HL Deb 20 December 1988 vol 502 cc1250-1

2.52 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made towards ensuring the continued existence of the residential schools run by the Inner London Education Authority for children with special educational needs after the abolition of the authority.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science set up a working group in the summer to consider the options for the future of these schools. The group aims to report to him early next year.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, can the Minister give some assurance to the House that the working party will seriously consider that these schools should remain under one central authority? Does he agree that it is desirable for those suffering from such handicaps as autism, mild or severe learning difficulties, visual or hearing handicaps or emotional disturbance to be able to turn to a central repository of knowledge, expertise and counselling? Does the Minister also not agree that such a body could be responsible for running these schools in any future dispensation?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, this is clearly one of the matters that the working group is considering. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend will consider any proposals made to him for a joint education committee as regards a particular service.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether maladjusted and emotionally disturbed children fall into the category that we are talking about? As a governor of two schools for maladjusted children, we have had applications from London boroughs for London children because it is said that schools are closing in the inner London area.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the schools that are now under discussion cater for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, the physically handicapped, children with moderate and severe learning difficulties, autistic children and children with impaired hearing.

Lord Peston

My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell us whether the report of the working group to which he referred will be published? More importantly, can he tell us whether the Government are committed, and are willing to say that they are committed, to the continued existence of these residential schools in inner London? If there are any signs that this provision will disappear, can the Minister say whether the Government will intervene to see that that does not happen?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I can certainly give the noble Lord reassurance on his latter point. The working group has considered a range of options for the schools in looking for a solution to which all the inner London boroughs can agree. But this is only one of the many important issues that the inner London boroughs have been considering as they prepare to take over responsibility for education in 1990.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I do not like to trouble the noble Viscount, but I asked him specifically about publication of the report. Is it that he is unable to answer or that the answer is no?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the answer is that I am unable to answer.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the working party is also to consider the residential schools for normal children, which can be of such great assistance to families of Her Majesty's Forces and others who are travelling?

Viscount Davidson

No, my Lords. The references of the working party are for these specific special schools.

Lord McNair

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recall when the County of Middlesex ceased to exist in 1965 that there were 11 schools of this type in that county which were then entrusted to the newly created other London LEAs? Is he aware that today there are only four of those schools surviving, and does he not regard that as a worrying precedent?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, no. As regards the schools that we are discussing at the moment, there are far more places than there are pupils.

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