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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman has given way to me on that vital point. So many education authorities did not make statements because they did not have the necessary finance. Will the hon. Gentleman join Opposition Members in pressing the Government to provide the extra resources that will be needed to make the Bill what we want it to be?
Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Resources are, of course, the key to delivering the Bill's objectives. I am speaking post-devolution, at a time when the responsibility for providing such resources in Scotland lies with the Scottish Executive, which is answerable to the Scottish Parliament. Already more resources are being made available for education in Scotland. The delivery of those resources in some respects increases the distinctiveness of Scotland's system of education from that in England and Wales.
I am satisfied that the Government will deliver the resources that are necessary to achieve the objectives of this legislation in Scotland. My local authority is already doing a significant amount in that respect.
As I said, I am a relative newcomer to these issues, and I am very grateful to the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Scotland and to Children in Scotland for helping me to understand some of these provisions and to work my way through the implications for Scotland. I could have doubled the list cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood of organisations supporting the legislation, wishing it a fair wind and wishing to see it enacted very soon, simply by adding the word "Scotland" to the name of every organisation that he mentioned. I was tempted to make an intervention at the time, but I thought that the point would probably be better made in my speech.
The Under-Secretary responsible for disabled people and disability rights, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber to hear this, met with those organisations, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and myself on 27 February to discuss some of the Bill's implications for Scotland. It was a very constructive meeting. On behalf of us all, may I say how grateful we are to the Minister and the civil servants in her Department? It is comparatively unusual, these days, for a Scottish Member of Parliament to have such meetings with civil servants in that Department. The civil servants were extremely helpful and their understanding of the differences in relation to Scotland was encouraging. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary undertook to write to the relevant Minister in the Scottish Executive, and she has done so. I am sure that progress will be made. I hope that my hon. Friend's fellow Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), will forgive me if I go on to raise some of the issues that we discussed, because it is important that they are put on the record.
I say that this is a good piece of legislation for the same reasons as all other right hon. and hon. Members. It will advance significantly the educational opportunities of pupils and students with disabilities and special educational needs. I support wholeheartedly the principle of inclusive education. From the experience of my constituents, inclusive education, when properly provided, adds to the lives of our children, improves educational standards and benefits child and parent alike. I agree with the hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough that, through it, children come to value difference and treat their colleagues with the respect they deserve. My own children have learned from the experience.
Although inclusive education presents teachers with a professional challenge, they, too, learn from experience. They are able to translate positive skills for the benefit of all young people in their care. As I see it, this is a win, win situation.
An integrated inclusive approach to education is of paramount importance in a modern education service. I recognise that there are many benefits to individual students with special needs in East Ayrshire schools who are included in local educational provision--a practice that is positively promoted and supported in the council's education and social services department. For example, a blind pupil who attended a Kilmarnock school has gone on to Strathclyde university. The most important aspect of that man's experience of school was that his accomplishment as a musician was encouraged through performance in school shows and the annual East Ayrshire showcase. That involvement would have been denied him had he not been included in mainstream education.
One deaf young person had a distinguished academic career in a Kilmarnock school before going on to Glasgow university. Even before leaving school, he was an articulate advocate for the deaf community, engaging regularly in advanced debates with council officers about service provision for people with disabilities. He became a leading figure in his school community.
A number of autistic spectrum children are totally integrated within the mainstream school setting in my constituency. Another fine example is the facility for children of secondary school age that has been established at Grange academy for about 20 years now. Young people with hearing impairments are supported in a purpose-built base, but their main learning takes place in classrooms beside, and on the same basis as, children of the same age. In that way, the pupils become fully integrated into the life of the school and its wider community; they are able to participate in the same range of artistic, sporting and cultural activities enjoyed by their peer group. They are able to gain exactly the same range and nature of qualifications as other young people. That important point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood.
More important, the Grange hearing-impaired pupils have learned to relate to their classmates on an equal footing. In turn, their peers accept them as equals, learning about their culture and sign language, and befriending them on an equal basis.
My final example relates to a young student in an East Ayrshire secondary school who has a most complex package of educational, social work and learning support, but who has been successfully integrated into the school. Furthermore, because the education department was the sole pilot authority for the education maintenance allowance scheme in Scotland, many young people--some with exceptional needs--have been helped and supported in the community with a financial bonus to stay in education.
My contribution to the debate will focus on the Scottish dimensions of the Bill. Its passage through another place has been especially interesting to me as a Scottish Member. This is the first occasion, post-devolution, that Parliament has considered equal opportunities legislation that has an impact on a devolved matter--education. Although serious efforts have been made by the DFEE to take account of the differences in the Scottish education system, some questions remain--perhaps inevitably. It is those questions that I want to address. I will argue that, in order to ensure clarity in implementation, a separate Scottish code of practice should be drafted by the Scottish Disability Rights Commission to accompany the legislation in Scotland.
Members will be well aware that Scotland has a distinct system of education--I am sure that many of my predecessors from Scotland will have told the House that often enough. Of particular relevance to today's debate are the differences relating to special educational needs. For example, unlike England and Wales, Scotland does not have a special educational needs tribunal system, nor do we have statementing. Moreover, the Scottish equivalent to statementing--the record of needs--is soon likely to be abolished, or at least substantially reviewed. Those expected reforms come in response both to withering criticism of the record of needs procedure from every quarter of the Scottish education scene, and to this
I highlight those differences because the provisions of the Bill that proved most controversial in Scotland appear to be predicated precisely on statementing and SEN tribunal arrangements that pertain only to England and Wales. The two most controversial provisions are the lack of a right to financial recompense for disabled schoolchildren who have experienced discrimination, and the exemption from the duty of reasonable adjustment of auxiliary aids and services and of physical features. I shall briefly deal with each of those provisions.
On the thorny question of financial recompense, I preface my comments by saying that I share the Secretary of State's emphasis on the prime importance of educational remedies in cases of disability discrimination. The problem arises in the minority of cases where no educational remedy is available. In that connection, I received a briefing from a Scottish disability charity which asks:
Although the sectors in England and Wales may be somewhat divided in their view of financial recompense in cases where an education remedy is not available, the Scottish sector is united. Indeed, it is as united on that matter as it is on its wish to see the Bill enacted. Joint amendments on the issue were drafted for another place by RNIB Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland and the Children in Scotland consortium. Although I am not supporting any amendments at this stage in the Bill's passage, the issue may have to be revisited at a future date.
The second controversial provision in the Bill, from my perspective, is the exclusion from the reasonable adjustment duty both of auxiliary aids and services and of physical access to schools. Again, there is a Scottish dimension: the record of needs system, which should provide the necessary support for disabled pupils, patently does not work. Indeed, in a submission to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, the Forum on Scottish Education stated:
I am mindful of the time, so I shall deal quickly with the physical accessibility of schools in rural areas of Scotland. Although it may be possible to invest in the accessibility of schools serving disabled pupils from a wider catchment area in towns and cities, that is not easily achievable in rural Scotland, where the nearest school may be more than 100 miles away.
My final point is on the case for a separate Scottish code of practice. Scottish education is distinct--it always has been; post-devolution, it is diverging even more from the system in England and Wales. There is thus a strong lobby in Scotland for a separate Scottish code of practice, drafted by the Scottish Disability Rights Commission. That will avoid something that we have had to put up with for years: Anglocentric legislation with references to Scotland in footnotes and between brackets.
The Bill should be viewed alongside recent measures that significantly enhance the effectiveness of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, such as the creation of the Disability Rights Commission. The failure of the Conservative Government to extend the DDA to education has long been highlighted by disability campaigners as a major weakness of that legislation. The Bill addresses that weakness, and it does so for Scotland; the Secretary of State and the Government should rightly feel proud of that.