HC Deb 14 February 1978 vol 944 cc219-21
3. Mr. Ashley

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

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend will continue to seek ways of improving the quality of special education.

Mr. Ashley

Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Union of Teachers has said that the resources and facilities for the education of children in hospital are appallingly inadequate? Therefore, will she consult the Department of Health and Social Security to see what can be done to remedy this difficult problem of children's education being damaged in hospital?

Miss Jackson

I am aware of the report recently published by the NUT. Like my hon. Friend, I consider it to be a good and useful piece of work. However, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Warnock Committee is sitting, and we hope that it will report later this year. It is also considering the question of hospital special schools. We shall look at the NUT report in the light of the Warnock Report and hope to make some addition to the progress made in recent years in providing education for children in hospitals.

Mr. Welsh

Is the hon. Lady aware of the radio link method of teaching deaf children? What steps is she taking to extend its use?

Miss Jackson

I am aware that there are a variety of methods of teaching deaf children. I am not familiar with the one the hon. Gentleman quotes, but if he will write to me about its particular values I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Ashton

Will my hon. Friend look into the refusal by Nottinghamshire County Council to provide taxis for at least one mentally handicapped child? It has put him into a mental hospital instead, because it is too mean to provide taxis.

Miss Jackson

If my hon. Friend will write to me about that case, I shall consider it. But there are children who are perhaps better provided for in hospital. Certainly, many of the good schools that exist in association with hospitals exist where there are hospitals dealing with mentally handicapped children. I should not wish to leap to conclusions about a particular case without knowing the details.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a need for a great deal of flexibility in interpreting the regulations, as it is not always possible clearly to define the dividing line between different categories?

Miss Jackson

Yes, Sir. It would be hard to disagree with that. One of the principal problems affecting hospital schools and hospital teaching is that so many children are in hospitals for a very brief time and that those who are in for a sustained period have such a variety of problems to cope with.

Mr. Grocott

Does my hon. Friend agree that disabled children possibly more than other children need the support and sustenance of their home and as far as possible should be educated not at boarding schools but at day schools? Is she aware that in my constituency, in Tamworth, many children are being forced to board at Needwood School for the Deaf, about 15 miles away, when both parents and children would like the Staffordshire Education Committee to provide the children with daily transport to and from the school?

Miss Jackson

I accept my hon. Friend's case that this is a particularly difficult aspect of providing education for handicapped children. It would certainly always be our view that handicapped children should remain as closely as possible in touch with their homes and as much as possible in touch with children in other ordinary schools. But undoubtedly some authorities face problems at present in providing adequate education for the numbers of children involved. Sadly, some of them have decided on expenditure grounds, as my hon. Friend says, not to make available provision which perhaps has been available in the past. We regret this.

Mrs. Knight

Will the hon. Lady say anything about the supply of peripatetic teachers for this purpose, and what she is doing to encourage teachers to take up this type of teaching?

Miss Jackson

As a general rule, the supply of peripatetic teachers is a little hard to assess because it depends on the number of teachers that authorities are prepared to keep on their books. It is, therefore, information that they will have rather than information that is likely to be easily available to us. There is no question but that we are anxious to encourage as many teachers as possible, whether peripatetic or permanent, to work with children with these difficulties. Although it is very difficult, it is rewarding work for those involved.