HC Deb 04 March 1948 vol 448 cc665-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)

I beg to detain the House very briefly to raise a matter very different from that which we have been discussing, but which, I think, nevertheless, is very important and worthy of a little consideration. I wish to draw attention to the Ministry of Education Circular No. 146, dated 20th June last, which came into operation on 1st January this year, a copy of which I have in my hand. It deals with educationally sub-normal children and with the method of examination and the selection and approval of medical officers in connection with the certification and ascertainment of children and the determination of their educability when they are sub-normal.

There is in this circular, I submit, a provision which is likely to be a very retrograde step. I apologise to the House for the technicalities of this matter which I am trying to express as briefly as possible, and to condense into the short time available. There is connected with the procedure laid down in the circular a long form which is to be used—No. 2 H.P.—a four page document, which contains, when it is filled in, all the necessary particulars and certificate regarding the educability, or otherwise, of the child examined. The point I want to stress is that in the circular it is provided, under the heading of "Intelligence testing for Statutory Ascertainment and Reporting," for the purposes required under Section 34 of the Act and for those of reporting children under Section 57, that the authorities are required to consider the advice of their approved medical officers. In passing I may say that in accordance with a previous clause of the circular an approved medical officer is one who has had a course under the London University Extension and Tutorial Classes Council in conjunction with the National Association of Mental Health, a course of only three weeks. The instruction goes on to say that: For the purposes of the latter Section, the Minister has required that this advice should be incorporated in a report on Form 2 H.P. and then goes on to lay down that this form must be completed in its entirety by the medical officer, that is, the medical officer who for the purposes of being approved has had only three weeks' training. He makes the examination, and no part of the examination must be ma de or recorded by any other officer of the authority.

I am informed, and I believe it is true, that the best and most up-to-date method of making this very important examination and ascertainment as far as these children are concerned, is for the section of the form with the information which gives the social particulars, home surroundings, and background of the child, to be completed by a social worker; a certificate at the end, is given by the medical officer; but the most essential sections of the form which include the giving of advice on how the child should be educated or on its educability, is filled in, after examination, by an educational psychologist. It is this difficulty of brushing on one side, as it seems to me, the services, status, and recognition of the educational psychologist, of denying to the medical officers the right, which medical men in other respects always have, to call in the aid of the specialists in any particular line and to utilise the services of a specialist in doing this work, which calls for attention.

Here there are three sets of people to be considered. First and foremost, there is the child who is to be examined, and I am very glad that the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which we were considering the other day, includes a Clause which removes the anomaly of the 1944 Act which made this ascertainment irrevocable once it was made. That irrevocability is to be removed, but nevertheless, it is, from the point of view of the child's welfare, a serious matter and of importance, that this ascertainment should be made with the least possible error. Then there is the educational psychologist to be considered. They are people who have to undergo years of training, who have training in educational work as well as in their psychological work, and who are, therefore, highly qualified to do this work. And finally there is the medical officer also concerned. He is denied, by this provision, the help of the educational psychologist.

I suggest that this provision in the circular is highly undesirable from all three points of view, and I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that this is being reviewed and reconsidered, and that some means will be found to overcome this difficulty. I know it is a difficulty to which the Ministry has given careful consideration. I think there are two possible ways to deal with it. The form itself could be divided. There could be two forms, so that if a legal certificate is required, that could be signed by the medical officer, and the educational psychologist could still be used to make the examination and fill up a separate form. The other way is frankly to recognise and give status to these psychologists, who are very highly qualified to do this class of work. I do not wish to detain the House longer. I could go on to deploy arguments at greater length showing why I think the procedure laid down in the circular is undesirable but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that the matter is receiving further consideration.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

I would like to support, in a few words, what the hon. Member has said. I suppose that the Parliamentary Secretary will admit that there has been either some mistake or else some lack of consideration in this circular and the accompanying form. I cannot for the life of me see why educational psychologists are being employed by so many local authorities after considerable training—I believe they have university degrees and further years in the schools, and after that, further training in child guidance—on what, after all, is a very delicate job, and are then being rather thrust aside. I do not think that this is just a question of professional status. Sometimes there are mere considerations of the profession. This is a job which clearly can be done very much better by the educational psychologist than by a doctor with a few weeks' specialist training, if one can call it specialist training. It is for these reasons, and many others, and partly because this group of children matters probably more today than ever in history, because of the increasing size of classes, especially during the last four or five months—a question which is worrying everyone—that it is important that these children should have the best possible individual treatment. Therefore, I hope very much that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will say that this will be given sympathetic consideration.

10.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education (Mr. Hardman)

I want first, to make it quite clear that we have no desire whatever to belittle the work or the status of educational psychologists. We have no intention of ignoring their help in dealing with the educationally sub-normal child. We have no intention of brushing to one side the expert knowledge which they can bring to bear upon this problem. On the contrary, we are sure that they have an increasingly important part to play, both in this work and in the educational problems of the normal child. I want to make that perfectly clear to begin with, and then pass on to deal with paragraph 5 of this circular 146, which my hon. Friend has raised in detail. This paragraph says that this form—Form 2 H.P.—must be completed in its entirety by the doctor for the purposes of Sections 34 and 57 of the principal Act. Undoubtedly that makes it difficult to use to the full the educational psychologist in the ascertainment of the sub-normal pupils. Because of that we are agreeing to amend this rule in such a way as to make it clear that the educational psychologist can play his full part. My hon. Friend will agree that this will entail some revision of the statutory medical report form to which he has referred, but my right hon. Friend is prepared to consult his Advisory Committee on Handicapped Children about this revision and the instructions for completing the form.

Mr. K. Lindsay

I should like to ask a question on that point. There is a committee which is presided over by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer). Did that committee see this circular before it was sent out, because we have great trust in that committee?

Mr. Hardman

I cannot answer categorically whether they saw this circular, but I should imagine in the natural course of the issuing of the circular the details were referred to them. I cannot at this moment say quite definitely that the circular, as issued in the approved form, was looked at by the Advisory Committee.

Having admitted the need for drastic revision, I have followed that up by saying that my right hon. Friend will now, if he did not do it before, consult his Advisory Committee about the final draft of a new revision. At the same time, we have to bear in mind that the law requires a medical report, and that means a report from a qualified doctor. The courts of law will only recognise such a report, and to make a report the doctor must make a mental and physical examination of the child. He must systematically question the child and systematically study its behaviour as well as summarise its general reactions. It ought to be possible to devise a form so that the answers to the intelligence test can be carried out by an educational psychologist. In addition, it would follow that the psychologist would follow his record with comments and conclusions on this form in order to assist the reporting doctors.

In regard to paragraph 6, this has been carefully examined in the light of representations made by my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mr. Dumpleton), which, he will remember, began as long ago as July, 1947.

Mr. Dumpleton

My hon. Friend will realise that he has been abroad.

Mr. Hardman

My hon. Friend gave due warning that when he had the opportunity he would raise this matter on the Adjournment, and he has had the opportunity tonight. We are not regretting it. My hon. Friend has asked us to reconsider paragraph 6 of the circular and I fully agree that for the great majority of retarded children, the educational problem is the primarily important one and that the educational psychologists in co-operation with the teachers, are better equipped than the doctors to diagnose the trouble and prescribe the treatment. My right hon. Friend informs me that here again he is prepared to consult the Advisory Committee as to the possible revision of policy and procedure. At the same time, we have to bear in mind the right of the parent to appeal to the Minister.

It would be improper to take any formal action contrary to the parents' wishes without making a report of a formal character which can be laid before the Minister.

I feel confident that means can be found to avoid this legal requirement which deprives us of the fullest help from the educational pyschologist. My hon. Friend will understand that such changes as I have suggested do require careful consideration and that these will take time. If, however, he knows of cases where psychiatrists and educational pyschologists working together as a team for the purpose of Sections 34 and 57 of the principal Act find that the present ruling hampers them, we shall be glad to discuss a temporary adjustment of the use of report form 2 H.P. At the moment my hon. Friends will understand that we cannot go any further. We are prepared to revise the circular, as I have indicated, but we must warn them that it will take some time.

We shall have to consult the Advisory Committee and get their advice, but if, in the meantime, there are these difficulties and handicaps, we are willing to see what temporary adjustments are possible and thus we shall hope to meet the difficulties which my hon. Friends have raised tonight and, at the same time, fulfil the requirements of the law. We admit that in the drafting of the circular reconsideration may be necessary in regard to the requirements of the instructions laid down for the filling up of these forms and I want it to be understood that we have no intention whatsoever of not utilising to the full the very expert knowledge of the educational psychologists. Our business now is to find a way of utilising their abilities.

Mr. K. Lindsay

Does this require any amendment of the law or is it merely consultation with the committee so that it can be done by the Minister by administrative action? Perhaps if the Minister cannot answer that question now he will let us know another time. That would help us a lot.

Mr. Hardman

My information is that it can be done by administrative action. We do not intend to do anything that requires amendment of the law. It can be done by administrative action.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Seven Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.