HC Deb 10 June 1981 vol 6 cc465-7
Mr. Hannam

I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 5, line 28 leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 20 and 21.

Mr. Hannam

In Committee I stressed, as other hon. Members did, the importance of early identification of handicapped children and of appropriate educational provisions which could greatly improve their educational potential. We expressed concern that, as stated in the Warnock report, the fears and observations of parents are often ignored by professionals. I am pleased that the Government have, in essence, accepted that argument by accepting new clause 1. That clause lays a duty on area health authorities to inform the parents—in the case of children under 5—that a child has special educational needs and to bring that to the attention of the education authority.

In addition, Government amendment No. 20 gives the parents of a child under 2 years old an absolute right to assessment. Therefore, those two amendments go a long way towards ensuring proper co-ordination of the statutory authorities, which in turn should ensure the full indentification of handicapped children and the appropriate educational provisions. In Committee we made great progress with the under-twos and we shall do so again with the Government's acceptance of amendments.

However, a loophole remains which may result in some handicapped children not receiving the vital early education that they require. I am speaking of a situation in which parents do not ask for an assessment and in which the local education authority does not undertake an assessment although the child has been referred to it. Under new clause 1, the health authority will have referred a child with special educational needs to the local education authority.

It is hoped and expected that the local education authority will carry out an assessment of all children referred to it by the area health authority. However, where that procedure is, for some reason, not followed, it is important that extra protection should be written into the Bill. There will always be the odd case in which a parent—through benign or deliberate neglect or through sheer ignorance of the methods necessary to get an assessment carried out—does not ask for an assessment. As a result of that serious omission the child may suffer in later life.

I have asked that "shall" should be inserted into the clause in place of "may" to ensure that children in need of assessment—as determined by the evidence given by the health authority—will be assessed regardless of whether the parent has asked for it. Amendment No. 19 seeks to ensure that a child is assessed.

Amendment No. 21 deals with the provision of special education. It seeks to ensure that children under the age of 2, who could benefit from the appropriate educational intervention, will receive it. In some cases the local education authority will not be able to do anything at such an early age. That might be true, for example, where a child suffers from only a physical handicap. Children suffering from physical handicaps alone will not necessarily benefit from special education.

However, it is hoped that the local education authority will keep a close watch on the child to see whether the physical handicap has any effect on his or her social and psychological development and the possible educational implications of that. In many cases early assistance is vital. That is demonstrated by the success of the pre-school home-based projects. In Committee we discussed such projects.

In Exeter there is the Honeyland home visiting project. There are many other projects, such as the Portage project. Such projects help certain groups of children, such as those suffering from Down's syndrome. In such cases early stimulation can reduce development impairment.

In addition, parents can be trained to stimulate their children, which is extremely important. Sensory stimulation is a precondition of education for blind and deaf children. Peripatetic teachers can start such stimulation as early as six months. In Committe we discussed dyslexia, and it aroused a great deal of interest. The early development of the senses of touch, smell and hearing in dyslectic children can improve their audial memory and so do much to overcome their problem with the visual recognition of words.

Such children would have a statement made under clause 6(2), and the amendment would lay a duty on local education authorities to carry out the educational provision as specified in the statement. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the principle, even if the drafting of the amendments is unsuitable. I hope that he will consider it, with a view to drafting other amendments later.

Dr. Boyson

Government amendment No. 20 gives a parent the power to request the assessment of a child under the age of 2. Amendments Nos. 19 and 21 lay an obligation on the authority to assess the child if it receives the necessary information. It also lays an obligation on an authority to make the necessary provision for that child. We hope that the House will accept the amendment.

We are sympathetic to the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) on amendments Nos. 19 and 21, but they were tabled only this week. I assure my hon. Friend that we should like to consider the amendments before the Bill goes to the other place. Perhaps we can find an arrangement that will satisfy my hon. Friend and other hon. Members.

Mr. Wigley

I welcome the Minister's remarks. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) made some extremely valid points. Earlier I stressed the need for education to start before a child is 2 years old. Parents may be reluctant to admit their children's educational needs. There is no doubt that parents have problems when it comes to adjusting—problems that will be greatest during the first two years. We may need to go further than the Government might otherwise have thought necessary to safeguard the interests of the child when the parents are trying to adjust to the situation. Therefore, I am glad that the Government will reconsider the amendment before the Bill goes to the other place.

Mr. Hannam

I welcome my hon. Friend's assurance that he will look carefully at the principles that I have outlined. I hope that some changes can be introduced in the other place that will ensure that the provisions are incorporated in the Bill, because they are important. Accordingly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 20, in page 5, line 29, at end insert 'and shall do so at the request of that parent'.—[Mr. Mark Carlisle.]

Back to
Forward to