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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for introducing this debate. I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, on her truly knowledgeable maiden speech. As usual in debates of this kind, I declare my interest as a father of a 17 year-old daughter who has Down's syndrome. I therefore speak especially on behalf of mentally handicapped children and their parents, and would like to highlight two areas of concern this evening.

First, I share the hope of other noble Lords that the Government's policy of greater inclusion into mainstream schools will not come to mean that children such as my daughter are forced too near mainstream education for their own good, or for their parents' peace of mind. The Government's Green Paper, Excellence for All Children, is a well-intentioned document. But if it has a fault, as my noble friend Lord Astor has already indicated, it is that it does not appear to give enough weight to parents' wishes. Indeed, parents do not seem to get a mention at all in Chapter 5, which deals with the planning of SEN provision. So one is left with the

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impression that the professionals will continue to decide what is best for our children, without being obliged to listen carefully enough to the people who almost always know those children's needs best--that is to say, their parents.

My daughter is extremely fortunate to go to a Camphill Community Rudolf Steiner boarding school for children in need of special care. There is not time for me this evening to explain to your Lordships just how that school has worked such wonders for my daughter, but I hope that noble Lords can accept that it has done so. I would, therefore, be very worried if the emphasis on inclusion were to damage schools like my daughter's. There is tremendous demand from parents for such schools; indeed, far more than can be satisfied.

Of course, at first sight these schools may appear expensive, but that may not really be so if one looks at what the cost has to be of a special unit in a mainstream school which is really able to offer all the advantages of a special school. Small units lose economies of scale, and so if they are to do their job properly--and that is a very important "if"--their per capita cost must become just as high, perhaps sometimes higher, as that of special schools.

My second area of concern is one which we debated under the previous government on several occasions, but to which a solution was not found then. This occurs when children with fairly severe learning difficulties reach the age of 19. I trust this is not outside the scope of this debate because these young people often have a much lower mental age, and in many ways are still children. But the problem is that social services do not want to take them on, and nor does the FEFC, and so many of them are falling through the gap in the middle. One difficulty here is that higher education tends to be less structured than the school environment, and so lends itself even less easily than primary and secondary education to the kind of protected environment which is so essential for these young people.

Lack of time again prevents me from giving your Lordships specific examples of cases where this is happening but, if the Minister has time, I would be happy to prove to him that this is a serious defect in our educational provision today. I feel sure that the solution is to encourage community special schools and colleges, whereas at the moment they are often discouraged, especially at local level. Whatever happens, we must stop forcing these young people into entirely unsuitable environments or, more often, abandoning them altogether.

8.21 p.m.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my sincere congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on her maiden speech. I thought it was a great speech--and it was--but I doubt whether it fulfilled the criterion of being wholly uncontroversial.

I wish to say a few words about the class of children we are discussing, those children who cannot properly be educated in mainstream schools--the severely emotionally and behaviourally disadvantaged or

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disabled. I entirely agree with the Green Paper that such children are frequently excluded from mainstream schools, or effectively exclude themselves by simply truanting. Therefore it follows that much of their education is bound to be outside the mainstream.

It is a fact that a large number of these children who are excluded from school are children in care who go to school by day--if they go at all--either to mainstream or to special schools and who are either statemented or not statemented. I think the question of who has a statement and who has not is increasingly irrelevant. On my deathbed I shall continue to regret that my committee ever introduced that distinction, but that is by the way.

The alternative of boarding school for some of these children who are in care--even though they may have to go back into care during the holidays--is an option which I think is largely disregarded. That is no doubt partly on grounds of expense but partly, I fear, because of the continuing grave difficulties which stand in the way of social services and the education services collaborating with one another. Boarding school, uniquely, can provide the kind of 24 hour education which is quite often the only and the last hope for severely disturbed and severely disruptive children. That is especially true for those whose parents are not the wonderful, adequate, co-operative, concerned people so often invoked in documents from the DfEE.

I ask the Minister whether it is not time to consider a policy of providing more, better and more properly inspected special boarding schools to replace those which have been closed--this happened over and over again in the past decade--and for which our greatly missed friend Lady Faithfull had a particular fondness and a particular interest in. In her sad absence we ought to reconsider boarding education for children who are so disruptive that they are positively dangerous in a school which cannot give them 24 hour care and care which is centred on education.

My next point is very important. If such schools are inspected--as they must be--the criterion of success must not be simply whether or not they conform to the regulations of the national curriculum. The aim must be that such children should be educated in accordance with the national curriculum, but first they have to learn how to be educated at all. I hope very much that when the Green Paper is debated the question of boarding education will not be neglected.

8.26 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I begin by apologising most profusely to the House for having neglected the most basic task of all; namely, that of adding my name to the speakers' list. I am particularly aggrieved that I did not do this as this is a subject which interests me deeply.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for initiating the debate. Although speakers have had little time in which to speak I am deeply impressed by the points that have been made in the course of this short debate which no doubt will be expanded when we discuss the Green Paper.

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I also add my most warm congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I can remember how daunting it was to make a maiden speech in this House. I was full of trepidation on that occasion. But if the noble Baroness's maiden speech is anything to go by, I am sure we shall hear much more from her in the future which will enrich the debates in this House. I wish to make warm remarks about other speakers. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on the work that she did preceding the 1981 Education Act, and the work that she did to bring the whole issue of special needs educational provision to the centre of our discussions on education. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has worked tirelessly for hundreds of thousands of people, young and not so young. Those people have benefited from his work with people with mental disabilities. My noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has been a doughty fighter--both with me when I was on the Government Front Bench and no doubt with the new Government--in fighting for appropriate provision for young people in education. That will form the thrust of my remarks. We miss my late friend Lady Faithfull when these causes are being fought for.

The 1981 Act was a turning point and a real milestone on the road to placing the needs of young people with disabilities at the centre of education. I am proud to have been involved with the 1993 Act which built on the 1981 Act and came into effect in September 1994. Central to that Act was the concept of giving parents more choice and a presumption always towards meeting the choice where that was possible and where it was consistent with the needs of the child. From that date on all schools were required to have regard to a code of practice--I understand that code of practice has been widely welcomed throughout the educational sector--and all schools had to publish information on their special needs policies and to report annually to parents. The code of practice and guide for parents were published later that year.

Ofsted carry out inspections. It was given responsibility for monitoring the code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs. That is stated in the foreword to the code of practice. Ofsted has reported twice now on the working of the Act in 1995-96 and again in 1996-97. Those reports are well worth consulting in order to address weaknesses and to build on strengths. Each school is required under the code to keep a register of all children with special needs and to keep records. A five-stage approach was established which makes a great deal of sense. I refer to early identification, dealing with those problems that can be dealt with effectively in school by developing plans for each and every child. However, where the school believes through the special educational needs co-ordinator that those needs cannot be met entirely by the school and require external support, it works with other agencies.

I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said about statementing. However, the system provides an official statement of the needs of a child and the rights of the child to have those needs met.

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I conclude by saying to the Minister that I hope any changes contemplated will build on the 1993 Act. I hope that the inspection reports will be used, and that policies will be based on a sound assessment of need and the effective provision to address such need. Early identification must be the key. I also wish to thank the Minister's honourable friend in another place, Ms. Estelle Morris, with whom I had a fruitful meeting recently on this matter. Again, the need is for the most appropriate provision for young people. Mainstream is not always the answer. Therefore we must not give way only to some ideological philosophy which says that integration and inclusion is the only way forward.

8.30 p.m.

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