HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1508-9
19. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has to increase the supply of teachers specially qualified to teach educationally subnormal children.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the hon. Member will know from the reply to his Question on 15th November, the numbers of students taking three-year courses of initial training for teachers of mentally handicapped children are in fact increasing. My Department is planning further expansion of such provision.

Mr. Dormand

That is a typically complacent reply from the Department about this seriously neglected sector of education. Is the right hon. Lady aware that of the teachers who are teaching ESN children—which is what the Question is about—only 22 per cent. are qualified and that within the last four years there has been an annual increase of only 13 teachers attending these courses? Is it not abundantly clear that a Plowden-type major investigation into the education of ESN children is long overdue?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department is not in the least complacent about this important section of the educational service, and attaches a great deal of importance to it. There are 400 places available in 17 colleges for three-year courses of initial training for teachers of mentally handicapped children. The intake to those courses in September, 1972, was only 358. Nevertheless, negotiations have been in progress with five other colleges of education with a view to providing a further 100 places in September, 1973. We have encountered some difficulties over this and are now pursuing other means of increasing the number of places.

Sir D. Renton

Could not places which have not been filled perhaps be quite easily filled if a shorter course of three years were offered to those who already have a good deal of practical experience?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, teachers of educationally sub-normal children are not required to have special qualifications, but as a transitional arrangement, following the transfer of the responsibilities for this form of education from the DHSS to my Department, holders of the Diploma of the Training Council for Teachers of the Mentally Handicapped can take one-year conversion courses. In 1971–72, 464 teachers took one-year courses as opposed to three-year courses.