HC Deb 22 January 1985 vol 71 cc846-7
4. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress made in special education following the issue of the Warnock report and the subsequent Education Act.

Mr. Dunn

Local education authorities have established new procedures for assessing children with special educational needs, and most authorities are reviewing the provision made for them. There have been a number of initiatives in teacher training, both by my right hon. Friend and by local authorities. My right hon. Friend has approved 85 independent schools for the purpose of the 1981 Act, and a number of others are under consideration. He has commissioned four new research projects, and has included the provision of microelectronic aids for handicapped children in the educational support grant programme for 1985–86.

Mr. Dormand

In spite of what the Minister has said, is he aware that there is considerable anxiety among educationists about the slow progress being made in implementing the Act? Does he realise that a massive injection of resources is necessary if the objectives of the report and the Act are to be met? Is he further aware that perhaps even more important is the need for a genuine desire on the part of the Government to do something about this important development in special education, but that there is very little sign of it so far?

Mr. Dunn

We always made it clear during the passage of the Bill that integration and development would take place as resources permitted. According to returns from schools, the number of children ascertained as handicapped in ordinary schools rose from 29,976 in January 1982 to 37,970 in January 1983. There has been real progress.

Mr. Key

Will my hon. Friend examine the role of hospital special schools? Most parents and teachers seem to be unaware that there is a national network of hospital special schools which can provide vital continuity for children who are hospitalised.

Mr. Dunn

I undertake to inquire into my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Freud

Does the Minister accept that 84 per cent. of children who are assessed as having a special educational need are still in unintegrated schools? Will he try to do better and, above all, examine local education authorities which are out-performing others to see whether he can learn something from them?

Mr. Dunn

As the hon. Gentleman said, there is a problem in that regard, but there will always be some people in those circumstances. Under the 1981 Act, parents have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against a decision by a local education authority not to make a statement of special educational needs. That is of real value for parents.

Mr. Hannam

Has my hon. Friend seen the Advisory Centre on Education report, which shows that 54 per cent. of local education authorities which were interviewed still, last year, had not developed any policies for the implementation of the 1981 Act? Will he consider carefully the working party's recommendation for a national advisory committee to give advice and information and to monitor local education authorities?

Mr. Dunn

I can give no such undertaking in regard to my hon. Friend's latter point. However, I undertake to inquire into the other points that he has made.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

Does the Minister agree that, to date, very few teachers have been sent on in-service training courses to implement the Warnock committee's recommendations and to meet the requirements of the Education Act 1981? What does he intend to do about that?

Mr. Dunn

I do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. A wide range of in-service training is available for teachers who are responsible for the education of children with special educational needs. The arrangements are set out in circular 4/84, which allows local education authorities to claim about £2 million for that purpose in the academic year 1984–85.

Mr. Robert Atkins

In spite of the heartening trend to which my hon. Friend has referred, does he accept that in still too many schools in various parts of the country youngsters whose physical handicaps are of an almost extreme nature—particularly diabetes or arthritis—but which do not prevent their brains from working to the same standard as children in ordinary schools are being disadvantaged? Will he continue to keep up the pressure?

Mr. Dunn

I undertake to do just that. I remind the House that we have always said that full implementation of the Act will be a gradual process. The Warnock committee saw the perspective as extending to the end of this century.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister confirm that, in the White Paper, the Government envisage spending less on specialist schools, and that the whole concept of the Warnock report is being discredited because resources are not being made available in ordinary schools to cope with the increasing number of children who are being integrated?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Government's expenditure plans do not envisage reductions in expenditure on special education.