HC Deb 01 December 1954 vol 535 cc293-303

10.0 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Special Educational Treatment (Scotland) Regulations, 1954 (S.I., 1954, No. 1239), dated 21st September, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th September, be annulled. The purpose of these Regulations, briefly put, is to lay down the various categories of children of school age who require special educational facilities and that those facilities or treatment should be appropriate to the child's disability. This is, I should say at once, a desirable objective in the opinion of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and, so far as we understand it, we think that these Regulations are a step in the right direction, but there are some aspects about which we are not too clear. We want to ask some questions, elicit some information, and make to the Government some suggestions which we consider to be important, and ask the Government to consider them.

As always, we on this side of the House want to meet the convenience of hon. Members, so I say at once that we have no intention of dividing the House on this Prayer. It is, however, important to use the machinery available to us to get the information we seek, and that is why I have moved this Motion.

We are sorry that the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart) is absent because of sickness. I understand that in his absence the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State is to reply to the debate. The first question I would put to him is: in what way do these Regulations alter the existing situation? Do they put a statutory obligation on the local authorities which did not exist before? It would be wrong that we should allow the House and the country to think that nothing at all had been done by the local authorities to cater for the children in these disabled classes, but the Scottish Advisory Council on Education measured the problem in the following figures, that in 1948 there were 20,000 Scottish children who required special treatment and that the local authorities at that time had provided facilities for 4,000.

The question naturally arises: is the problem still as acute? Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman provide figures for each of the categories set out in the Regulations? We should be obliged to him if he could do that. We think there is a tremendous backlog, and we should like to know what the position is.

There is little point in setting out the categories. The real problem is to make adequate provision for them all. There is desperate need for schools for all the children, it is true, but particularly for those who suffer from cardiac disease, those who are disabled, the epileptics, and those who are mentally handicapped.

Were the admirable Reports of the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland considered when these Regulations were made? The Advisory Council was set up and given its remit as far back as 1947, and it reported in 1950. I find certain differences between what the Council recommended, in respect of deaf children for instance, and what is contained in these Regulations. The Regulations simply set out two categories: (1) deaf pupils, that is to say pupils who, because of defective hearing, are without naturally acquired speech or language; (2) partially deaf pupils, that is to say pupils whose sense of hearing is defective but who possess naturally acquired speech or language; The Advisory Council, on the other hand, definitely sets out four groups and classifications.

Grade I in the Council's classifications consisted of those who, without special facilities, can attend an ordinary school, grade IIA children were those whose hearing is defective but who require special facilities to make satisfactory progress in the ordinary school. Such facilities were outlined. I mention only three. One was that such children might have a favourable position in the class so that they could hear better. The second was that each child should be supplied with a hearing aid. In these days, when we have a National Health Service, it would be interesting to know whether action has been taken to supply them with those aids.

Thirdly, it was suggested that tuition in lip-reading was also a necessary facility for those children who were to remain in ordinary school. All of us would agree that the best way to treat these children would be to allow them, as far as possible, to attend an ordinary school so that no feeling of inferiority should creep in to stultify progress.

The Report went on to describe grade IIB, which included those children who, even with those aids, failed to make satisfactory progress. The last, grade III, consisted of children whose hearing was so defective that their speech was backward and they required education by methods which are used for deaf children without any speech at all. The Report was quite definite that grade IIB children should not be mixed up with grade III children. Therefore, my point is that if these Regulations are approved it is most important that the Department should see that facilities for grade IIA children should be available, otherwise there is need for a further category to provide for that type of child.

I pass to another group which is mentioned in these Regulations. They are mentally handicapped pupils. Here again there is a difference between the recommendation of the Advisory Council and what is set out in the Regulations. The Regulations provide for one broad category of mentally handicapped pupils, but the Advisory Council is definite that the gradations number five and that attention should be paid to each of those gradations. The Council thought it would be wrong that children of certain mental capacities should be mixed with others, and I should be glad to know whether some consideration was given by the Department to this point before it began making the Regulations.

In Scotland an attempt has been made at various times to assess the incidence of handicap amongst children but we have been unable, in the absence of proper machinery, to arrive at an adequate ascertainment. It is most import- ant, in dealing with this problem, to know the size of it. Everything would seem to point to the fact of the figure being appreciably greater than the figures which have so far been supplied to us through any of the reports.

I come to the last point, which is really an important one. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Government will give serious consideration to the point I want to make about the last group in the Regulations, the physically handicapped pupils, that is to say pupils who suffer from a physical disability, which is, or is likely to be, permanent or protracted and which does not bring them within any of the foregoing categories. Again, the Advisory Council Report divides these categories into three groups. The first it describes are children of lower mentality, that is children who are anaemic, debilitated or undernourished. In the main, these children should attend ordinary school. What they do require is direct aid and treatment in residential schools for periods of from six months to a year.

The second category is those who are physically disabled. Here are included children who suffer from heart or lung diseases, severe deformities, or disablement by tuberculosis or infantile paralysis. Those children are unable to attend ordinary classes in the ordinary schools, and we should be grateful if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would tell us how the Department proposes to assist them.

Local authorities have powers in these matters. I should have thought that one of the problems is that there are scarcely sufficient children in any one of the areas to justify special accommodation. Can the Joint Under-Secretary say whether the local authorities are getting together on this matter and acting in a joint capacity to furnish such accommodation? Many of these children are in sanatoria, in hospitals or in their own homes.

Included in this second group of physically disabled are children who suffer from cerebral palsy, bettor known as spastics. Those interested in this type of child in recent years, both here and in the United States, doubt whether cerebral palsy is the correct term. It is only a few decades ago that the cases of such children were thought to be hopeless, and they lived with their parents, eking out their lives in a state of misery. Nowadays, however, with new techniques and knowledge, and by the patience and skill of teachers and medical people, new hope has been brought to these children and their parents, and sometimes a considerable degree of improvement can be effected.

Because of the importance of these developments, and because of the numbers of these children, I should have thought that a case could be made out for their inclusion in these Regulations in a separate category. There are three or four times as many of them in Scotland as there are of epileptic children, who are given a separate category. The Advisory Council estimates that there are 1,350 Scottish schoolchildren under the age of 15 suffering from cerebral palsy. Only last month hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies received information from the Scottish Spastics Society estimating that there are 2,000. This would suggest that at least 7 per cent. of those children are fit for education in special schools, and it would justify, on numbers alone, their being given a place in this list of special children's problems.

I conclude with a reference to the ascertainment problem. All of us, as public representatives, from time to time come up against the heartrending problem of a child who, because of the great affection of its parents, has been secreted away and kept from mixing with other children at school. The parents are afraid that the child will be hurt, not only physically, but mentally, by the gibes and jeers of its companions at school. So there is a difficulty in finding out the full extent of this problem because, if the parents can show that they are attending to the education of their child at home, they cannot be compelled to send it to school.

The educational treatment of these children raises an important question as against the rights of the parents. It is open for consideration whether, if the child cannot be compelled to go to school, the parents should at least be compelled to notify the authorities of the presence of such a child in their home. In that case, the authorities could visit the home and try to persuade the parents that the best interests of the child would be served if it were sent to a school which provided the proper facilities.

These are some of the points that we wanted to raise. We shall be interested to hear what the Joint Under-Secretary has to say so that we shall be better able to judge whether the Regulations make progress, as we think they do. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can confirm that, we shall be very glad indeed, as we shall also be for any other information which he is able to give us.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

I beg to second the Motion.

10.20 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)

I would begin my observations by thanking the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) for his kindly references to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who is indisposed and is unable to reply to the debate. I will do what I can to fill his place, however inadequate I may be to perform that duty.

The hon. Gentleman began with a general review and then asked a number of detailed questions. He asked in what way the Regulations alter the existing situation. The answer is that the Regulations are produced by reference to something laid down in the 1946 Act. By Section 53 of the Act the Secretary of State is required to make regulations defining the several categories of pupils requiring special educational treatment and making provision for the special educational arrangement appropriate to each category.

The House may want to know why the Regulations have not been produced earlier. The Advisory Council has been working very hard on this matter and has produced seven reports upon it, each dealing with different aspects. It did not seem to the Secretary of State to be reasonable to produce the Regulations until he had had the full reports of the Council upon all the aspects of the subject.

The hon. Member asked whether I could say how many children were involved. It is estimated that no fewer than 68,000 children may come under the Regulations, but the greater proportion of them are already dealt with under our educational system in that facilities are provided for them in existing schools. There are about 24,000 who may be expected to require education in special schools.

For the convenience of the House, I will break down the figure of 68,000. I would point out that the figure of 24,000 occurs twice. About 24,000 pupils are suffering from speech defects and about 9,600 are slightly deaf, and their needs can be met by special arrangements within the ordinary schools. Many of the estimated 5,600 physically handicapped children can and should attend ordinary schools as long as they can do so without danger to themselves. According to the estimate of the Advisory Council, that leaves 24,000 pupils who should be attending special schools.

I was very glad that the hon. Gentleman expressed the opinion that children should attend ordinary schools as far as possible. I feel most strongly that only children who cannot be taught in ordinary schools should go to the special schools. I think it is a terrible thing for a child. As a parent myself, may I say that if my child could be educated with other children, I should like him or her to be so educated.

The hon. Gentleman noticed some differences between the Advisory Council's Report and what was recommended in these Regulations. The situation is fully dealt with in accordance with the recommendations of the Council, except in respect of three categories which they laid down, but which we have not thought fit to put in these Regulations.

Those were categories of children with whom, we believe, the ordinary schools could deal. They were categories of children who, by reason of ill-health, for instance, could not attend, or had not been able regularly to attend, school. That is a matter with which we should attempt to deal in the ordinary schools.

Then there are children who, by reason of convalescence or some other matter of that kind require special treatment. The hon. Member referred to fresh air and one or two things of that nature. I agree that the children should be specially treated, but not specially treated in an educational sense. The special treatment should be to build them up, and this is more a matter of health than of education.

As the hon. Member knows, there are local authorities, including the great authority of Glasgow, who have schools for that purpose and they are doing good work. But that does not mean to say that this is an educational problem. Rather is it a problem of health and welfare and I hope that the authorities concerned are dealing adequately with it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the size of the problem and I have already dealt with that. Then he asked me if I could supply figures for each category. I regret I am unable to do that. The Advisory Council made estimates, but the Regulations are made to help authorities to find out the exact numbers. He also spoke about grades of deaf children. They are covered by Regulations 2 (1) and 2 (2) and 3 (2); grade IIB children are partially deaf and those in grade IIA can be educated in the ordinary schools. That is a matter with which I have endeavoured broadly to deal in my earlier remarks.

The Department considered mentally handicapped children and it was decided not to include backward and retarded children in this connection. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is evidence of co-operation, but I think that what interests the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members of the House is to know where we are going from here. The object is to proceed from these Regulations by means of a circular, which will be a very comprehensive document taking in all the reports which have been issued and making suggestions to the education authorities. There will be consultation on all matters which arise.

When I speak of a comprehensive document, I would add that, in draft, it amounts to 21 pages of foolscap, double-spaced type. It is a very comprehensive document indeed. Of course, where there are not sufficient handicapped children in an area the various authorities will cooperate to deal with the problem in a comprehensive way for the whole area. Where there are sufficient in one local education authority area, schools will be provided to meet local needs; otherwise, there will be combination.

I understand that comparatively few spastic children are suitable for special educational treatment. Unless there is a chance of their learning to use their hands, education may be largely lost on them. It would be wrong to place on authorities a duty in regard to them.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Does that mean that if a child is not able to use his hands, but is able to use his tongue and his brain, there is no point in educating him? That seems a strange doctrine. There are children who may not have the necessary connection between brain and hand, but I understand that there are such children whose brains work very well perhaps with their tongues and with their eyes. Surely they are capable of being educated.

Commander Galbraith

There are many different categories of spastics. There are those who are quite capable of being educated, but where they are crippled to a very great degree there is not very much that one can do for them. In our hospitals and sanatoria where, unfortunately, sick children are often laid up for years, they are usually educated throughout the whole time. Where a spastic child can be educated I am certain that steps will be taken to do everything possible for him.

As hon. Members know we have not got to the end by a long way and, as the hon. Member for Maryhill said, this matter is coming more and more into prominence and it is constantly being studied by the Education Department.

I do not know whether I have omitted to answer any of the questions put to me. There was the question of ascertainment. The difficulty of finding out the extent of the problem is one which will be dealt with in the circular which is to be issued. On the question of parents being compelled to notify the authorities that they have a handicapped child in their home, I should have thought that that was something which did take place. I hope that it does. No matter how crippled a child may be, all of us would desire to see that he had the best possible chance of education. I am not fully informed on that matter, and I will certainly look into it.

10.34 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

We are most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and to the Joint Under-Secretary of State. Since this matter was not within his province, it must have caused him some thought to deal with what are, in some ways, technical matters and certainly very human problems.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the children known as spastics. I wonder whether there is anything at all at present—any residential or day school accommodation owned by any of our local education authorities—available for the education of these children. If no education authority has accommodation for them, can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us what voluntary bodies are providing for their education? I know of one, which I visited when I was at the Scottish Office. It was then situated in Polkemmet House, West Lothian, and it was moved to Edinburgh. All the children there were spastics, and there is no doubt that most valuable work was being done for them.

I do not criticise the Minister at all—I think that he slightly erred when he said that if spastic children could not use their hands they should not be educated—but I feel very strongly on this subject. Even if the spastic child will never be able to work, in the ordinary sense of the word, he still has to live. He already suffers from grave disabilities, and it is of the greatest importance that we should give any talent which he has a chance to be developed to its fullest degree.

I am sure, from the very fact that all over Scotland the parents are now getting together in associations, that those parents are determined to make the future better than it has ever been before for these children. I am sure that that is the wish of the Minister. I am quite certain that it is the wish of those who have done this very valuable work in the Advisory Council in Scotland.

Commander Galbraith

With permission of the House, I shall answer the hon. Lady's two questions, but, before I do so, I may say that I share very much her views with regard to the education of these children wherever it is possible. I think that is the general view of the Department, and of my right hon. Friend.

In reply to the hon. Lady's specific questions I am informed that, so far, no education authority school is in existence, but there is in Edinburgh a residential school run by the Spastics Council. I understand, also, that the first education authority school will be in Glasgow. It will be a day school in Percy Street, and one hopes that it will be of service to the children.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

There is no mention of a centre at Motherwell.

Commander Galbraith

I regret that I have no information about that.

Mr. Hannan

As was stated at the beginning of this short debate, the Motion was of an exploratory nature. We are very grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the information which he has given. I only wish to stress that he should look again at this question of the spastic child. If he would do that we should be more than pleased. As these Regulations further the object which we have in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.