HC Deb 13 March 1969 vol 779 cc1538-41
9. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recommendations on the education and training of deaf-blind children he received from the meeting called by his department on 18th March, 1968, and attended by representatives of the Department of Social Services, local authorities, the Royal National Institute of the Deaf, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, the National Association of Deaf, Blind and Rubella Children, and other interested persons; and what action he has taken on these recommendations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Denis Howell)

The meeting was held in order to pool experiences, and no recommendations were made. There have been follow-up meetings with the Department of Health and Social Security, and a conference was convened last year for teachers and other specialists, and another is planned in June this year.

Mr. Ashley

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is regrettable that no recommendations for action were taken at that conference? Does he further agree that the fact that only 17 out of 208 deaf-blind children are in special schools which provide for both disabilities is really deplorable? Is he aware that the parents of the remaining 191 are anxiously awaiting action by the Government?

Mr. Howell

It may be regrettable that there was no specific recommendation. But that was not for us; it was for the conference. My hon. Friend will appreciate that we are anxious to give as much help as we can to these extremely unfortunate children. The numbers are very small indeed. To deal with deaf-blind children requires tremendous expertise on the part of the teachers, and the number of teachers with those capacities is small. There is also the difficulty that the provision of schools is for the local authorities, not for us. The best hope that I can give my hon. Friend is that we are seriously considering whether the categories of very severely disabled children, including deaf-blind children, ought to be looked at again nationally to provide a specific service for them.

Sir E. Boyle

While recognising the desire of the hon. Gentleman and his Department to help in the matter, if there are so relatively few deaf-blind children and not many teachers with the special skills, is not this a case for concentrating efforts and trying some pilot project for the education of this category of children?

Mr. Howell

I accept that there is much substance in that suggestion. It is one of the matters that we are considering.

10. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what provision he is making for the long-term training and education of children with defects of both sight and hearing; and if he wil make a statement.

Mr. Denis Howell

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave my hon. Friend on 6th February.—[Vol. 777, c. 148–9.]

Mr. Ashley

While thanking my hon. Friend for that comprehensive and very helpful reply, may I ask whether he is aware that, although his Department has shown some concern for young deaf-blind children, it has shown very little concern for the older deaf-blind children? Does the Minister really appreciate that the dedicated people who are transforming young human vegetables into human beings are seriously disturbed over the lack of facilities provided by the Department for the future of these children?

Mr. Howell

I know that there is this concern, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it is shared by my right hon. Friend and me. We think that the first priority is the problem of early identification of children who have both disabilities. If we get that right we can then deal with the other things that we want to do. We are concentrating most of our attention on that problem at the moment.

Mr. Marten

When does the Minister hope to conclude his thoughts on the possible pilot scheme mentioned in the previous Question?

Mr. Howell

I could not possibly give a date, but I know that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that it will be done as urgently as possible.

Mr. Eadie

Is my hon. Friend aware that many parents in Scotland are grateful for the education provided by, for example, the Mary Hare Grammar School? Is he further aware that there would be no protestations from Scotland or anywhere else if we were to agree to a substantial increase of public expenditure in this sphere?

Mr. Howell

I am not responsible for what is happening in Scotland. If Scotland is leading the Sassenachs it will not be the first time. I will take account of what my hon. Friend has said.

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