HC Deb 15 June 1993 vol 226 cc718-20
2. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what consideration he has given to the testing of pupils in special schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth)

Children with special educational needs should follow the national curriculum and participate in its associated assessment arrangements wherever possible, so that they have access to the same education as other pupils. The School Examinations and Assessment Council has given guidance to schools about ways in which the tests for both seven and 14-year-olds might be modified or adapted for those pupils. It is, however, possible where appropriate to disapply the national curriculum and assessment and testing for pupils with special needs.

I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend and his constituent, Mrs. Anne Hardman, head teacher of Queen's Croft school in Lichfield, to discuss these important issues.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful answer. However, will he concede that special schools are, by their very nature, special, and so are the children who are taught in them? Will he consider, perhaps at the meeting that we are to have later this month, placing greater emphasis on continual assessment and slightly less emphasis on exam results? But will he continue to press that exam results for all schools, including special schools, should continue to be published for the benefit of parental choice?

Mr. Forth

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's last point and I emphasise that, whereas it is important that children in all schools, including special schools, are given the maximum opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the curriculum and regular testing, teachers have a great deal of scope to judge to what extent pupils are appropriate for particular testing. In that regard, I should mention the possibility and potential of the national record of achievement, which can be used at the discretion of schools and teachers to sum up the achievements of pupils of all kinds from all schools when they have completed their education.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister mentioned the special needs of pupils, some of whom are statemented and some of whom are in special schools, and the need for the adaptation of tests. Does he agree that any reduction in the resources now available to those pupils, whether statemented in ordinary schools or in special schools, will not be approved by Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. It is important that resources throughout education are properly directed to where they can be best and most effectively used and to those with the greatest need. The mechanisms that we now have and, more importantly, those being developed in the Education Bill in another place, go a long way to doing that. I look forward to the support of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in developing the thoughts and the mechanisms in the Education Bill which will be of enormous benefit, particularly to pupils with special educational needs.

Mr. Alexander

But surely it cannot be right to list the results of pupils in special schools without, at the same time, showing that they come from special schools? What incentive can there be for teachers or pupils if they know that they will be lumped in with everyone else without any recognition of pupils' learning disabilities?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes an important point to which we have given a great deal of thought. It is important to regard schools of all kinds as being well within the education system within which all pupils should be treated even-handedly and fairly. But we have gone some way, and we shall continue to go as far as we can, towards recognising the special nature of special schools and of units within mainstream schools in order to identify how their results can best be treated and reported so as to reflect fairly their special circumstances. That is our intention and we are prepared to continue to consider the matter and to continue to develop the reporting system in order to make it as fair as possible.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Given the Minister's last remarks, will not he admit that there is an insuperable problem here because many children in special schools can be categorised as moving towards level one, even at key stage 1, and that what we really need is some guidance from SEAC on how to develop levels of attainment in the period moving towards level one for which at the moment there are no guidelines? Does not the fact that parents want to know how their own children are doing, not necessarily what is happening in the whole school, underline the foolishness of league tables? This would be a good opportunity for the Minister to announce that league tables are out and more sophisticated ways of assessment are in.

Mr. Forth

There is always a tension between those who ask, as the hon. Gentleman just has, for more sophisticated methods of assessment and those who often complain that the system has become unwieldly and over-bureaucratic. That, among other things, is exactly the problem that Sir Ron Dearing, is considering in his review at the request of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am conscious of the problem that the hon.

Gentleman has outlined, but I believe that the arrangements for key stage 1 and the work leading up to it are broadly satisfactory. It is right that we continue to look at the arrangements to see whether they need be and can be improved, but we must be careful not to throw babies, or pupils, out with the bathwater in our eagerness to provide a more sophisticated approach to cover every category of pupil and, in this case perhaps, every individual pupil. We must keep faith with the principle of testing and ensure its integrity.