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The Earl of Effingham: My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for raising this very important subject. RADAR, a national organisation run by and working with disabled people, focuses on the social implications of rehabilitation and is not involved in the treatment.

The action programme, launched in November 1998 by the Minister for School Standards, Estelle Morris, is welcomed. It is a positive document which seeks to set out clear priorities and policies for moving forward the ideas set out in the 1997 Green Paper entitled, Excellence for all Children: Meeting Special Education Needs.

The noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, mentioned the statements' issue. I reinforce his comments. Many statements do not have clear objectives and goals. They lack clarity over the review process and too many children and parents go to tribunals to have their needs met. Scope, which the noble Lord mentioned, has identified four key areas of concern. First, the statements make a distinction between educational and non-educational provision to meet a child's needs. Depending on which part of the statement outlines the provision, it is either legally binding on the local education authority or not. This is why Scope is reminding the Government that their 1997 Green Paper proposed to do away with the distinction, which will mean that all provisions in the statement will have to be provided.

Secondly, this distinction also related to transport, which is not always available to the schools or the children. Thirdly, children often do not get the educational materials they need. The statement should include clear details of equipment to be supplied. Finally, parent partnership schemes and independent parental supporters must be truly independent and be seen to be independent. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment on these concerns.

The new code of practice is welcome. It gives guidance on contents and procedures regarding statements on special education needs and is to apply also to secondary schools.

I should like to recount one example of the problems facing a nine year-old boy in a mainstream school even when he appeared to be receiving proper support. He has spastic diplegia; his legs are more affected than his

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arms and he has learning difficulties. He attended a special school until he was seven when an assessment concluded that he was excelling his peer group and he made the move to a mainstream primary school. He was awarded a full-time learning support assistant and a regular visit from the health trust physiotherapist. The school adapted a small room and put in ramps and handrails. Parents and school met together to discuss his lack of progress and together they contacted Scope.

The following problems were apparent. Although the boy received regular physiotherapy in the school the staff had not been advised about his need for stable seating. Despite his increasing difficulty using a pencil, his need for information technology had not been assessed. Despite the fact that he was to leave his primary school in less than 18 months, no one had considered whether the local secondary school was accessible. As it happened, it was not. Would the Minister care to comment on this case?

I should now like to mention briefly the special education needs of severely disabled service and ex-service personnel and their dependants. In March 1996 the Royal British Legion's vocational assessment centre at Aylesford in Kent was opened. Its most important activities are three days of detailed psychometric tests and referral to on-site medical and therapeutic intervention. The Legion's centre has taken over a sizeable proportion of statutory welfare services. I would therefore ask the noble Baroness the Minister to take note.

In conclusion, significant developments have occurred over the past decade but there is still a great deal of ignorance and prejudice about what conductive education means. It is a holistic approach and the needs of children are traditionally provided by a range of therapists, some of whom oppose its developments. It must be said, however, that some of the most enthusiastic supporters are found in these professions.

7.44 p.m.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, this is a very important subject that my noble friend Lord Iveagh has introduced for debate this evening. There are many charities which help with disabled children and young people. Scope, the charity for people with cerebral palsy and allied disabilities, including those with very serious disabilities such as muscular dystrophy and spina bifida, has been supporting the development of conductive education as one of the options available for meeting the needs of children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Some years ago I was invited to the Hungarian Embassy to see a film on conductive education, filmed in the Peto Institute in Budapest, which was extremely interesting. One could see how the children were developing, but it was also physically very hard and exhausting for them, and not suitable for all. It is an emotive subject which causes a lot of feeling as it is an extremely expensive form of education. I can understand parents pushing to have their children educated by

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conductive education, but it should be seen against the wider context of 20 per cent. of all children in the United Kingdom having special educational needs. This was defined in the broad sense by the Warnock Committee's report in 1978.

The Government are to be congratulated on launching new policies in the field of special educational needs. They have taken some major new initiatives to promote the education of children with special needs in mainstream schools while at the same time retaining a range of special schools to meet the needs of a small minority of children who cannot manage a mainstream school. There is always the hope that some of these children who need very specialist help will manage as they get older to move to a mainstream school.

It is very important that the education of children with very special needs is not overlooked when it comes to supporting them with the equipment they need. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf is concerned that there is a need for large-scale research into the educational progress of deaf children of school age in the United Kingdom. The last large-scale survey of the educational attainments of deaf school-leavers dates from 1979. This is obviously now out of date because of the radical changes to patterns of educational placement and teaching approach used with deaf children over the past 20 years. Does the Minister agree that there is now a need for a new survey of these children's attainments in the light of the changes that have taken place?

Disability organisations welcome the commitment that the Government have made to inclusion, that disabled children should not be forced to fit into a system not designed for their needs, but that schools can be designed to include most children, although some will still need a special school. Access and inclusion for disabled children does not just include ramps. It includes access to educational materials of all kinds.

Technology is helping to overcome many of the difficulties that disabled children have faced in the past. Children should be given support and help in using new technology that is suitable to their needs. The Royal National Institute for the Blind found that many of the people it spoke to expressed concern about the quality of education that young children and young people were receiving rather than the type of school they went to.

Mobility training is an important part of every visually impaired child's educational entitlement. It needs to be taught from a very early age as it is a central part of a child's education and preparation for adult independence. Does the Minister agree that mobility has to be comprehensive, to include cane use, which is very important when it comes to navigating obstructions on pavements, guide dogs, the use of pedestrian crossings and many other requirements? Can the noble Baroness the Minister say whether there are sufficient teachers for this very important subject?

One major issue in providing materials for literacy is in alternative media, such as electronic format, which involves copyright. At the moment publishers do not

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give permission for materials to be sorted or transmitted by electronic means. This is a great disadvantage to young children and children at school who are visibly impaired and for whom electronic media are the most versatile to meet their needs. Is the Minister aware of this problem with copyright?

I apologise for asking the Minister yet another question. The programme of action is summarising action over the next three years. Can she say what progress has so far been made, as it is welcomed warmly by many charities working in this field?

7.50 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl for introducing this important debate. Some noble Lords may remember that back in 1992 I led a fundraising drive to Budapest to raise money for the Stepping Stones appeal. This was to support the National Institute of Conductive Education in Birmingham to help people disabled by a variety of conditions, mostly Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis in adults, and cerebral palsy in children, although all forms of motor disorders caused by damage to the central nervous system can benefit from the treatment, including those who suffer some of the more serious aftermaths of strokes. Our drive consisted of a convoy of licensed taxis from all over the UK escorted by members of four British police forces in two police vehicles. We drove them to the Peto Institute in Budapest.

The Hungarians have rightly been credited as being the pioneers of this innovative form of treatment. Alone in the world, they did not reject as hopeless children with cerebral palsy. All too often, these children were written off as sad cases, who would never be able to do anything for themselves or play a useful role in society. It was never thought possible to teach them anything different, so no one tried, except a remarkable man in Budapest.

The institute in Hungary was founded in the 1950s by Dr. Andras Peto. When he first started, he was subjected to ridicule and disbelief by his colleagues in the medical profession, but he persevered. I will not forget watching as a six year-old girl from Braintree took her first staggering steps on her own. Her parents had been told that she would never walk and they would have to do everything for her for the rest of her life. But here she was, walking, and by doing so, defying all professional advice available at that time in the UK. We are not talking about the Dark Ages; we are talking about 1992. The expression on her face was memorable; concentration, determination, intense pride and satisfaction at her achievement. She was going to do it, my Lords, and nothing was going to stop her. It didn't, and she did.

The reason for our fundraising efforts was so that that little girl and her parents, and hundreds, and I daresay thousands, like them would not have to travel to Budapest to get treatment. We wanted the same levels of care and attention that were available in Hungary to be available in the UK. Noble Lords may like to be reminded that our efforts raised nearly £35,000.

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I pestered quite a large number of your Lordships to make a contribution and the response was typically generous.

Conductive education offers no miracle cure, but it does offer genuine hope to thousands of people who would otherwise have none. We ran that convoy to Hungary as a tribute to the Hungarians for what they had pioneered in the face of global scepticism. In doing so, I believe that we, in this House, played a small part in establishing in the United Kingdom this great gift to the world from Hungary.

Since it was first set up in 1987, our own institute of conductive education has gone from strength to strength, and the news continues to spread. There are now no fewer than 30 centres or institutions for conductive education in the UK alone, more than 40 in Germany, more than 50 in the United States, with still more in Israel, Scandinavia, Australasia and elsewhere. In June this year there will be a gathering of some of them in Birmingham.

One of the main tenets of Dr. Peto's beliefs was that his methods could often achieve what everyone else said could never be done; namely, to teach children who suffered from severe motor disorders to attain levels of physical and psychological development which would allow them to benefit from schooling. Therefore it seems that our education system must take into account that its responsibilities towards seriously disabled children do not begin and end with getting them access to the national curriculum, but it must also support a development curriculum which is essential before these kids can benefit from schooling. This is the whole point of conductive education. As far as the Government are concerned, funds should be made available to establishments which teach it from both the Department of Health and the Department for Education, because one depends on the other. If government funds are not made available, then it is my submission that they are failing in their duty to offer free education to each and every child in the UK, including those who suffer serious disabilities.

Conductive education needs all the support it can get. I am sure that the Government are very much aware of the valuable role it plays in our society. I urge the Minister to make every representation possible for government funds to be allocated. If anyone remains doubtful of the astonishing potential ability of this form of treatment, I recommend that they take themselves to the national institute in Birmingham and have a look for themselves. They will be amply rewarded for their time and trouble. While they are there, they ought to dig deep into their pockets and make a much needed donation to the National Institute of Conductive Education. Another name for it could be the National Institute for Hope, for both the young and the not so young. Parents of children with motor disorders, sufferers from Parkinson's disease, MS and strokes, all have reasons to be for ever grateful to that pioneer and brave man from Budapest, Dr. Andras Peto. One day, who knows, you and I may have cause to be grateful too.

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7.56 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Iveagh for bringing this topic to the notice of your Lordships. That this subject is being discussed today will be of encouragement to parents of severely disabled children who sometimes feel they have insurmountable struggles to overcome.

There are so many aspects of special needs education. As conductive education has been so well covered, I should like to spend my few moments on wider matters, as there are so many different needs which should be addressed. My feeling is that children with special education needs and their parents should have choices. Sometimes these children can thrive and benefit in mainstream schools if they have the necessary support and therapy so that they grow without developing further problems. Other delicate and vulnerable children cannot thrive in a mainstream school and it could put them in a dangerous position.

It is important that children are treated as individuals and that their needs are assessed, not for the convenience of a local education authority but because the full potential development, both physical and educational, of an individual child is paramount.

Some time ago I was invited to give the prizes at a comprehensive school in Watford. There were about nine physically disabled children who had done well academically but I noticed that several of them had serious problems of sclerosis. I asked the headmaster whether they had physiotherapy. He said, "No, there are not enough to make it worthwhile." A growing child who has to sit in a wheelchair will need therapy to keep his or her limbs from becoming contracted and deformed.

On another visit to a special school near Stockton-on-Tees it was observed by a general practitioner who attended that the working school day was rather short. The headmaster said, "So many of the children are brought into school by ambulance personnel who have to dress the children as the parents were still in bed recovering from the night before." The headmaster said that if he did not give the children breakfast they went to sleep by the middle of the morning. Social problems are very real in many families where there is disability.

I recently visited a school for deaf children and was full of admiration for the expertise and dedication of the teachers and the support of parents. I feel that many children with severe disabilities need the peer support, and they learn from each other techniques to overcome their disabilities. Children with disabilities can become isolated if they do not have support when they need it.

I was impressed some time ago when I visited Germany looking at rehabilitation facilities and met the therapists involved. They have a combined three-year qualification for ergotherapeuts. This is a combination of therapist and nursing skills for working with disabled children. One of the problems in the United Kingdom is that different people from different professional groups sometimes give parents conflicting advice. I hope that the holistic speciality will be looked at.

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Will the Minister get together with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and try to improve the special needs education in secure units and young offender institutions? There is a serious problem of dyslexia, and, because schools have not addressed the problems early enough it is possible that young people without good parent support will turn to crime and unsocial behaviour through total frustration. If a child gets into trouble and has a statement for special needs, will that be adhered to within the penal system or if the child is in local authority secure accommodation?

8 p.m.

The Earl of Macclesfield: My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Iveagh for raising this important matter.

I should like to try to persuade the Minister of the value of training teachers in a diagnostic way. A general practitioner is there to deal with normal ailments and to diagnose specialist problems and send them elsewhere for treatment. Exactly the same is required in teachers; they have to spot a pupil with an abnormality as opposed to one who is not good enough or who is malingering.

My interest in this matter is that I have a daughter of nearly 30, Tanya, who is dyslexic, and that Stephen, who works for me and is the same age, is also dyslexic. Tanya's problem was picked up by her mother when she was aged about six, because her mother was an infant teacher and could not believe that at the end of the school day her daughter would not look her in the face and come home happily. That is the first behavioural problem that one can get, out of frustration. Her work was handed to a schoolfriend's mother, a remedial teacher, who took one look at it and said, "I cannot diagnose it, but there is a problem here". It was taken for granted that our daughter was trying and was not a malingerer. She went into the diagnostic system and out came dyslexia, at which point I simply told Tanya, "Your brain is connected up differently. You have to be taught differently". Away went all the pressure and any sign of frustration.

Fortunately, Tanya is of a placid temperament, as is Stephen, who got through, without ending up in Borstal, the state system, which totally failed to diagnose anything. It did not see any problem, when to me, as the father of a dyslexic, it was blindingly obvious once I saw his first written efforts. Anybody else would probably have tried to ease him out of the door. I was quite happy talking to somebody of intelligence and I could see what the problem was. Under other circumstances he could easily have found himself on the scrap heap, being treated as stupid, dumb and the rest.

Stephen also came out of the state system with virtually no vocabulary. To start with I had to simplify my conversations with him. Any third person walking in would have wondered what on earth I was doing holding a childish conversation. Everything has come to fruition in that sense, simply because I told him, "You have to see things my way. I can read what you write down, but if you disappear and don't leave me a message, and I am in trouble as a result, I shall get out my sharp knife and proceed in Japanese fashion".

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Having come to that amicable arrangement, I go home and find odd spellings that I do not even notice now. He has not infused me with his idea of spelling--at least, I do not think so. I have seen the traditional dyslexia symptom of the same word written three times in a paragraph, each time differently. In that case he actually got one right. I laughed when I saw this. He looked up from his work and I said, "You have written the same word three times, each time differently, and you have actually got one right". I did not see any point in saying, "That's the correct one", because I suspected his brain would do anything it chose five minutes later.

When I talk about early diagnosis, I am referring to those who are severely disabled and who in principle can be taught in class, with extra tuition. Two things can be done. The first is to stabilise the child. Secondly, any teacher who is anything approaching a good teacher will be able to show the rest of the class that there is nothing stupid about that particular child; it is simply that the teaching needs to be different, so that if the other children see odd things written down they know it is nothing to laugh about--it is just one of those things.

Children are nasty creatures. If one starts early in class with them and they are given a straight explanation one will get a straight reaction, and they will probably pitch in and help. It is much the same as when a child keeps asking, "Why?" There are occasions when one does not know how to respond, except with a straight answer, which one is fairly sure he or she will not understand. If one produces that straight answer, one stops what is going on. Similarly, if one produces a straight answer in this context one will stop any sign of bullying that might go on, which again would increase frustration and pitch the child concerned into Borstal and the types of problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, described.

I think and hope that I have made a case for the noble Baroness the Minister to go back to the Treasury, which is notoriously mean about everything, and suggest that there could actually be a dividend on the investment here, on the ground that, put very simply, one less officer might be needed in Borstal, because there will not be the same number of offenders there. In addition there will not be a need for the same number of counsellors trying to sort out families, with the mother and father at loggerheads because the child is in the state that has been described. They do not understand, because they have never seen it, and if they have not diagnosed it they will be in the same frustrated position as the child, which is talking and seems perfectly normal, until a pen is put in his or her hand and something goes totally wrong.

I hope that effort will be put in particularly to getting teachers to understand the problems. Then even if there is not the money to put some of this right, at least the teacher will be able to help the child through the formative years.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield, I should declare an interest. I am the father of a very severely handicapped child,

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handicapped mentally and physically, aged 44 and with a mental age of two, who has never been able to be taught anything except to put a spoon into her mouth if it has food in it. She does not know what to do with the spoon when she has done that. My other interest happens to be that, thanks to her, I have been associated with MENCAP for over 30 years, and I have been chairman and president of it.

I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh. Indeed, until some months ago he drew my attention to conductive education I had never heard of it and knew nothing about it. Of course, it covers a wide range of problems with people of all ages, and even people of my advanced age, I am glad to say. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will assure us when she replies that the Government will examine deeply and with open minds the possibilities of conductive education, for it may help to solve a wide range of acute personal problems. I should add that it covers even people who have had strokes or have Parkinson's disease. As has been mentioned, we in the United Kingdom are lagging behind some other countries in pursuing the advantages of conductive education.

In the short time allotted to me in this debate, I should like to consider the extent to which special schools should be used for people with learning disabilities or whether they should enter the ordinary education system. I have noticed and have read with interest what the Government have said on this matter. Perhaps I may refer to page 6 of the Government's summary of the special educational needs system, which states:

    "We confirm that specialist provision--including special schools--will continue to play a vital role".

I submit that there are five reasons why people with learning difficulties do better in special schools than in ordinary schools. First, many such people need much more specialist and individual attention than can be given in ordinary schools. Secondly, while they are in special schools, their individual needs can be met by teachers specially trained for the purpose. Thirdly, when mentally handicapped young people attend ordinary schools, it is well known that they develop an inferiority complex. That is hardly surprising when a great mass of ordinary children are tearing around them. Fourthly, there have been some sad cases of bullying of mentally handicapped children attending ordinary schools. That, above all, should be avoided. Fifthly and finally, I believe that the presence of children with learning difficulties or mental handicaps in ordinary schools--noble Lords may choose whichever phrase they prefer; I think that "mental handicap" is a more accurate term because everyone has a learning difficulty: I cannot play the piano with more than one finger!--places a burden on the teachers and that that may interfere with the education of normal children.

Those are the main matters that I had wanted to raise, but as there is a little more time left to me I wonder whether I dare raise a matter which is not the responsibility of the noble Baroness and her department, but of the Department of Health, which knows of the views that some of us hold on this matter. It may be relevant to the debate to mention them. I refer to the question of where people with learning difficulties

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should live, perhaps for the rest of their lives, especially if their parents either are dead or can no longer look after them. My daughter lives in a splendid village community, where she is wonderfully looked after. A wide variety of people with mental handicaps live there. Some of them are well enough to go out to work; others, like my daughter, could not possibly do so, but they are all part of the local community which takes an interest in them. We must keep an open mind on that matter. There is a splendid body in the north of England called RESCARE which advocates the care of such people in village communities. It has pointed out that even a former asylum can be adapted, if it has spacious grounds, to form a splendid village community.

I must now sit down, but before doing so I should mention that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, cannot be here tonight because of a sad family reason. His absence is regrettable because he has done wonderful work for MENCAP.

8.14 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I add the thanks of these Benches to those paid to the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for initiating this debate. There have been some moving and cogent speeches. My first contact with the Institute for Conductive Education was over 10 years ago when it was seeking sponsorship for sending its first conductors for training at the Peto Institute in Hungary. As we have heard, there are now some 30 centres employing conductors, including centres such as Craighalbert in Scotland and PACES in Sheffield. Noble Lords may have seen in the press that those centres were established as a result of extraordinary individual efforts, including in particular fundraising efforts.

One of the better things done by the previous government was to support the Peto Institute in a major way over a number of years as a result of a visit made to Hungary by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister. As a result of the efforts of the institute, and principally of Scope, conductive education is no longer regarded as an esoteric treatment but as a mainstream treatment. As pointed out by, among others, my noble friend Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, conductive education provides the essential development work needed to give children the basic skills to access the mainstream school curriculum.

Although believing that ultimately it is desirable for all children with disabilities to take advantage of mainstream education if they can, we on these Benches do not believe that that should be elevated to dogma in the name of "inclusion" as some groups appear to believe. It is not true to say that,

    "all forms of provision provided in separate special schools can be provided in mainstream schools" as the Alliance for Inclusive Education and others appear to think. My noble friend Lord Addington dealt with that point very well. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, provided cogent reasons why children suffering from learning disabilities may in certain circumstances need special education in separate schools.

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Parents and children should be allowed to form their own judgment and make their own decisions. That is why I welcome the tone of both the Government's Green Paper of October 1997 and the recent action programme, published last year. I welcome also the Government's consultation over the code of practice which was published earlier this year. These moves clearly demonstrate the priority being accorded to special educational needs by the Government. I welcome that tone specifically because Ministers confess that although believing the maximum inclusion to be desirable they want to take a pragmatic approach. They have stated--I am sure that the Minister will restate it tonight--that the needs of the individual child come first. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, made that point cogently.

We on these Benches welcome the attention that will be paid to the training of special needs assistants through a national framework for training. We also welcome the fact that the Health Bill contains mechanisms to improve the interface between health authorities and education departments, particularly as regards speech and language therapy which seems to fall the wrong side of the educational/non-educational divide. However, major challenges are involved, given the cuts in school nursing provision and the devolution of healthcare policy to primary care groups and trusts.

We on these Benches obviously want to enter a number of caveats. We appreciate the need to minimise the bureaucracy of statementing and the Government's desire to avoid statementing where possible and to make the best use of the time of educational psychologists. However, statementing is an important way for parents to assess legal rights that are otherwise not available. Parents need first to be convinced of the quality of the provision before forgoing their legal rights.

Incidentally, as a lawyer, I find it somewhat odd that in the Pamela Phelps case there is a dispute with an education authority as to whether or not a child is owed a duty of care by the psychologist producing the statement. A statement is a crucial foundation for the future education of a child with learning difficulties. Is it so odd to expect to be able to rely on it legally? Have the Government received advice on the impact of the Human Rights Act on Part IV of the Education Act 1996?

As we move towards more "inclusion" of children with learning difficulties into mainstream education, there must be the resources provided to ensure that they are given the assistance they need and that they are not isolated. Above all, there must be the resources to ensure that all children have full physical access to mainstream schools.

We welcome the increase in money available under the schools access initiative this year and the promise of more to come, but the "Within Reach" survey carried out by Scope and the NUT in 1993 showed that at least another £200 million on top of that is needed to provide adequate physical facilities for those with special needs.

If the alternative to statementing is early intervention, education authorities need to be proactive and to have the resources to identify those with special educational

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needs. If the intention is that statements are to be substituted by more proactive early intervention, the system should be more efficient than the current one and not simply an excuse to save resources.

In that context, on these Benches we are not encouraged by the replies of the Minister to my questions about identification of certain categories of children with special educational needs, although I thank her for the courtesy of her most recent reply before today's debate. However, my question concerned why, in England, we shall not follow the Scottish school census, which has some 14 different categories and which would enable us to identify the particular learning difficulties experienced by children. That will enable the Scots to track educational outcomes, which is a matter of major importance when it comes to assessing the performance of schools and teachers and, of course, the children themselves.

The Green Paper, published in 1997, placed heavy emphasis on outcomes. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, cogently described the issue of assessing attainment, as raised by the RNID. Yet the Minister has stoutly resisted any suggestion that in England we have anything to learn from Scotland and declared that the department has no intention of following the Scottish way in the English census. If I had the time, I would expand on that further and its impact in certain areas because it does not allow us to track the incidence of important conditions such as autistic spectrum disorder. However, I am partly encouraged by the Minister's reply that there will be piloting of the collection of data on what are described, by the department, as low incidence special education needs. No doubt we shall return to the subject.

To return to conductive education, the matter is not without controversy, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned. There are those who claim that there is no evidence of its effectiveness. However, I believe that the children demonstrate its effectiveness, both in person and in some of the videos your Lordships may have seen. I welcome the fact that the institute now offers children under three, in their region, free assessment and treatment. I hope that the department will be able to ensure that that is the case in other regions. That is a major achievement and we should be doing everything in our power to assist them, Scope and other conductive education centres to improve the lives of children in their care.

8.23 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for initiating this debate and for the excellent way in which he introduced it. As so often is the case, time does not allow noble Lords to do justice to such an important topic, which covers so many dimensions of special educational needs. Therefore, I shall have to confine my contribution in this debate.

Issues about which there is agreement on all Benches include early identification of children who have special educational needs, identifying effective teaching and learning practices and, of course, the importance of funding and the effective application of funds.

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I have always thought it important in the context of a debate about children with special educational needs to recognise the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, as has been mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, which culminated in the Education Act 1981. For the first time, the Warnock Committee identified the percentage of children with special educational needs. The breakdown resulted in approximately 2 per cent with severe educational needs and up to a further 18 per cent in need of some degree of special provision.

Throughout the following two decades work continued on improving training, disseminating best practice, improving identification procedures and the targeting of resources. The Education Act 1993 introduced a more structured five-point approach to early identification, which gave schools, local authorities and the medical professionals specific responsibilities.

Parents were given more choice, the right to more information and a greater role in determining the nature of educational provision through a system of statementing. Parents with serious grievances were also given the right of access to a special needs tribunal, although I note that some of the shortcomings of the system in practice, referred to in the debate, merit review. That was always the intention of the department when the measures had been in place for some years. They have now been in place for five to six years.

The Government, following consultation, have now set in train further developments in the field of special education, which is to be welcomed, although we have yet to see the legislation that may be required for implementation. It would be helpful to know from the Minister what progress is being made in preparing such legislation.

I understand from information provided to the Library by the Government that spending on special educational needs was estimated to be £2.5 billion per year. However, the department also went on to say that children with special needs will benefit from increases announced to cover the period of the comprehensive review, 1999-2000 to 2001-2002. Thus, the Government noted that targeted funding for special educational needs would nearly double to £37 million between 1998-99 and 1999-2000. I find the information a little confusing and, therefore, it would be helpful to know the comparable figure for the estimated annual spend of £2.5 billion for each of the next two years.

However, the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, invites us to consider quite specifically the provision of conductive education. I have found what the noble Earl, and other noble Lords, had to say this evening fascinating. I know that this form of education is controversial, especially among professionals. Some of us remember the controversy among professionals about dyslexia. Some dismissed it as a middle-class disease used by parents to cover for the stupidity of their children. I was very moved by the words of the noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield, on that matter. Thank goodness that attitude has changed dramatically over recent years and

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that children with dyslexia are now taken more seriously, although there is still further to go, as other noble Lords have said.

I am also aware of the research into conductive education commissioned by the previous government and published in 1993. That research found no evidence that children receiving conductive education progressed better than comparable children at maintained special schools.

There appears to be considerable evidence of children achieving great progress from conductive education. Many organisations can produce evidence to that effect. An excellent briefing paper, prepared by Scope for this debate, already referred to, is very supportive of conductive education. That organisation should know.

Therefore, would it not be appropriate, given the passing of six years, to commission further research to address many of the questions which remain, despite the previous report of 1993? Is it no more than a trendy and ineffective form of education? Is the reason that local authorities do not refer cases to the conductive education centres a matter of resources or a matter of genuine professional advice? Is the rather, in my view, too aggressive policy of many professionals to integrate children with special needs into mainstream education the reason for the low number of referrals to centres such as the Coldon Welsh School, the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments or the High Green School for Conductive Education and many others? Or could it be, as in the case of dyslexia, that professional prejudice just may give way to the view that conductive education is effective and is worthy of greater support.

The one thing that parents dread is that their children will be born with or will acquire a disability which requires special educational provision. However, so much progress in developing effective special education has been made and there is a wealth of good professional practice which can make a significant difference to the quality of life for the individual and to the peace of mind of their families.

Refurbishment work, I know, is taking place at the Peto Institute in Budapest under an inter-governmental agreement made at the tail-end of the last government. However, in the interest of keeping an open mind and of pursuing all avenues to improve services to children with special educational needs, I hope the Minister will both tell the House of any increased support that may be planned for existing conductive education centres and consider seriously the need to update research into conductive education.

The noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, has certainly given us all food for thought, and he is to be warmly congratulated.

8.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, like other speakers, I welcome the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, sought to use the opportunity to debate this important issue. I also welcome his commitment, shared with many other Members of this

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House--the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was mentioned, as was the noble Lord, Lord Rix--who are committed to ensuring that all children with special educational needs have the opportunity to develop their full potential. That is a commitment which I and my ministerial colleagues share. That is why we are reviewing special educational needs policy and did so soon after coming into office, publishing our SEN Green Paper as early as October 1997 and why, in November last year, we published our programme of action for SEN. That sets out our vision for children with special educational needs and the agenda for developments in SEN for at least the next five years.

Tonight I want to touch on the key themes in the action programme and then say something about how developments within the field of conductive education can both contribute to and support our policies on special educational needs. We are investing significant resources to support the SEN action programme. The noble Earl, Lord Macclesfield, is right to say that there is a payback on investment in this area. This year alone we have provided almost £60 million in targeted funds. But our investment includes virtually doubling the targeted support for SEN under the Standards Fund and increasing five-fold the capital support under the Schools Access Initiative from the £4 million that we inherited to £20 million. There will be further increases in both those areas over the next two years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked specifically about funding under the CSR. Unfortunately, it is not possible separately to identify SEN spending out of general learning aid provision year on year. But we will be requiring LEAs to set out much more clearly how much they are allocating to SEN. That will enable us to make year-on-year comparisons in future, which is important.

I hope that this extra funding will allow us to make real progress in the five areas set out in the action programme, ensuring better support and advice for parents, which a number of noble Lords who have children with special educational needs mentioned; improving the SEN framework; developing a more inclusive education system; developing the knowledge and skills of all staff working with children with special educational needs; and promoting partnership in SEN locally, regionally and nationally. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about legislation. As she is aware, we are committed to legislation, although at this stage I cannot say when that will be.

Perhaps I can now say something about the third of the action programme objectives; that is, developing a more inclusive education system. Several noble Lords made reference to the excellent contribution that centres for conductive education in the UK play in supporting and developing children with cerebral palsy. I endorse that and acknowledge the important role that the many voluntary organisations like Scope, which are concerned with special educational needs, play in supporting children and their parents. Perhaps I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the Government have an open mind in relation to conductive education.

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The Government want a more inclusive system where more children are able to have their needs met in a mainstream school. But the action programme also makes absolutely clear our commitment to a system which is both flexible and responsive; a system with a range of provision sufficiently diverse to meet the equally diverse needs of our children. Let me be absolutely clear. Within the overall framework there will be a continuing role for special schools, including centres which specialise in conductive education. As the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and others made clear, there are many excellent special schools which provide teaching which is highly valued by both parents and pupils. We want to build on their strengths and ensure that they develop closer links with mainstream schools so that their expertise is used to the full. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the needs of the children have to come first and of course the views of parents are very important.

Conductive education is fundamentally about helping children with a motor disability towards independence. Noble Lords will know, as I do, of children who have been helped through conductive education to participate in mainstream schools. We want to build on that and enable more parents to feel confident that their child's needs can be met in mainstream schools.

The noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, asked about the co-ordination of provision. Noble Lords will know that it is government policy that local education authorities should determine provision locally, according to the needs of the individual child. It must be right that parents, teachers and local education officers, working together, are best placed to reach a view on an individual child's needs and the provision to meet those needs, including any specialist equipment that the child might need. However, we recognise that not all LEAs are able to provide the full range of support to pupils in their area. For example, in some areas of low incidence disability there may be a need for provision which goes across local authority boundaries. That is why we are promoting regional co-ordination aimed at helping collaboration between LEAs and other providers.

There are already five first-phase projects which are investigating the co-ordination of different types of service and support. There has been a lot of interest in these projects which is why, just before Christmas, those local authorities not already involved were invited to join the second phase of the programme. It is our intention to extend regional co-ordination of provision in all areas from April next year.

Regional co-operation will help to develop links between local education authorities and other providers, including voluntary organisations. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned parents. Our action programme recognises the key role that they play and the need to ensure that they have better advice and support. That is why we are making at least £18 million available over the next three years to develop and expand parent partnership services. Our aim is that there should be a parent partnership service in every LEA. Through those services, we will

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expect every parent of a child identified as having special educational needs to have access to independent advice.

Therefore, I have been very encouraged to learn of Scope's Schools for Parents Network. It is important that parents understand their child's special needs. That is particularly so in the area of conductive education where parents play a crucial role in helping to develop the child's motor skills.

The Schools for Parents Network is a good example of the initiatives that we want to see developed for parents. I am greatly encouraged by their expansion, which I believe to be a clear testimony of their success, and by the fact that over half of the schools are funded by statutory agencies--either health or education. I am also pleased that two of those schools are jointly funded by health, social services and education. That is an example of a multi-agency approach which is actually working in practice. A number of noble Lords commented on the need for highly skilled professionals to work with children with special needs so that we can maximise their achievements.

I recognise the importance within conductive education of ensuring that there are sufficient appropriately qualified conductors in this country, and the role that the courses run by Keele and Wolverhampton universities play in helping to achieve that aim. I very much welcome the partnership that Scope has with Keele and the international Peto Institute to provide a course which trains UK conductors and ensures that they receive an initial teacher training qualification. I also welcome the fact that we are able to fund this course through the Teacher Training Agency, and that Scope provides additional funds to support the third year of the course at the Peto Institute in Hungary. Officials will be working with Scope to evaluate the Keele course and consider its future development. I hope that that provides the assurance requested by the noble Lord.

Perhaps I may also add that, as part of our discussions with Scope, we will want to review the existing funding arrangements for the year in Hungary and, in the light of this, consider how the course might be funded in the future. We want to explore with Scope the possibility of students being able to carry out their work experience year in the UK as there become greater opportunities for these students to work alongside trained conductors in this country. The noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, stressed the value of more conductive education in the United Kingdom. I hope that that will be possible, if we are able to train more students in this country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about research. As I believe the noble Baroness knows, the department's research priorities are determined through an annual planning cycle, which is designed to ensure that all proposals for research and evaluation result from clear policy and operational needs. Each summer we have a process in which we seek the views of others on possible areas of research; indeed, we do consult widely. However, if Scope or any Members of your Lordships' House believe that there is a case for the department

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conducting further research on conductive education, I hope that they will submit proposals as part of that process.

A number of more specific questions were raised in the debate. I shall not have time to answer many of them, but I shall try to pick up one or two. I shall write to noble Lords with answers to those questions that I will not have time to cover this evening.

Perhaps I may tell the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that we are looking at the implications of the Human Rights Act on SEN. We are awaiting the outcome of the Lord Chancellor's consideration on the overall implications of the legislation. The noble Lord also raised issues about Scotland concerning which he has written to me. I am sorry that he is not altogether satisfied with my answer. However, I do not believe that there was anything in what I said in my letter which would imply that we do not take any notice of what happens in Scotland; we certainly do. Nevertheless, the systems there are somewhat different and, of course, that will continue to be so under devolution.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, commented on deaf children. In particular, the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, asked about research. The department published a literary review last year on the education of deaf children. We are currently working with a consortium of the major deaf organisations to co-ordinate work in the area of the educational attainments of deaf children. I believe that that will determine what further research is needed.

The noble Lady also asked a number of questions about teachers of visually impaired children, copyright issues and mobility training. I hope that she will forgive me if I write to her on those matters rather than try to deal with them tonight as some of them are not perhaps directly related to the subject of conductive education.

Questions were also raised about statementing. Indeed, the noble Earls, Lord Effingham, and Lord Iveagh, asked about that. As regards the independence of the assessor, I can say that LEAs do employ educational psychologists to give clear professional advice and make professional assessments of the child's needs.

I have to tell noble Lords that I have run out of time. However, I should like to conclude by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for raising our awareness of the very important role that Scope and others play in promoting the contribution of conductive education. The Government want to work with the voluntary and other statutory organisations to secure improved provision for all children with special needs, including those who may benefit from a conductive education approach.

8.46 p.m.

The Earl of Iveagh: My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. It has been a debate of very high standard and one which has been both informative and illuminating. I should tell the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has

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sent her apologies to me. She had a long-standing engagement this evening, but would very much have liked to be here.

Within the time available this evening we have covered many very serious issues concerning special needs education. I was delighted to hear many of the encouraging and enlightened words about this type of education from all parts of the Chamber, but most notably and encouragingly from the Minister.

The relevance of the debate has been emphasised by a week in which the Government have seen their largest revolt in the House of Commons over disability issues. Finally, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a little piece of history: this may be the last time that an hereditary Cross-Bench Peer sponsors a Private Member's debate in the presently constituted House of Lords. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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