HC Deb 18 July 1988 vol 137 cc848-64

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 3, line 46, leave out subsection (4).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Lords amendment No. 18, in clause 10, page 7, line 46, leave out from "apply" to end of line 47 and insert ; or (b) shall apply with such modifications as may be so specified; in such cases or circumstances as may be so specified. Amendment (a) to the proposed Lords amendment, at end add 'and regulations made under this section shall in particular ensure that where the National Curriculum does not apply to a registered pupil or is applied with modifications in cases and circumstances specified in the regulations, the head teacher shall inform in writing the parent of the pupil of the effect of the regulations and of the parent's rights under section 21'. Amendment (b) to the proposed Lords amendment, at end add— `( ) Regulations made under this section shall in particular provide that where the National Curriculum does not apply to a registered pupil, or applies with modifications in cases and circumstances specified in the regulations, the parent of the pupil shall be informed in writing by the head teacher of the effect of the regulations, of the provision that it is propose will be made for the pupil, and of his right to appeal to the governing body if he does not agree with the application of the regulations to the pupil, or with the provision it is proposed to make for the pupil. ( ) On any such appeal the governing body may—

  1. (a) confirm the head teacher's action; or
  2. (b) direct the head teacher to take such action authorised by the regulations as they consider appropriate in the circumstances; and it shall be the duty of the head teacher to comply with any directions of the governing body under paragraph (b) above.'.
Lords amendments Nos. 19 to 25.

Lords amendment No. 54, in clause 30, page 27, line 3, at end insert (including, in particular, the number of registered pupils at a school who have special educational needs and the nature of the special educational provision required to be made for them). Amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, leave out 'and'.

Amendment (b) to the Lords amendment, after 'them', insert 'having regard to the capacity of the local education authority to provide central services, including the schools psychological service, which may be relevant to such provision.'. Amendment (c) to the Lords amendment, in line 3, after 'them', insert 'and the numbers and grading of staff required to produce that level of provision'. Lords amendments Nos. 68, 187, 188.

Lords amendment No. 272, in clause 104, page 103, line 3, at end insert— (8A) In fulfilling that duty a local education authority shall also have regard to the requirements of persons over compulsory school age who have learning difficulties. (8B) Subject to subsection (8C) below, for the purposes of subsection (8A) above a person has a "learning difficulty" if—

  1. (a) he has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of persons of his age; or
  2. (b) he has a disability which either prevents or hinders him from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided by the local education authority concerned in pursuance of their duty under subsection (1) above for persons of his age.
(8C) A person is not to be taken as having a learning difficulty solely because the language (or form of language) in which he is, or will be, taught is different from a language (or form of a language) which has at any time been spoken in his home. Amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, in line 2, leave out 'also have regard to' and insert 'make adequate provision to meet'. Amendment (b) to the Lords amendment, in line 2, leave out 'have regard to' and insert 'secure the provision for their area of adequate facilities suited to'. Amendment (c) to the Lords amendment, in line 3, after 'age', insert up to and including the age of 19'. Amendment (d) to the Lords amendment, in line 4. at end insert 'or special needs'

Lords amendments Nos. 275, 278 and 537.

Lords amendment No. 538, in page 211, line 42, at end insert— '74B. In section 8(1) of the 1981 Act (appeals against statements) for the words from "following" to the end there shall be substituted the words ''against the special educational provision specified in the statement—

  1. (a) following the first or any subsequent assessment of the child's special educational needs under section 5; and
  2. (b) where the authority make any amendment to the special educational provision specified in the statement otherwise than on the making of any such assessment."'
Amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, at end of subparagraph (a) leave out 'and'.

Amendment (b) to the Lords amendment at end insert 'and (c) where the authority cease to maintain a statement for a child for whom they are responsible.'. Lords amendment No. 539.

Mr. Dunn

A striking feature of the passage of the Bill has been the concern shown for pupils with special needs not merely by Members in both Houses but by Members on both sides of each House. I am glad to observe that the welfare of children with special needs is one subject that can be guaranteed to transcend party divisions and to unite both sides of the House. I am glad to see the many familiar faces of hon. Members who touched on this subject in Committee. Life would not be the same without the lugubrious features of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). Much of what we did was the result of the agreements and concerns of both sides of the Committee, and the Government gave a lead on occasions, although we were not always given credit for what was done.

That was also the case when we dealt with the application of the national curriculum provisions. Hon. Members, especially those who served on the Committee, will know that it has been our wish and intention from the beginning that the benefits from the introduction of the national curriculum should extend to pupils with special needs. That is why the provisions of chapter I of the Bill apply to special schools maintained by local education authorities. We realised, however, that there would need to be some flexibility in implementing the national curriculum pupils with special needs.

7.15 pm

In the consultative document which preceded the Bill, it was proposed that there should be provision for statements of special educational need to specify any requirements of the national curriculum which should not apply to individual pupils. That provision became clause 11. There was a need for a similar provision for pupils who were not the subject of statements; so clause 4 allowed the Secretary of State, in making orders about the foundation subjects, to specify modifications in respect of particular categories of pupil.

That word "categories" brought back memories of pre-1981 Act language, and we were criticised for it. It was also said that some parts of the national curriculum would be so inappropriate for the most severely affected children that what was needed was not modification, but exemption. It was also pointed out that the provisions we had made were aimed at pupils with permanent or long-term difficulties, and would be slow to bring to bear. There was sometimes a need for a school to be able to act quickly to meet a temporary change of circumstances.

I listened to these criticisms and, as I am not just a "listening Minister", we made some changes. We introduced clause 10 to deal with pupils without statements; we amended clause 11 to allow for exemptions from the national curriculum; and we introduced clause 12 to give head teachers powers to deal with temporary situations. The use of those powers will be subject to safeguards for the rights of the pupils and their parents.

The amendments made in another place build on our provisions and tidy them up. It became clear that the provisions in clauses 4 and 10 had much in common. Amendments Nos. 7 and 18 combine them. Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 are drafting amendments to clause 11. Amendment No. 23 acknowledges the fact that a pupil whose statement of special educational needs already specifies a modification to the national curriculum may need a further, temporary, change while those needs are being reassessed—perhaps because of a change of circumstances. Amendments Nos. 22, 24 and 25 are consequential amendments.

Amendment No. 538 extends the parents' right of appeal under the Education Act 1981 to cover the case where a statement is being amended without a complete reassessment, as may be needed to write in modifications to the national curriculum. Amendment No. 539 requires the LEA to inform the parents of their right of appeal in such cases.

Amendment No. 537 is slightly different. It enables local education authorities to provide for any non-educational provision which is specified in a child's statement of special educational needs under the Education Act 1981. As the House knows from experience of the legislation, the responsibility falls on the appropriate statutory agencies.

The Government recognise the strength of feeling on this subject and we understand and recognise the uncertainty felt in many quarters about the provision of speech therapy following the Oxfordshire judgment in 1986. The fact that three separate attempts were made in the other place to secure an amendment on this matter is a tribute to the tenacity of their Lordships and an expression of their concern—and concern was expressed in this House as well. In that event, I am glad to say that it was third time lucky and the Government are happy to commend the amendment to the House.

Lords amendment No. 54—which has an air of familiarity for my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and others—is concerned with special needs in schemes of financial delegation. Concern has rightly been expressed that facilities for pupils with special educational needs should be safeguarded under schemes of financial delegation.

As we have made clear both in this House and in the other place, the Government fully share that aim. The draft guidance issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes it clear that local education authorities will be expected to take account of special needs in their formula for allocating resources between schools. Nor is this merely advisory. Clause 26(2) requires the local education authority to take account of the guidance in preparing its scheme, and my right hon. Friend will not approve any scheme that fails to do so. In addition, provision may be safeguarded by local education authorities excepting from delegation a number of key areas, such as the school psychological and welfare services, and provision for pupils with statements of special needs.

None the less, the Government recognise the force of the argument that there should be an explicit recognition of the position of special needs on the face of the Bill. Lords amendment No. 54 provides this by specifying special needs as a factor that may be taken into account in the resource allocation formula. Together with the clear requirement set out in the draft guidance, the amendment will ensure that local education authorities provide through their formula for variations in numbers and for the provision required for pupils with special needs. I hope that the House will welcome that as a further and explicit statement of the Government's aims.

The new clause inserted by Lords amendment No. 68 is designed to ensure that local education authorities have the flexibility, where they wish, to include special schools as part of their schemes. The existing clause 35 provides for the Secretary of State to be able to require delegation to special schools by regulations. But, as my right hon. Friend has made clear in his draft guidance, he does not intend to make such regulations until there is more experience of voluntary delegation by local education authorities. It is therefore desirable that local education authorities should have the freedom, where they consider it appropriate, to extend delegation to special schools voluntarily.

The provisions will allow individual special schools to be treated differently, in recognition of their widely different needs and characteristics. It would be open to local education authorities under the regulations to decide which individual special schools, if any, should be included in the scheme. The regulations would also serve to disapply requirements of this part of the Bill that would not be appropriate for special schools. In particular, we envisage that the application of the resource allocation formula will need to be different for special schools to take account of the specific nature of their needs.

These provisions are permissive. Regulations made under them will be made only after more experience of delegation and extensive consultation. I hope that the House will support the aim of providing more flexibility, and accept and endorse the amendments.

Lords amendment No. 187 requires the governors of a grant-maintained school who have published proposals under clause 77 for a change of character to the school or enlargement of its premises to submit to the Secretary of State information on the extent to which the proposed premises would meet the minimum requirements of design note 18 on access to educational buildings for physically disabled people. The amendment will signal to governors the kind of detailed information that they will be expected to provide in such circumstances. It affords further reassurance and additional security for all those with special needs who will be users of grant-maintained schools. On those grounds, I commend the amendment to the House.

Lords amendments Nos. 272, 275 and 278 deal with further and higher education. We recognise the need for special provision to be available for students with learning difficulties after they have left school. The revised version of section 41 of the Education Act 1944, which will be inserted by this Bill, gives local education authorities a duty to secure the provision of further education generally for their areas. This includes a duty to secure provision for students with special needs. Lords amendment No. 272 puts it beyond doubt that local education authorities must have regard to the requirements of such students. It defines these students by references to "learning difficulties", words that parallel those of the 1981 Act. Lords amendments Nos. 275 and 278 empower the higher education corporations to provide facilities for disabled students.

I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

This is a happy occasion in many respects as the Opposition agree with the Government and with the Lords amendments. It has been good to see the progress that the Government have made in relation to special educational needs. Those of us who have taken a keen interest in the subject will recall that just a year ago, in the document "The National Curriculum—5 to 16", only one paragraph was devoted to this important subject. If ever there was an argument in favour of the Standing Committee's proceedings, it is the progress that we have made on special educational needs.

The Minister was right to say that concern was expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. No one can claim a monopoly of wisdom or concern on this subject.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

We should not forget the Lords.

Mr. Fatchett

I was about to praise the other place in this context as their Lordships certainly took a keen and effective interest in the matter. In Committee a key figure in our deliberations was my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) whose experience as the head of a special school enabled us to understand many special educational needs. He must take much of the credit for the progress that has been made, although that is not to detract from the contributions of others.

I am delighted that there has been a substantial shift from the initial view taken by the Government in the national curriculum document. The Minister knows that at that stage the Government were subject to severe criticism from all sorts of organisations, whose representatives said, "Hold on a minute. What about those youngsters with special educational needs? Let us draft the legislation to take account of those needs." To give him credit, as early as 17 December last, in Committee, the Minister said about provision for children's special educational needs: There may be other aspects that the Committee has not discussed. If hon. Members are disposed to comment on them to me I shall consider them."—[Official Report, Standing Committee J, 17 December 1987; c. 248.] We did that and we are delighted that the Minister has proved himself to be not only, in his own words "a listening Minister" but, on this occasion, an acting Minister. This must be unique because it is rare that the Government listen and, if they do listen and hear, it is rare that they act on what they hear, so the Minister has achieved a great deal more than many of his colleagues and we welcome that. We also welcome the explanation that has been given for the amendments passed in the other place, and we shall support those amendments. Therefore, it would be foolish of me to waste the time of the House going through those amendments. However, I shall raise with the Minister certain issues about children with special educational needs that I hope that he will comment on as they are issues that are still important in this debate.

7.30 pm

I welcome what happened in the other place and the way in which the Bill has changed. However, does the Minister still feel that there is sufficient flexibility for statemented youngsters? The Association of County Councils recently made the point that it is difficult to see how regulations can provide for all the different circumstances of children with special educational needs. It has told Ministers that there is a need for even greater flexibility. Would it be possible, if not through this legislation then through an order, to have some instruction or practice note from the Ministry so that schools can be more flexible about statemented children?

My second question is about non-statemented youngsters who are low achievers and who have special educational needs that relate to specific conditions or criteria but not across the board. There is a real concern about that group of low achieving youngsters, who will be above and beyond statemented children but who may nevertheless experience difficulties with the Government's notion of national curriculum attainment targets and all that goes with that. Those difficulties could make their role in the classroom awkward. The Warnock commit tee concept was that there was a need for a continuum on special educational needs and it related that continuum to roughly 20 per cent. of the school age population. Could the Government say whether it might be possible, not at this stage but in some other way, to recognise the needs of non-statemented youngsters who will fall into that Warnock 20 per cent., because those youngsters are important to us?

I have a third question. I apologise to the Minister if I seem to be setting him a test, but these are issues on which the House would be interested to hear the Government's response. The Secretary of State said on Report that the National Curriculum Council may want to establish a sub-committee to deal with special educational needs. There is a great deal of merit in that argument and I would be interested to hear what progress has been made on that.

Fourthly, I am concerned about youngsters in the post-16 age provision. Again, we note what the Minister has said and we welcome that because it has always seemed to me that there is a real danger that youngsters, having reached the age of 16, may simply fall off the edge in education and training terms if they have special educational needs. There is a black hole—a vacuum—into which these youngsters disappear. We welcome Lords amendment No. 272, because, as the Minister rightly said, it places on local education authorities a duty and a responsibility towards those youngsters. There may be a need for extra resources to back up that duty so that the right training and education are provided. There may also be a need for much greater guidance and a better learning process between authorities so that we can see the good work that is going on, post-16, for youngsters with special educational needs, and can build on that good work.

The Minister, in speaking about Lords amendment No. 54, spoke about the definition of local financial management. I hope that he will recognise that now special needs will be incorporated into the formula for local financial management for schools. Is there any possibility of including reference to special educational needs in the local financial management formula for further education colleges? If that is not included, there is the difficulty that the words incorporated in Lords amendment No. 262 will not necessarily be implemented simply because there may not be the financial resources or the space to do so.

The House would like to hear the Minister's comments on those issues. They are part of the process that developed in Committee and through the proceedings on the Bill to advance the opportunities of youngsters with special educational needs.

Amendment No. 537 deals primarily with speech therapy. If the other place achieved a success, it was in this amendment. It is a success also for all those organisations that represent speech therapists and all those parents who have been arguing for this important change in the law. I wrote to the Secretary of State on this issue earlier this year and received the normal courteous reply from the Under-Secretary, who explained to me the bureaucratic difficulties in the provision of speech therapy. It is the responsibility not of the local education authority but of the local health authority to provide speech therapy. Unfortunately, that created a bureaucratic vacuum, or, as the Minister described it to me in an off-the-record conversation with me, a lacuna, into which these youngsters fell, with the result that their needs were not satisfied.

The Minister has moved from the explanation of the bureaucratic position that he sent me in a letter and from the comments that he made in Committee on 12 January, when he said: No plans are afoot to make the changes".—[Official Report, Standing Committee J, 12 January 1988; c. 398.] Such is the power of the Under-Secretary that, while he was saying those very words, I have no doubt that he was planning these changes. He was not trying to resist—his words were carefully selected. We knew that the Minister, with his deep sympathy for all children in these circumstances, was planning vigorously in Elizabeth house the process that led to Lords amendment No. 537 and an effective conclusion to a difficult problem. We welcome this amendment, which is particularly important for those youngsters who need speech therapy. The Government's acceptance of the amendment will be welcomed by parents, who have fought hard on behalf of their children and other children, and by organisations representing speech therapists and others involved in this problem.

The House has made substantial progress in the Bill to help youngsters with special educational needs. As part of the rhetoric of education debates we often talk about providing greater opportunity for youngsters. There is no greater or more poignant example of youngsters who need opportunity than those to whom these amendments relate. If we talk simply about the 10 per cent. or the 40 per cent. or the 30 per cent., we do many children, our education system and our country a disservice.

In Committee and in the other place, we have succeeded in ensuring that the Government recognise the needs of the bottom 5 or 10 per cent., although I do not like the words "the bottom 5 or 10 per cent.". We have recognised the needs of all our children, including those with particular problems. That helps to extend opportunity, but more needs to be done. We shall continue to press for more, but we are grateful for what has been achieved so far.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The tone of the opening speeches in this short debate sums up the spirit throughout the Bill on this subject. Tribute has been paid to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) and to other hon. Members for taking forward the provisions step by step towards a better future for children with special needs and for their families.

The Committee brought together a number of people who had had experience in one way or another, through teaching, family life or knowledge of that occasion when the family suddenly finds itself with a new arrival who is handicapped in some way and will grow up with special needs, or faces a horrific accident or illness later in life which results in the child developing such special needs, or faces the learning difficulties that may emerge at various stages in life. We have an understanding of those needs and a common desire and determination to ensure that the Bill does its best by those children and their families.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) referred to the opportunities in educational life. The Bill is very much a Bill of opportunities. It says to parents throughout the country, "Let your children grow tall", but we know that, all too often, some children cannot grow tall on their own, for physical or mental reasons. Sometimes they are able to grow if adaptations are made to their learning establishment, if proper teaching facilities are provided and targeted on the children or if the families are given the necessary support.

Children with special needs can achieve and many of them can compete. We should never suggest that they are at the bottom of the pile or that they are different from other children. Their opportunities may be different, but they are children nevertheless and we need to consider every child within its own lights and see what it can achieve. We are doing that by accepting the Lords amendments and we welcome the Government's amendments and their attitude to the Lords amendments.

Many children can cope with integration into maintained schools, but others cannot be integrated. We want both categories of children to be looked after diligently. As a Member who represents an inner London constituency, I hope that the Government will pay special attention to those needs as the transfer of education to the boroughs take place. The boroughs are determined that they will do their best for the education of special needs children, but a watching brief from the Department is crucial and confirmation of that would be doubly welcome.

Hon. Members have a special responsibility for those children who need special help. When the Bill started its passage, we thought that the families and children perhaps felt left out. The Bill did not often refer to them and all hon. Members have pressed to ensure that it was made clear that special needs children are in the mainstream so far as the Bill and the Government's intentions are concerned. It is not the Government's intention to leave out such children and families, but it is important that their inclusion in the Bill is spelt out.

7.45 pm

All too often, where there was reference, the Bill referred to the exclusion rather than the inclusion of special needs children. Although exclusion is right in certain matters, I was interested to see that one of the amendments sought to ensure that those children who are excluded have rights of appeal to ensure that their cases are considered. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that because we must monitor progress when the Bill is enacted. We shall want to ensure that those rights and interests are safeguarded.

My hon. Friend the Minister was kind enough to refer to one of my amendments which has been incorporated in another amendment. Other amendments have also been incorporated, including that of the hon. Member for City of Durham, although I do not wish to argue the paternity of any amendment. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central referred to financial delegation and the need to ensure that local authorities have a responsibility to produce their plans for children with special needs and to state the number of children involved.

Amendment No. 54 is a step in the right direction. I might quibble that their Lordships saw fit to table the amendment to subsection 3(b) as opposed to subsection 3(a). We debated in Committee whether the word "shall" should replace the word "may". Their Lordships could have used either, but they appear to have opted for the word "may". I accept that with gratitude and we may one day make the obligation statutory, if it is thought to be necessary.

In London, we have a particular interest to ensure that each individual is looked after. The amendments and the Bill encourage cases to be considered individually. There is a great debate within the special needs community in London between those who wish to see greater integration and those who fear it. Both have a fair case. It is crucial that, where appropriate and where the parents want it, a child should be integrated into a mainstream school and, where necessary, the school should be adapted to welcome the child. Equally, however, many parents are concerned about whether the child could cope with that environment. We must provide the special schools to enable that child to develop and compete within its own lights.

I welcome the Government's proposals and the Opposition's welcome of them. These small steps underline the fact that those children are precious to the House and the fact that their opportunities to achieve and compete within their own capabilities are important to all hon. Members. We have often said during the passage of the Bill that such children will not be forgotten. This is the evidence that they have not been forgotten and I look forward to the implementation of these measures for the benefit of all children in this country, whatever their special needs may be.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the House that this is a short debate and speeches should be short.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

The difference between the Bill as it stands and as originally drafted is remarkable, especially in its treatment of children with special educational needs. The original Bill virtually ignored such children and mentioned only those subject to statements. It was as though 18 per cent. of the school population did not exist or had been forgotten. The Government had not taken into account the fact that 20 per cent. of the school population have special needs at some stage in their school life, although only 2 per cent. are subject to statements. In many cases, the 18 per cent. of children who were ignored were worse off than the 2 per cent. who were subject to statements.

All children with special educational needs need individual work schemes designed to meet their particular needs. To force the 18 per cent. who are not statemented rigidly to follow the national curriculum is plainly stupid. Anyone who has had any dealings with such children knows that they need individual tuition geared to their particular strengths and weaknesses. It was clear that whoever originally drafted the Bill had no experience of children with special educational needs.

Thanks to concentrated and successful debate and powerful arguments, Labour Members put great pressure on the Government to amend the Bill. I admit that we had some help from other quarters, but basically we shall take credit for the changes. I believe that we have forced the Government to see their own folly and the mistakes that they had made and eventually to concede that specific provision should be made for the 18 per cent. of the school population whom they had ignored. The Lords have attempted to make that provision and we fully support their efforts.

In particular, I am delighted to support Lords amendment No. 537, which seeks to amend the Education Act 1981. Many children are identified and statemented as being in need of speech therapy. That takes place in the educational setting—it is important to note that—but at present the therapy can be provided only by the health authority, so the education authority is entirely at the mercy of the health authority. Many children do not receive the necessary therapy and at present education authorities cannot provide it independently. It is nonsense for a statement to say that the child needs speech therapy but for the education authority to have no power in law to provide that service. The amendment would ensure that local education authorities could make such provision, possibly by buying it in from health authorities.

I should like to go further and allow education authorities to employ speech therapists. As a head teacher, I saw the desperate problems of children who needed speech therapy but did not receive it because the health authority could not deliver the goods. I wrote to the Minister recently about that, but his reply was downright unhelpful. I am therefore delighted to support the amendment and I hope that. the Minister will be more sympathetic in future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). He knows that I deeply admire him. He has personally campaigned for this change and I am sure that his efforts had a huge bearing on the success that has been achieved. It is a magnificent achievement, but no more than one would expect from so talented a Member.

Children with special educational needs must have access to the best school environment and must receive full consideration in that respect, regardless of their disability. That is why I support Lords amendments Nos. 187 and 188. A child in a wheelchair has the same rights as an able-bodied child and must be able to attend the school of his choice. Schools must not be allowed to turn children away on such grounds. Nevertheless, I have seen it happen and I hope that the Minister will today give a guarantee that it will not happen in the future. It is even more important for a child with special needs to have more choice in education. Such children must not be denied acceptance because of their handicaps. There will be great pressure on schools to fill their places without accepting children with special needs and that will reduce the choice available to the parents of such children. The result will therefore be the opposite of the greater choice that the Government advocate.

With regard to financial delegation, children with special needs are again under threat. That is why I support Lords amendment No. 54 and the amendments proposed to it. When a mainstream school controls its own budget there will be untold pressure on it to allocate the vast majority of its finance in favour of academic children, and provision for those with special needs may be neglected. Such provision is already not too brilliant in some schools and the situation could worsen if the amendments are not accepted. Lords amendment No. 54, as proposed to be amended, would go a long way towards securing financial support for children with special educational needs.

Another point of great importance arises out of the draft consultative document, "The Education Reform Act: Financial Delegation to Schools". Educational psychologists are not covered by the mandatory services provided by local education authorities. In other words, the service could be delegated to the individual school's budget. That could have calamitous effects for children with special needs. Educational psychologists are an integral part of the team working with such children. The service would take a minute proportion of an education authority's budget but a huge proportion of an individual school's budget. If the service is delegated, there will be chaos in special needs provision. Special schools, in particular, will simply not be able to cope and their budgets will be drained if they have to pay for that service.

Mr. Dunn

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the draft guidance on financial delegation emphasises that, in addition, provision may be safeguarded by education authorities excepting from delegation a number of key areas such as the schools' psychological and welfare services and provision for children with special needs. Does not that meet the point?

Mr. Steinberg

It depends whether it is mandatory or discretionary. If it is mandatory and education authorities do not have discretion to delegate but are obliged to provide the service, I retract what I have said. If it is discretionary, however, some authorities—I would describe them as unscrupulous authorities—could pass the responsibility on to the schools, resulting in the problems that I have mentioned. If it is discretionary, therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter and to make it mandatory on local education authorities to provide that service. As the Minister has said, inspectors and advisers will be centrally provided. The educational psychology service should be centrally provided as well.

In support of the amendments to Lords amendment No. 272, it must be said that the provision made for pupils with special educational needs after the age of 16 is appalling. There is virtually nothing organised specifically for these youngsters. Parents are rightly demanding that their children should be able to continue in full-time education up to the age of 19 and that relevant courses should be organised for them. Before local education authorities can provide this extension they must be allocated the resources.

Staying on at school creates problems because no funds are allocated for that purpose. Some children go to adult training centres run by the social services, but those centres tend to offer places only to 19-year-olds and younger people find that the courses are filled up. Many handicapped people end up staying at home and doing nothing. That has to stop. Ten years ago we hardly saw a pupil with special educational needs staying on at school after the age of 16, but now many of them stay on until the age of 19. However, the training and education that they receive from the age of 16 to 19 is a waste of time because local education authorities cannot afford to fund relevant courses.

If it was a statutory requirement for pupils to receive education up to the age of 19, local education authorities would have to plan and organise fully-funded courses. That is why our amendments should be supported. I say again that, if it had not been for Labour Members, children with special educational needs would have been ignored. If the amendments are not accepted the Bill will be a recipe for disaster. To everything that the Government are offering we say, "Better late than never", or, "We told you so months ago."

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I shall not take much time, although the short time allowed to debate this issue and the fact that my party was excluded from the debate on the guillotine illustrate how fast the Bill is being pushed through. I regret that.

I am afraid that this group of amendments shows the House how little, in drafting the Bill, the Government thought about children with special needs. The Minister was rather overgenerous in crediting himself and the Government with the changes that have been put forward. The first draft of the Bill contained 147 clauses but had only four lines about special education needs. I welcome these amendments because they make modest, sensible changes and are a great improvement on the original rather shoddy drafting of the Bill.

We should not forget that the changes to the Bill came about as a result not of the Minister's deliberations but of lobbying, forceful argument and votes against the Government by all Opposition parties and by many Conservative Members. We should not ignore that because it is to be welcomed. It is regrettable that, initially, Ministers did not give as much thought to the matter as many hon. Members have given to it since.

In addressing the amendments I shall confine myself to three points. First, Lords amendment No. 80 is silent about how cases and circumstances will be specified. If, as we wish, the permitted scope of the clause successfully addresses the varying needs of gifted children and those with learning difficulties, there will need to be sensitive professional judgments about whether and when a child could benefit from the clause. The Minister has just left the Chamber. Perhaps if he responds to that point he will elaborate on whether that will be the case.

Secondly, Lords amendment No. 272 deals with provision within further education, about which we have heard a great deal that I support. It is sad that we will not have a chance to vote either on amendment (b) tabled by my hon. Friends and I or on the similar amendment (a) to Lord's amendment No. 272 tabled by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), which would make it a duty to provide adequately for people with special education needs after their school years. Many hon. Members have made that point.

My authority in Cornwall has a policy of continuing support for special education needs in further education colleges. Because of pressure on resources to meet statutory duties first, that policy is not easy to implement. Cornwall county council has only today had to take a decision to use contingency funds to continue FE courses for young adults with moderate learning difficulties. The Lords amendments to the Bill will not help Cornwall immediately, because what we really need is more resources. We will get them only if there is a statutory duty.

I shall now turn to Lords amendment No. 537 and speech therapy. The Government are not fully meeting the needs of children because they fear the cost of doing so. Neither health authorities nor local education authorities can afford to provide as much speech therapy as is needed. We and other hon. Members certainly welcome Lords amendment No. 537, but it does not solve that important problem because it will press local education authorities to do more for children but will not give those authorities an extra penny.

The problem of speech therapy directly affects some of my constituents. For example, a speech therapist in St. Austell has gone on maternity leave, but there is no cash available to cover for her while she is away. I hope that the Minister will give a commitment on those points, and that the Government recognise and will meet the financial consequences of the amendments that they have accepted rather than simply put the burden on local authorities by giving them permission to spend but not the means to follow through.

Mr. Flannery

I shall he brief and address my remarks to one point. The Bill will wreak havoc on our education system. It will fling into great difficulty practically everybody connected with education, including parents and children. However, it would be churlish of me not to say that there are some good things peering out of the Bill. I shall address myself to one of those things because, inadequate though it is, Lords amendment No. 272 is still an advance.

The amendments did not just appear. We have all paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who was head of a special school. He taught us all a great deal, and Conservative Members learnt a great deal from him. The Warnock report was followed by the 1981 Act, and then a tremendous piece of research had to be curtailed because of the general election. It was carried out by the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, some of whose members went to other countries to look at special education needs. The impact that we had on Conservative Members is the product of many things, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, they have not quite noticed that impact.

All over the country there is now a demand for work with children with special needs. That is not only because such children did not receive proper provision, but because many people have now had their consciences seized by this idea. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham says that all these things depend on money. Of course they do. When they are left to a local education authority, which is probably rate-capped and is having great difficulty imposed on it by the Government and when things are discretionary instead of mandatory, there is always great difficulty, especially in the case of people who are often at the end of the queue, as is the case with children with special needs.

Lords amendment No. 272 says: A person is not to be taken as having a learning difficulty solely because the language (or form of the language) in which he is, or will be, taught is different from a language (or form of a language) which has at any time been spoken in his home. We know that in ILEA many West Indian children are stigmatised even though much wonderful work has been done for such children. That is because they were not grasping what they were being taught. That was not their fault. That was due to our not realising that they could not keep pace because they did not know the language properly. Prior to that, there were other difficulties. Between the ages of 16 and 19 years, there was little or nothing for these children. There will be something for them now, and we want the provision to be increased and intensified.

A fortnight ago I received a letter from a working-class couple on hard times with a daughter of 19 years who is inadequate but who can learn. Irrespective of whether there are special needs, the learning process goes on, and it is for us to ensure that it does. Sadly, education is halted at 19. I wrote to the Minister, the parents of the 19-year-old girl and the local education authority saying that the work that is being put in hand should be extended to include children—to an extent they are children—of 19 years who have difficulties. We have learnt something together, and featured in the amendments are good things that could be made better and that will stare out of what, in my opinion, is an appalling Bill.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

The consideration of the Bill in Committee was exceptional in two regards, if not more. First, there was the quality of many of the debates. Perhaps some of the debates on special needs were among the most fluent and cogently argued. That fluency of argument was matched by the extraordinary openness with which the Government Front Bench team approached the issue, as with so many others that arose in Committee. There was an unprecedented willingness to respond to well-argued cases that were put before them.

It became clear on statementing and on many other matters that we shall be discussing that within the relevant clauses there were issues which were implied and understood by the Government, and which would be shown to be by the way in which the Bill, when enacted, would be interpreted. When we came to examine specific clauses, however, it was fell that greater clarity and certainty would be needed. That was true especially of our debates on special needs. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) brought great knowledge and expertise to the Committee—I am not sure how fluent he was in his praise of members of the Opposition Front Bench—as a result of his experience in dealing with special need.

Mr. Steinberg

I hope that Conservative Members will stop praising me. I shall be deselected if I receive much more praise from them.

Mr. Batiste

Far be it from me to embarrass the hon. Gentleman.

There are two regards in which the case for amendment was made most strongly. First, it was said that a budget should be applied to individual schools to take account of the number of children with special needs within them. Secondly, there was the application of the curriculum to statemented children. The Government have responded fully to the proper and legitimate concerns that were raised. On behalf of Conservative Back-Bench Members who were Committee members, I warmly welcome the Government's response.

Mr. Dunn

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg). I hope that I will not cause him to be deselected if I say that he is a super, all-round decent nice guy.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) raised legitimate concerns about non-statemented pupils. Clause 10 provides for regulations on foundation subjects. It provides for modifications and exemptions in specified cases and circumstances. We shall be looking to the subject working groups and the National Curriculum Council to advise us on the way in which that provision can be applied to non-statemented pupils.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central talked about a sub-committee of the NCC. I am pleased to say that the shadow NCC is meeting for the first time today. It is a little too soon to speculate upon and about the decisions that it might take on the sub-committee structure. I note the hon. Gentleman's argument and I shall ensure that it is brought to the attention of those who matter.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central asked whether there was sufficient flexibility for pupils with statements. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern and advise him that clause 11 provides for a statement to specify modification or exemption for the individual pupil. This allows great flexibility in applying the national curriculum.

Lords amendment No. 23 amends clause 12—

It being a quarter past Eight o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 7 agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Lords amendments Nos. 17 to 25, 54, 68, 187 and 188 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 272 agreed to. [Special Entry]

Lords amendments Nos. 275, 278 and 537 to 539 agreed to.

Mr. Steinberg

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A number of questions were unanswered because of the time constraint. Will the Minister be kind enough to reply to the questions in writing?

Mr. Dunn

Of course I shall.

Back to
Forward to