HC Deb 16 December 1975 vol 902 cc1153-4
12. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps to provide special education for those disabled children who need it.

Miss Joan Lestor

It is the responsibility of the local education authorities to secure the provision of special education for children who are discovered to need it; and they have been invited to review this provision at a series of regional conferences which my Department has promoted this year. The number of places in special schools and classes has substantially increased through the building programmes authorised by the Department in recent years, and in the future my right hon. Friend will seek to ensure for handicapped children a fair share of available resources.

Mr. Ashley

I am grateful for that reply, but is my hon. Friend aware that there is deep concern about the lack of special educational facilities for the 6,000 autistic children in Britain? Although those children cannot be helped medically, they can be helped by special education. Is my hon. Friend aware that no fewer than five out of six of these children are not receiving such help? In view of that deplorable and regrettable situation, will she give an assurance that the Secretary of State will contact local authorities and ask them to make provision for special education for all autistic children?

Miss Lestor

I share my hon. Friend's concern, particularly about autistic children. A great deal of work has been undertaken, and I think he knows that there are disagreements about the best way of dealing with these children. Local authorities inform us of the methods they employ. At the moment, there is a shortage of resources, but autistism should be given high priority when we examine the subject of the handicapped.

Sir John Hall

Does the Minister agree that we require specially trained and dedicated teachers to look after disabled children? Is she satisfied that training facilities are such as to provide the numbers of teachers required?

Miss Lestor

The fact that the calls for places in special schools have increased probably points to the fact that we are discovering handicap earlier than previously. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is probably right to say that we should look more closely at the number of teachers being trained to meet what is likely to be a growing demand. I will take account of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Golding

Is my hon. Friend aware that Staffordshire County Council in providing good facilities for the handicapped in Newcastle-under-Lyme? Will she ensure that, when the regional conferences meet, they will discuss the provision to be made for small groups of handicapped children and facilities on a region-wide basis?

Miss Lestor

I shall give that consideration. I think that it is a very good idea.

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