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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, particularly given his vast experience of these matters as a judge. I am well familiar with the Bail (Amendment) Act. It was my noble friend Lord Mishcon and I who were able to persuade the then Home Office Minister, Mr. Maclean, that that right of appeal was required. I have no statistics
Viscount Brentford: My Lords, first, can the noble Lord say whether research shows that for similar offences the county court imposes a different penalty from that imposed by magistrates in the cases which are being discussed? Secondly, I strongly endorse any steps to reduce the length of time prisoners are kept on remand. I have a vivid picture of two young men lying face down on their beds and the governor saying that they were remand prisoners, that they did not have to do anything and they had refused to do anything. It is very important to encourage rehabilitation as soon as possible, and I would therefore favour that situation. Will there be a substantial reduction in remand time and will other moves that are afoot also reduce time spent in remand?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have no doubt that there should be a significant reduction in remand time because many serious delays are in Crown Court trials. There are other aspects of this matter, and I am conscious that here I am trespassing into the territory of the Lord Chancellor, but all judges and magistrates have to be absolutely scrupulous when they make bail decisions. For our part, in the Home Office, we have to be certain that bail support schemes are universally available, or on a generally equivalent basis, and that bail hostels are available and that the places in them are properly used.
The Earl of Iveagh rose to call attention to special needs education, with particular reference to the promotion of conductive education for severely disabled people in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, perhaps I should begin by defining exactly what is meant by special educational needs. To paraphrase the Command Paper Excellence for all children, the law states that a child has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty (that is a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age, or a disability which makes it difficult to use the educational facilities generally provided locally), and if that learning difficulty calls for special educational provision (that is, provision additional to or different from that made available generally for children of the same age in local schools).
Within the broad spectrum of special needs, conductive education is succinctly defined as an education system for children and adults with motor disorders, by which individuals are guided and led towards the skills and motivation they need to overcome
Conductive education organises a developmental curriculum. It aims to teach the basic principles or attributes which can lead children to taking on the national curriculum successfully. Typically, a child's daily routine includes several series of tasks carried out in different positions, for example lying, sitting, standing and walking. Each child within the group receives individual attention at its specific level. Conductors continuously observe the children in order to change goals, as necessary, to assist the child's development. The best results are achieved where parents can continue the programme at home. The discipline that is learned encourages the belief that, with very hard work, dreams can come true.
For full effectiveness, total commitment is needed from parents. After all, most of any child's time is spent at home. It should also be pointed out that an accurate assessment of the child is vital, a point to which I shall return.
Conductive education originates from the work of Andras Peto at the International Institute in Budapest and was developed almost fifty years ago. Since then it has been taken up around the world. Conductive education is a relative newcomer to the UK's health and education scene. A BBC documentary in 1986 entitled "Standing up for Joe" helped increase overall awareness and led to the creation of the National Institute of Conductive Education, which is based in Birmingham.
Scope, formerly the Spastics Society, has played a leading role in its development. Scope runs two schools and has set up the Schools for Parents Network, which provides support for families and very young children at forty centres across the nation. The network is intended to introduce the techniques of conductive education.
Development has largely been the result of demand from parents. There is patchy knowledge of its existence, and the provision of service is still scarce. Often, long distances have to be travelled, and the availability of full-time places is chronically short.
The only extensive evaluation in Britain was published in 1993. It questioned the validity of conductive education over and above other practices. However, its findings have subsequently been questioned, notably by the aggressive research intelligence facility, which concludes that the effectiveness of conductive education is unproven. Surely there is a need for the Government to look again into the role of conductive education and its place in Britain.
I should now like to turn to more general issues concerning special needs. The Government have placed inclusion of SEN children within mainstream schools high on its list of priorities. Inclusion must not mean an unprepared child in a school which is unprepared. Conductive education can help the Government achieve their aim, as it encourages a developmental curriculum that can be used to get individuals to a certain level where they may successfully enter the mainstream.
The Government's aim of inclusion where possible may be adversely affected by the introduction of school league tables. Schools operate in an increasingly competitive environment in which league tables count. SEN children may not perform as academically as others, and subsequently schools' academic performance may be adversely affected. This in turn may lead to mainstream schools being reluctant to admit them. In addition, inclusion is threatened by some parents who consider the presence of SEN children to be detrimental to educational standards. It is particularly important within the mainstream that adequate attention is continually given to special needs to prevent the deterioration of standards for everyone.
The Government therefore urgently need to develop other non-academic measures of achievement for schools which have children with special needs. This is the so-called value-added approach, and steps to develop official criteria by which performance is measured are essential. All children should surely have official recognition of their achievements, and the developmental approach of conductive education can add choice and additional values to the national curriculum.
The Government also need to take into account what the inevitable closure of special schools means to parents whose children find that mainstream schooling is not an option. If we are not careful, those parents will be faced with ever-decreasing choice and ever-increasing distances to travel. The correct assessment of a child's educational needs is vital to ensure the application of a relevant educational programme.
What undermines conciliation is the perceived lack of independence of assessors. Whenever that is felt, parental suspicions are inevitably aroused that the local authority is acting as judge and jury. There will be an automatic tendency to go to tribunal. Moreover, there is a real shortage of independent assessors and, where they can be found, only some local authorities are willing to pay for their services.
Other concerns relate to the statement itself. This Government should be congratulated on getting rid of the distinction which will mean that it will be mandatory for local authorities to provide all provisions within a statement. Let us take transport as an example. If the onus lies automatically with local education authorities, situations where parents have to pay that cost will always, not just sometimes, be avoided.
Equipment is another area which is often omitted from statements. Can it really be satisfactory that parents and others are raising funds for basic equipment by all manner of means? Surely equipment should be considered a basic need and one which must be included in the statement and its subsequent reviews.
Another important aspect of government policy is the co-ordination of services. As it happens, conductive education is well placed in that regard, being an approach which incorporates mental and physical development. Let us contrast that with the traditional provision of education where separate authorities provide the different strands of support. The traditional model is widely practised, for example, where health authorities make visits to schools run by LEAs. That often results in the health and education programmes being under co-ordinated. I should be grateful if the Government would outline any plans that they have to encourage better co-ordination. I look forward to all your Lordships' comments on this very important subject.
Lord Addington: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for his introduction of the debate. I am someone who deals with special educational needs generally. He has introduced me to a new area in which I have had to undergo a steep learning curve. I hope that he will forgive me if I display ignorance in relation to any of the issues.
Part of the learning curve has been to discover rather more about conductive education. Today, I finally received a definition, given to me by Mr. Andrew Sutton. Basically, it is a three-pronged approach. The first aspect is that the education involves gaining a rapport with someone. As a child, someone who has problems with muscle movement in his neck, head or back, may have real difficulty in looking at another
The second aspect is to instil the idea that you can improve your physical wellbeing and movements. It is the inspirational part of the process. That is my interpretation. Thirdly, there is the long, hard slog. That is possibly the least controversial part. It is instilling your body with the ability to create normal movements. It can be anything from controlling bowel movements to being able to walk.
If conductive education can enable someone to acquire those basic socialising skills, then we must welcome it. The size of the welcome will depend on how we see it going forward. Scope, which has a client base of those who use conductive education, welcomes the approach. I suggest that that means that we should look at it extremely favourably. Also, it is recognised by many British higher education institutions. Very respectable universities are awarding degrees in it. I cannot remember which universities, and so I shall name none. But the issue should be taken very seriously.
In our current education system, we have the problem that the national curriculum was initially drawn far too tightly. Since then, we have been pulling ourselves back from it. Initially, it was too tight and bureaucratic and everyone moved away from it. That is not merely since the current Government came into power; it happened almost immediately after the passing of the 1988 Act. It was realised that the resources were not available to implement it and that the demands it was imposing were too great.
That takes me to another point referred to throughout the briefing I received. The Special Education Council says that help is needed in training classroom teachers, SENCOs, senior managers in schools, school governors, SEN specialist teachers, learning support assistants and educational psychologists to equip them for their new
If we want to provide a full range of opportunities, particularly with a more integrated system, there are problems in relation to resources. It is an historical problem and no government, certainly not this one, are about to throw sufficient money at the problem to be able to solve it, even within the lifetime of one or two Parliaments. However, that is something we must bear in mind.
I have hardly touched on the subject but I have run out of time. There is an historical problem as regards resources which must be approached on a cross-party basis and, indeed, by society in general.
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