HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc421-2
4. Mr. Booth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make a statement on special schools. [25082]

Mrs. Gillan

The Government believe, after taking account of parents' wishes, that pupils with special educational needs can usually best be educated in mainstream schools, but for the small proportion of children with exceptional difficulties there is a continuing need for a thriving special school sector.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work in this sphere. His report, "Going the Distance", has highlighted key issues in relation to children with autism.

Mr. Booth

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her kind remarks and for her excellent answer. Will she also praise my local school that deals with autism—Oak Lodge—and tell the House that the care and education of children with autism are very high priorities for the Government?

Mrs. Gillan

I am willing to pass on my congratulations to my hon. Friend's local school, and I assure him that special schools are of course given great consideration by my Department.

I hope that my hon. Friend will continue his sterling work in the sphere of autism—with the National Autistic Society and with the North East London Autistic Society. Perhaps he and other hon. Members would like to know that, among others, Ealing, which has an independent school for autistic children, recently increased its number of places; Enfield recently opened a new primary school for 60 pupils with autism; and Waltham Forest, which has a grant-maintained special school, has extensive provision for autistic pupils. There are many more examples of such schools, which I should be happy to provide to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Janner

Will the Minister be kind enough to consider the effects on special schools of vandalism and arson, which are causing those schools to spend a great deal of money on security that should be spent on the children? I refer especially to the Emily Forte school in my constituency. which has suffered greatly from a recent arson attack and does not have the money to build the security fence that it so badly needs.

Mrs. Gillan

I join the hon. and learned Gentleman in expressing sadness that the Emily Forte school should have suffered an unprovoked attack. I am very willing to listen to any representations that he has to make on this matter, and I join him in sending best wishes to the school.

Mr. Barry Field

May I extend an invitation to my hon. Friend to come to visit St. Catherine's school at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight? She will be pleased to know that, very unusually for an Isle of Wight institution, that school does not serve many residents of the island and their children, but it performs a wonderful job on behalf of the local authorities that send to the island children who have very severe speech impediments. In no time at all, those children are able to earn GCSEs and leave the island with a good education. I think that the hon. Lady would be very impressed to see the work that it does.

Mrs. Gillan

That is a charming invitation, and I shall certainly consider whatever possibility there is of visiting the Isle of Wight, as my hon. Friend suggests. I know of the extremely good work that is carried out across the country in special schools. In my constituency, the Heritage House school for pupils with severe learning difficulties provides an excellent service to the community, as does the Endeavour centre, which is next to it and provides on-going learning for adults with disabilities. I should be pleased to consider my hon. Friend's invitation.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Will the Minister agree that, for a minority of pupils with special needs, there will almost certainly always be a need for special schools? Will she tell us exactly what is the Government's thinking on the great challenge of moving ahead to mainstream education for the children who will not always need special schools? Will she tell us, for example, the practical actions that her Department is taking to improve accessibility for special needs children in primary and secondary schools? Will she accept that, because of the absence of necessary funding, very often local management do not regard that as a priority, and that is one of the saddest and most unacceptable features of our modern educational system?

Mrs. Gillan

I would be delighted if the Labour party would develop clear policies on these issues, because its policies have been notable by their absence so far. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has also failed to note that the Government recently announced a £10 million boost for local education authorities and school governors to make almost 800 primary and secondary schools more accessible to pupils with disabilities.

On individual education plans and special education needs co-ordinators—because I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is interested in them—we are examining the assessment process and good practice, and we plan to report in the autumn on good practice for preparing IEPs and on good practice in schools in relation to SENCOs.