HC Deb 03 December 1962 vol 668 cc1077-99

10.21 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Handicapped Pupils and Special Schools Amending Regulations 1962 (S.I., 1962, No. 2073), dated 17th September 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th September, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled. I move this Motion, needless to say, merely to provide an opportunity for discussing some of the problems Which affect the education of deaf children. The amending Regulations make some improvement in the designation of children of different degrees of deafness and take into account the modern methods of treating deaf children and the greater use of electronic techniques.

It is almost seven years to the day since the House last discussed the problem of this small but very unfortunate group of deaf children, and I was interested to read the remarks made on that occasion, when the subject was brought to the attention of the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and the reply was given by the right hon. Gentleman who is now in charge of Technical Co-operation but who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education.

Seven years ago he was referring to the progress which was being made in the use of new techniques and of electronic aids to hearing. He also referred in a most interesting way to the reorganisation then taking place in the schools as between children who are almost wholly deaf and those who have varying degrees of residual hearing. It is to those two groups that these Regulations refer. It would be extremely interesting if the Minister could tell us a little more of what has happened since the debate in 1955.

In the schools Which are exclusively devoted to the education of deaf children, or children with partial hearing—the new trend which is embodied in these Regulations, is to drop the term "partially deaf" and to substitute "those with partial hearing"—there is a more positive attitude. It would be interesting to know the present situation between these two groups of Children. The latest figures I have been able to obtain show that 5,000 children are in schools devoted to teaching children who are deaf or who have only partial hearing.

A number of those are maintained schools, some are private schools, some day schools and some boarding schools. In addition, a very large number of children receive instruction in special classes or units attached to ordinary maintained schools. It would be interesting to know where we stand in regard to that. I have looked at the figures which appeared in the latest statistics. Of course, statistics may be misleading and the Minister may be able to enlighten us, but one of the things which worries me is that, in respect of the reorganisation mentioned seven years ago, children who are seriously deaf and those with partial hearing should be taught separately, but nevertheless at present there are 125 classes in which the two groups are taught together.

Of those, 22 are over-size classes and the percentage of pupils in this mixed category in over-size classes is nearly a quarter, between 22 per cent. and 23 per cent. That is rather worrying. There is also a large percentage, more than a third, of partially deaf children in over-size classes and rather fewer—17.8 per cent.—of almost totally deaf children in over-size classes. Those percentages of children in over-size classes are disquieting. I should like the Minister to tell us what hopes there are of improving matters.

I know very well that it is difficult enough to find sufficient teachers for children in normal schools and that to find enough teachers to take over the teaching of the deaf is even more difficult. Teachers of the deaf have some slight recognition in their salary for extra qualifications and the very strenuous work which they have to do. Teaching wholly deaf children is very nerve-racking. I wonder whether everything is being done to encourage those who might have a gift in this direction to exercise it and whether some of the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham in the earlier debate, and which may have been made by other hon. Members on other occasions, have been carried out.

When teachers are scarce it is difficult to dispense with the services of any of them. I should suppose that a sabbatical year in an ordinary school, retaining salaries to which the teachers are entitled, could be a wholly good thing for the teacher and the children who are taught. Possibly a year is too long, but even a term or two in changed circumstances would be a good thing. There are not many places where teachers of the deaf can be trained. There is the well-known department of Manchester University and other arrangements made for part-time education of teachers who are in post. We have had the interesting announcement recently of the research project. I was delighted to hear that. That is one reason why it seemed worth while having a debate on these relatively minor Regulations.

We know also of the lead that the Ministry, in partnership with the Dulverton trust, is giving in financing special research carried out from time to time by Dr. Lewis into the whole question of teaching deaf children. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us a little more of the scope of that research and what it is hoped to achieve. I know that one or two of my hon. Friends have much longer experience of this sphere than I have, but in the relatively short time which I have had to inquire into the matter I have been deeply impressed both by the devotion of those who take an interest in teaching deaf children and the extreme difficulty of the subject. Teaching the blind is no doubt difficult enough, but teaching the deaf, particularly the congenitally deaf, the elements of speech must be one of the most difficult educational tasks of all. The very greatest support and sympathy should go to all those doing this very difficult work.

Where there is partial hearing, the new electronic and mechanical aids come into play. There the matter should be easier. With those who are congenitally totally deaf, so far as one can judge, it is extraordinarily difficult. The co-operation of the health authorities, especially health visitors, in finding these children at the earliest possible moment is of vital importance. I am aware that this does not come under the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Education. What can be done later depends so largely on the earliest possible ascertainment of a baby who is born deaf and on the guidance of the parents.

I am a little concerned about the question of the guidance of parents. A good deal is being attempted in helping mothers with very young children, but from such inquiries as I have been able to make I am not quite happy about the later difficulties of dealing with older children or even adolescents who are deaf. I am told that there are often serious emotional disturbances at the point when children who have been brought up in special schools for deaf children have to launch out into the world in adult life. There seems to be a very difficult moment when a child who has been brought up in a relatively sheltered school existence suddenly finds that he has to try somehow or other to stand on his own feet in a world which was not designed for deaf people.

Anything which can be done to prepare children, teen-agers and young adults to face these difficulties is to be very warmly welcomed. Clearly it is a matter of the closest possible co-operation between local authorities, social workers, schools and parents. Anything that the Minister can tell us about progress which is being made would be of very great interest.

A point was raised in an earlier debate about the inspection of schools and classes. If the number of special classes is increasing, can we have some account from the Minister as to the arrangements made for inspecting them by those who have some expertise? If these new devices are to be used to the best possible advantage, it is important that suitable experienced inspectors should be concerned with inspection. They may be able to help in small but very important directions. For example, a child brought up to use a fairly complicated transistor instrument is seriously handicapped if the instrument is broken by accident in the playground. I am told that there is a shortage, and children may be seriously put out if they suddenly find that they are bereft of an instrument on which they have come to rely. We should make quite sure that nothing is done to deprive a child for any length of time if through accident his instrument has been damaged.

I think that I have said enough to give the Minister an opportunity to tell the House what his Department is doing in this matter, but I hope that any of my hon. Friends who are interested will also make their representations. It is not very often that we have a Chance to discuss these rather specialised aspects of education, and we need make no apology for seizing such opportunities as Regulations of this kind present to us.

10.35 p.m.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

Like the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) I am not an expert in these matters, but I live within a mile of the only grammar school for deaf children that we have in this country, and I see a certain amount of it. I want to pay a deeply-felt tribute to those who teach deaf children. I do not think that they find it a trying occupation, because they are people with a most profound sense of vocation. They find it completely satisfying. It is in a sence a spiritual vocation, and they are spiritually-minded people. I do not think that the country can be too grateful to them.

My information is that we have about 6,000 deaf children and that, very roughly, 5 per cent. of them may be regarded as being worthy of a grammar school education. There are, of course, difficulties in educating deaf children because, While they are not necessarily more or less intelligent, their disability means that their education is delayed, with the result that the child is behind-hand in its education. A fairly rough calculation shows that about 500 deaf children would be likely to benefit from this admirable grammar school.

This is a State school, in the sense that it is paid for by grants by local education authorities. It is not a voluntary school, although it is largely dependent on voluntary contributions for capital expenditure. The pupils are paid for by their own local education authorities, but certain of the authorities, either because of prejudice, or because they are ignorant of the facilities available, or far other reasons, do not send pupils. It is rather serious to reflect that there are quite a proportion of deaf children, though the actual number may be small, who could benefit from this grammar school education, but do not get it—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Baronet, but these are, in fact, only amending Regulations. We cannot go two widely on this question.

Sir G. Nicholson

I am aware of that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so I shall conclude by asking my right hon. Friend to consider whether something cannot be done to ensure that all deaf children who would benefit from this type of education actually get it.

10.39 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

I welcome this opportunity to speak about deaf children although, as far as I can see, the Regulations mainly alter certain words. They refer to partial hearing instead of to the partially deaf. That is all very well. It may be better for the child, and may sound better, but I do not think that it will do anything in actual practice, as I think that the Minister would be the first to agree. It is, of course, a desirable thing to do.

I am impressed by the Ministry's figure of 5,427 deaf children. It is rather less than I expected, but that is the figure of those at schools and may not include those who are below the school age. The interesting feature about it, as I understand, is that it is more than double the number of blind children. We hear so much about blind children and so little about deaf children that it is interesting to know that there are more suffering from this appalling handicap than there are blind. I do not propose to go into the question which is the greater handicap but I think that everyone will agree that deafness is at any rate as great a handicap as blindness.

These children are not stupid. They often appear to be stupid because they simply do not understand what is being said to them. That is a terrible tragedy and one about which I hope something can be done, because naturally the more success we have and the better the tuition the less stupid they will appear to be.

I should like to ask for one or two things to be done in addition. The first—and I hope that regulations can be brought into effect it—is to have an early and accurate diagnosis. Naturally, diagnosis is getting earlier and better but it can be very much better and even earlier. That is the most important thing of all. The next, folowing that diagnosis, is that there should be early training and teaching of these children so that they may not wait until they are 5, 6 or 7 years of age before they are trained. It can be done from the first moment that they are able to have any consciousness of the world at all. This is vitally important.

The next thing which I hope regulations will be able to effect in some way is that there should be smaller classes. I know that they are very much smaller than ordinary classes now, but the task of teaching these children is so difficult and immensely important that the classes should be very small indeed. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something to make them even smaller than they are now. I should also like to see adequate training of the non-teaching staff who come into contact with the children. They do not pretend to be trained teachers but they have some degree of training to enable them to deal with these children. More adequate training would be of immense advantage to the children.

There should also be an additional year of compulsory education for these children. They take much longer to train than other children. An additional year would be of great advantage to them. If this could be given we should be well on the way to doing a great deal more than has been done already for these children. I realise the immense amount that is done for them in comparison with what is done in other countries and in other parts of the Commonwealth. We stand very high in this matter.

I welcome the Regulations for the optimistic spirit they show, but I hope that they will be followed by something a little more concrete.

10.43 p.m.

Lord Balniel (Hertford)

I also would like to welcome the attitude of mind which is exemplified by these Regulations in the positive approach of removing the phrase "partially deaf" and replacing it by the phrase "partially hear- ing". I feel sure that this positive approach is an indication of my right hon. Friend's approach to the general problem of caring for and teaching these handicapped children. I in no way wish to denigrate the achievement of the last few years. I certainly do not wish to denigrate in any way the remarkable sense of dedication and devotion of those who teach in this most difficult of all teaching fields.

There is one aspect of the background to the Regulations to which the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) referred which I also feel should be commented on. Table 2 of the immensely interesting and admirable Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Education for this year states that there are 13,800 handicapped children requiring places in special schools for whom no places are available. Most of these are educationally subnormal children who do not come within the very strict remit of these Regulations.

None the less, there are 260 children handicapped by deafness who are in need of places in one of the special schools, but for whom no place is available. The actual figures are that 21 completely deaf and 69 partially hearing children are in need of places for whom no places are available at day special schools and 71 completely deaf and 99 partially hearing children require places at boarding special schools. I quite accept that this total number of 260 deaf and partially hearing children is a very small number, but in a society which is as rich as ours, a society in which healthy people can attain a standard of life which is so high, I find it rather offensive that there is any waiting list for special schools for the deaf.

This kind of waiting list is not like a waiting list for an ordinary school. It is not just a question of missing one term or missing one year or two years: this is a matter of effectively diminishing a child's chance of a cure of his disability, and if the waiting period is long, it may well mean condemning this limited number of children to a lifetime of physical disability. Although I recognise that the figures are rather small, I hope that my right hon. Friend will take a personal interest in trying to eliminate the waiting lists.

I am particularly worried because another aspect of the Report shows that in the period 1960 and 1961 the number of places at the deaf and partially deaf schools actually declined by 153. I presume that this is partially due to the desire to channel children into schools for the totally deaf or into special classes in ordinary schools. However, to an ordinary layman it is worrying to see that the number of places in these special schools has declined during the last two years.

In a circular in September, 1961, my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health emphasised the importance of local authorities making earlier diagnosis. Local authorities were asked to undertake a general review of their methods of diagnosing deafness among children. I think that we have a long way to go. In my own constituency in Hertfordshire, generally recognised as being an extremely good education authority and an extremely good health authority, only about half of the children who on entering school were found to be in need of treatment were in fact receiving treatment. That is for general defects and general illness and I think that we can assume that the proportion of children in need of treatment for hearing defects but not receiving treatment was a great deal higher than that figure of 50 per cent. Is it now a fact that all local education authorities are surveying all infants who are classified as being—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I hope that the noble Lord will not go too far in asking these questions. It will be very difficult for the Minister to reply without getting out of order.

Lord Balniel

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am commenting upon aspects of this Statutory Instrument which will directly affect the numbers of children entering into these special schools, and I should have thought that that was directly relevant.

There was only one other point which I wished to make and which I believe to be relevant to this matter. While it is important to provide additional places, it is even more important to provide additional teachers. The last Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Education categorically stated that a second university training centre for teachers of the deaf was needed. Are steps being taken to provide for this second university training centre for teachers of the deaf?

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I think that these Regulations have some merit in that they are turning from the negative to the positive, and instead of referring to the "partially deaf" they refer to those who are "partially hearing".

Like the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), I am concerned at some of the implications in these Regulations. I echo his plea for a further extension of educational facilities, and especially in the case of the subnormals, figures for which he has quoted from his own constituency.

I think that the hon. Gentleman's final point concerns us all. The Manchestr University centre is the only one of its kind in existence. Surely there should be a similar centre at London University which would enable at least one further course in teaching to be carried out in this highly specialised subject. I understand that except for the training that is taking place at Manchester, there is an 18-months course in one of the special schools. I am not sure that this is adequate. A teacher of the partially deaf needs to have a special kind of understanding and a special aptitude to be able to approach this subject in the right way. Without an extension of the kind of tuition at Manchester, I think we shall find it impossible to meet the needs of the partially hearing children in the future.

Another point which cannot be stressed too much is the size of classes. The limit of 10 is too high; eight is more practical. The London County Council has adopted eight as its maximum, and if it is possible for a large authority of that kind to adopt that limit, it should be the normal elsewhere. One understands, of course, that with a shortage of teachers it is not always possible to reduce the size of classes to eight, but at least this is the kind of number at which we should aim, and it would give an opportunity for developing the kind of service which is needed.

Whilst we recognise that this Instrument makes a positive approach, unless it is fully backed with further finance and further support from the Minister we shall not make the progress that we wish. In the last analysis we have got to be able to find the wherewithall in order to provide the places, the teachers and the training. If the debate on these Regulations will lead to action of that kind, the debate will have been worth while.

10.54 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I rise not to bring the debate to a conclusion but because I have a certain amount to say on this subject and it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to intervene at this moment.

I welcome the debate. Normally my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary would reply, but he is at the moment in Paris and so it falls to me to do so, and I feel extremely fortunate in having this opportunity to speak. When I was myself Parliamentary Secretary in the last Parliament, I attended—indeed, I opened —a conference on deaf teaching at Manchester University, and I pay tribute in particular to the work of Professor Ewing who completely revolutionised our concept of education for the deaf. I also witnessed some of the deaf classes which have been carried out at Reading, in particular the classes of Mr. Ling, which were amongst the most outstanding that I have ever visited. I was extraordinarily impressed with the way in which it is now possible to get even severely deaf children to pronounce the English language in a perfectly recognisable manner.

I entirely agree with hoe. Members on both sides of the House, that I think we in this country sometimes forget the deaf and their problems a little too much. When all is said and done, whatever philosophy of life we hold, no one will dispute that being human is infinitely connected with our capacity to communicate and we sometimes also forget that the ability to acquire language for communication is highly relevant to the problems of deaf children.

These Regulations we are discussing this evening amend Regulation 4 of the Handicapped Pupils and Special Schools Regulations, 1959, paragraphs (c) and (d), which contain definitions of categories of pupils handicapped by impaired hearing. I hope that it will not be tedious if I just explain why the definitions have in fact been changed. The old definition of deaf pupils—this was the 1945 definition—read like this: deaf pupils, that is to say pupils who have no hearing or whose hearing is so defective that they require education by methods used for deaf pupils without naturally acquired speech or language. Our new definition reads: deaf pupils, that is to say, pupils with impaired hearing who require education suitable for pupils with little or no naturally acquired speech or language. I think that this quite clearly shows a step forward.

The second definition referred, as hon. Members have said, to partially deaf pupils and they were defined as pupils who have some naturally acquired speech and language but whose hearing is so defective that they require for their education special arrangements or facilities, though not necessarily all the educational methods used for deaf pupils. Now, as hon. Members have pointed out, we refer in these Regulations not to "partially deaf pupils" but to partially hearing pupils, that is to say, pupils with impaired hearing whose development of speech and language, even if retarded, is following a normal pattern, and who require for their education special arrangements or facilities though not necessarily all the educational methods used for deaf pupils. I have deliberately quoted those words in full because I think that they mark real progress over 17 years, and, if I may say so, I think social progress often comes about in this kind of way, through being able to take a more optimistic view of certain categories of people.

Why did we need this new definition? The reason is this. The purpose of defining categories of pupils with impaired hearing is to help in the placement of pupils in schools where they will receive suitable special educational treatment, and the regulations reflect the different types of special educational provision available. Following new developments in the education of children with impaired hearing, and in the use of hearing aids and other new auditory equipment, to stimulate the use even of a small amount of hearing, the old definitions ceased to serve their purpose adequately. By substituting "partially hearing" for "Partially deaf" we have been able to reflect a more positive approach to the use of residual hearing and to underline the importance of early diagnosis which sometimes makes possible early auditory training during the crucial years for the development of speech and language. At the same time the new definitions will place less emphasis on the degree of hearing defect, and thereby indicate that this is not the sole criterion on which to base decisions as to the type of school suitable for individual children.

The drafting of these new definitions was undertaken in consultation with an informal committee consisting of workers in the field of deaf education, welfare and research, and including representatives of the University of Manchester's Department of Audiology and Education of the Deaf. The committee was also consulted on the draft of a circular which was issued with the amending Regulations and we also consulted about this the local authority associations, the teachers' associations—including the National College of Teachers of the Deaf—'the Society of Medical Officers of Health, the Association of County Medical Officers of Health, and the Special Schools Association. All these bodies welcomed the new definitions. I mention these bodies because we at the Ministry could not get on without their help, and these new regulations are not just thought up out of our heads at the Ministry, but reflect the advice and the comment that we have received from a great many special bodies.

In the light of these regulations, I should like to say something about recent developments in the special educational treatment of deaf children. As a result of advance's in electronics, hearing aid equipment—both individual aids and what are called group teaching aids —tin the classroom—can now be used to encourage and stimulate the use of even quite small amounts of residual hearing, and this means that many children who would formerly have been regarded as deaf are now being educated as partially hearing pupils capable of acquiring speech and language by normal means, that is, through the sense of hearing.

If I might reminisce for a moment, one thing that I always remember is what was said to me in Reading when I visited a class there. If we can get a deaf child to pronounce the word "strength" correctly, the battle is won, because the difficulty with deaf children is the consonants and not the vowels, and on reflection hon. Members will see that the word "strength" has probably a bigger ratio of consonants to vowels than any other comparable word in the English language.

The trend here is very encouraging. I have here the figures of pupils attending special classes for the deaf and partially hearing for the whale of the period 1957 to 1962. I will give two sets. In 1957 there were 3,692 pupils listed as deaf, and 1,337 listed as partially deaf. In 1962 there are fewer listed as deaf, 3,247, but under our new regulations 1,556 listed as partially hearing.

But those figures do not reflect what is a major development in the past decade in the education of partially hearing pupils, which is what hon. Members have referred to, the provision of special classes attached to ordinary schools. About 30 local education authorities now provide 80 of these classes, and I know that other authorities are known to be considering their provision. In January, 1962, 624 partially hearing pupils were receiving special educational treatment in ordinary schools.

The aim of the special class in ordinary schools is to enable children, through intensive auditory training, to become capable of taking an ever-increasing part in the activities of the ordinary hearing pupils of the school until eventually they can become full-time pupils of the ordinary classes. Not every child admitted to a special class gets as far as this, but already there is evidence which fully justifies the experimental work started by authorities like the L.C.C., Reading, and Oxford.

I agree with hon. Members that the success of this work is dependent in very considerable measure on early diagnosis and training. This means finding every baby with impaired 'hearing, fitting him with a hearing aid, and helping his parents so that they know the importance of encouraging him to talk and to listen both to the voices of others and also to his own voice.

Many local health and education authorities have extensive schemes for finding young children with impaired hearing and giving help to their parents at clinics and at home, but I agree with hon. Members that more needs to be done on this point. I agree with my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), and 15 months ago both my Ministry and the Ministry of Health issued a circular which asked local authorities to review their services for ascertainment and to consider, in consultation with hospital authorities, what additional provision was needed to secure a comprehensive service of audiology clinics.

Teachers of the deaf play a vital part in these services, both in clinics and in children's homes. Work by teachers outside the special schools has grown rapidly during recent years, and in January of this year no fewer than 60 were employed by local education authorities either in clinics or as what are called peripatetic teachers—helping children with impaired hearing in ordinary schools, advising their class teachers and securing the co-operation of ordinary schools and parents in the training of children in the use of hearing aids.

All these developments have led to an increased demand for teachers of the deaf which cannot be fully met from the present sources of supply. In answer to my noble Friend the hon. Member for Hertford, who asked about the waiting list—which point was taken up by the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt)—there are now spare places in a number of schools, and it would be a terrific job, with 146 local authorities today, to match precisely the demand in all parts of the country with the supply in all parts of the country. There are organisational difficulties. I do not deny that the main reason for the waiting list is the shortage of teachers.

Mr. Dugdale

Can the right hon. Member answer the question put to him by his noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel)—whether there can be somewhere in addition to Manchester where these teachers can be trained?

Sir E. Boyle

I will answer the question the right hon. Gentleman has put. At present there is the one-year course of training at the University of Manchester Department of Audiology and Education of the Deaf, and then there is in-service training, by which teachers qualified to teach in ordinary schools can prepare for the diploma and examination of the National College for Teachers of the Deaf while serving in a special school. I can tell my noble Friend and the right hon. Gentleman that negotiations for the establishment of a second university course are still going on at present, and I hope that it will start in 1964. I cannot say any more than that this evening, but I hope that it will be in that year that the second university course will start.

Mr. Pavitt

Can the Minister tell the House whether this will be in London?

Sir E. Boyle

I hope that the hon. Member will not press me further on the question of location this evening, because negotiations are still continuing. As soon as I am in a position to make a further announcement to the House I will certainly do so.

Having said something about the bearing of these regulations on the work of ordinary schools, I want to say something about special schools. The developments I have been describing do not mean that special schools will no longer be needed for the education of deaf children. For as far ahead as one can see there will be children whose handicaps are too great to allow them to receive satisfactory educational treatment in ordinary schools and special classes. This is the difficulty we have in all contexts.

It is the Ministry's general doctrine that wherever possible children with handicaps should receive their education in ordinary schools. It was absolute nonsense to say, as was said in The Times Educational Supplement last week, that it is sentimentality to say this. I think it is obviously right. That was also said in a deputation that I recently received, and although I am not very sensitive to criticisms I do not think that this was a sensible one.

None the less, I recognise that there are some children who will not be able to receive satisfactory education in ordinary schools. In many smaller towns and in the country the numbers of partially hearing pupils are too small to set up special classes without involving children in what would be a disproportionate amount of travelling. It is an illusion to suggest that we can dispense with special schools and still give adequate educational treatment to all children who are handicapped by impaired hearing.

The re-examination and redevelopment of special schools now going on is the sign of the really important place they occupy in our educational system. In the boarding schools the main effort during the past five years has been concentrated on a reorganisation designed to separate deaf and partially hearing pupils. It is not in the best interests of partially hearing pupils that they should live and be taught with deaf pupils in boarding schools; they need the stimulation of a talking environment. Agreement in principle to two major schemes of reorganisation in the North of England cleared the way with local education authorities and governing bodies who were concerned for discussion of major building projects to modernise school premises. These involve during the next three or four years quite major works of adaptation, demolition and rebuilding at five large boarding schools. In addition, two day special schools in the North are to be provided with completely new premises.

Altogether these works, if one leaves out furniture and equipment and professional fees, represent a capital investment of over £1 million, and during the financial years 1958–59 to 1964–65 sums totalling a further £800,000 have been or will be spent on the improvement or replacement of special school premises in other parts of the country. This money includes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) will be interested to know, £100,000 to extend and improve the premises of the Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf. On those schemes which are being carried out by the governing bodies of non-maintained schools, my Ministry will be paying quite substantial sums in capital grants.

The total effect of these schemes, except for the schemes to provide more grammar school places, will be to reduce the number of special school places available. That is true. But this takes account of the developments in special classes and ordinary schools which I have mentioned. The general purpose is to improve the quality of places, including secondary education, for which quite extensive facilities and equipment will be provided.

There is one other development which I should mention, and that is the scheme sponsored by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf to provide a small boarding school for children with impaired hearing who are also severely maladjusted. That is important. Children with these handicaps in special schools for the deaf and partially hearing present great problems to their teachers and fellow pupils and need very specialised attention and psychiatric help. I am sure that hon. Members agree that this is a small but highly important category for whom we all have the greatest sympathy. A project of this kind naturally will be costly. The capital cost of the building will be over £100,000. My Ministry will be helping the Royal National Institute with a substantial capital grant towards this total.

Perhaps before I conclude you will not mind, Mr. Speaker, if I say a word about further education. No one has mentioned this subject, but we ought to have in mind the question of further education for the deaf. We are considering means of improving facilities here. Many of the traditional occupations of the deaf, based on individual craftsmanship and so one, obviously are to some extent out of date in an economy based on mass production, and what we have to do is to relate the further education of the deaf to modern needs and employment prospects and to organise facilities to provide for what will be inevitably a scattered student population. Almost certainly the future of further education for the deaf must lie in a closer association with the provision of further education for ordinary hearing students.

I should like to answer two questions, the first asked by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). The first was about Dulverton. Research into the problem of assimilating the deaf into ordinary hearing society with particular reference to the problem of the deaf adolescent is being directed at Dulverton. I cannot say anything about the research tonight, but it is a point which at a later date we might profitably pursue in the House.

I was asked about inspection. Inspection is carried out by inspectors who have made a special study of the educational problems of the deaf. There are medical officers who are specially qualified in the education of the deaf in the Ministry who visit both local authorities and the schools to advise on problems of treatment and hearing.

In view of what I have said, I hope that the House feels that there has been progress over the last seven years. I think there has. I know that there are difficulties about doing so, but I wish that we could spend a little longer in the House than we sometimes do discussing the question of special schools. Many would say that it is one of the marks of a civilised community that we should aim to give all children in our society an education fitted to their abilities and aptitudes.

As my noble Friend said, a relatively wealthy society has a responsibility to handicapped children in our schools. We know a great deal more than we knew in previous decades about how to treat these children. I am very glad that the old sign language is going out in the education of deaf children and that real efforts are made to do everything possible to stimulate the residual hearing these children have to enable them to communicate with other children and discover the world about them by this means.

Naturally, through the exigencies of Parliamentary procedure, we have had to take this debate, a short one, late at night, but I assure the House, like my predecessors, that the work of the special schools will receive special consideration from the Parliamentary Secretary and myself.

Sir G. Nicholson

Can my right hon. Friend answer the question I put? Will he give attention to whether full use is being made of the grammar school facilities available, limited though they are?

Sir E. Boyle

I shall most certainly consider the point my hon. Friend raised.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

The House is most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the extremely lucid exposition of these Regulations and also for the sympathetic attitude he has shown on this problem.

May I make a suggestion? The Regulations make a new departure. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider in the next Report of the Ministry having a chapter devoted to the education of deaf children, or see that a special publication like that he has provided on further education and the Youth Service is issued about this problem? It is difficult for the general public to know what is going on, particularly as the problem is complicated. I have been reading the last few Annual Reports of the Department to get a general picture of the education of the deaf and what has happened. I find that in 1959 there was a very short paragraph, which hardly referred to the subject. In 1960 the situation was a little better inasmuch as the problems were posed. In the current Report there is a fairly reasonable account of the building programme and so on.

To make these Regulations work there is a whole host of circulars about teaching staff and the training of house staff, about the problems of diagnosis and so on, which need to be collated in a fairly convenient space so that both this House and the general public may know what is being done. Such a proposition might well resolve the sort of problems which are unclear. For example, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of progress in teaching the deaf, but between 1959 and now it seems that practically no progress has been made in the problem of over-size classes. In 1959 there were 36 over-size classes for the completely deaf, and this year there were four more. In 1959 there were 31 over-size classes for the partially deaf and this year there were 33. The only reduction which appears to have been made is in schools for the partially deaf and the deaf mixed. There there has been a drop in the number of over-size classes by nine. There are still about 100 over-size classes.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to do something to clarify the position in the mind of the public so that they can obtain useful information. That may resolve some of the doubts which some of us have that the progress is as fast as it should be. For example, on page 24 of the Annual Report there is an elaborate reference to the research group discussing the general problems of teaching and research and also improved methods which will follow from this amendment to the Regulations. Is this group Professor Lewis's group at Nottingham, or is it yet another group? There are four or five projects, as I understand it, connected with this, all of which need to be brought to the attention of the public so that people may know what is going on.

Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman give an indication of how much of the training of house staff and the training of teaching staff in handicapped schools is directed towards the teaching of the deaf?

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I am sure that we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mrs. White) for introducing the debate and to everyone who has contributed to it. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) in paying tribute to the Minister. He has given us a very useful and sympathetic summary of what is being done for the deaf. This emphasises the point my hon. Friend made. There is a place here for an effective brief statement of what has been done for the deaf and what has been done in the special schools. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this.

I want to make one suggestion to him. Everyone recognises that his Annual Report is a very useful document. What he might consider is whether within the scope of the Annual Report certain sections of education could have precedence in particular years and greater information be given about them.

The only part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which I did not very much like was his general reference to the special schools when he talked about the administrative difficulties of equating the schools to the need. This is a matter in which we have to be generous. We have a special responsibility. We should be particularly generous. Therefore, we should be concerned that there are still over-size classes and waiting lists. At the same time, I join the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends in emphasising that we welcome the assimilation of the deaf. We would far rather that greater advantage were taken of the aids and improvement to the aids to provide for the assimilation of the deaf in ordinary education. This is the very encouraging part of the night hon. Gentleman's speech.

The Minister also stressed the vital importance of ascertainment and assessment. It may be unavoidable, but this is one of those cases where there is an overlapping of responsibility between two Departments—the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Eudcation. I would rather that the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility was carried further. I know the difficulties. This is a joint responsibility, but if possible the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether his direct responsibility should not be carried further. I have read the very interesting and encouraging chapter in the Report of the Chief Medical Officer. It is obviously very important in the case of deafness for ascertainment and assistance to take place at the earliest possible moment and for the mother's co-operation to be secured. This is a broad definition of an educational responsibility.

Whether that be so or not, there is another point which is a direct Ministry of Health responsibility which has not been touched upon. This is the importance of further publicity about the causes of congenital deafness. These should be more widely known. From reading the Report it would appear that the causes are well known. If greater care were taken many of these tragic cases might be avoided.

I have intervened only to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the sympathetic reply he has given to the debate. All those who have taken part in the debate will have been encouraged. I pay tribute to the teachers. I welcome the more definite statement the right hon. Gentleman made about the second university course which he said that we can now expect. I can appreciate that there may be difficulties if negotiations are continued, but we expect this now to be instituted in 1964.

I hope that this debate will have not only given great encouragement to those engaged in this difficult aspect of education, but will be an encouragement to the right hon. Gentleman to do even more. In view of this, I am sure that my hon. Friend wild be anxious to withdraw the Motion.

Mrs. White

After the Minister's most excellent reply, I certainly beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.