HC Deb 07 December 1976 vol 922 cc212-3
7. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied with the educational provisions for disabled children.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I am pleased at recent improvements in the scale and quality of provision, of which my hon. Friend is aware, and look forward to further progress as resources allow. I know that my hon. Friend welcomes the new provisions in the Education Act 1976 which establish the principle that, so far as possible, handicapped and non-handicapped children should be educated together.

Mr. Ashley

Has my right hon. Friend begun consultations yet with the local education authorities about the amendment of the Education Act? When does she hope to bring into effect the section which would be of great benefit to disabled children?

Mrs. Williams

We shall shortly be discussing with local education authorities the activation of that section, and in the light of that discussion I shall declare the appointed day.

Mr. Luce

Does the Secretary of State realise that there are a great number of hearing-impaired and deaf children who, perhaps due to poor regional co-ordination, find themselves in special boarding schools situated a great distance from their homes, so that they do not have access to their homes at weekends? Is this not unsatisfactory, and will the Secretary of State look at it?

Mrs. Williams

Yes. There has been a rather remarkable increase in the last three years, from 11,000 to more than 18,000 places for handicapped children in classes in ordinary schools. However, as the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) implies, there is a particular problem about deaf children. They need special equipment as well as special teaching. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said when I activate the new section.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend consider the problem facing vaccine-damaged children in education? Although there are very few of them, they face unique educational difficulties.

Mrs. Williams

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said. Some children, including some vaccine-damaged children, are so substantially handicapped that special schools will have to be retained for them. As I understand the wish of the House, however, it is that as far as possible handicapped children should be educated in ordinary schools. We shall be awaiting the report of the Warnock Committee about the education of handicapped children in general.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Would not the best help that the Government could give to handicapped children be to amend the school and further education building regulations so that new schools, when they are built, take full account of the needs of the disabled?

Mrs. Williams

Yes, that matter is being considered, just as at the higher education level the recent study by the National Union of Students about handicapped students is being considered. I am sure that the whole House wants to take a constructive view of this matter.

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