HC Deb 12 May 1981 vol 4 cc604-5
5. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps to improve the special facilities within the education system for children with speaking difficulties.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

It is the responsibility of each local education authority to ensure that the educational facilities available in its area are adequate to meet the needs of all the children of the area. The Government's views are set out in the White Paper "Special Needs in Education", which forms the basis for the Education Bill currently before Parliament.

Mr. Wainwright

Is it not time that the Minister and the Government realised that their actions over the past two years have made it difficult for local education authorities to maintain, let alone to improve, the special facilities for those poor children with speaking difficulties and that even dyslexia cannot now be catered for? When will the Government take steps to see that such children are properly educated? Leaving aside the provision of new facilities, will the Minister take action over Greenside special school in the Barnsley metropolitan area, which is threatened with closure?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman has asked wide-ranging questions. He raised the local problem at the previous Question Time, and we have exchanged correspondence since. The problem is very much one for the local authority. Local education authorities can employ speech therapists. My Department, far from taking no action, has given a grant to the Invalid Children's Aid Association, which has also had a further grant for language unit provision, which was the subject of the hon. Gentleman's original question.

Mr. John Wells

Is my hon. Friend aware that many years have passed since Professor Randolph Quirk made his report on the speech therapy profession and many local authorities are finding it extremely difficult to provide facilities for speech therapists and to pay them a proper professional salary? Will the Government help local education authorities? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that it is sometimes mistakenly believed that the problem concerns dialect, but that it is essential to have speech therapists in dialect as well as speech therapists with an Oxbridge accent?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am certainly aware that the Quirk report's recommendations have been out for some time. Essentially this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The Association for All Speech-Impaired Children has expressed its concern to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and to the DHSS. We want local authorities to respond to the requirements of the schools in their areas. Local education authorities are best suited to judge what is needed there.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the Minister confirm that it is still the Government's policy to improve provision for children with special educational needs? Is it also their policy to promote the integration of such children into normal schools where appropriate? If so, will the hon. Gentleman now exert his influence to ensure that the proper amount of money is available to local education authorities to enable them to make satisfactory provision for children with speech defects as well as for many other children with partial or significant learning difficulties?

Mr. Macfarlane

Funding is essentially a matter for the local education authority. My Department already funds the Invalid Children's Aid Association, which has been given a grant to collate for use at other schools and units curriculum material and teaching methods in use at its John Horniman school at Worthing. A tremendous amount is happening in this area. The association has also recently established an information service on language provision with financial assistance from my Department.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is often difficult to define whether a serious speech difficulty exists? Is not good speech important for all pupils, and should not the curriculum take account of that?

Mr. Macfarlane

I accept that. Although some 70 per cent. of speech therapists are concerned with educating children, they are appointed and employed by the National Health Service. My Department's officials maintain continual contact with their colleagues in the DHSS, and similar liaison is encouraged by the local education authorities and the area health authorities in this matter.

Mr. Wainwright

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I propose to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.