HC Deb 13 March 1973 vol 852 cc1087-9
1. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she proposes to issue her circular on staffing ratios in special schools.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

The circular was issued on 6th March. I arranged for a copy to be sent to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jones

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. I regret that it took two years to prepare the circular. Will she guarantee that the money for these improved ratios will be available for the coming financial year? May we have a detailed supplementary circular about the staffing in hospital schools? For example, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give that young handicapped children will get the good nursery education they deserve?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman has put three supplementary questions. The new ratios are dealt with in paragraph 29 of the circular, which says that the new standards required …might call for an addition of about 2,000 to the teaching force in special schools…It is envisaged that the build up will be gradual. An appropriate target for 31 March 1975 might be about 1,000 extra teachers drawing the special schools addition, building up thereafter to reach the standards envisaged. It will take a little time.

The hon. Gentleman's second point about hospital schools is dealt with in paragraph 28, where it is stressed that another circular is in preparation.

Thirdly, we shall give special attention in the other nursery schools circular to the needs of handicapped children together with deprived children by considering projects which local authorities put forward for the early stages of the programme.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is not the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) putting the cart slightly before the horse? More important than staffing ratios is the provision of sufficient numbers of schools so that all people who qualify for admission will get places. I think my right hon. Friend will agree that that has not yet been achieved.

Mrs. Thatcher

There is a waiting list. Many years ago there was a waiting list of about 14,000 for education in special schools. In spite of heavy building programmes, the waiting list remains about the same. It is this kind of consideration which led me to step up once again the capital provision in the White Paper for special schools, and I think that has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Dormand

In spite of that, is the right hon. Lady aware that not only staffing but all aspects of special education are so serious that no less than a full-scale Plowden type inquiry into special education is warranted? Does she agree that the several unconnected investigations which are presently taking place into special education do not add up to a meaningful whole? Why is the Secretary of State so afraid to institute a major inquiry?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that I have a standing advisory committee on this matter, which was set up towards the end of the life of the last Government. It does valuable work and it gives me advice. We have accepted its recommendations on a research programme for maladjusted children. That source of advice together with the special reports and other information which I have from the inspectorate and the increased provision which has been made, are, I believe, better than any large inquiry.

Miss Fookes

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations for the very generous staffing ratios and for the sympathetic way in which the varying handicaps are considered?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am happy to do so. I agree that the staffing ratios in the circular show how much we appreciate the real needs of these children and how we are prepared to vary the teaching group according to the handicap of the child. Some of the groups will be as small as six. Sometimes, when blind children are being taught, the teaching group will be two or three.