HC Deb 12 June 1967 vol 748 cc265-74

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

11.58 p.m.

Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)

I wish to raise this evening the case of Daniel Dorday, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Dorday, my constituents. Daniel Dorday is a young boy, just 4 years old, and he is almost completely stone deaf, and it is my contention that he is not receiving the education which is best suited to his needs.

I have seen Daniel and met his parents, and it is very evident that they care for him deeply, and in a sense is is a great mercy that they do, because he is constantly shifting around, poking into this and that, moving around from place to place, making little noises, and it is difficult to control him or to prevent him because of this great difficulty of making contact with him on account of his disability.

It is probably well recognised that children suffering from this disability need to start their education at an age, if at all possible, rather earlier than other children so that the initial problem of establishing contact with them may be overcome. It is my complaint that Daniel is being excluded from the special facilities that ought to be made available for children suffering from this disability.

The education authority responsible for Daniel's education is the London Borough of Bromley. I make it clear that nothing I say is intended in any way as criticism of that borough nor of the facilities it provides. The London boroughs, including Bromley, have been in existence for only two years with full powers and, therefore, they have only the facilities they found available when they took over and it would be unreasonable to expect them to produce everything in a relatively short space of time.

So when I say that, in Bromley, there is no special school for the deaf, I am not saying that in any way as a sort of criticism, but am stating it as an objective fact. But although there is no special school for the deaf in Bromley, the borough is making efforts to provide educational facilities for deaf children. I will briefly mention them but I want to show that in no case are they exactly suited for what Daniel requires.

First, Daniel is attending and has been attending for some time classes on two afternoons a week in Beckenham. I am grateful to and admire the lady who takes these classes. She deserves praise and will receive no criticism from me. But again I state, simply as an objective fact, that she is not, I understand, a teacher specially qualified for teaching the deaf.

Secondly, just within the last few days, a special unit has been established in St. Paul's Cray, which Daniel attends on four mornings a week. Once again, the ladies responsible for this unit deserve admiration and not criticism, and they will get no criticism from me. But again, I state as an objective fact that they are not, I understand, teachers specially qualified for teaching the deaf.

Thirdly, as has been mentioned in correspondence I have had with my hon. Friend the Minister of State—she wrote this on 8th April— … Bromley hope to open a special class of their own in 1968 for young children with impaired hearing. Indeed, Bromley does. But I am advised that this class will be for partially deaf children and therefore will be of no particular assistance to Daniel because he is almost completely stone deaf.

Fourthly, the Bromley authorities have been in touch with the Porterhouse School for Deaf Children, in Surrey. The point I make here is that the school is under the control of another authority. That point will, I hope, become relevant in a moment. Unfortunately, there is no place at the school for him until some time next year.

Finally, Bromley has been in touch with a school for deaf children in Margate. I hear very good reports of it and no doubt it is admirable. But it is a boarding school. Even for a normal child aged 4 it would be a rather harsh and drastic step to send him away to a boarding school and perhaps this should be done only if absolutely necessary.

In this case, where we have a little boy whose contact even with his own family is necessarily limited because of his disability, to send him to a boarding school among total strangers with whom he will have no contact is a drastic step and one which should be taken only if everything else fails. These, then, are the facilities that Bromley has tried to make available and in no case are they exactly suited to what Daniel requires.

So it is necessary to look somewhere else, and not very far. In the adjoining Borough of Greenwich there is a special school for deaf children, the Beverley school, at a distance not impossibly far away, but this school is already full.

I am not so foolish to suppose that simply because I make a fuss a place will magically be found for Daniel at this school. All I am asking is that he should be considered on equal terms with other deaf children for a place there. If, on that basis, no place for him could be found, then, with regret, I would have to advise his parents that I could do nothing further. However, my contention is that he has not been considered equally.

I rest my case on the provisions of the London Government Act, 1963, which provides, as I read it, that borough boundaries shall be no necessary bar for children to receive the education that they require.

I submit that Daniel should be offered an even chance for admission to the Beverley school, Greenwich, with other deaf children in the south-east London area—a chance no greater, but certainly no less. Unfortunately, it appears that he is being excluded from consideration for admission to this school upon the sole ground that his parents are resident in an outer London area. Beverley school is filled with children from the inner London area and a place for Daniel is not and would not be available unless and until all the children from the inner London area had been satisfied with places.

I submit that this is a contravention of Section 31(8) of the London Government Act, which states that … it shall not be a ground for refusing a pupil admission to … any such school or institution maintained or assisted by a local education authority in Greater London that the pupil resides in the area of some other local education authority if that area is within … Greater London. I am advised that the Beverley school used to admit children from the outer London area. I will quote from a letter dated 6th March, 1967, which I have received from the Chief Education Officer of the London Borough of Bromley: Until about the middle of 1966, we were reasonably well served by the Inner London Education Authority who allowed us to make use of their day special schools. We were then informed, however, that because of the lack of places, children from outside the Inner London area could no longer be considered. Further to that, I have had, as I have mentioned, correspondence with my right hon. Friend and in a letter dated 28th April, 1967, she referred to this exclusion: … the steps they"— the Inner London Education Authority— took were prompted not by any wish to restrict the catchment areas of the schools, but by the fact that applications were exceeding what the schools and their staffs could cope with. I do not think it would have been a solution to admit, to day schools, children from more distant homes if this meant excludin children who lived nearer. I cannot accept the contention in that last sentence. Is it the case that Daniel is being excluded from this school and that children from inner London are being admitted to it whose disability is less severe? If so, this is unjust. Or is it that Daniel is failing to get a place at this school and places are being taken by children from inner London who are younger than him? Once again, if that is so, it is unjust.

It is just a coincidence, but one thing which makes Daniel's exclusion very grievous and galling and hard for his parents to bear is that there are children from outer London areas being admitted to Beverley school, and it so happens that one of these children from further out travels daily to and from Beverley school in transport that passes the end of the road in which my constituents live. Therefore, Daniel's parents daily see some other child from the outer London area enjoying facilities from which their son is excluded, and that is very distressing for them.

My constituents have been told in writing that there is a school for the deaf at Tottenham and that if they moved to north London, Daniel would be admitted to a place there. They have been told verbally that if they were to move to inner London, Daniel would qualify for a place at Beverley school. It therefore appears that his exclusion from Beverley school is based solely on the fact that he lives in an outer London borough. The head of Beverley school has seen Daniel and considers him to be suitable for admission to the school.

I think that I have said sufficient to show that if Daniel lived in inner London, he would have been admitted to Beverley school and that his exclusion is based solely on the ground that he lives in outer London. I know that my right hon. Friend can hardly intervene in matters of detail and I do not expect her to wave a magic wand and create a place for Daniel at this school, but I ask her to intervene to ensure that the law is being observed. All I ask is that Daniel should have an equal chance with other children in the south-east London area for admission to the school most suited to his needs.

During the last few days, the House has been considering matters of great importance—the tragic affair in the Middle East and today the Finance Bill, setting out the taxation structure for the coming year. I hope that it is with no sense of anti-climax that we now turn to consider the affair of one little boy, because his education is to him as important as the other matters which we have been considering. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some assurance that the education suited to his needs can be provided for him.

12.12 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I should like, first, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) on raising this case and on the great energy with which he has pursued it over a number of months, dating back to nearly a year ago when he first took it up with my predecessor, the late Mr. Edward Redhead. He has taken great interest in the family and he has clearly expressed that interest tonight.

Young Daniel's position has shown some improvement in the last few days, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, since originally attending part-time nursery school at Beckenham with occasional visits from a peripatetic teacher of the deaf in Bromley who herself is considerably burdened with a heavy case load.

Since 5th June, as a purely temporary arrangement, this young boy has joined a group of pre-school partially hearing children at Midfield Primary school under a teacher who is qualified, though admittedly not qualified as a teacher of the deaf, but who has a child who is itself deaf and who has shown a very sympathetic approach to the problems of deaf children for a considerable length of time. In addition to this, and the fact that the boy will still be attending his nursery school on Monday and Friday afternoons, he will also be given individual training on Wednesday afternoons by the teacher who will be taking him with the pre-school group of partially hearing children.

Further, an application is being made to the Royal School for the Deaf at Margate. As my hon. Friend said, this was a boarding school, but for a young child living in Bromley it would be possible to make weekly boarding arrangements, and I understand that that would be acceptable to the parents. If the boy were accepted at the school, he would be able to attend a school with a very distinguished record of dealing with deaf children.

My hon. Friend forcefully made a point about the position of out-county children attending I.L.E.A. schools. It is not the case that the I.L.E.A., since the London Government Act, is refusing to take children from outside the I.L.E.A. area. Of the three schools for deaf children, at the Beverley School, one-quarter of the children now there are from outside the I.L.E.A. area; at the Old Kent Road School For the Deaf, one-fifth of the children now there are from outside the London area; at the special unit at the Meridian Primary School, just under one in four of the children are from outside the London area, and the situation is that the I.L.E.A. is still making available a very considerable number of places in its special schools for deaf children from outside London.

It is not so much the London Government Act, as simply the fact that London is now coping with an unexpected rise in the number of deaf children, which arises from the Asian 'flu epidemic in 1962–63 and from a rise in the number of cases of children whose mothers suffered from rubella, German measles in that year, which has led to an unexpected, and sharp rise in the number of deaf and partially deaf children. In consequence of this, London has had to indicate that it cannot offer as many out-county places as it has been able to offer in the years up to 1966.

I would like to make it clear that it is still offering some out-county places, and that these out-county places are offered to children in the greatest need. In the particular case of Beverley school, with which the parents of Daniel Dorday are particularly concerned, we understand that already it has been necessary to reduce the education of ten pre-school children from full-time to part-time in consequence of the pressure on places. This is not purely limited to out-county children.

It is also the case that this school is finding itself up against a continual increase in demand from London and out-county children alike in the present year. In addition, it must be borne in mind that the Beverley school, and another of the schools for deaf children in London, are about to be replaced by a new school, and therefore they must not extend their capacity beyond what can be dealt with by the new school.

To do so would be to take on children whose education would have, at a very early stage, to be broken, with very sharp effects on the children. I would add that Bromley is planning to build a three-class prefabricated unit for partially deaf children at Orpington, which will serve Bromley. It is making an application, which we have promised to look at sympathetically. In addition, it is trying to open a unit for partially deaf children at the Ramsden primary infants' school in Orpington. Although it has advertised consistently for a teacher of the partially deaf, it has so far been unable to find anyone, and this I will deal with in a moment.

The Royal School for Deaf Children at Margate, to which I have referred, is to be rebuilt and expanded in the 1968–69 building programme. All this may not be of immediate help to Daniel Dorday, though it will help him, perhaps very soon. It is worth underlining the two major issues which affect the whole of the provisions for deaf children in South-East England.

It is not that there is a shortage, specifically of accommodation, although more should be done in respect of building, and is being done. The real difficulty lies in the number of teachers qualified to teach deaf children. There has been a very sharp rise, from 589 teachers in 1959 to 773 last year, but the bulk of this increase has lain with teachers in special units, attached to ordinary schools, and in the number of peripatetic teachers of deaf children.

There has not been a corresponding increase in the number of teachers attached to special schools, and in consequence of this the schools have run into difficulties in attracting as many trained teachers of the deaf as they would wish to have. We are now endeavouring to increase fairly rapidly the facilities for the training of teachers of deaf children, but I must make it clear that it is these facilities for training, which themselves were negotiated and expanded before it was known that there would be this unexpected bulge arising from the 1962 epidemics, which are the bottleneck in the provision of trained teachers of the deaf.

I want to say a word in respect of what my hon. Friend said about units for partially hearing children being of no use for his constituents' child. The phrase "partially hearing children" does not mean the degree of physical disability from which the child may suffer. It is a term used largely to define the capacity of a child to be able to use natural speech and develop language with the help of amplification and his own natural hearing ability. So far as we know, it is not the case that Daniel Dorday would be in the group of children who are not capable of such language development or development of natural speech. We are not referring here to a physical state. We are referring to a potential for learning natural speech or language development.

In the light of this, I assure my hon. Friend that as far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no discrimination against his constituent's son simply on the ground that he is a child from outside London. On the contrary, London is still taking many children from outside the county. Alhough one or two children younger than Daniel Dorday have been taken into the school, I would refer my hon. Friend to an explanation that was given him on 9th August by my predecessor: For handicapped pupils, especially those under compulsory school age, admission to a special school where necessary is not simply a matter of dealing with children in order of age. It involves many complex and interacting medical, educational and social factors, including in the case of young deaf children such considerations as the ability of the parents to help the child at home in ways which stimulate the development of his speech and language. For example, a two year old who is a member of a large family which makes heavy demands on the time and attention of the parents may be in greater need of special schooling than a three year old who is a member of a small family. We would need to look at each individual case to see whether the combination of the social need and the physical handicap was such as to indicate that in certain cases a young child might require education at one of the schools to which my hon. Friend was referring and would demand in those cases a higher priority than a child whose parents are in a strong position to help him, as the case of this young boy.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are making every effort to get this boy into a school which will give him the fullest possible educational opportunities concommitant with his parents' desire that he shall not be placed in a termly board- ing school, which we appreciate and respect. But I believe that the temporary arrangements now made are considerably better than the arrangements which were made before this time. I very much hope that we shall shortly be able to say that this young boy's needs are being fully met.

I refer, lastly, to the position of the school at Tottenham. The reasons why the boy could not be placed at Tottenham unless he moved to North London were the strain on a 4-year old child making a daily journey from Bromley to Tottenham, which we, and I believe the authority, regarded as being beyond what could be asked from such a young child. The reference to his parents being able to get a place if they moved was purely a reference to the distance which a child of this age could be expected to travel daily.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the assurance that every effort is being made to find suitable educational opportunities for this child. I am satisfied that the provisions of the London Government Act, 1963, are not being overlooked in the case of his constituents' son.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Twelve o'clock.