HC Deb 08 July 1974 vol 876 cc1106-14

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hatton (Manchester, Moss Side)

The subject that I wish to raise relates to the facilities available for research and advanced training for teachers of maladjusted children. Various surveys have pointed out that about 10 per cent. of children are maladjusted, representing about 1 million children. About 3 per cent. or 300,000 are severely maladjusted. Yet fewer than 10,000 maladjusted children receive special education.

Every school has this problem. It was recently described by Mr. Max Morris, an ex-president of the National Union of Teachers, as one of the biggest problems in schools today. He said: It exists in such great numbers that many teachers feel overwhelmed by the difficulties. He went on to say: The symptoms are often indiscipline, sometimes violence. In any debate about educational standards, there is mention of indiscipline and indeed violence. The ignorant and the ill-informed attribute this condition to failure by schools and the weakness of teachers. It is sometimes said, unfortunately even in this House, that the reason is comprehensive education or the increase in size of secondary schools. It is because of my sympathy with teachers' problems that I have raised this important subject.

Two categories of those who are handicapped—maladjusted children and delicate children—are regarded as largely recoverable. With proper handling and treatment the maladjusted child should be able to be readjusted and therefore no longer in the handicapped category. If not readjusted, he will tend to become a disturbed adult and may be at best a social misfit or personally unhappy and at worst a psychiatric casualty spending his entire life in an institution.

To teach maladjusted children is not only a task of teaching a child to accept and cope with his disability and to make the best of what nature has provided him with. Teaching maladjusted children is a far more extensive operation involving not only helping the child to learn but also aiding in the child's recovery and the readjustment very often of a mentally disturbed person.

Teachers of maladjusted children have to work with and to assist psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiotherapists and to co-operate with social workers in coping with disturbed homes. The problem occurs in the classroom, and many ordinary teachers are at a loss in knowing what to do because they have not been trained to deal with the problem. In the initial training course very little help is given as to how to identify problems. The courses that exist are totally inadequate and are not growing in number to any extent. There are not the places available for teachers who wish to improve their knowledge of this problem. It would seem that teachers would not be available even if places were provided.

In 1967 an advanced diploma in the education of maladjusted children was started at the University of Manchester. It was the second university course devoted completely to maladjustment, the first being the University of London course. It soon became obvious that there was a demand for a course at an even higher level. In 1972 a course was commenced at the level of Master of Education of Maladjusted Children, This course is at present the only proper master's level course in the world that is devoted only to maladjustment. It is not possible to find another truly master's level course anywhere on special education. This seems to indicate the lack of facilities today to deal with this very important problem which faces so many teachers in our schools.

We are at present further restricted because of the zero rate of development in the education departments of our universities. Therefore, our teachers cannot improve and enlarge their skills and abilities as teachers of maladjusted children. To obtain the maximum benefits of a curative approach it is necessary to be fully aware of what is being done elsewhere. One needs to question, to innovate and to try out—in short, to do research.

As I have said, maladjustment is one of our largest school problems today, yet it is hardly researched at all. If we are to avoid the dilution of the teaching of education of maladjusted children and the running down of maladjusted children and the running down of what I have described as the only two master's level courses in the education of maladjusted children in the world today, it is imperative that the Department of Education and Science considers the lack of resources in this particular matter and treats it with the most serious urgency.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to give an assurance that when the time comes the Government will be able to devote more of the nation's resources to the education service, as I believe hon. Members on both sides of the House wish. There is an important need both to enlarge training facilities for teachers involved with the serious problem I have been speaking about and to devote a greater degree of the nation's resources to research work. I ask my hon. Friend to give an assurance that the Government's sympathy in relation to this important problem will be along the lines I have suggested.

11.0 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton) for raising this topic this evening. His record in education administration is distinguished. I thought earlier today that if a motion which was before the House was carried I might tomorrow find myself as Minister of State responsible for further "de-schooling" and higher "de-schooling". I am pleased that such an eventuality is not to occur and that my hon. Friend and I can continue to discuss serious educational problems.

What my hon. Friend has said complements neatly the subject of an Adjournment debate three weeks ago in which another of my hon. Friends raised a problem concerning a maladjusted child in his constituency. I am glad to see that hon. Members on the Government side are devoting so much time to these grievous problems.

My hon. Friend raised a specific point relating to the master of education course at Manchester. He also drew attention to master of education courses now running in this country which provide specifically for the training of teachers in order that they can cope with the education of maladjusted children. I gather that the course at Manchester University is an excellent one. I should like to be able to provide assistance to that course, but I am prohibited in a sense by the arrangements which have always been made in respect of university education. It is very much up to Manchester University to determine the allocation of resources within both the budget it receives from the University Grants Committee and the finances it receives from other resources. I recognise the valuable contribution which the Manchester course has been making to the education of teachers of maladjusted children, and I greatly hope that the university will find it possible to make the necessary provision for the course to continue, but it is beyond my remit and my power as a Minister to do anything to aid that course.

The Department makes certain provisions in relation to courses of this or a similar nature, in terms of what I might call pump-priming, but these provisions essentially stem from our power to pay fees, on whatever level, in the early years of a course in order to get it off the ground. Therefore, it is very much up to the university as an autonomous institution to make its own decisions and determine its own priorities.

Before I turn to the facilities available for the in-service training of teachers for the special educational treatment of maladjustment and other handicaps, it might be helpful to make the point, which is often overlooked, that the great majority of handicapped children are, and will continue to be, educated in ordinary schools. The policy has always been—and rightly so—that handicapped children should not be separated from their peers and sent to special schools unless the severity of their handicap made this essential. This means that many teachers will in the ordinary course of their duties be faced with the severe problems—I do not seek to minimise them; I have every sympathy with the teachers who have to deal with them—posed by children suffering from handicaps of various kinds and degrees and they will need a variety of types of appropriate training.

Thus it is desirable that all teachers should, as part of their initial training, learn something of the less serious disabilities likely to be encountered. It is desirable that they should learn to cope not only with the ordinary or the gifted child but with the child who is suffering from a disability which may not necessitate his having to undergo special education—in other words, where the child is better in the ordinary main stream of education but needs special treatment within the school.

Some colleges of education offer optional courses, usually in the third year, for students interested in teaching handicapped children with behavioural difficulties and other courses in the teaching of educationally subnormal children. It is the Department's policy to encourage colleges to provide, as part of initial training, courses in special education where they have the necessary expertise and resources to do so.

There is, however, general agreement that the advanced training of teachers of handicapped children must be undertaken by way of courses of in-service training. I agree with my hon. Friend that further provision must be made. This year there are over 40 one-year courses for teachers of handicapped children leading to a university diploma or certificate. Apart from a small number concerned specifically with the teaching of the blind and the deaf—we can treat those as being in a special category—most of the courses pay attention to the emotional disorders of children, although only five are devoted exclusively to this problem. That may be as well.

Mr. Hatton

I am concerned particularly about the lack of facilities for identifying the problem in the initial training courses.

Mr. Fowler

I share my hon. Friend's concern. The difficulty is that we would be providing a very specialised training were we to teach teachers to identify specific disabilities over a very wide range. That is not a contradiction in terms. My hon. Friend must recognise that, because there are in ordinary schools children with such a very wide range of disabilities, to provide the sort of expertise he asks for would require a course in the identification of disabilities rather than a course in teaching.

I suspect that it is better in a sense if we seek to give a wide range of teachers an ability to identify certain disabilities. We never know where children with specific disabilities will turn up in school. It would be impossible to distribute our teaching force so as to ensure that the right man was in the right place at the right time. Perhaps the best hope is that all our teachers in training may ultimately have some expertise in the identification of disabilities. They should at least be able to call upon the deeper expertise of somebody more specifically trained.

The five one-year full-time diploma courses for experienced teachers which provide specialist advanced study of the education of maladjusted children are at five universities, including the University in Manchester, the city that my hon. Friend represents. They have a total of 72 places. At the moment they are a little under-subscribed. There are some 64 teachers seconded by their employers at those courses. There is another course starting this year at Keele. These courses are only a small part of the total provision of advanced courses. In all, some 550 teachers are attending a total of 34 one-year full-time diploma or certificate courses in the education of handicapped children. Again, I omit the blind and the deaf. The total of 550 compares with 515 on the same number of courses last year and 471, with two fewer courses, the year before. We are thus making progress.

Teachers attending these courses are generally seconded by their employing authorities on full salary. The number of places currently available is broadly in line with the number of teachers that local education authorities are able to second for such courses. The number of secondments which an authority can approve in a given year is restricted by its own need to maintain adequate staffing standards in its schools. I hope that the authorities will take into account the need to second teachers on courses of this kind. Nevertheless we recognise that authorities have their difficulties.

We are determined to secure a major expansion, as my hon. Friend will know, of in-service training for teachers in schools generally as increases in the teaching force permit us progressively to release larger numbers of teachers to in-service training. Within that general pattern of expansion it may be appropriate to give priority to developments in certain directions. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks in the sense that one of my priorities will be to release teachers for in-service training and education in respect of the education of handicapped children of all kinds, and specifically the education of maladjusted children.

We are very much aware of the need for a greater knowledge and understanding of the causes of maladjustment and of the ways of helping children with behavioural difficulties. Our programme of research is designed to help meet this need. We are spending more on research into maladjustment in children than on research into any other handicapping condition. In the past five years my Department has commissioned research to a total cost of more than £300,000 in the sphere of maladjustment. Much of that is on-going research. I am not saying that we spent £300,000 in the past five years. Let me not be misunderstood; we have not. However, we have commissioned research of which the total cost is approximately £300,000.

Following the recommendation of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Handicapped Children, we have commissioned a major research project directed by Dr. Kolvin of the Nuffield Child Psychiatry Unit at Newcastle. The project is designed to find out what can be achieved in ordinary schools by comparing the results of various measures to help maladjusted children with the position that prevails in schools where no special programme has been devised. Those measures include liaison with parents, remedial reading programmes and group therapy carried out by visiting social workers.

I hope my hon. Friend will agree that the hope for progress in the future lies in this direction. We have to take the children in ordinary schools, educate our teachers to deal with them, discover how they are coping in dealing with the problems of maladjustment and design our research to improve the performance of the teachers and, hence, improve the performance of the children in coping with their maladjustment.

My own hope is that in the future we shall regard maladjustment as a problem which can be readily overcome in our ordinary schools without the need for special education because we have a teaching force which has been educated to identify and to deal with that problem. It should be a problem in the future, I hope, no more serious than the problem which we should now regard as attaching to attacks of measles or German measles, which when I was a child were serious debilitating illnesses.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.