HL Deb 11 May 1988 vol 496 cc1123-4

2.45 p.m.

Viscount Tonypandy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are taking steps to improve the facilities for the training of children who are without sight and hearing.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, the Government are presently preparing a policy statement on the educational needs of deaf-blind children. We hope to publish this soon.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for the spirit of that reply, may I ask her whether she can confirm that there are over 1,000 of these children but that there are training places available for 100 only? Will she be kind enough to publish the replies to the questionnaire which her department sent to local authorities in 1986?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. The questionnaire was sent to local authorities, with a deadline of February 1987, but we have only recently received some responses. Some 79 local education authorities, or 81 per cent., replied to the questionnaire and the results show that there were 696 deaf-blind children for whom those local education authorities had responsibility. That represents about one in 10,000 of the total school population in England. I have no doubt that some of the information collected in the questionnaires will be part of the statement to be published in due course.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, what steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to train young people to teach in this very delicate field of blind and deaf children?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the concern and the need for training in this area. At present there are no training courses specifically for teachers of double-handicapped deaf-blind children. I understand that the University of Birmingham, with the help of a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, is developing teacher training in this area. But generally speaking it is a post qualification in-service training course that is appropriate in such cases.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on these Benches there is a great deal of concern and that we look forward to the publication of the policy statement, which we shall want to debate in your Lordships' House? Without underestimating the importance of the statutory role of DES and the local authorities, will she say a word about the work of the voluntary organisation SENSE, the National Deaf, Blind and Rubella Association, and especially its pioneering work at its new centre in Birmingham?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. One of the problems in this area has been a lack of information, hence the need for the questionnaire and the gathering of information. Department officials have met representatives of SENSE on a number of occasions and most recently in the last month. They have made very helpful contributions to our consideration and we shall be keeping in close touch with them. We are most grateful for the role that they have played.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the paper to which she referred will also deal with speech therapists as an adjunct to appropriate education provisions under statute?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the purpose of the statement will be to deal with the children who have the double handicap of being both deaf and blind. This is a complex subject and will involve to some extent the consideration of speech therapy.