everyone who has helped to support the Bill in its early stages. I am tremendously privileged to be able do something for pupils, parents, charities and policy makers concerned about special educational needs. I especially thank my researcher, Jonathan Tanner, who has worked flat-out for weeks to get this speech prepared and to build up all the evidence and statistics that we need to be able to talk about the subject. I particularly wanted to get that on the record; sometimes our staff do not get thanked enough.

I should state at this point that I will often refer to special educational needs as SEN as it is less of a mouthful for all involved. I am grateful for the breadth of support from colleagues on both sides of the House. More than 100 colleagues from six parties have already signed early-day motion 619 in support of my Bill. I am grateful for the support of charitable organisations across the education sector and individuals across the country who have taken time to write to their MPs to encourage them to support it and to be here today. I hope that the effort of all concerned will be rewarded this morning.

I will talk about the Bill in more detail later, but its broad aim is to introduce an obligation on the Secretary of State to collect and publish information that will help to improve outcomes for children with a range of SEN. I note from the history books that successful private Members’ Bills come in all shapes and sizes. If my Bill is successful, it will sit alongside some specialist issues legislated for under this mechanism, such as hypnotism and even ponies. It will also sit alongside issues that ignite much more substantive moral debate such as abortion rights, or that bring about national change such as the law to enforce the wearing of seat belts.

As hon. Members will be aware, special educational needs come in all shapes and sizes. Thankfully, we have seen significant movement away from a society in which consideration of SEN was on the periphery of the policy agenda, but there is always more to be done. I will talk about why I chose this policy area, what the Bill will do and how it can help over time to make a difference to SEN provision.

I am sure that everyone involved or interested in SEN provision in schools and other learning institutions has their own story to tell of how their interest or involvement came about. My story will be similar to that of hundreds of thousands of parents who have to fight their way through the system to win the best possible support for their children.

The first time that there was anything to be concerned about with my son Joseph was when he was about 18 months old and a doctor pointed out at a
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routine appointment that he was not talking. I was not worried initially. I said, “It will happen eventually. He will talk when he wants to.” When he was two and a half, he still was not talking, so the intervention kicked in and the speech therapy started. He said “Mam” for the first time when he was three.

By the time Joseph started school, we thought that all we had to worry about was whether the teachers and his friends would be able to understand his still noticeably delayed speech. However, it was not long before we realised that there were other problems. He was as bright as a button but was not able to get to grips with reading as his friends could. The teachers did all they could. Over the years, he has had some amazing teachers and learning support assistants, who have worked hard to help and support him.

Joseph was not diagnosed as dyslexic and statemented until he was in year 5, aged 10. He had been at school for almost six years, struggling day, in day out, his self-esteem getting lower and lower, when it had been obvious within the first few months of reception class, when he was only four years old, that something was wrong. It was a relief when the diagnosis came and we were reassured that he was very bright—in the top 10 per cent. for some of the tests—but that he was severely dyslexic. This news would ignite a passion in any parent, and I think that anyone who has kept an eye on my work since I entered the House will know that sometimes my personal experiences are what drive me to seek changes through politics, and I am sure that the same is true of other Members. While I watched my son grow up and try to get to grips with his dyslexia, I became even more determined to try to do something to help others in the same situation.

My children were born in Gateshead, and my son was given speech and language therapy from the age of two and a half. When he was seven, we moved to London and that support stopped. My family has since returned to Gateshead, where the local authority is considering providing further speech and language support, as it is thought he will still benefit from it. He is now 14, and he has lost out on seven years of potential speech therapy because of where we lived, so I have seen first-hand how provision can vary across the country.

I have had conversations with people from a range of charities who agree that there is a problem not only with patchy SEN provision, but with obtaining good- quality information that would help them to further their cause. Several Members have also echoed those concerns. In order to try to establish for myself what support was available to dyslexic pupils nationally, I tabled a series of parliamentary questions. I received the same uninformative and disappointing answer to more than one of them: that the information is not collected centrally.

The charity TreeHouse has recently published a report on parliamentary questions about autism over the past 10 years. It established that more than 60 per cent. of questions about autism went unanswered, and there would be similar findings for other SENs. That represents a weakness in the Government’s evidence base. TreeHouse concludes:

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I could not agree with TreeHouse more. In order to improve outcomes, it is imperative that Members can secure proper answers to questions on SEN issues, and I will strive to ensure that Ministers address that, using the provisions in my Bill.

Over the last few months, I have consulted a broad range of organisations. I have also been through reams of recent reports and recommendations from both Government and Committees—notably the excellent Select Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). There are many areas where provision could be improved, a series of specific points which need addressing and a plethora of priorities to be chosen from. However, a private Member’s Bill does not offer us a panacea. I would have liked to propose legislation to ensure that all new teachers are trained to recognise a range of SEN and to provide a degree of specialist support. Dyslexia charities are campaigning hard for that.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that there is a particular need for that in postgraduate certificate of education courses? I benefited from that and it stood me in very good stead in 12 years in the classroom, but there are limitations to how some postgraduate courses address the issues we are dealing with today.

Mrs. Hodgson: I hope we will discuss that issue further in Committee and that Ministers will take it on board. It can be dealt with under guidelines; many Members are pushing for that.

It would also have been desirable to secure a new commitment to having subject-specific SEN specialists in every school who could implement a school-wide strategy for supporting pupils with specific SENs, but I am told that that needs only Government guidelines, not primary legislation. I am happy that the Government appear to be looking in that direction and I hope that the publication of further information will push them one step closer to delivering this level of support in schools for all our children.

What would my Bill provide? The powers laid out in it are twofold. First, it would give the Secretary of State further powers to collect information that he considers will help to improve outcomes for children with SEN, and it explicitly states that that information must be published annually. Secondly, the Bill outlines exactly what outcomes must be monitored. Those outcomes are broadly in line with the Government’s Every Child Matters agenda, and reflect not only educational attainment but emotional well-being, contribution to society and economic well-being. That is a positive step that has not been taken before.

Discussion of what information will be published has been a feature of the debate on issues related to the Bill. After all, there is a whole host of data sets and statistics that account for SEN children in our schools. We have the numbers, we have the ages, we have the ethnicity and we have the types of need for some SEN
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pupils, but that gives us only a snapshot. Real life happens in real time. By encouraging further analysis of existing data and annual publication of new information, we can build up a moving image that reflects changes in provision for and progress of SEN pupils. We can raise expectations for children with SEN, and therefore raise achievement levels, only by monitoring outcomes. It will be a step in the right direction to record whether children with SEN are happy, safe, enjoying school, achieving personal targets, making a positive contribution to society and, where possible, going on to achieve independent economic well-being. We can then highlight the valuable contribution that children with SEN can go on to make. Dyslexic children, for example, have dynamic and diverse brains, which can achieve tremendous results—we need only think of Winston Churchill, John Lennon or Richard Branson. We can also highlight areas for improvement, and encourage the Government to deliver those improvements.

Wherever possible, we should not increase the burden on our teachers, and I assure Members that that would be a vital consideration in deciding which additional information to collect. We do not want to place an additional restrictive administrative burden on teachers. It seems sensible to use the Ofsted review of SEN in 2009-10 to inform the Government of what new information will be useful in achieving the requirements of the Bill. It might be that some of the information already collected is not fit for purpose and could be replaced by different information. Such tweaks could ensure we do not pin teachers down under piles of paperwork, but obtain information from them that will help to support them in the vital work they do.

The Government’s response of October 2006 to the Education and Skills Committee review of SEN states that all student teachers must

and that they must also be able to

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have a unique opportunity this Monday, when they publish their response to our most recent inquiry into SEN, to be positive about what she seeks: knowledge of SEN provision across the country, so that parents know what the level is wherever they live?

Mrs. Hodgson: Yes, that is a sensible suggestion from my hon. Friend, who is Chairman of the new Children, Schools and Families Committee.

Mr. Sheerman: Of which my hon. Friend is a member.

Mrs. Hodgson: Indeed I am, and I enjoy every moment.

At the moment, more than 24,000 pupils have “other” registered as their primary special educational need. There are more than 500,000 children at school action level whose needs are not categorised, and we can only guess how many children’s needs go unrecognised. We need to ensure that all their needs are recognised and met. We will not be able to do so until teachers are better trained in recognising SEN.

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Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I commend my hon. Friend for her desire to ensure that all teachers have training in recognising SEN. It is particularly important that secondary school teachers have that. In the past, they did not, especially those who did one-year postgraduate courses. That means that when many children enter secondary school they fall through the net if they have not already been identified as having SEN. Will my hon. Friend call for one-year courses, too, to include special needs training?

Mrs. Hodgson: Yes. That is another very good idea, which we should explore further in Committee.

The Government recognise the needs, to which I referred, in chapter 3 of 2004’s “Removing Barriers to Achievement” report. There is a specific commitment to working with the Teacher Training Agency to improve awareness among teachers of the signs of SEN. The Education (Special Educational Needs) (Information) (England) Regulations 1999—Members may recognise the title—amends the Education Act 1996, just as my Bill would, so we have been here before. The regulations state that schools must provide information on how resources are allocated to and among pupils with SEN, and on how their needs are identified and kept under review, yet parliamentary questions on this issue still go unanswered.

There are further commitments in the “Removing Barriers to Achievement” report that I hope my Bill will bring into sharp focus. For example, is enough being done to develop training? I of course welcome the recent announcement of £18 million of funding to support teachers who want to specialise in SEN, but it would be desirable for money to be found to train all teachers to spot the most common forms of SEN. The report also talks of a new “cadre” of teachers who will become change champions for SEN in schools. Through the framework set out in my Bill, we can predict and provide progress on this laudable objective.

It is my firm belief that the Government are well aware of the major challenges facing schools in delivering SEN provision and are working hard towards meeting these challenges. Indeed, when I first held discussions with colleagues on what could be done to improve available information on outcomes for SEN pupils, it quickly became clear that the Government are on the same page as many campaigners. However, I want this Bill to push things forward. That is why I call on Ministers to extend the current categorisation of SEN under the pupil-level annual school census down to school action level. That would change the status quo whereby only statemented children and children at school action-plus level have their type of SEN recorded.

The latest available figures show that of the 19.2 per cent. of children identified as having SEN, 2.9 per cent. are statemented and 16.4 per cent. are at school action-plus or school action level. Of this 16.4 per cent. of children who have a recognised SEN but no statement, about two thirds are at school action level. Therefore, for almost half of all children identified as having SEN, there is no indicator of what type of SEN they have. For as long as this situation persists, it will be difficult to see the full scale of SEN in our education system. By extending the recording of the type of SEN to school action level, we will place an onus on teachers
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to identify and consider more carefully the type of need a child has, rather than just acknowledging that the need exists. That would be a bonus to both the work force and pupils. Extending categorisation would provide a clearer picture across the board—for parents, campaigners and the Government.

I welcome the piloting of a census of the education work force. If extended, that would initiate a system that would enable us to monitor effectively the huge range of skills available to children across the country within our education work force. It should also enable accurate recording of the skills possessed by special educational needs co-ordinators. Ensuring that all SENCOs are teachers and that newly appointed SENCOs hold a valid qualification is another step towards improving outcomes that has already been taken, and which should be welcomed. It reflects the promises given in “Removing Barriers to Achievement” and, should my Bill be passed, I hope that consideration will be given to how the work force census can reinforce the delivery and monitoring of support for and eventual outcomes for children with SEN.

I mentioned at the start of my speech that several organisations are very supportive of the Bill, and it would be helpful to draw on some of their comments. The Special Educational Consortium, which represents some 100 member organisations from the charitable and voluntary sector, says that this issue

In its report on SEN, Ofsted made it clear that low expectations are a significant factor in the underachievement of children with SEN. It states:

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