HC Deb 13 March 1979 vol 964 cc246-9
3. Mr. Ashley

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

Miss Margaret Jackson

My right hon. Friend recognises that improvement is always possible.

Mr. Ashley

Taking a special point among that category, is my hon. Friend aware that many profoundly deaf children cannot lip read adequately and therefore cannot be taught by teachers who cannot or will not use sign language? They cannot even learn the English language or, if they are Welsh, the Welsh language. Will she ask her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to require all teachers of deaf children to learn the skills of sign language and use them in teaching profoundly deaf children?

Miss Jackson

We are continually aware of the need for better training in all aspects of teaching disabled children, and in particular of training teachers of the deaf. There was a study of this problem a couple of years ago. As my hon. Friend will know, all these questions are being dealt with and re-examined in the context of the Warnock report, which I hope will cast some light on the approach that is needed with regard to all disabled children.

Mr. Hannam

It is important to improve the education of disabled children at the secondary level, but is it not also extremely important to ensure that further education facilities are available at training colleges? Is the hon. Lady aware that in many parts of the country there is a great dearth of such courses, and will she therefore give priority to the use of selective special schools for the provision of these training courses?

Miss Jackson

The whole question of the facilities that we provide for the disabled, and in particular the use of special schools, is thoroughly covered in the Warnock report, as the hon. Gentleman will know. One of the recommendations is that such schools should act as a kind of centre of expertise for such issues. I think that that is exactly the kind of thing that the hon. Gentleman is advocating. We have not received all the replies on the Warnock report, but we hope to have them soon.

Mr. Wigley

Will the hon. Lady give an assurance that the recommendation in the Warnock report that the statutory categorisation of handicapped pupils should be abolished will be implemented and that there will be a move towards a more general approach where there can be advice from a multi-disciplinary team to provide a basis of information for the education authorities?

Miss Jackson

I recognise the attractiveness of the recommendation, but I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance today. The Government have deliberately decided to wait for reactions from as wide a range of bodies as possible on a recommendation of such fundamental importance before coming to their own conclusion. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that although not all the contributions have yet been received, most of those which have come in show support for this idea.

Mr. Christopher Price

Can my hon. Friend give a date when the Government will be pronouncing on the reactions to the Warnock report? Is she aware that a recent conference revealed that there is great concern among teachers in special schools about the balance between specialised education in separate schools and integrated education? Some special schools are at present running down very rapidly, and there is clearly a need for a decision as soon as we can possibly get it.

Miss Jackson

Those consulted were asked to reply by the end of last month, but unfortunately a number of important contributions have not yet been received. As soon as they are to hand we hope to lose no time in reaching decisions on this matter.

Mr. Rhodes James

Has the attention of the Minister and her Department been drawn to the development of the light writer which has been developed by a severely disabled constituent of mine, Mr. Toby Churchill, and which is specifically designed for those incapable of speech? Does she agree that this could have considerable relevance to educational possibilities in the future?

Miss Jackson

Our attention is constantly being drawn to a number of aids of this kind which are thought to be of benefit to people, but it is the local authorities which decide whether a certain aid should be provided for a particular child. As has been said, what will help one child will not necessarily help all children.

Mr. Grocott

Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite the overwhelming support that I have had from the Labour Party and from the public at large, repeatedly on Fridays in this House Conservative Members have blocked my Bill to end the caning of handicapped children? [HON. MEMBERS:"Shame."] Will she now undertake to respond to opinion within the Labour Party and in the country by bringing in immediately a ban on the use of the cane in special schools? [HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."]

Miss Jackson

I am not yet in a position to give my hon. Friend that assurance, but I have great sympathy with his attitude, and particularly with his dismay at what takes place here on Fridays. I believe that it is a classic example of the triumph of dogma over common sense.

Mr. Carlisle

Bearing in mind the answer which the hon. Lady gave to her hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), the Warnock report was a major report and a matter of great concern to a group of parents who clearly deserve all the support that they can get from both sides of the House. I appreciate that some time must be given for consultation, but the report was published as long ago as May of last year. Is the hon. Lady now able to give any definite date by which the consultations will be completed?

Miss Jackson

I am not able to do so because, as I said, a number of bodies have not yet replied. The timing of their response is not within our control. We are anxious to clarify this issue as quickly as possible. The report was published in May of last year, but it advocates a total revision of the way in which we have dealt with these matters in the past and I believe that it would be wrong to rush into action without being sure that what we are doing is right.

Forward to