HC Deb 26 June 1973 vol 858 cc1296-7
3. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schools for the mentally handicapped she has visited in 1972 and 1973.

Mrs. Thatcher

My Ministers and I have visited 12 special schools in this period. Among those visited by myself were two concerned with mentally handicapped children and two with educationally subnormal children.

Mr. Jones

Is it not alarming that in hospital schools as many as 75 per cent. of the teaching staff can be unqualified, a great deal of the equipment often unsuitable and dozens of children totally ignored educationally? What urgent and special measures will the Secretary of State make to improve education for the mentally handicapped? Is it not shameful that the Government can build their Concordes and allow the Lonrho directors to get away with murder while these luckless kids are pushed into dark corners?

Mrs. Thatcher

The whole building programme for special schools has been increased substantially. The building programme that I have approved for the next three years is 45 per cent. greater than that for the last three years, which is a great achievement. We have just moved the capital programme for hospital schools from the regional hospital boards to the Department of Education and Science and a circular about hospital schools is to be sent out comparatively shortly.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is the Secretary of State aware of the grave shortage of speech therapists in many of the schools for handicapped children? Will she comment on it?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have just accepted some of the recommendations of the special report on speech therapy, namely, to have a unified service operating under the area health authorities. Another suggestion was to increase the number, but I believe that would be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the standard of hospital teaching in my constituency is exceptionally high and that many children who are severely subnormal are getting as far as fractions in their maths and are able to read with great facility?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. The hospital school that I saw comparatively recently was excellent and I confirm what she said about the teaching. It may be that some of the teachers have not got the special qualifications for teaching these handicapped children, but they are nevertheless very good, devoted and dedicated teachers.