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Let us look at the north-west of England where my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) has taken a particular interest in these matters. He has been a doughty defender of the interests of special needs pupils, parents and special schools. I hope that I may beg your indulgence for a moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to my hon. Friend. He has played a key role in defending the interests of Brook Farm school and its pupils. It was kept open for a year due, almost entirely, to his efforts and those in the community whom he backed. I was lucky enough to visit that school, as was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on one occasion.
In Cheshire, which has 380 schools, there are 17 special schools. In the Wirral, which has 154 schools, there are 13 special schools. These percentages, or ratios, suggest that the provision of special education, or, certainly, special education in special schools, is by no means uniform.
Mr. O'Brien: The Minister is familiar with Brook Farm school because we have had a number of meetings and a lot of correspondence about it. Following the school adjudicators' adjudication, the school has been confirmed for closure. I have a letter from the chairman of the governors of Brook Farm school saying how disappointed and saddened they all are by the decision.
Mr. Hayes: I do not want to be taken to Cheshire for the whole of my speech, although that would be a happy journey and a pleasant experience. My hon. Friend is right to give that example as an illustration of a bigger problem. It is true, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley said in Committee, that some local authorities have assumed that they have a green light to close special schools. The closure of special schools, like their survival, is a patchy matter. In certain parts of the country it is difficult, in practical terms, to gain access to the sort of special school that parents might choose if they thought that that was in the interest of their child and if the child's statement specified that it would provide the most appropriate education for them.
Mr. Bercow: I say nothing to detract from the perspicacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien). However, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) said that he did not want to spend the whole of his speech in or around Cheshire, so may I take this opportunity to put on the record a fact of which I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is aware? The Furzedown special school in Winslow in my Buckingham constituency, whose head teacher is Mr. Norman Ward, does an outstanding job. It receives relatively little credit or attention and I wonder whether it could have the pleasure of a tribute from my hon. Friend.
Mr. Hayes: I do not hand out tributes lightly but I am always happy to pay a tribute to anyone recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham), for any friend of my hon. Friend is a friend of mine. I know that he would not advertise the good work of that school unless it were entirely justified.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I am listening closely to the hon. Gentleman, and I think that we are in the realm of red herrings. To talk about the number of schools per authority implies that we need X number of schools for X number of statements. Does he agree that a statement requires a provision that matches its needs and that such a provision can be offered just as well in a non-special needs school as in a special needs school? I am hoping that there will be a time when no authority will have special needs schools and all children, regardless of ability, will be integrated into one school.
Mr. Hayes: I do not share that view; I think that there is a need for a diversity of provision, by which I mean a mix of children who have been properly and well integrated into mainstream schools, of special units attached to mainstream schools and of special schools which exist, for example, for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. There will always be a number of EBD children who may be better educated outside the mainstream.
Different children have different disabilities. The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) is not present at the moment, but he said in Committee, and again today, that he considers that children with profound hearing problems are often educated better in special schools. The same will be true of children with other problems.
A point made in Committee is worth repeating today--that we should remember that special needs are dynamic. There may therefore be a need for children to move in and out of mainstream schools as their special need changes. I am thinking particularly about children with acquired brain injury, which is a special interest of mine. The special need of such children is hard to define, and it will change and have to be redefined. The skills to teach those children are difficult to impart to teachers. Those children may at some times receive better education outside the mainstream, although they may be moved back into the mainstream at certain points in their educational progress and personal development.
I therefore do not entirely share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), but I acknowledge--I thought I had done so already but I shall repeat the point--that it is not enough to say that patchy provision means that all children do not receive a good education. Education delivery may depend on the relative success of integration strategy: authorities that took such a strategy seriously early on are probably further down the road to the successful integration of special needs children into mainstream schools. That will have an effect on the number of special schools that remain in existence in those authorities.
However, it is not possible to assume that that will always be the case. I do not mean that as a partisan statement. Some local authorities give greater priority and emphasis to special educational needs than others, and some have integrated children into the mainstream much more successfully than others. Some allocate greater resources for the task, and place greater emphasis on good special schools than others.
The word that I used earlier to describe that variable provision was "patchiness", which affects detrimentally the availability for many children of appropriate education that is in line with statements. The new clause would strengthen the rights of parents and children to have statements that are appropriate and quantifiable. It would ensure that statements were sufficiently specific to allow proper education to be provided in line with children's needs.
Mr. Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman's primary criticisms of the statementing process are that it is esoteric and resource-driven. It is in parents' interest to seek a statement for their child, as it brings further focus and resources to that child's education. I hope that the hon. Gentleman--with his characteristic charm, panache and eloquence--will say to what extent this rather esoteric new clause would deal with the esoteric nature of statementing. How will it deal with the problem that the statementing process is fundamentally resource-driven?
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: On the particular point about specificity, I have received letters from my constituents, Mrs. Pritchard and Mr. Nicol, both of whom have children with special needs. It is clear from their letters that they are deeply concerned about the specifics of the Bill, especially as the final proposed code of conduct was not available in advance of this debate. They are worried that the new statementing regime could be watered down. What matters to them is to know how many hours of extra educational support their children will receive. Unfortunately, it is thought that the new code of conduct will mean that statements need describe only what is necessary, and that they will not quantify what is to be provided, nor demonstrate its adequacy.