HC Deb 02 May 1951 vol 487 cc1383-90

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

2.5 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

I make no apology for introducing at this early hour a fresh subject for consideration. It is of great importance to the limited number of people affected. We have arrangements, wholly admirable and complete so far as it is within our resources to make them so, for the treatment of children who are educationally sub-normal. We also have arrangements for the care and training of delinquent children; we have a system of remand homes, approved schools, and Borstals—a progressive system where progression is necessary—and excellent work is being done for the care and training of children who come within it. For the ordinary education of the subnormal child we have a system of special schools and schools run by the local education authorities under the Ministry of Education. Here, again, excellent work is being done.

There is a class of children who are both educationally sub-normal and delinquent, and for whom there is no special or proper provision. The number of children who properly come within this category is small, but I do not believe that it is as small as the figures submitted would make us believe. The attitude of mind of the magistrates has a good deal to do with the destination to which the children are sent. Magistrates know that there is no proper provision for these children, that there is no "right place" to which they should be sent for proper training and treatment, and they are worried and perplexed about the committal they should make in the case of these educationally sub-normal children.

A little while ago this problem was being considered by education and children's committees. A survey was made of children who had been classified in this way over a period of 12 months ended October, 1950. The particular authority had had to deal with 121 such children. Out of the 121 children, five were placed with their parents, three with other relatives, 22 in residential special schools, eight in private schools, six in voluntary homes, four in remand homes, two in mental hospitals, and 71 in local authority children's homes. I do not suppose that it could be said with any satisfaction that any were placed in the place where they ought to be.

If a child is educationally sub-normal and delinquent and is sent to an ordinary residential special school, he is out of tune with the other children in the school. The child requires special disciplinary treatment to make it fit in with any pattern of community life within that special school. Not only does it fail to benefit by what is offered by the school, but it is a retarding influence upon the rest of the children in the school and presents a fresh handicap to children already sufficiently handicapped. There is a by-product of the problem in that parents of other educationally sub-normal non-delinquent children are reluctant to send their children voluntarily to a school which is already populated by children who have a record of delinquency and, therefore, may be feared to be capable of leading astray the non-delinquent, educationally subnormal child.

If the educationally sub-normal delinquent child is sent to an ordinary approved school, the child has the benefit of the firmer discipline and proper supervision. But there are no approved schools in this country that are equipped to train a child who is educationally subnormal as well as being a delinquent. That child in the approved school is again a drag upon the more alert, though sometimes not very much more alert, delinquent who is not educationally subnormal, and the pace of the school is slowed down to the extent to which the number of children in the school are educationally sub-normal as well as delinquent.

The more one hears about this problem, the more complicated it seems to become. It is engaging the attention of education authorities and those responsible for remand homes and approved schools. They are concerned because this group of children, not very large, but, nevertheless, appreciable, is not getting treatment. I suggest that the right approach would be to make sure that there is sufficient room in our special schools for all children, educationally sub-normal, who require special school treatment, either in day special schools or residential special schools.

Children who are educationally subnormal and whose sub-normality is leading them into delinquency or moral maladjustment, should, first of all, have the opportunity of special school treatment, just like ordinary educationally subnormal non-delinquent children. If they fail to benefit from that treatment in the ordinary special school, then there ought to be another kind of special school available for them to go to for treatment from which they will benefit—a "special" special school or special approved school, where there is both education to deal with their sub-normality and discipline and supervision to deal with their delinquency.

I have a great admiration for the work that is being done both by special schools for sub-normal children and by approved schools for children who are delinquent. I have seen remarkable and worthwhile work in both those spheres of education and training. I believe that it is not beyond the capacity either of the Ministry of Education or the Home Office to set up the kind of establishment I have barely sketched. I am not interested in the "empire building" going on at the moment between the two Departments, about whose job this is, but I am concerned that this should be made somebody's job. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for being here at this unusual hour and I shall be glad to hear his suggestions and thoughts on this matter.

2.20 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Hardman)

The House must be grateful to the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) for raising this problem tonight. I confess at once that I have considerable sympathy with what he has said. It is, as he has suggested, intimately wrapped up with the problems raised by juvenile delinquency, and I think he will be the first to agree, when considering this question, that it is important to remember that only a small proportion of juvenile delinquents are of sub-normal intelligence. It is equally important that subnormal intelligence in itself does not predispose a child to juvenile delinquency. Indeed, special educational treatment for the educationally sub-normal is there to help them to grow up as useful members of the community, thus preventing that sense of frustration which could lead to juvenile delinquency.

The hon. Member has suggested some form of institution, which he described as a "special" special school. I want, if I may, to tell the House what we are trying to do at the Ministry of Education, and in co-operation with the Home Office, to deal with what the hon. Member has rightly said is a very small number of children requiring this special service. Perhaps I am exaggerating when I say that those who look at this problem, and perhaps I am justified in saying it about the hon. Gentleman's speech tonight, tend to suggest that the educationally sub-normal delinquent children are nobody's business. There is a possibility that their treatment falls between two stools and that they come neither under the Ministry of Education nor the Home Office. That is the prevailing view, and I want to suggest tonight, that that is in fact not the case.

There is no gap as regards responsibility between the two Departments. It is difficult to see, if there is a gap, how to bridge it, but I will try to explain what we may describe as an understanding between the two Departments, which means that children requiring special educational treatment in special schools are not normally committed to approved schools. The aim is to deal with them at the appropriate special school unless their behaviour would be a serious detriment to other children, a point which the hon. Member has made, and to which I will return in a moment. Among the handicapped children covered by the understanding between the two Departments are those educationally subnormal children who need education in special schools, and who have been found guilty of offences.

The term "educationally sub-normal" is a wide one. It covers, and I quote the definition: All those, who by reason of limited ability, or from conditions resulting in educational retardation require some specialised form of education wholy or partly in substitution for the education normally given in ordinary schools. A great many could be covered by this definition, and a great many could be dealt with in the ordinary school and do not require a place in a special school. Others committed by the courts can be dealt with in private schools. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in an answer he gave the hon. Member on 15th February, said that a high proportion of children from approved schools were backward and that one-fifth of those under the age of 15 were so retarded as to be in need of special educational treatment.

My right hon. Friend went on to indicate how the approved schools deal with these children. He mentioned that in order to meet this problem, education in most approved schools is organised in small classes, that staffs are encouraged to attend short courses in methods of teaching educationally sub-normal children, and the emphasis is laid on a practical approach to the teaching of basic subjects and of craft work. He went on to say that the adequacy of the provision made for the numbers and types of children committed to the approved schools is kept under constant review. These educationally sub-normal delinquent children who do not need a place in a special school are, rightly, dealt with in an approved school.

I come now to those children—and this is the heart of the problem—so subnormal that the ordinary schools are not fully equipped to deal with them—those who should be in a special school. Even if they have been found guilty of an offence which might lead to their being sent to an approved school, there is still a case for sending them to a special school. Approved schools have special characteristics, characteristics to suit those judged, for one reason or another, to require removal from their home surroundings.

The managers of approved schools must place their charges in ordinary life as soon as they are fit to leave the school, but, as the hon. Member for Walton pointed out, the child of low intelligence who behaves very badly, who does not respond to these normal educative influences, can only receive appropriate treatment in a school planned for this purpose, in a special school providing lengthy educational treatment, of such length that the child goes into the community again only when the treatment has been successful.

There are children whose behaviour is so difficult, so unpleasant, and often so disturbing to other children, that there is difficulty in getting them into a special school. At the Ministry of Education I have quite a few letters from hon. Members of this House bringing forward cases where children of this type have been to one school or another and have had to leave because of their behaviour. I admit that it is an extremely difficult problem to know what to do with them next. Such children, as the hon. Member said—happily no great number—can create havoc in a class. Moreover, they can, as has been pointed out, bring the school into disrepute. The only way left of dealing with such a child is to appeal to the local medical deficiency authority and see what action can be taken under the Mental Deficiency Acts.

The crux of the problem is that there is a serious shortage of places for educationally sub-normal children. As hon. Members know, there was an answer given to a Question asked by the hon. Member for Walton, who has raised this subject tonight. On 22nd February last, it was pointed out in that reply, that 28,000 children in England and Wales were known to require education in special schools for educationally subnormal children, and that our provision was for only 15,000. That is a serious matter, and it is the legacy of many, many years of neglect for one reason or another—and I stress that.

It is only fair to point out that it is only in recent years that we have been able to realise in detail what the problem of special educational treatment really is. After all, it is a bigger problem than this particular problem with which we are dealing this morning. It is a serious matter from the point of view of those children requiring special school treatment, those who are educationally subnormal. I think that the hon. Member would be the first to admit that this is not an easy time to suggest great physical advances in the way of school building, or in the way of altering old houses to make them suitable schools for this purpose.

Local education authorities know of the shortage of accommodation, and this, in my view, accentuates the problem. Knowing of the shortage of accommodation they are rather apt to gloss over the number of children in their areas who could be added to the number of 28,000 which I have already given. In other words, the children in England and Wales requiring this special treatment may be, we admit, considerably more than the figure I have given to the House. I can assure the hon. Member, that at the Ministry of Education, and at the Home Office, we recognise the urgency of the problem.

But there are other urgent problems, concerning my Ministry in particular, which are also priorities. For instance, the millions of extra children in the schools due to the rise in the birth rate, the additional teachers whom we have to train, the expansion of the teacher training departments and of the training colleges. What is a most important factor in this question of juvenile delinquency is the provision of first-class further educational facilities for our young people. Special schools get their share of what is going, though I admit that that is, by force of circumstances, limited. Nevertheless, since 1945 there has been a reasonable story of progress to relate.

There have been 64 new special schools for educationally sub-normal children numbering 4,000, and 39 of these housing 2,000 children are for boarding education. In the current building programme we are providing for a further 1,000 places. These increases, I suggest, show a rate of increase unknown in any period in the educational development of the past. This policy we intend to pursue as vigorously as possible, for we recognise the need, and we recognise that many children in ordinary schools ought to be in special schools. That again is a further addition to the numbers I have mentioned. We recognise that special treatment must be available to play its part in limiting juvenile delinquency.

In the Home Office, and at the Ministry of Education, we are fully alive to our responsibilities to these children, whose education presents a special problem because they cannot be suitably educated and helped in the ordinary school or in the approved school, which, after all, is concerned with a special type of child. There is the difficulty of accommodation, but in the meantime I hope we shall resist any temptation to regard educationally sub-normal delinquent children, as too much of a special problem in themselves. I do not think that such segregation can be to their advantage.

It is much more important that we should tackle the two major problems of juvenile delinquency and educational sub-normality in a straightforward and general way. By studying their whole circumstances and needs we shall best be able to solve the problem of those children who are both educationally subnormal and delinquent. So, while admitting that all is not being done because of physical difficulties today, and while admitting that the problem is an extremely serious one, I do not admit that we are not taking every measure we possibly can to meet this situation.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes to Three o'Clock a.m.