HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1169-70
4. Mr. Hinchliffe

What steps he is taking to improve provision for pupils with special needs. [18749]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Estelle Morris)

On 22 October, we published a Green Paper, "Excellence for all children", setting out our proposals for raising the achievement of children with special educational needs. We are beginning to receive responses to the consultation from a wide range of interests.

Mr. Hinchliffe

I welcome the initiatives set out in the Green Paper, and other steps that the Government have taken, but may I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the specific difficulties facing children in care who attend mainstream education but also have special educational needs, and whose attendance record is often poor?

My hon. Friend may be aware that the Health Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the circumstances of looked-after children, and one of the issues that have come over to us loud and clear involves the tensions arising for those children as a result of the emphasis on league tables and school performance. Only this week, a child in a midlands city told us that the school that she attended simply did not like children in care. Will the Minister look into the issue as a matter of urgency, and attempt to achieve some balance between school attendance and the needs of children in those circumstances?

Ms Morris

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the under-performance of children in care. Statutorily, the state is their parent, and they have been badly let down. We want to address that issue through our responsibility not only for those with special educational needs but for looked-after children in general. We need far greater co-ordination between health authorities, social services and the education service, which have a joint collective responsibility to ensure that those children are cared for and receive a good standard of education. At the moment, many of them are being too badly let down.

I welcome the joint inquiry by the Select Committees on Health and on Education and Employment. As for my hon. Friend's comments on performance tables, it is crucial that information be made available, both for parents and so that schools can improve standards. I take seriously the idea that we should recognise progress and achievement wherever it happens. That is why, next year, we shall pilot value-added performance tables, so that the achievement of every child can be duly recognised.

Mr. Hawkins

When the Minister is looking at the different problems, will she recognise that a lot of head teachers—some of whom I was talking to recently—who have a proud record of helping special needs and statemented children are concerned about the policy that the Government are encouraging of inclusion in every single school? I was at one school last week where 40 per cent. of the entire roll are special needs or statemented. The head teacher feels that unless primary schools such as hers get extra resources, they will not be able to carry through the policy objectives that they wish to encourage. Will she look at the financial consequences of her policy on inclusion?

Ms Morris

Indeed. That is why, I was delighted to announce last Friday,Official Report, column 583, that the Government had made £11 million available next year for the access initiative. That amount compares with the £4 million made available by the previous Government last year, and is the highest amount in any single year.

I welcome the progress that some head teachers have made towards inclusion, and we want to encourage more of it. We believe that more children could be educated in mainstream schools. Many parents do not have the choice, as there is not a mainstream school near them that can accept their child. I accept that we must move with care towards inclusion, and we must make sure that schools have the proper support and that teachers have proper training. We do not want inclusion in name only; we want inclusion where children are working and being educated with their peers, and where they are taking a full and active part in school life. That can happen because, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is happening in many schools already.