HC Deb 22 March 1988 vol 130 cc206-36

'The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that the provisions of the National Curriculum, or such of those provisions as may be specified in the regulations, shall not apply in relation to such categories of pupils as may be so specified.'—[Mr. Kenneth Baker]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss also the following: Government new clause 42 —

Temporary exceptions for individual pupils.

Government amendments Nos. 107 to 113 and No. 117.

Mr. Baker

I welcome this opportunity for a debate about the effect of the Bill on pupils with special educational needs. A great deal of concern has been expressed about such pupils in Standing Committee, in the country at large and, not least, in the representations made to my Department. I want to take this opportunity to reassure the House that the Government are deeply concerned about this group of children, although that may not be the impression given by some of the public debate. I want the reforms that we are introducing to bring benefits to children with special needs—those who are handicapped in one way or another, physically or mentally —just as to other children.

The Education Act 1981, which followed the Warnock report, marked a major change in attitudes to the education of children with special needs. It produced a legislative framework that took account of progressive changes in attitude and methods of provision and set the scene for further development along the lines of the report. One of the themes of that report was that the need for special provision does not apply only to a small minority —the 2 per cent. or so of pupils in special schools—but, in various degrees, to perhaps as many as one sixth or one fifth of the school population.

The other principle was that children with special needs should, wherever possible and appropriate, be educated alongside children without such needs—that is to say, the principle of integration. That does not mean integration regardless of the circumstances of the individual child. Some children will continue to need provision that is so specialised that it cannot be provided in an ordinary school, and account must be taken of the wishes of parents about the way in which their children are educated.

The 1981 Act has brought about changes. Some changes can be observed and quantified. Others, which can be more important in the long term, are changes in attitude —the attitude of other children and the attitude of our society to children who are less gifted, less able or more handicapped than other children.

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There is a growing tendency to educate children with statements of special needs — those who previously would have been in special schools — in ordinary schools. In January 1987 the latest date for which we have figures—there were 29,000 children with statements attending ordinary schools, compared with just under 100,000 in special schools. Since 1982, my predecessor and I have approved the closure of over 150 special schools maintained by local education authorities. In many cases, those closures were part of a reorganisation plan to make better provision for children with special needs.

I do not think that I need tell the House that those closures were not an exercise in saving money. If integration is carried out properly, the cost for the individual child in a special school may be very much the same as the cost for a child who is educated in an ordinary school. The benefit lies in the fact that the child in a junior school of 400 pupils has access to a wider range of curricular opportunities than he or she might get in a special school of 150 or fewer pupils. Some special schools are very small. To gain the full benefit, however, that child needs to be supported by specialist services and, most important, by the school, teachers and other children.

It is gratifying to see how the attitudes of the ordinary schools have changed and are changing. As I visit local authorities, I see examples of children who, 10 years ago, might have been in special schools being integrated into the ordinary schools. I particularly recall one visit which I made a couple of months ago to a school in Northumberland. I was impressed to see the way in which that primary school, the teachers and the young children had adopted handicapped children, from a neighbouring school. Some of those children were severely handicapped and could not fend for themselves.

That was a splendid and wonderful example of ordinary children, blessed with the full faculties that God has given them, looking after children who would never be able to cope alone in the world. It was a good example of caring and sharing. The commitment of the ordinary pupils was impressive. They felt an obligation. I know that many hon. Members have seen this in their constituencies: not only the children with special needs benefit. The ordinary children benefit by being in close relationship with children with these difficulties.

I pay tribute to the teachers in our special schools and the teachers who deal with children with special educational needs. They have a demanding task which requires enormous patience, devotion well above the normal course of duty and love, which is generously and willingly given every day by thousands of teachers in our schools.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

When I was a teacher, I agreed strongly about the protective nature of other children towards handicapped children in the same school. What policy conclusion does the right hon. Gentleman draw in relation to creating the provision to encourage the basic physical conditions which allow often very handicapped pupils to remain in the school? There is a problem.

Mr. Baker

This is very much a matter for local education authorities. As I go round, I see more and more education authorities willing to absorb children with special educational needs into their classes. Sometimes that means that there must be adaptation of the means of access—for example, ramps or special handrails. Some schools may not need that provision. I have seen some schools in which a new lift has had to be installed to take children who are in wheelchairs up to classrooms. Since 1981, nearly 30,000 children who would otherwise have been in special schools have been absorbed into normal schools.

There are those who say that the Bill's provisions will slow down this progress and will undo some of the good work that has been done. I can see that that is a danger, if the provisions of the Bill are wrongly implemented. We have built in provisions to try to prevent that, and we are proposing further amendments to strengthen the safeguards. Clause 10 deals with children with statements and says that the provisions of the national curriculum can be modified or lifted in the case of individual children, if the statement says so. These are children who can be specifically identified. In the statement, it is possible to say that the child who may have locomotion difficulties or physical difficulties of co-ordination can be exempted from specific parts of the national curriculum.

Clause 4(3) aims at children with special needs who do not have statements and provides that, in making an order about a subject under the national curriculum, I, or the holder of my office, can make modifications in respect of a group of pupils. For instance, if the technology curriculum contained certain practical requirements which would be difficult for children with poor sight or imperfect control of their hands, I could provide for alternative ways of demonstrating the pupils' grasp of the principles that lay behind the practical experiment which the other children were taking.

New Clause 41 would extend this principle so that a designated category of pupils could be exempted from that part of the national curriculum.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The Opposition welcome almost everything that the Secretary of State has said so far, but he uses the term "category" in new clause 41.

I should have thought that that negates almost all the idea of the caring concern which is shown by almost everyone involved in special education and in mainstream schools, in that they want to treat the child as an individual with a particulary possible learning difficulty, as opposed to a "category" of children. To treat children as a category tends to stigmatise and be the wrong approach to handicap. Could not the right hon. Gentleman have found some better wording than "category" of children?

Mr. Baker

I shall come to that point. I should like to explain why we think this wording is necessary. As I have said, clause 10 deals with children who have statements. In Committee we amended clause 10 because, as originally drafted, it allowed the statement to modify the national requirements but not to lift entire elements — our lawyers advise us that there is a difference between modification and lifting entire elements—from applying in any way to the child.

Entire elements would mean, perhaps, the whole part of a programme of study. Modification of a programme of study would mean that the programme was still recognisably the same after the changes had been made. Clearly, there may be circumstances in which modification of the national curriculum requirements would not be enough for a child with a particular learning difficulty or other handicap.

We have encountered exactly the same problem with the provision to make exceptions to the statutory requirements for identified categories of pupils. An example we have previously given of such a case was that pupils with severe difficulties in English might be introduced later, or in a different way, to a foreign language. It might be possible to identify a category of a certain level of attainment. We would not want to ask a child or a group of children with severe trouble in coping with the English language to struggle when they get to year 11 or 12 to cope with French, German, Italian, Spanish or some other foreign language.

Another example might be a pupil or a group of pupils who made such rapid progress as to reach the highest levels in some foundation subjects before the age of 16. These are the very gifted children. They do not have special needs; they have special skills of one sort or another. We would not want the Bill to prevent such pupils from proceeding at an appropriate pace into sixth form studies or from seeking to study different subjects to complement those in which they have already demonstrated high achievement. Equally, we do not want to lay down rules of how this provision will apply to those children or others. We: believe that we should consult, and that would be a valuable process. This is a classic case for consultation and regulations.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) referred to amendment No. 107. I cannot be responsible for printing errors. Amendment No. 107 should apply to clause I and not to clause 7, and I am not Mr. Stanley Baker.

Mr. Pawsey

He is dead.

Mr. Baker

As my hon. Friend says, he is dead. That has not yet occurred to me.

Mr. Ashdown

The Secretary of State tempts me with his last statement. Although he is not responsible for printing errors, amendment No. 107 still does not make sense because it refers to paragraph (b) and there is no consequential amendment for paragraph (a). That is indicative of the pace at which the right hon. Gentleman and his team have been pushing their officials, who could do their jobs far better at a more reasonable pace.

The Secretary of State said that the provisions in new clause 42 would come into effect, after consultation. However, the new clause says that he should consult the "appropriate bodies", whereas clause 4 requires consultation specifically with the National Curriculum Council. On that important point, why has the Secretary of State decided to limit the level and scope of consultation, instead of retaining the proposal contained in clause 4, which brings the National Curriculum Council into the matter? Does he want to have more power at his elbow rather than allowing others to have it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am responsible for printing errors. It is clause 11, but it is a rubric and it does not alter the sense of the amendment.

Mr. Baker

Thank you for assuming that responsibility, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It makes nonsense of the point raised by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), which he raised on several occasions in Committee. He has tried to use pettifogging arguments which totally cloud the matter.

Mr. Ashdown

indicated dissent.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman will now be offended and hurt. We do not want to hurt him, at least not mortally. Just as Stanley Baker disappeared from the Order Paper, so the amendments will be corrected tomorrow when they come up for approval by the House.

It is important that we should consult on these matters, and we intend to do so. It was intended that there should be the necessary flexibility, but we have now been advised that clause 4(3) allows only modifications of the requirements, so we have amended that as well.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Baker

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

For this reason, we have brought forward new clause 41. It provides us with the necessary flexibility and, together with clause 10 as amended and Government new clause 42, forms a complete package to accommodate children with particular needs within the national curriculum framework. I commend new clause 41 to the House.

Dr. Thomas

It will not have escaped the Secretary of State's notice that there is a suggestion on the Amendment Paper—it will not come up for debate because it has not been selected, so I shall not refer to it in detail—that consultation should be by means of an advisory committee. Has the Secretary of State considered this, and does he believe that an advisory committee should represent interest groups involved with special educational needs? Such a committee might be able to advise him just as effectively as the National Curriculum Council.

Mr. Baker

I hope to appoint the National Curriculum Council in shadow after Easter. It is important that it should be appointed in shadow as soon as possible, because it must proceed with the preliminary planning of the national curriculum, which we want to implement as soon as possible. I do not wish to be too prescriptive about how it should operate. It may want to set up its own subcommittee to deal with special educational needs. I leave that to the council. It will be a body of highly responsible people who will have a great responsibility in fashioning the national curriculum.

Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)

The National Association of Head Teachers is concerned that the Bill should make it clear that head teachers will have a role to play in this and that they will be able to determine the most appropriate curriculum for children with special educational needs. That could be done by, for example, putting the words "subject to the approval of the head teacher" into clause 10. Will the Secretary of State make clear the role of head teachers in this matter?

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Mr. Baker

In the various groups that I have set up already, I have tried to involve teachers and head teachers. I envisage the some members of the National Curriculum Council will be teachers or head teachers, but I cannot yet say whether they will have experience of special educational needs. If they did not have that expertise, the council would be able to set up groups to take that into account.

Head teachers are a critical element in the formation of a national curriculum and, indeed, in the whole range of our educational reforms. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) will know, as he was in Committee, that the Bill gives head teachers a huge new raft of responsibilities. The financial delegation clauses give head teachers a huge responsibility. Within three or four years, head teachers of all secondary schools and larger primary schools will control the budgets of their schools. I assure my hon. Friend, and the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association, that we highly value the role of head teachers.

My hon. Friend will also know that I am bringing forward proposals to improve the training of head teachers. That is important, because they will be taking on managerial roles as a result of the education reforms. The present training does not include a great emphasis on managerial roles. Some courses have it, but others do not.

Head teachers will be responsible for budgets of up to £1 million. They will also be responsible for the day-to-day management of staff in their schools. They will have the right to hire and fire, in conjunction with their governing bodies. I assure my hon. Friend that we consider the role of head teachers to be most important.

Mr. Harry Greenway

The National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association will be delighted to read my right hon. Friend's comments, that head teachers and assistant head teachers will be on the National Curriculum Council. Does he agree that it is important for that body to remain dynamic, for people to be on that body for a limited period and constantly to bring new people on to it, particularly those from the profession who are active at head and deputy head level?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend makes an eternally valid point. One does not want important bodies such as the National Curriculum Council and the School Examinations and Assessment Council to become moribund and sink into a state of torpor. I do not think they will. They will be exceptionally busy in the next few years, because they will be consulting widely as a result of the recommendations of the working groups in various subjects. I am glad that the hon. Member for Yeovil pledged support for the heads' associations.

Mr. Ashdown

indicated dissent.

Mr. Baker

I am a little surprised that the head teacher unions are praising some of my speeches, particularly the one that I made before Christmas, in which I emphasised the role of parents in bringing up children.

It is no good society saying that the blame for social misfits, juvenile delinquents, violence and drugs lies with teachers and schools. The first educators of our children are the parents. It is important that the parents should fulfil their responsibilities to teach their children the basic principles of right and wrong and what they should and should not do. It is no good expecting schools and teachers to do that, if it does not start in the home. There is tremendous support on that from the two head teacher unions, and I am sure that all hon. Members share that view.

Mr. Ashdown

The Secretary of State leaped like a trout after a fly for that support from the National Association of Head Teachers. It is a false bait. The hon. Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and I were at the conference of the NAHT in Cambridge on Saturday. If the Secretary of State had been there, he would be in no doubt that the NAHT quite properly recognise some of the extremely damaging and dangerous aspects of the Bill.

Mr. Baker

I am a fly fisher, and the trout for which I go rarely leap. They have to be tempted to rise to a well-cast fly. This is not a lesson in fly-fishing, although I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman a lesson on any occasion.

As the Bill goes through the House, there is a growing acceptance of its main provisions. There is a growing acceptance of the national curriculum and the processes in it that we shall bring about. There is growing acceptance of the need for financial delegation and for the greater involvement of parents. Before the for hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) jumps up—

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I am just pulling up my socks.

Mr. Baker

It is about time the Opposition pulled up their socks.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition did not seek to divide the Committee on any of the clauses that we are debating. They accepted them. The difficulty that the Opposition have, and why they constantly attack me personally, is that they agree with about 75 per cent. of the Bill. It is difficult for the Opposition to explain to their supporters, such as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), that the Government are on the right lines. The hon. Member for Hillsborough, in his strange, atavistic, neanderthal way, believes that all that has gone wrong with education in Britain in the past 30 years is somehow right, and he is opposed to all the changes that we are making.

Mr. Flannery

Would the Minister kindly explain whether a fly fisherman means a fisherman who is fly, or does it mean something else?

The Government's dilemma has emerged in the first few minutes of the debate. The Secretary of State tells others that they do not know things, but he is clearly out on the horns of a dilemma because we have gone too quickly for the Secretary of State, as well as for the rest of the Committee, and he does not know his stuff.

Mr. Baker

I should not have given way. That is an absurd intervention. We have debated the Bill for nearly 200 hours.

Mr. Flannery

Not enough.

Mr. Baker

Since 1945, only one Bill has been debated for longer. When the Bill returns from the other place, I shall almost certainly be able to say that, since 1945, no Bill at all has been subjected to such extensive parliamentary scrutiny, and that is entirely appropriate. The hon. Gentleman knows that it has been debated at length in Committee. He was not much of an absentee. He turned up regularly. He even turned up on his 70th birthday. I thought that that was very touching. We all wished him a happy day, but none of us said, "Many happy returns."

The Bill and the issues that it raises have been debated in a way that I can barely recall. In the past eight years I have taken three long Bills through the House—two relating to British Telecom and one to the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils. The Education Reform Bill has been debated in much greater detail and depth than any of those.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Let me briefly help my right hon. Friend to evaluate the appreciation of the National Association of Head Teachers' conference by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who was there with me and hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). The hon. Member for Yeovil left after an hour, so he did not hear the president say how very much the association would welcome its representatives being included on the National Curriculum Council.

Mr. Baker

I am glad to have that placed on the record. The hon. Member for Yeovil was there just long enough to appear in the footnotes of the conference.

Mr. Fatchett

The right hon. Gentleman has been arguing that the Education Reform Bill has gained popularity and wider acceptance as it has gone through the House. Why then, according to the most recent opinion poll on educational issues, has support for the national curriculum and the opt-out provision fallen by 20 per cent? Less than one in five now support the opt-out provision for schools. Would the right hon. Gentleman be happy to have more debate, because, with that success rate, he would soon have no supporters at all?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that both Front-Bench spokesmen will set a good example by sticking to the new clause that we are debating.

Mr. Baker

You have cut me off in full flight, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to demonstrate the growing and increasing popularity of our measures as shown by the growing support for the national curriculum which, in opinion polls, regularly notches up support of between 60 and 70 per cent.

When we announced our proposal for grant-maintained schools, its acceptance took some time, but support for it in opinion polls varies between 20 and 35 per cent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want it recorded that there is nothing compulsory about grant-maintained schools. It is entirely up to the parents and the governing bodies, if they wish to exercise their right. Many governing bodies and parents will wish to do that, because some will want to save schools that are threatened by reactionary councils or by politically biased councils or where many parents will want to exercise that right if they feel that the quality of education is not high enough.

Mr. Hawkins

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about head teachers being involved in the committees advising on the national curriculum and so on, but head teachers are often concerned about what happens at the level of the individual pupil. Will head teachers determine what proportion of the national curriculum will be suitable for children with special educational needs? They would like some assurance that head teachers will have a fundamental role to play in such decisions.

Mr. Baker

Principally, yes, but such decisions will be held in consultation with particular subject teachers and a teacher who knows something of the child. We are also providing appeals for parents in these matters because they often feel passionately and deeply about their children with special educational needs. In many cases, they do not want their child excluded. We have tried to produce some flexibility so that the experts on the spot—the teachers —in discussion sometimes with parents, can decide what is best for a particular child. One does not want to make the demands upon a child with special educational needs so exacting that he feels a failure, but at the same time one does not want to exclude a child. Decisions virtually have to be made on a one-off basis.

I know that the intention behind new clause 42 will be welcomed on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who is present today, has great experience in these matters having been the head of a special school, and he was very good in Committee. He spoke many times, prefacing each of his long speeches by saying that he would not take long. We shall remember him by that endearing characteristic. He has brought his considerable practical and recent experience to bear on the problems of children with special needs.

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman urged us to consider the need for greater flexibility in applying the national curriculum to those with special needs for whom statements of special need might not be appropriate. The hon. Member for Yeovil also pressed us on the particular point that pupils in the process of being assessed for a statement of special need should not be asked to meet unrealistic requirements. This new clause, along with our other amendments on the disapplication of the national curriculum provisions, offers reassurance on both points.

The clause will allow head teachers—my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) is temporarily out of the Chamber, no doubt in consultation with the National Association of Head Teachers— within limits broadly defined in the clause, and more closely defined in regulations, to modify or disapply the national curriculum with respect to an individual pupil for a temporary period. That point was raised by the hon. Member for City of Durham.

The broad constraints set out in the Bill are, first, that temporary withdrawal from the national curriculum shall be limited to six months, but may be renewable in circumstances defined in regulations. Secondly, the head must give information about his plans for the pupil — one may be dealing here with children who are psychiatrically disturbed and particularly unruly children — to the parents, the governing body and the local education authority.

Thirdly, the information given must include the head's reasons for his action, the provisions to be made for the pupil during the period of withdrawal, and either proposals for the pupil's reintegration with his classmates —an important point for children of this sort — or an opinion that he should be assessed for a statement of special need.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The obvious reason for providing a period of six months is so that the statement can be prepared. The Government were carrying out a survey of how well local authorities were performing their duty to prepare statements, and whether they were managing to do it within the six months. Can the Secretary of State now tell the House the results of that survey? Will he also make it clear that, if a statement is being prepared, it should be completed in six months, and the head should not have to ask for a further extension?

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Mr. Baker

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman precise figures in answer to his first question. I shall have to see what progress we have made.

Obviously, an attempt should be made to produce statements within six months. It may well be that, for that six-month period, no statement is required. It may be that the child who has been temporarily withdrawn can be reintegrated into the normal class. It does not necessarily follow that every child who is withdrawn for six months should have a statement, but it would be better to produce a statement in that period if the child clearly needed one, and was in some way physically or mentally handicapped.

The clause also gives parents the right of appeal to the governing body if the head makes or refuses to make a direction, contrary to their wishes. Government amendment No. 117 secures that the LEA complaints procedure may be used if parents are dissatisfied with the governors' action following an appeal.

We believe that the provisions give the right degree of flexibility, while guaranteeing that pupils with behavioural problems, or temporary needs, such as a crash course in English as a second language, or waiting to be statemented —as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) suggested—cannot be denied for too long the benefits of the national curriculum. The six-month period will, we hope, serve to encourage local authorities to speed up where possible their statementing procedures. It should also avoid disruptive pupils being consigned for too long to "special units" without decisions being taken about the need to reintegrate them into school, or to assess their special needs for long-term provision.

We had an interesting debate in Committee on the important subject of the powers of heads and governing bodies to expel unruly children, or to put them into special education units. Since then, I have appointed a committee, under my noble Friend Lord Elton, to examine disruptive behaviour and violence in the classroom. Among other matters, it will consider the sanctions available to heads and governing bodies for dealing with children with that sort of behaviour pattern.

One of the arguments that have been used by those who are anxious about special education units is that a child can be conveniently put into one and almost forgotten. We want to ensure that if that happens — this helps a particular type of pupil in a particular way—the child's case should be re-examined to assess how it may be possible to reintegrate him after a period of treatment or special education. I am sure that hon. Members will welcome that flexibility.

As is clear from the many interruptions from hon. Members on both sides of the House, this is a complex subject. Hon. Members will have noted that we make provision for consultations about the regulations, which will fill in the detail and set out procedures to be followed in schools and LEAs in implementing the clause.

The hon. Member for Yeovil interrupted me—so passionate was his concern that he has now left the Chamber—about the process of consultation. Of course we shall consult very widely. The National Curriculum Council will be involved, along with various bodies concerned on a daily basis with the interests of children with special educational needs. We shall listen carefully to all the points made to us: the clause is evidence that we have been willing to do so thus far. I am confident that the provisions will benefit many pupils, and that they offer a real improvement on the present position — in which, too often, they and their parents may be left in limbo without understanding, or being able to challenge, the decisions made about their educational needs.

Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

I have followed my right hon. Friend's statement with considerable attention, and I am relieved by much of what he said. Does he not agree that all the evidence that we have received—both the evidence to the Select Committee and that given to other bodies that have considered the matter — has shown that the quality of remedial provision, and the speed with which that provision is made, are essential in any treatment of special needs? We are not talking particularly about those who are being statemented, or those who are close to being statemented. The vast majority of children who require some special needs provision will require it for a short period, and will require it to be applied immediately, like a plaster. Unless that provision is there, much of what the Bill seeks to achieve —for instance, in attainment testing—will fall by the wayside.

Mr. Baker

I agree with my hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about these matters — not only from constituency experience, but from his work for the Select Committee. Some children will, as he says, need special education provision for the whole of their scholastic lives, and indeed beyond that. The policy is to try to integrate those with lesser handicaps into ordinary schools.

I said earlier how proud we should be as a country of the excellence of the provision in special schools. That is one of the most successful parts of the British education system. There is tremendous expertise and devotion there. We are now taking children out of what used to be called hospital schools and moving them into what used to be called special schools, and moving children out of the "special schools" into the ordinary run of schools in the local authorities. That is the pattern for children who are likely to need assistance throughout their lives.

Some children — my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) rightly identified them — need particular help and attention at a particular time, perhaps for a few months, perhaps for a year. They may have behavioural problems, or problems at home. They may simply be unable to fit in, or to relate to other children. That may trigger off other problems as well. For those children, there must be flexibility. The system must be able to respond. Otherwise, those children may become completely alienated from the system, and once that has happened, they may be alienated for the rest of their lives. We have tried to produce that flexibility in new clause 42.

Mr. Ashdown

I am sorry to hear that I could not be absent from the Chamber for rather less than a minute without the Secretary of State choosing my absence as an opportunity to attack me.

The new clauses are welcome, but, if they are so important — I agree that they are—why has the right hon. Gentleman chosen to introduce the measures by regulation rather than by order, as in the rest of clause 4? Is it simply because he wants the opportunity to sign the bottom of a piece of a paper himself, rather than suffering any parliamentary scrutiny on what we both agree to be an important matter?

Mr. Baker

Let me reply first to the hon. Gentleman's point about my comments on his absence. If he aspires to lead his party, the first thing that he must do is develop a thicker skin, and not worry about such things. He must bear the slings and arrows.

The education system contains many procedures, which operate by different methods. Some are introduced by order, and some by regulation. I should have thought that this procedure could operate by regulation. There is not much controversy about it, and there is no controversy at all between the parties. It is a matter on which we have traditionally consulted very widely.

Mr. Flannery

Let me extend the point made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) — who, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, is a member of the Select Committee and was also a member of the last one, when we put out a major document on special educational needs. He stressed that those involved are not only the 2 per cent. who are statemented, but the 18 per cent. who are still in the classrooms, many of whom are very difficult. Has the Secretary of State considered the fact that a great deal of money will have to be spent on special needs so that the 18 per cent. have more teachers and other helpers? All that the Bill contains and its resolutions will be a waste of time if there is not enough money to carry out the proposals.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman raises the question of resources on every aspect of the Bill. He will be aware that I always reply that we have increased resources substantially in the past two years. In the financial year that is about to start, the amount that we have planned for education is increased by 8.2 per cent. over the previous year. That is a substantial amount of money. The local education authority must decide how to deploy those resources, and that varies from authority to authority. The hon. Gentleman cannot claim and thereby sustain with any credibility that the financial resources in the education system are not sufficient.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough is obviously very reluctant to address the efficient way in which the money is used. If we were looking for a more cost-effective way of using the approximately £18 billion that is available for all the various aspects of education in our country, we would concentrate on better value for money. That is what we are trying to do.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The Opposition very much welcome the two new clauses. I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Education and Science paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who pressed so hard for the new clauses and these provisions in Committee. It is a tribute to my hon. Friend and to others outside the House that they have managed to move the Government is this way.

I fully understand why the Secretary of State felt that he should table the new clauses and amendments. He felt that he had to undo some of the damage that has been done to the Government's reputation in special education during the Bill's progress. We understand why he made his speech. We also understand that he said the right things at the start of his speech and when he addressed the amendments. However, people outside the Chamber will be puzzled and will not understand why the Secretary of State had to fill out his speech with references to trout fishing and other matters that did not add much of substance to his speech.

The Secretary of State obviously felt that he had to say a lot, but he did not have that much to say. He did not address the problem of money. Indeed, he was not going to say anything about money until my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) brought him round to the subject. The right hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members are aware that if we are to make a reality of integrating children with special needs into mainstream education, the Government must provide the resources.

It is no good the Government claiming that local authorities have the money in the round to do that. They do not have the money. The Secretary of State is aware that the local authorities have found money in spite of the Government's determination to make cuts. If anything, the authorities have raised educational spending per pupil. The Government have not been producing the money.

There was nothing in the Secretary of State's speech about the money to make the proposal a reality. The Government have shown no real understanding in the amendments of the fact that we have to treat children with special needs as individuals. It has been interesting to see, during the progress of the Bill, the way in which the Secretary of State has learnt about education in this country. He has slowly realised that education is about the needs of individual children and that it is extremely difficult to apply national criteria to categorise those children.

By the amendments, the Secretary of State obviously accepts that the 2 per cent. of children who are statemented will have to be treated as individuals. He has also realised that the requirements of the 18 per cent. whom Warnock described as probably having special needs must be recognised, rather than have a national curriculum and national testing imposed upon them.

The Secretary of State referred to the small percentage — he did not give a figure — of children who do exceptionally well, who are exceptionally able and who reach attainments in school very quickly. He has clearly recognised that they have special needs. It is time he recognised that the majority of children in schools are individuals and have particular abilities and aptitudes. We must recognise that. The Secretary of State must recognise that that causes a problem in imposing testing, especially the kind of testing that the Prime Minister wants.

We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is talking about making exceptions in the legislation for those children whom he recognises have special needs. However, the right hon. Gentleman still considers these children as a problem rather than seeing an opportunity for them to be educated individually and an opportunity for them to bring enlightenment into the mainstream school so that other children can appreciate the particular needs and attributes of children with special needs.

The Secretary of State did not consider dyslexia. He gave us no hint of how he sees the development of the national curriculum with regard to the teaching of English and other subjects, taking into account the special needs of some children with reading and writing difficulties. The only reference in the Secretary of State's speech to reading and writing difficulties related to problems with the way in which the amendments had been tabled.

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One of the most engaging aspects of the House of Commons is the way in which hon. Members can table amendments in appalling handwriting. The printers usually turn those amendments into very good, accurate English, with a little help from the Clerks. I suspect that most hon. Members would fail any test imposed on children at the age of seven.

The Secretary of State did not address the problem of children with special learning difficulties and how they will be tested and assessed. When the right hon. Gentleman referred to new clause 41 and the categories of pupils, did he recognise that there is a category of pupils with dyslexia? Where do we draw the line in respect of those children? I believe that the major problem is that children have shades of difficulty, and that it is very difficult to place them in categories. I hope that the Secretary of State will even now reconsider new clause 41, when it reaches another place, and realise that it might be better to deal with individuals rather than with categories.

We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has set up his inquiry, under Lord Elton, into the action to be taken over disturbed children. It would be better if a wider group, of people were involved. It might also be better if he had recognised that he might be causing some of the discipline problems. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has ever addressed the problem of how to persuade 14 and 15-year-olds to study subjects that they do not want to study.

By imposing a national curriculum on pupils in that age group, the Secretary of State might create considerable difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman may not have been a teacher in the classroom, but I have. I know from experience that trying to teach 15 and 16-year-old pupils subjects that they do not want to study is an extremely difficult task for the teacher. The young person has every opportunity to indulge in disruptive behaviour rather than participate and be helpful in the learning process. If the Secretary of State imposes subjects on 15 and 16-year-olds, he must understand that he may make the discipline problem worse.

Instead of rushing into this legislation, it might have been better if the Secretary of State had considered some of the inquiries first and produced proposals in the legislation for the highly disturbed young person, instead of setting up an inquiry and having to take powers to make regulations. The Secretary of State does not know how he will use those powers.

The Government have not addressed one fundamental criticism that was raised in Committee. They have no plan for developing education for those aged 16 to 19 and over with special education needs. We are very disappointed that there is not another new clause to set out a clear Government policy to ensure that the special education needs of young people are met. I hope that when the legislation reaches another place the Government will have second thoughts and produce proposals in that respect.

I also wish that the Government had said more about statements. There were two major faults with the Education Act 1981—the lack of money and the way in which the statements were aimed at balancing the rights of parents and children. As a result of the lack of resources for local authorities, many do not have sufficient educational psychologists to prepare the statements. Indeed, some local authorities are reluctant to produce statements that will demonstrate that they do not have the facilities necessary for individual children. They are therefore producing the statements far too slowly in some instances. The Government should have had the results of their inquiry into statementing before they started on this legislation.

I hope that before the Government complete the legislation in the other place they will be able to tell us much more about statementing and will make it quite clear that they will expect local authorities to produce statements and will provide the resources for those statements when they are necessary in the interests of the child, rather than simply providing a limited amount of money to be spent in preparing statements, and limited resources to meet the requirements, which will result in the statements being produced very slowly.

I very much welcome the new clauses, as far as they go, and I hope that the Secretary of State will continue learning and realise that we must treat all children as individuals rather than as categories. As the Bill progresses through the other place, I hope that there will be further progress in the recognition of the special education needs of children, that the Government will put forward proposals for the education of those aged between 16 and 19, that there will be a new statement about statementing and that the Government will continue learning. They have a long way to go if they are to reclaim ground in regard to those with special education needs.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I shall speak briefly about new clauses 41 and 42, and I certainly join hon. Members in welcoming the aspects of the new clauses that relate to children with special needs.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has obviously worked hard to meet the desires of parents and those who campaign on behalf of children with special needs. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) gave us a great insight into that area in Committee. This afternoon, I do not wish to talk about special needs in particular. I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend about those children who are specially gifted, whom he mentioned briefly in dealing with new clause 41, and about how the new clause and the regulations which he will have the power to make will deal with those children.

I wish to deal with the matter more broadly and to talk about those pupils who, at the critical fourth stage, surpass the necessary standards for age 16 when they are still only 14. The Secretary of State has given assurances in Committee and in his speeches outside the House that the national curriculum will not impose a straitjacket on the education system. Anyone who remains sceptical will now be reasonably convinced and reassured, and will have their scepticism removed by the clause.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues have listened to the concerns of those who will have to deliver the national curriculum. Indeed, many of them, including heads and teachers in schools, are fully sympathetic to the case for a national curriculum, but had feared that the Bill provided insufficient flexibility at the fourth key stage for pupils aged between 14 and 16, who, at the age of 14, have reached the necessary standards to qualify for testing at the age of 16. New clause 41 moves to reassure teachers and heads who have raised that point.

We should remember that we are setting a curriculum for the end of the century and the beginning of the next century. We must not forget that in 1992 there will be a single European market, and the ability to speak more than one European language will be very important. That point was raised with my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues by members of the teaching profession. Perhaps, in the context of Europe, the national curriculum may be inflexible in specifying a single foreign language, as some pupils may wish to broaden their knowledge of a second European language. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said that in his view the study of classics is necessary. Again, he has brought to the attention of the House the fact that the national curriculum may be too inflexible.

One could talk about other areas of study. Certainly in my constituency, within the royal borough of Kingston, teachers from the two excellent Tiffin grammar schools raised the possible problems that inflexibility within the national curriculum might impose. Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that new clause 41 will give him the power to inject the necessary flexibility into that fourth key stage at ages 14 to 16?

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing new clauses 41 and 42, although I do not believe that he has gone far enough. It is important to remember that 20 per cent. of our school population at some time in their educational careers have special educational needs, and that only 2 per cent. are actually statemented. In other words, 18 per cent. were ignored by the original Bill—that is five or six pupils in each class. In many cases, the 18 per cent. of children who were actually ignored were worse than the 2 per cent. who were statemented in the first place.

Children with special educational needs need programmes that are child-centred and not subject-centred. Under the original Bill, that would not have been the case. New clauses 41 and 42 go a little way to help that problem. Children with special educational needs need programmes for their individual needs, and to force the 18 per cent. of the children that were not statemented to follow the national curriculum was plainly daft.

In Committee, I gave an example of a child who was at my school. When we read his report it said that Johnny did not try hard enough at French. When we tested the boy, we found that he had a reading age of 6.5 which meant that he could not even read English, yet he was being forced to take French. As the Secretary of State has altered the Bill and introduced new clauses 41 and 42, that silly situation should not occur. Frankly, it might well have occurred had the new clauses not been introduced.

I should like to touch on the anomalies in statementing. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the problems of statementing. Statementing is often not necessary because the teacher has a good feeling about what is right for the child and does not require that child to be statemented to provide the course of work necessary for that child to meet his full potential. Many local education authorities have widely differing policies on statementing. That does not mean that they do not have children with special educational needs, but just that they provide in different ways what they regard as the best courses to follow.

The local authorities have different policies on statementing, but even within local education authorities there are discrepancies. Some head teachers flatly refuse to accept that they have children with special educational needs in their schools. They regard it as a stigma. They feel that they can cope with children with special educational needs and that they do not need to statement them. Children are often not statemented because head teachers know that if a child is statemented and the statement recommends that the child should go to a special school it could affect their staffing ratios. That is appalling, but it has happened.

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Many head teachers in nursery and primary schools are often reluctant to refer children for statementing. It is only when a child is in its third or fourth year at secondary school that the head refers it, usually because it has become disruptive. That is because the child cannot cope with the curriculum and the head teacher wants to get rid of it. I hope that new clauses 41 and 42 will solve that problem. However, we do not want a rush of statementing, because it could clog up the system and nobody would benefit. There must be flexibility. The Secretary of State referred to flexibility, and I hope that he was sincere when he did so.

Since the passing of the 1981 Act, much progress has been made in integrating children with special educational needs into mainstream schools. The new clauses provide that such children will not be tested and compared with their peers. That would have been damaging; it would have put the clock back. Many children would have been humiliated. It would have meant that, if a child could riot cope with the curriculum, it would be put into a corner with a jigsaw puzzle and told to get on with it.

Children with special educational needs require a broad and balanced curriculum designed to meet their individual needs. They must be allowed to work at their own pace; they must not be pressurised. Teachers have a gut feeling about what is right or wrong for a particular child. Teachers should not be put into a straitjacket. The Bill allows head teachers and the experience of teachers to play a great part in dealing with children's special educational needs, but I hope that the Bill will not hinder the professionals from doing their job. It would be a pity if the Bill put too much power into the hands of the Secretary of State.

I welcome the new clauses, even though they are slightly disappointing. They do not fully meet the needs of children with special educational needs. They refer only to the national curriculum. What about the rest of the Government's proposals? Open admissions and financial delegation are not included in the clauses. I wish that they were. I hope that they will be included in the Bill when it reaches the other place.

Despite what was said by the Secretary of State, sufficient resources were not provided to implement the 1981 Act. Local authorities and schools have had to face great difficulties. I ask the Secretary of State to make additional resources available, particularly for special schools, if progress over integration is to be made.

Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) has great experience of special schools. He and I were involved in the debate on the 1981 Act that deals with special educational needs. I welcome the Bill in its entirety. I have reservations about parts of it, but other parts I welcome with excitement and full approval.

There should be a national curriculum. It is a concept that I have always defended. In addition, there must be testing, but that creates problems for children with special educational needs. If there is to be testing and if school results are to be examined, some heads may not want to have certain children in their schools. It is important that these children should be given a fair deal and that schools should be encouraged to keep children with special educational needs. That was the intention of the 1981 Act. The new clauses, and the accompanying amendments, will provide a better deal for those children. If there is to be a national curriculum and testing, it is important that the egos of children with special educational needs should not be hurt.

When we refer to children with special educational needs, we think of those with learning difficulties. We do not think enough about talented children. It is essential that their talents should be developed to the full, but we are not doing as much for them as many other countries are doing. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the new provisions will also help children who are able to take examinations early. If a child is gifted enough to be able to learn three or four languages by the age of 15, the core curriculum should not restrict him. I hope that children with special talents will not be placed under a handicap by not being able to develop fast enough under the core curriculum.

Mr. Ashdown

I, too, welcome the new clauses and the accompanying amendments. Before I comment on their substance, it would be useful if the Secretary of State could refer to the amendments because I want to put a technical question to him.

Government amendment No. 117 extends the complaints procedure of clause 15 in relation to schools that take children up to the age of 16. We shall be dealing shortly with new clause 43, for which I pressed hard in Committee. The Government promised to introduce a new clause to cover that point, and I am delighted to see that it is now included in the Bill. It ensures that certain complaints, consultation and other procedures that apply to the national curriculum covering mainstream age groups also apply to any extension that the Secretary of State puts in place to cover those aged between 16 and 19. That, too, is welcome.

New clause 43 picks up the wording of clause 15 in respect of complaints, consultation and other information procedures. However, Government amendment No. 117 does not appear to apply to those aged between 16 and 19. It would be useful if the Secretary of State could explain to the House why new clause 43 applies to those between 16 and 19 but not Government amendment No. 117.

The new clauses are welcome. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was absolutely right when he said that we ought to judge the Government not on the wording of the new clauses, welcome though they may be, but on their substance. The record shows that, whatever the theoretical position may be as a result of this new clause, the reality as it is experienced by children with special needs is that resources are hopelessly inadequate to put into operation even the legislation currently on the statute book, let alone that which might be put on the statute book.

The 1981 Act was an excellent Act and was widely welcomed: if only it had been carried through from legislation into practice; if only it had meant as much as it could mean because the resources were there to put it into effect. But I suspect that the 1981 Act is more honoured in the breach than in the observance in Britain.

I see the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), shaking his head. He must know, as I certainly know from my experience in Somerset and elsewhere, that the whole movement towards statementing would be more comprehensive, more effective and faster if it were not for the situation described very accurately by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who said that local education authorities often simply do not have the resources to statement children and therefore either slow up or sometimes do not statement children. The 1981 Act, excellent though it is, is nevertheless significantly deficient in its application because the Government will not put resources behind it.

I predict that, even if these very welcome clauses are in operation, they will not mean very much until the Government are prepared to put resources where their mouths are. So far, they have failed to do that. We see this most clearly in the lacunae that still exist over speech therapy, where the Government will not clarify the position of children who need special speech therapy services, but simply allow a legal muddiness to exist about whether the local education authority or the area health authority should provide the service. Into that hole fall many hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of pupils in Britain who cannot get special services in respect of speech therapy because the situation is allowed to remain legally unclear; providing authorities can say that it is not their responsibility, while the Government refuse to clarify the position. The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that we pressed him on this in Committee, and many others have pressed him on it too. He will not provide any clarification, and that is simply not acceptable.

I want to turn briefly, because I agreed with very much of what he said —I suspect for the first time—to the very important point made by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey): that this meant genuine variations in the national curriculum. We shall discover that these variations, put into effect in a very specific, minor collection of cases, would be very welcome in other areas of the curriculum as well.

It is, unhappily, only too indicative of the Government's attitude towards children with special needs that they exempt those children and then leave them by the wayside. We ought to be having a positive statement about what we do, because all the Bill says is how they are removed from the main stream, there to be abandoned, without resources and without any positive framework for the provision of the special services that they require.

How much better and how much more in keeping with the Government's rhetoric about giving parents choice it would be if the Government would allow schools, on a vote of all parents, to opt out, in whole or in part, of the national curriculum, if they so wish. If the Government really want to give power to parents, rather than the Secretary of State of the day, why do they not give them that power? We had a long and detailed discussion about whether the independent sector ought to be brought within the constraints of the national curriculum. Perhaps we argued that the wrong way round. Perhaps we ought to be giving the maintained sector the same freedom to depart from the national curriculum as the independent sector currently enjoys.

That was the burden of an amendment that I tabled, which of course has not been selected. How much better it would be if we allowed variation at the choice of the parents, at the will of the parents, on a parental vote, from the national curriculum—not just in respect of children with special needs, but in respect of all children. That really would show that the Government are interested in parental choice. We see instead, however, a Government interested in the power of the Secretary of State and central direction.

5.15 pm
Mr. Pawsey

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was somewhat harsh in his reference to the 1981 Act. It was, after all, an enabling Act, and it is significant that some local authorities have done a great deal more than others. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) was formerly the chairman of the Enfield education committee, and I am advised that in Enfield an excellent standard of education was provided for children in special need. It is also fair to tell the hon. Member for Yeovil that it might be helpful if he listened, rather than have private conversations with others sitting in the Gangway, because in fact the resources are available if the will is there. It is certainly necessary to have the will, though.

My right hon. Friend referred to the input of head teachers and others to the national curriculum. Like other hon. Members, I certainly welcome the fact that head teachers will be able to make a substantial input; it is clearly right that they should do so.

I also appreciated my right hon. Friend's comments about the training of head teachers. I am concerned because, although the NAHT makes provision for training head teachers, clearly what it does, although a step forward, is not enough. Therefore, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will make special and adequate provision for the training of head teachers. It has to be done in order that heads and their deputies may have a good knowledge of their new responsibilities and powers. Clearly, there should be no shortage of funds for the training of head teachers.

I want to refer to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), and in particular his remarks about gifted children. He was absolutely right to draw attention to this facet of the education scene. Clearly, we need to encourage gifted children. If they are not encouraged and stretched, they will lose interest. That was the point that my right hon. Friend made at some length.

I believe that gifted children, too, are important and that we must not lose sight of their talents and needs. The curriculum must be capable of holding their interest and imagination. If we fail gifted children, we shall be depriving the nation of the substantial talents and qualities that they possess.

It is right that emphasis should be put on those with special educational needs — a point well made by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who is clearly extremely knowledgable on this matter. Indeed, he combines knowledge and modesty to an engaging degree. When he speaks on these matters, the House listens.

I argue that children with special gifts have rights and that we have responsibilities to them. An example from my own constituency leads me to believe that in many local education authority areas the needs of gifted children are not understood. Unless we have the correct facilities and unless gifted children are able to receive the appropriate teaching and training, their talents will be diminished.

I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) had to say when he referred to the needs of individual children. He was right to draw attention to that. Gifted children, too, are individuals, and it is entirely right that they should not be forgotten in this Bill. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House.

Mr. Dalyell

I am strongly in favour of what the Secretary of State had to say about handicapped children being accommodated in normal schools, where possible.

Secondly, I am very unhappy about what he said regarding head teachers, on the grounds that, although they may have the right to hire and fire, it means that they get bogged down in administration. Often they are some of the best teachers in the school. It is a great pity that facilities are not made available for them to do more teaching.

I refer to a letter about the National curriculum task group on assessment and testing report". The letter was written by Mr. Paul Gray to Mr. Toni Jeffrey. I should like to ask two questions about the substance of that letter. The second point made by the Prime Minister's private secretary is: Second, the Prime Minister notes that the philosophy underlying the Report is that tests are only a part of assessment, and that the major purpose of assessment is diagnostic and formative rather than summative. As a result the method of assessment places a heavy responsibility on teachers' judgements and general impressions. She is also concerned to note the major role envisaged for the LEAs in the implementation of the system. It is relevant to ask, what was the Secretary of State's reply to the Prime Minister on that point of substance? The House deserves to know what he has said in reply. I think that there is a good reply to be made, but some of us are curious to know what he has said.

The third point that the Prime Minister makes is: Third, the Report does not pull together the overall costs of the exercise, but the general impression is that these would he very large. That is the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). The letter continues: In view of the recommendation in section xix, the Prime Minister wonders whether, for example, the group has considered the likely costs of training teachers prior to implementation and the regular annual costs of teachers' time once the system was in operation. Can the House be told something about the cost?

Finally, I should like to ask another, and rather long question. On 14 March I tabled a question to the Prime Minister, asking what steps she is taking to discover the source of the leak of a letter from Mr. Paul Gray to Mr. Tom Jeffrey in relation to educational testing; and if she will make a statement. As often, the answer was: It is not the usual practice to give information on such matters." —[Official Report, 14 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 425.] Forgive me for saying this, but it was rather different in those 11 days at the Old Bailey when I attended the trial of Clive Ponting—sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander!

Be that as it may, on 21 March I asked the Prime Minister if, pursuant to her answer of 14 March, she will set up an inquiry to discover the source of the leak of a letter from Mr. Paul Gray to Mr. Tom Jeffrey on educational testing. The Prime Minister's answer was a non sequitur: I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Gentleman on 14 March, at column 425."—[Official Report, 21 March 1988, Vol. 130, c. 19.] For what purpose did Mr. Bernard Ingham's office authorise the disclosure of that letter from the Prime Minister's private secretary to the private office of the Secretary of State for Education and Science? Unfortunately, on Question No. 8 to the Prime Minister, a closed question, I had in mind a specific question on Mr. Ingham—

Mr. Hawkins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that I anticipate the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I am finding it difficult to relate the comments of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to the clauses that we are discussing. I remind him that we are discussing them under a timetable motion.

Mr. Dalyell

The letter was headed, "National curriculum … and testing". That was the subject of the letter. I can save the House a great deal of time with just one final question. Is there going to be a leak inquiry; and, if not, why not? The Secretary of State can answer that question easily. Well, silence speaks volumes. I ask the Secretary of State once more: is there going to be a leak inquiry?

Mr. Hawkins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Dalyell

The Secretary of State has had his chance. The silence is deafening. I do not want to take up my colleagues' time, but people will have to draw their own conclusions—

Mr. Hawkins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I get the strong impression that the hon. Member for Linlithgow is about to sit down. Yes, he has sat down. Mr. Hawkins.

Mr. Hawkins

It is nice to have something to do with these two new clauses and not see the guillotine being misused to get into the newspapers.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) suggested — I thought unfairly — that the Government were not showing proper concern for those with dyslexia — —[Interruption.] It is not a speech — I merely want to ask the Secretary of State a question. I thought, and still think, that the drafting of the new clauses, especially new clause 41, is so wide as to include all children with special needs, including those with dyslexia. To get the record straight for those outside the House, will my right hon. Friend assure us that the problems of those with dyslexia can be covered under the clause and that their special needs will be properly considered?

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I want to speak briefly. I welcome the fact that the Government have listened to some of the representations that have been made to them on educational special needs. However, they have once again missed a marvellous opportunity. The reality is that we are seeing the gradual unpicking of the national curriculum, and we are going to see more of it as the week goes on.

From the beginning we said that if the Government had been starting from the right end—that is, looking at the needs of children and the ways in which one encourages and enables them to learn—they would have looked at the national curriculum very differently. They would have considered what a child needs in order to learn, and at cross-curricular activities, and so on. They would have looked at the flexibility that every hon. Member who has spoken this afternoon has recognised as necessary when addressing the needs of different children in different situations.

The reality is that initially the Government gave us a hidebound boxed method, which is clearly nonsense when one comes to address children with special needs. I regret tha even at this late stage the Government have not taken the opportunity to look at the national curriculum in a new way. I also deeply regret that they have not fulfilled their commitment to address the needs of the 16-plus. they gave that commitment at the end of 1981, but they have not yet fulfilled it. They have not met the sincere and almost desperate pleas of organisations such as the National Association for Handicapped Students.

I think, and hope, that the Government will look at this matter much more seriously. No one outside their own Front Bench is convinced that those needs have yet been adequately addressed. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Harry Greenway

I should like to make a brief contribution to this important discussion and to welcome the two new clauses. I welcome also the success of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in establishing, under the Bill, a national curriculum. That is warmly to be welcomed. I have long felt, both in my 23 years at all levels of the teaching profession and since, that it is absurd for children in, say, London, to have one curriculum and on moving to York to find that children of the same age are studying something entirely different. That cannot be right, and it cannot have contributed to the prosperity of our country. It is high time that that matter was put right.

Another aspect of the success that the national curriculum will bring to children and schools is the standardisation in teaching. That is welcome also. By standardisation, I mean standardisation in methods. If children are taught in a particular way in one part of the country, it is valuable for them to be taught similarly, and with a similar curriculum, in another part of the country, but without total standardisation. The Bill will achieve that.

5.30 pm

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the logic of a national curriculum means that schools will, as a result, have curriculum-led staffing? If he is able to accept it, even if only gradually, teachers will match the curriculum to the needs of the children. That has not always been the case. There has been an unsatisfactory situation in many schools and local education authorities, and it is high time that the situation was put right.

I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend said about heads and serving teachers at all levels being members of the National Curriculum Council. I am certain that they will make a continuing and dynamic contribution to the council and will be an essential part of it.

On the question of special needs, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the value of these new clauses lies in the state-maintained child having access to a wide range of subjects in the curriculum of ordinary schools. That is the achievement of the Education Act 1981, and of the Bill, and it is to be warmly welcomed.

I have experience of Sedgehill school, with 2,200 children. It contained the largest unit in the country for partially-hearing children, with about 57 children. Some of them were stone deaf and others were not so deaf. Some might think that the integration of those children with special difficulties into that very large school would cause them to be overlooked, but it had a tremendous effect. The other children always took care of those with hearing difficulties, who ran around with their hearing aids on. They took part in normal physical education lessons and in the curriculum generally in an almost normal way, yet they received the special help that they needed as partial hearers. That was of the highest value. I believe that the Bill will enhance such education and I warmly welcome it, for that reason and for many others.

Dr. Thomas

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has given the House an excellent example of the importance of an integration policy. However, what concerns many of us is that, having had an integration policy after Warnock, where the special needs of children caught up, as it were, with the rest of the system, the rest of the education system is now going ahead with its so-called national curriculum.

The children with special needs — the 18 to 20 per cent. to whom we have referred — will be made an exception. These new clauses attempt to deal with that. They could be seen as providing for children with special education needs by taking them beyond the provision of the national curriculum, as the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said, but they do not prescribe or clearly indicate what will be available instead for these children.

The Secretary of State has told us that he will produce regulations. What I shall pursue with him is the form of consultation about pupils with special educational needs. It has been argued ever since the Warnock report was published that some form of advisory council for special educational needs should be set up. New clause 42 refers to consultation. It is important for the Secretary of State to specify, either now or in the other place, how he intends such consultation to take place.

As a result of a report issued in 1984 by the Voluntary Council for Handicapped Children, an attempt was made to establish some kind of national advisory committee. The problem here is that individual children with special education needs will be stereotyped, yet again, within the classrooms. Their needs overall, across the curriculum, will not be taken into account. They will be seen, not as individuals, but as exceptions to the rule of the national curriculum, rather than being catered for in a positive way. An advisory body, or perhaps a body with stronger powers, could have an important role in representing the educational needs of such children. This could be introduced nationally within the proposed new structure in England, and within the Curriculum Council for Wales.

I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us whether the Government intend that the membership of the National Curriculum Council will include persons with special interests in special education. It it does not, it will mean that yet again this area of education will be excluded. We are dealing with 18 to 20 per cent. of pupils, as has been said repeatedly in the debate. This consideration applies not only to the need for an advisory committee on curriculum development for England and Wales, but to the additional resources that need to be made available, as we have also mentioned in the debate. The Government have made small concessions in this part of the Bill, but, with regard to implementing the rest of the Bill, the special education needs of children have been neglected.

Mr. Flannery

I should like to continue the debate with a major point about resources. Clearly, the two new clauses relating to special needs contain provisions that we are not struggling against, although there is much more to be said, and the second new clause is lengthy.

On the question of resources, we have heard some nonsense from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey). He has a peerless record in the House of never saying a phrase or word against his Government. One cannot get anywhere with people like that, because they always say what is cautiously good for themselves rather than examining the problem.

The hon. Gentleman canonised the Secretary of State and almost all the Conservative Front Bench throughout the Committee stage. He has said that there is not a problem of resources. I do not know how anyone who knows anything about schools can possibly say that. I used to be on a committee of the National Union of Teachers that dealt with special needs, and it was made up of dedicated people from all over the country. Its great problem was that it was so highly specialised that only two members of that committee of 33 dealt with hospital schools, and only one of them, for example, dealt with some other subject. It needed a whole mass of people. One person could never learn everything about the specialised subjects.

The amount of money that is necessary for special needs is very clear. It is very expensive for pupils to reenter mainstream education. People thought it would be easy for pupils with special needs to re-enter ordinary education. Such an approach has been tried in mental hospitals, and as a result many poor souls are wandering about because there is no back-up for them and no money. It is the same with special education. Unless it is backed up with money, a commitment to special education is an idle piece of piousness.

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said correctly, that we are not talking about a block of perhaps 2 per cent. or 18 per cent. of children. This issue concerns perhaps six children in most primary classes. They make up the bulk of that 18 per cent. We are trying to cater for the 2 per cent. It amounts to a teacher having perhaps one disruptive child in a class of about 30 children. There are many classes with about 30 children. If one speaks to that child's teachers, they may say that the child is holding back the education of the other pupils.

This is a fundamental point. Back-up is required so that these children can be taken out of a class and another teacher can look after them. To say that the resources are available if one looks for them is the most dishonest claptrap. Such an attitude shows that the hon. Gentleman has never entered a school. We need more resources. That is the lesson of special needs.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Like the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) I believe that, while these new clauses are to be welcomed for the flexibility they give to special education and children with special needs, nevertheless they fail to provide for proper integration of children with special needs into the national curriculum and the system of testing.

Because one cannot talk about the national curriculum without talking about a system of testing, the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was valid. I know that the Secretary of State was appalled at the leak of the letter from his Department. I believe that there should have been an inquiry to find out what happened.

The system of testing is the major drawback in applying the national curriculum to children with special needs. Families with such children want them to be part of the national curriculum but are apprehensive about the tests which the children will have to take; they are afraid that their children will be branded failures. The Secretary of State should tell us something about the tests which he proposes for these children.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

I have had a special problem in my constituency in relation to dyslexia in respect of which I have corresponded with the Minister of State several times. In a nutshell, there are times when a dispute occurs between the local education authority and the persons employed by the local education authority who are responsible for making the assessment of whether or not dyslexia is properly identified. It is a difficult problem. The British Dyslexia Association has taken the question up several times.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing forward this most important provision as an amendment. I sincerely hope that it will be used in a manner which will help resolve the difficulties which I have outlined. Parents of backward children have an instinct about why their children are backward. Some parents have exaggerated ideas about why their child is backward. From my experience of studying various cases, I have come to the conclusion that, if not for ideological reasons, certainly for qualification reasons, the persons who have the job of making the assessments tend too often to go on railway tracks. As I have said, on various occasions I have raised the matter in correspondence with the Department.

In that context I am particularly interested in the provisions of subsection (6) of new clause 42 and its relationship to subsections (7) and (8). In the last line of subsection (7), the specific right of appeal to the governing body is given to the parent, although the clause has already conferred on the head teacher the original power under the provisions in subsection (1). In subsection (8), there is in pursuance of the appeal the power for the governing body to confirm the head teacher's action or to direct the head teacher to take such action authorised by the regulations as they consider appropriate in the circumstances". Then it becomes the duty of the head teacher to comply with those directions.

In no sense am I seeking to be critical; I merely wish to inquire. When one goes back to subsection (6), one sees that there is an equivalent duty on the local education authority, on receiving the requisite information described there to consider—these are the important words— whether any action on their part is required in the case of that pupil under section 5 of the 1981 Act". I simply make the point about whether there may not be a potential conflict between the procedure relating to appeal and readjudication of the head teacher's decision by the governing body on the one hand and the duty of the head teacher and the duty of the local education authority on the other to consider whether or not to put what is being asked for into practical effect.

I invite the Secretary of State to consider that question. In the context of my experience in my constituency of Stafford, I would be extremely keen for a proper resolution of the question and not a potential conflict of functions and duties.

5.45 pm
Mr. Kenneth Baker

This has been an interesting debate. I am glad to see such strong support from all sides of the House for the thrust of the two new clauses and the amendments which go with them. Hon. Members have made various points which I shall try to answer. My hon. Friends the Members for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) all talked about the problems of gifted children. They posed the question whether the brightest and most able children would be able to move through the national curriculum more quickly than the rest. In my opening remarks, as those who were here will remember, I said that there was a possibility of provision for this very point; yes, they would be able to.

There is nothing in the proposals to stop a child with outstanding ability in, say, mathematics, from learning that subject in a class of older children. He or she would be assessed against the attainment targets at the same time as the rest of the class and could move on into the sixth form with the other pupils. The attainment targets and programmes of study for each core and foundation subject will also reflect the whole range of likely attainments at each key stage, from the most to the least able. The bright or gifted child will be fully stretched throughout the period that he or she studies the national curriculum. That is important. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton has been particularly concerned about this point and has brought a delegation of parents to see one of my ministerial colleagues about it. I hope he will think that we have met the point.

The question was also asked whether gifted children educated in a class of their own age group, not with older pupils, will be able to take the GCSE early and move into the sixth form, or drop a foundation subject in which his or her attainments are already those expected at 16, in order to take other subjects at GCSE—possibly more science, a second foreign language or perhaps classics. We have received a number of representations pressing on us that we should allow the most and the more able children to drop foundation subjects if their attainments are already those expected at age 16. We certainly do not want the Bill to rule out that possibility. New clause 41 will give us flexibility to make special provision for such a pupil, but we do not want to lay down the rules now as to how that provision should apply. It is a matter for consultation, on which I shall value the advice of the National Curriculum Council.

There are difficult judgments to be made about the level of attainment which a pupil should demonstrate before being allowed to drop a subject. It also seems that there are good reasons for saying that the ablest pupils should continue with the core subjects and foundation subjects until the age of 16 to the highest level of which they are capable. I hope that my hon. Friends who were concerned about the matter, as indeed we are, will feel that there is sufficient flexibility to allow for the gifted child.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) spoke most eloquently about the matter. Various hon. Members have paid tribute to him because he knows a great deal about it. The House would be wise to listen to him, because he said some sensible things about statementing. He first said that there should be no rush into statementing. Those who have dealt with children with special educational needs have felt this quite strongly. The decision to statement a child must be a very individual decision. It must be taken most carefully. It should not be seen as a decision to he taken precipitately. It is a very important decision.

The hon. Gentleman rightly counselled care. He said that some children would not benefit from statementing. I am sure that he has personal experience of such children. Others, who are not experts in dealing with children with special educational needs, may feel that a child should be statemented. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that some parents feel strongly that their child should be statemented, while others feel strongly that he or she should not. The hon. Gentleman had experience of the problem as a teacher and I commend strongly to the House what he has said.

The hon. Member for West Lothian, if he is still the hon. Member for West Lothian—

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Baker

Those of us who were here at the time remember the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) as the hon. Member for West Lothian because of the famous West Lothian question. I must tell him that we have developed the concept and devised an East Oxford question, which is all about academic freedom. The hon. Gentleman posed the West Lothian question because it could not be answered. That is why it was such a brilliant device. We have built on his experience and posed the East Oxford question, which also cannot be answered. I shall pose it to the House yet again not tonight but on Thursday, when we consider the question of academic freedom.

Mr. Dalyell

May I ask the Secretary of State a question that can be answered very easily: is there to be a leak inquiry?

Mr. Baker

I was coming to that. The hon. Gentleman is very preoccupied with this matter. He has moved on from the missing log book of the Belgrano to the missing log book of the Department of Education and Science. I do not intend to say whether there will be a leak inquiry. He must address such questions to the Prime Minister.

On the hon. Gentleman's comments about the alleged differences between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and me on assessment and testing, I can only say that I am delighted that, according to its Front Bench, the Labour party is now in favour of Professor Black's report. Opposition Members have been enthusiastic in saying that they are in favour of Professor Black's report.

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


Mr. Baker

As my hon. Friend says, they have been fulsome, and I am delighted, because Professor Black's report recommended that there should be assessment and testing at seven 11, 14, and 16. Many Opposition Members said that it would be impossible to establish a committee in the educational world that would come up with age-related tests. [Interruption.] Many in the teaching profession and the unions said exactly that, so I am glad that the Labour party is now committed to age-related assessment and testing, at seven 11, 14 and 16. I am delighted that they have made that progress.

Professor Black also said that there should be pencil and paper testing at seven 11, 14 and 16 and I am delighted that the Labour party is now committed to that. Professor Black went on to say that the results of the assessment and tests should be published. [Interruption.] I have been asked to answer questions and I must make the best use of the time available to me. I am delighted to hear that the Labour party is committed to the publication of assessment and tests to allow parents to assess the success or failure of schools. I welcome Opposition Members' support for those progressive measures.

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) felt that new clauses 41 and 42 and the amendments represented an unpicking of the national curriculum. I do not look upon them as such, and nor does any other hon. Member who has spoken. It has been accepted that, in introducing the new clauses, we have recognised the strong points put to us by hon. Members —including the hon. Member for City of Durham—in Committee and responded to representations from outside the House and from hon. Members—including my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash)—about the need to recognise the problems of children who are statemented and children who are not statemented. That is important.

We have now injected into the national curriculum a degree of flexibility, particularly for such children. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West will know that we have always envisaged flexibility. Clause 10 as drafted allowed flexibility for statemented children, and, as the hon. Lady knows, we amended it in Committee to improve it. There was also flexibility in clause 4(3), and we have built on that in the new clauses.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conway (Dr Thomas) asked about consultation. Clearly, we would want to take the advice of those who are expert in dealing with special needs, of whom there are many. Various associations and groups of teachers and some of our own inspectors are expert in such matters. Local authorities, too, have advisers and inspectors. We are developing the national curriculum not only in respect of special needs, and we shall want to draw on the advice of experts because they have a great deal to offer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), drawing on his wide experience as a schoolteacher, strongly supported the measures, and I am sure that they will lead to better treatment of children with special needs in facing up not only to the problems,—about which one tends to think too much—but to the opportunities of the national curriculum. As my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North and for Stafford said, many children have special learning difficulties of one sort and another—particularly in learning to read—and we try to recognise that fact.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman referred to his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I am reminded that at a meeting of the National Association of Head Teachers in Cambridge, addressed by the hon. Members for Ealing, North and for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and myself, the hon. Gentleman said that the Conservative party was not interested in the publication of league tables of test scores of schools. Is that also the view of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Baker

The publication of schools' results, not for children aged seven but for those aged 11, 14 and 16, which is what Professor Black recommends, will make it possible to assess the school in the context of its area. The results of the tests and assessments will be published and made available in the education authority's annual report and in the local newspapers. The local community, including parents, will be able to assess the performance of their school and judge it in relation to other schools. That is what is envisaged.

Unlike Opposition Members, we want to ensure that every possible piece of information is made available to parents so that they can assess the school. That is the thrust of our proposals. A later clause deals with open enrolment, which will increase parental choice. Parents will be able to decide on the basis of the best information available which school in their area is better for their children. Surely that is what the House requires, although some Opposition Members may not require it, and some of the teachers' unions were totally opposed to it until a few weeks ago.

Mr. Straw

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the argument is about whether the information published is fair and takes account of a child's background so that it does not lead to a distortion of teaching to the average. The Secretary of State made what I thought was an important statement when he excluded the possibility of publishing test results at the age of seven. Is that now Government policy?

Mr. Baker

Professor Black recommended that the results should be published at 11, 14 and 16. He said that it would be difficult to assess a school according to its results for children aged seven because the children have been in the school for only two years and they enter the learning process at different ages. Some children start learning to read and write at three or four, while others start at five. Professor Black recommended that there should not be a statutory requirement to publish results at that age, but that the matter should be left to the discretion of the head teacher. We are consulting on that. I should tell the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)—we have debated this in Committee — that that is an attractive solution. It is a good idea not to make it statutory but to allow head teachers, if they wish, to publish. That is what Professor Black has recommended.

Finally, I should like to deal with points raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery).

Mr. Hawkins

What about dyslexia?

Mr. Baker

I am trying to answer all the various points that have been raised.

I will not go back over the question of resources because the hon. Member for Hillsborough knows our argument on that. He made an extraordinary accusation. He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilwoth of being loyal to his Front Bench. That is an accusation that we never level against the hon. Member for Hillsborough.

It being Six o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Orders [1 and 17 February] and the resolution this day to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions on new clauses moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Six o'clock.

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