HC Deb 18 July 1978 vol 954 cc256-9
13. Mr. Cope

asked the Secretary of of State for Education and Science what action she intends to take in the light of the Warnock report on the education of handicapped children and young people.

14. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to conclude discussions on action to be taken to implement the statement in the Warnock Committee's report that one in five children needs special educational help.

24. Mr. David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to conclude her discussions on any changes in the current arrangements for the education of handicapped children, consequential upon the publication of Mrs. Warnock's report, Command Paper No. 7212, May 1978.

Miss Margaret Jackson

My right hon. Friend announced on 24th May the Government's intention to consult widely before reaching decisions on the Warnock Committee's findings. A consultative document will be sent to a wide range of interests shortly inviting replies by 28th February 1979. Meantime my Department and the Welsh Office, in conjunction with other Departments concerned, will be conducting their own study of the report's recommendations and suggestions.

Mr. Cope

Will the Secretary of State and the other Ministers in considering this report, give particular attention to the importance, which I think comes out strongly in the report, of education for the under-fives who are handicapped, which is even more important than it is for the under-fives generally?

Miss Jackson

I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. It has been a priority of my Department for some time, when funds for under-fives have been short, to make them available particularly to people of this kind.

Mr. Price

Does the Minister accept that, desirable though it is to aim at the integration of handicapped pupils with normal pupils in normal schools, a point is reached on the scale of handicap when special schools remain very important? Does she accept also that Mrs. Warnock and her colleagues rather blurred this point and suggested that special schools were not as important as, I believe, they are?

Miss Jackson

I accept that there may be particular varieties or degrees of handicap which cannot be coped with in ordinary schools, but it has been my experience that whenever I have concluded that a particular group, say, is so involved, I have then come across examples of successful integration. If the Warnock Committee was not more definite on this, I suspect that it was because the committee did not want to rule out future developments which might make it invalid.

Mr. Roderick

Does my hon. Friend agree or not agree that the reform of special education is of such importance as to warrant detailed consultations and the provision of adequate resources? Does she not agree that some local authorities are now rushing into reform as a money-saving device as a result of section 10? Will she urge them to make haste slowly?

Miss Jackson

I accept that the proper preparations and resources are necessary before such a change can be made. I have little evidence that many local authorities are proceeding in this direction already without such preparation, but I shall study any such cases which are brought to my attention.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does not the hon. Lady agree that education of the handicapped should be among the highest priorities of any Government? What plans does her Department have for giving parents the right of access to the records of their children's education and a right of appeal against a decision of the local authority about their children's education?

Miss Jackson

It is my understanding that it is rarely the case that parents of handicapped children do not have both the right of appeal and the right of veto over what should happen to their children's education. As for information and school records, the hon. Gentleman will know that the recommendations of Warnock about the keeping of detailed records are a little at variance with some representations that we have had recently. However, these are among the questions that we shall be considering with care.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Ovenden, Question No. 15.

Mr. Wainwright

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My Question No. 14 was taken with No. 13.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Member. It is just that he usually sits in a different place.

Mr. Wainwright

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great feeling of unrest among the parents of children who will require special treatment and teaching? Is she not further aware that to give local authorities this grave responsibility is asking too much? Will she therefore use her power and influence to ensure that children who require special education shall have that opportunity? When there are so many teachers out of work, can we not run special courses in this respect for those teachers?

Miss Jackson.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion, and I will consider it.