HL Deb 20 November 1991 vol 532 cc936-72

5.27 p.m.

Baroness Warnock rose to call attention to the working of the Education Act 1981 with respect to children with special educational needs; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to your Lordships for allowing time for this debate. I need not remind noble Lords that at present there is an enormous interest in educational matters. It is a time of tremendously fast change. Therefore it seems appropriate to raise the matter of how the 1981 Act is working a decade later with regard to the education of children with special needs. The principle behind the 1981 Act is that education, at least up to the age of 19, is a legal right for all children, and that the purpose of education for all children, whatever their abilities, is to improve their understanding and enjoyment of the world, and thus to improve their chances of obtaining freedom, independence and an ability to make choices and therefore gain some meaning to their lives.

If education could fulfil those aims, it would meet the needs both of children and of society—the children we are discussing are of course members of society—at one and the same time. Noble Lords may think this philosophy is a little old-fashioned. The principle behind the Education Reform Act 1988 seems radically different. If anyone is defined as having needs in that Act, it is not children but society or employers who need a workforce with certain competences in order to meet the economic demands of society as a whole. I do not believe those two basic intentions are contradictory save in one respect: there will always be some children who will contribute little to the economy and who yet have overwhelmingly strong educational needs according to the concept of need enshrined in the 1981 Act. It is precisely to explore that potential area of conflict between the two Acts that I was most anxious to launch today's debate.

I have one further general point to put to your Lordships before moving on to just a few of the more specific areas of anxiety. Time will certainly not allow me to cover all the issues that I believe need to be resolved. In the report of the committee of inquiry into the education of children with special needs, on which the 1981 Act was largely based, there was a chapter entitled Parents as Partners. The committee urged that parents of children with disabilities should be involved from the very beginning in the educational plans for their children and that they should work with the local authority and its officers and employees in an open and co-operative spirit for the good of the child. Those parents were of course the parents of those children whose special needs were so far as possible to be met by the local authority.

Since those days, two related things have happened. The powers of the local authorities have been enormously diminished and parents have acquired a far more influential role in the provision of education for all children. It seems to me that it is the very proper role of parents to be interested in the education of their own children. However, parents are not and should not be responsible for educational policy.

Happily, most parents have children without special educational needs and therefore it is unreasonable to expect those parents to be very much concerned with provision for such children. Such provision accordingly, if it is to be made at all, must be a matter of policy, and central policy requires central administration. Local education authorities have been very much criticised for spending too much on central administration and have been stripped of many of their responsibilities and much of their money. Yet without central resources, the needs of disabled children—whether physically, intellectually or educationally disabled —will not be met.

The new competitiveness between schools which is supposed to ensure parents' rights to choose the best schools by means of published examination results and other methods, and according to which the schools which perform badly by that criterion will either improve or wither away, needs to be balanced by central planning. Otherwise, children who inevitably bring down the examination success rate of a school because of the obstacles they have to face will be, as they say, marginalised. They will either not be entered for examinations or tests which it would be in their interests to take even if they do not do very well, or one way or another they will be excluded from schools altogether.

However, a central plan requires central resources and powers to implement it. I do not argue that the only obstacle to the good working of the 1981 Act is lack of resources but I believe that it is one difficulty, and a very important difficulty, in the way of successful implementation of that Act.

The first of the particular matters which I should like to bring to the attention of the House is the question of what in the 1981 Act are called "statements". According to the Act, when a local authority believes that a child has, or probably has, a special educational need—a need which cannot be met by the ordinary provision of a school—an assessment of the child is set up, in which the parents play a part. If the local authority sees fit a statement of the child's need is made and maintained by that authority. The statement is supposed to specify in detail the needs of the child. Section 7(2) of the Act states that: In any case where a local education authority maintain a statement … in respect of a child, it shall be the duty of the authority to arrange that the special educational provision specified in the statement is made for him unless his parent has made suitable arrangements".

If a local authority makes a statement on a child and the parents dissent from it in any respect, they may appeal to a local committee which may refer the matter back to the local authority to rethink it. That often does not make very much difference because the very same people who first made the statement are later the judges of whether the appeal is to be allowed. Nevertheless, parents have that right.

If, however, the local authority decides not to make a statement on the child the parent has no appeal save to the Secretary of State in writing. Such an appeal takes an extremely long time. Cases are quoted in which more than three years of a child's life have gone by between the parents appealing and the response from the Secretary of State. More than a year is the norm. No oral evidence is taken. The parents are finally given the result but no explanation of that result or its grounds.

In 1981 none of that seemed to matter very much because it was assumed that local authorities would want to make statements for the good of the child. It was also presumed that there would be an atmosphere of openness and co-operation between local authorities and parents. We who served on the committee may have been naive in that assumption, but that was the assumption that we made. Now things are different. There is growing evidence that local authorities are issuing statements so vague in their wording that it can never be clear whether the authorities are fulfilling their duties; that they are altering statements according to the provisions they think they can afford without any evident change in the child's needs; and that they are issuing statements with the provisions that the need will be met if resources allow. Some have even begun to speak in terms of waiting lists for provision. If a child has an educational need, he has it now. Every day—let alone every year—that that need is not met, his educational condition deteriorates until in the end it is perhaps hardly remediable.

Worst of all perhaps is the growing tendency for local authorities to direct their officers, such as educational psychologists, not to make an assessment or diagnosis that would demand a statement, because if no statement is made the local authority has no duty. Of course, local authorities will plead that lack of resources makes such carelessness of the law inevitable. I suppose that that is not an unreasonable plea. Nevertheless, the position is extremely unsatisfactory. The law is there. It is still in place. It is my belief that as regards statements it is not working as it was intended to work and that it should be amended.

If a new law is apparently less beneficial for children with special needs, it will be a sad day, but at least an unambiguous choice will have been made and we shall have moved away from the unreality of requiring local authorities to do things which, however desirable, they are unable or unwilling to do. Parliament will have said openly: "We can no longer afford to meet the needs of some children and we shall abandon the pretence of doing so".

I must necessarily deal extremely briefly with my two other points. I turn now to the matter of children with emotional and behavioural problems. The majority of those children have problems that have arisen as a result of their families, but they usually show themselves at school. Such problems constitute an enormous—sometimes an insuperable —barrier to education. Yet education is almost the only hope of salvation for those children. Some local authorities, notably Merseyside, give a high priority to the education of those children, but, unsurprisingly, they do not have much money to do it with. Nevertheless, they have stated that that is their priority.

However, the worst aspect of the predicament of those children is that they are increasingly excluded from mainstream schools, even from those that provide a certain amount of special support. The competition between schools, to which I referred earlier and which is likely to intensify, makes that almost inevitable. But there is a further twist to the tale. If a child is officially and conclusively excluded from a school—that is, expelled—the local authority must be informed, and it has a duty to provide an alternative placement. So the expedient being employed is that children are excluded from school, but only indefinitely, not permanently. That means that neither the school nor the local authority has a duty to provide any education whatsoever.

The pretence is that the child will come back to school, but too often that is no more than a rather shoddy pretence. Those children are in a kind of limbo. They are not being educated and, as there is no obligation to report their absence from school to the local authority, we do not even know how many of them there are. They are referred to as children "on hold". Educationally, those children cease to exist until, as like as not, they turn up in the courts and then their education will be the least of the priorities in their treatment. The law with regard to exclusion from school must be amended so that we can prevent a further growth in the membership of that dismal and, I am strongly inclined to say, dishonest category of children "on hold".

Perhaps I may deal briefly with my final point; namely, the provision of speech therapy. As your Lordships know, for many children speech therapy is the key to their education; indeed, one might almost say that it is the key to their human life. If they cannot communicate, their life becomes meaningless. However, as their name implies, speech therapists are also involved in medical treatment. There are far too few of them and their deployment falls between the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Science. Numerous attempts have been made to sort that out, but nothing satisfactory is yet in place. Here is another issue that most urgently needs action and proper clarification and regulation.

I look forward with great interest to what I know will be an informative if not a particularly cheerful debate, and I thank your Lordships for your patience. I beg to move for Papers.

5.43 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, never before in my time in your Lordships' House have I filled the slot at the head of the list under the name of the instigator of the debate. I feel more than a little daunted following the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, with her immense knowledge of educational and many other matters. I well remember the Warnock Report, a learned and important document which led to the 1981 Act. I remember it with great pleasure because my interest in disability with regard to learning is on the whole related to dyslexia. I believe that dyslexia was mentioned for the first time in a proper way in the middle of the report. Until that point it had been hard to get the disability recognised. Since then, although it has been a difficult road to follow, the matter has progressed reasonably well. I always feel immense gratitude for the fact that that has come about as a result of the report.

I disagree with the noble Baroness on only two matters. First, she said that, fortunately, most parents did not have children who needed special education. However, according to my information, about 20 per cent. of children need just that. I would call that a more than significant number of worried parents. I understand that, of those 20 per cent., 4 per cent. come under the heading of dyslexic.

The second point on which I disagree with the noble Baroness is a major point of disagreement. One might say that money is the root of all evil, but in the end the whole matter comes back to the question of resources. I am not clear what happened under the 1944 Act. Disabilities were categorised which was an unsatisfactory approach. The new idea of looking at children in the round, taking into account their abilities and disabilities and then deciding whether there should be an assessment, a statement and subsequent suitable teaching must be right.

I remember the Bill going through your Lordships' House in 1981. We were all pleased with it. I do not remember it being controversial, creating cross-party controversy or any other kind of talk. Yet something has gone wrong down the line and it does not work as it should. I believe that it is a question of resources. The Act laid certain duties on local education authorities and gave certain rights to parents. That seemed right and proper, but the delays—mostly, one imagines, because of the shortage of teachers, educational psychologists and others—have been phenomenal. I am told that to obtain a statement now —I understand that this is a considerable improvement on the past—takes 10 months. If you were ill in some other way and you had to wait 10 months between diagnosis and treatment—that does not take into account the questions of argument, appeal and so on—you would probably be dead. Those long delays mean that the education of children who need special education is critical.

Sometimes nothing much happens at all. Perhaps I may relate a tale regarding a charity event that I attended. I had always wondered what happened to children who did not read at all, given that they have to stay at school until they are 16. At last I found a grown-up who had been through that process and had written rather nice poetry by speaking to a friend who wrote it down. I asked, "What in the world did you do all that time?". She replied, "Colouring". She had been given endless books, like those that you give to a child, to colour in. That is not right and resources are at the nub of the problem. There is another question of resources besides money; namely, the will of the local education authorities to do the best that they can and not to fob people off as the noble Baroness suggested.

For the few minutes remaining to me, perhaps I may be allowed to revert to the problem of dyslexia which involves 4 per cent., give or take a little, of those 20 per cent. of people, and use it as an example to show how poorly that apparently good Act has worked. I was chairman of a bursary fund for a long time, providing money for people to come to be taught at the institute. All that time I could never see that it was right that that bursary fund should have ever had to exist. One heard of local education authorities which just did not recognise dyslexia, possibly because they knew perfectly well that they did not have the wherewithal to deal with it. One heard of local education authorities which would release children to one or other of the institutes for tuition but would not pay for it. The whole matter was most unsatisfactory. Although I think it is a good idea to keep children in mainstream schools, local education authorities should be allowed to take advantage of national resources. The dyslexic institutes now have 200 teachers qualified in this way, and on a national scale they must be considered an under-used resource. It would be simple to deploy them in some way, or possibly deploy the children to them, particularly now that schools are allowed to go independent and might be pleased to club together to use that form of teaching which is different and essential for the well being of the child. The need is for the resource of money and willpower.

5.51 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, we thank the noble Baroness for giving the House the opportunity to debate what is, in my view, a very serious problem. Throughout the country there is great concern among all schools that in many cases the number of children in mainstream schools receiving special educational need treatment is nil. The Government philosophy of exam league tables, LMS funding and the influence of the market does not bode well for children who are not going to be what we call top flight. Therefore, we see injustices and unfairness creeping in when dealing with children who perhaps need very special treatment. Schools are now beginning to feel that they are inadequately funded for special education under the LMS, which means that the Government have seriously to consider the funding issue if children are to be educated in mainstream schools.

The HMI survey of special needs carried out last year gave various findings after visiting schools. There was considerable variation about statementing between LEAs and lack of specificity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said. Assessment was bounded by available resources; and that is the way you make your assessment. There was gradual integration of disabled children but with little planning and resources. There was a lack of school choices because schools had been closed as local authorities were forced to cut back on smaller schools. A point made by the noble Baroness was that HMI said there needed to be strategic planning if we were to have successful SEN provision, and it could not be left to individual schools or governing bodies; the local authority had to take over the whole picture.

Another important point raised with me concerns probationer teachers who come totally unprepared to the task of teaching special educational needs when they go into ordinary schools. In many instances the probationer teacher comes from the training college without having any knowledge of how to tackle special education teaching in front of the class. Perhaps the Minister is able to give some encouragement and agree that more practical training should be given to students if they are to contend with special school children.

I am involved locally as well as nationally with the partially-sighted and blind. Teachers in schools and colleges which are dealing with partially-sighted sighted and blind pupils must have a mandatory teaching qualification because it embraces more than one would expect from the ordinary school teacher and involves the wholeness of the person. It so happens that now these children are going into mainstream schools the teachers in them do not have to have those qualifications. That proves that the education they will be receiving will be less good than if they were in schools catering particularly for blind and partially-sighted pupils. If children are going to a special school it is important that they have the best available teaching, but if the local authority is not sending them to such a school it must see that the teachers in the ordinary schools are up to the required standard.

Another point is that there is a lack of what one might call mobility training for blind and partially-sighted children in mainstream schools. In many instances they do not understand the fundamental approach to mobility training. Without that training you do not get successful students because they do not get the necessary confidence.

I will not go into the urgent need for speech therapists and physiotherapists, but I sometimes wonder whether there are not enough people being trained in those specialties or that the National Health Service is not being particularly helpful to the schools. But, if we are looking specifically at special schools, they are becoming more and more special in that they tend to serve a greater proportion of children who have severe learning difficulties. I speak as a governor of a residential school in that category. Many of the pupils there have been excluded from ordinary schools because of abnormal behaviour, lack of concentration and general disruption. The aim of our residential school is to do what we can to get those children back into the mainstream schools, but it is a very difficult process which takes anything up to three years. If they do not come to us at 12 or 13 there is no chance of getting them back into the mainstream schools.

There is one category of children which causes particular problems in terms of violence and its management. These are some of the very difficult children who cannot be contained even in schools for the emotionally and behaviourally disturbed. When local authorities try to deal with these children they are placed in very expensive private schools. In the past they had the benefit of part-hospital and part-educational training. I believe that has to be looked at very seriously. It is a special group of children which parents and schools in many cases cannot deal with. A concentration of hospital treatment is needed as well as education.

As the noble Baroness said, there is a conflict between the 1988 Act and the 1981 Act. I quote Professor Tim Brighouse, head of the education department at Keele University, who said: There is a conflict between the '88 Act and the '81 Act. The first puts the emphasis on market forces which tend to exclude people; the second is based on principles of inclusion". In conclusion, though I have looked very seriously at the Government's Parent's Charter I do not see anything in it that addresses the special needs of educationally needy children. I believe that that charter should be amended to make quite sure that children with special educational needs have rights and entitlements. In that process schools and LEAs would put into operation those rights and would have to be given additional resources. We can then safeguard the education of some of the more deprived children in the education service.

6 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should first like to express my admiration for the truly liberal civilised concept of education with which the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, opened the debate. I agree with her that the Act is simply not working at the moment. The success or otherwise of its implementation needs to be considered from two points of view. In fact that has already been done but perhaps I can make the point more clearly. Perhaps I shall be forgiven if I fall into using some of the government jargon which I found myself doing unwittingly. I rather wish that I had not thought of it in that way but I did so.

The two points of view are those of the service providers—that is, the LEAs—and the clients, who are the parents and children. A survey which was recently produced by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities (the AMA) summed up the situation rather well. It pointed out that there have been some successes but that there are numerous difficulties, which—here I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Radnor—resolve themselves into resources.

The basic problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said, is that the education of children with special educational needs is not cost effective. Therefore it does not fit into a market philosophy of schools. It requires specially trained staff, special books and equipment, suitable premises and perhaps special transport. The survey points to the situation of the open ended needs of children in a closed financial system.

The White Paper which preceded the 1981 Act said: In the Government's view, authorities will be able to give progressively fuller expression to the new approach outlined … by the gradual redeployment of resources". That was a pious hope and a vain and shallow aspiration. Progressively over the past 10 years resources have been pared to the bone. Recent changes—numbers of schools going out of local authority control, local financial management of schools and demands of staffing for the national curriculum—have reduced to zero opportunities for redeployment. As usual, there is no money around. That may not be the only difficulty but it is certainly the main one.

Another difficulty pointed out by the association is the system of statementing—surely one of the unloveliest verbs in the language. It introduces an artificial barrier between those children who need special help and are acknowledged to do so and those who are only marginally less handicapped but apparently do not need special help.

A third point is that if a child has a statement, he or she will receive extra resources. Funds will follow the child, to use the jargon. That means that in the days when schools are managing their own budgets it becomes a pressing necessity for a child with special needs to have a statement. The process is likely to accelerate. At present there are 150,000 children with statements. It is projected that by 1994 there will be 754,000.

What can local authorities do, lacking the administrative resources to consider large numbers of children for special treatment and lacking the resources to pay for their special teaching? What happens to the notional 18 per cent. of children—making up altogether the 20 per cent.—who need special help but who are not statemented?

I turn briefly to the problems of what I have called the clients—the parents and children who need help. I think here in particular of dyslexic children. The trouble with dyslexia is that it is not an easily, medically definable condition as is, shall we say, deafness, blindness or physical handicap. One can argue about dyslexia: does this child suffer from dyslexia or not? Is there such a thing or is this just a matter of being a bad speller? The parents of dyslexic children—I confirm what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor—have encountered much obstruction from local authorities. There are delays over the assessment which has to precede a statement and delays over agreeing to grant a statement at all. It can be an endless procedure. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, quoted a figure of 10 months but it can be as much as two years. As the noble Baroness said, an appeal to the Secretary of State can take up to three years or more. What is the good of that to a child that needs help now, not in 1995, by which time its schooling may be over?

Much dissatisfaction has also been felt by parents over the appeals procedure as specified in the Act, which is always weighted in favour of the local authority. I do not have time to go into the detail but that has been a point of contention.

Certain parents have endured terrible hardship over this situation. I read of a single parent—a young mother with a little boy. When the boy was no older than five and a half, she became aware that he was behind in his reading. It was four years before she could induce the local education authority—in this case the Brent education authority—to acknowledge that there was a problem. At the age of seven and a half his reading and writing were only at the stage reached by a five year-old. He was then privately assessed and shown to have a high IQ but to be three years behind in reading and spelling. That is a clear indication of dyslexia.

The mother applied to Brent education authority for the child to be assessed with a view to a statement. After two and a half years that still had not taken place. Finally, an educational psychologist said that the boy had difficulty in word recognition. That was acknowledged after about three years. In the end the mother contacted the British Dyslexia Association, of which I have the honour to be a vice president, which pointed her in the right direction. She has now reached the point where an assessment has been agreed. It has taken four years. It is no joke for a young mother who is struggling alone.

It seems to me that either the Act has to be changed, as the noble Baroness said when opening the debate, or special financial provision has to be made. Why is it not possible for the Government to say: "This is an Act of Parliament. It must be made possible for it to be implemented and for the local authorities to have the resources that they need. We shall make grants as necessary and ring-fence for that purpose, on the same principle as the education support grants". Either the Act must be changed or special provision must be made. In 1981 Parliament willed the ends and the Government must recognise an obligation to provide the means.

6.8 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke in your Lordships' House on Monday on the Local Government Bill and education. He will be in the Chamber again tomorrow. It therefore falls to me to contribute to this debate. Speakers from this Bench have, by their very title deeds, a special concern that they must express and act upon for the disadvantaged and for the wounded. This is done with no lack of appreciation for the emphasis on achievement in education and financial discipline. Those two factors bring us into the classic tension between excellence and equality which has been endemic in the history of the human race.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, said, the number of statemented children is on the increase, and that is likely to continue. Therefore that will bring pressure to bear on the governors of schools. Through their admission policy they naturally prefer to choose the more able children because of the need for achievement. However, the increase in the number of statemented children will put schools under pressure. Will the Government require schools to publish their policies on special educational needs?

Teachers of children with special educational needs require good quality in-service training. However, is there not pressure on governors to allocate their funds for in-service training in a way which will favour those whose in-service training will support success in the league table standards of judgment? I understand that there has been difficulty in ascertaining the availability of full-time secondments for those teachers who wish and need to acquire special qualifications in this field. It would be helpful if that information could be made available. It would also be helpful if information were made available about the relationship between special schools and provision for special educational needs of children—whether or not statemented—in the mainstream schools.

Perhaps I may say a word about the relationship between content and process which is so important in any human undertaking. To have good policy content is essential. However, often good policy fails to succeed, not only through lack of resources but also because the introduction, pursuit and commendation of the policy is not appropriate. Perhaps I may dare to give an example and make a possible suggestion. The Secretary of State for Education is reported to have said that in GCSE examinations marks will be deducted for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. It might be more appropriate to put that more positively: that extra marks could be given for good spelling, punctuation and grammar.

A teacher of a class of less able primary school children told them a story but did not give the familiar title of it; it was the parable of the good Samaritan. Having told the parable, the teacher asked, "Who do you think was the most important person in that story?" A hand shot up and a child answered, "The innkeeper". The teacher asked, "Why?" The reply was, "How would you like to have some beaten up person dumped on you and have to take him in? You wouldn't know if that man would come back and pay you the extra money that he promised so you'd simply have to trust him". From a less able child there emerged an insight that may well be totally original since the parable was first told 2,000 years ago.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Renwick

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is not an easy act to follow. However, I speak today as the third vice president of the British Dyslexia Association. I assure noble Lords that it is not a qualification that one's name must begin with an "R". I understand that my noble friend Lord Radnor is also president of The Dyslexia Foundation. I join with him in saying that we considered with enormous expectation the Education Act 1981 when it was first implemented in 1983.

Today is not the first time that Parliament has reviewed the Act. We are most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for giving us the opportunity to do so again. A review took place five years ago when a Select Committee on education in another place produced a most helpful report prompting a revision of the circular on Assessments and Statements of Special Educational Needs. There was much valuable advice in that circular. However, it also had two major weaknesses. The first was that its recommendations were unenforceable. The second—which the circular makes quite explicit—was that the new elements were not intended to require additional expenditure. Like my noble friend Lord Radnor, I hope that that is something that we shall change.

The time is now ripe for a second review of the Act. We might do worse than to reconsider one of the main tenets of the 1981 reforms, and one which, for dyslexics, has had a less than wholly benign influence. I refer to the abandonment of what is known as "labelling". The term is pejorative, because the practice confers a stigma. However, a situation has since arisen in which the professionals, through their anxiety not to confer a stigma, have been unwilling to make a precise diagnosis. They have thus inadvertently made it impossible for some children to receive appropriate remedial provision.

With regard to statements of special educational need, I wish, first, to make two general comments. First, the British Dyslexia Association would like provision for each statemented child to be quantified. In June this year I tabled a Written Question asking Her Majesty's Government whether they had plans to require that to be done. The reply—for which I attach no personal blame to my noble friend who will reply for Her Majesty's Government today—did not answer the question. Perhaps my noble friend will do so later. Without any action on the problem, it will continue to be possible for a local education authority to make only token provision, perhaps by offering half-an-hour's speech therapy a week when two and a half hours are needed, without any prospect of redress for that child. That is a travesty of the way in which we understood the Act was meant to work. Action to stop such travesty ought to be taken without further delay.

Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government ask Her Majesty's Inspectorate to monitor the quality of statements, particularly those few LEAs which have delegated the 2 per cent. funding under local management of schools?

There is concern about statemented pupils in mainstream schools, as a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate made clear two years ago. The British Dyslexia Association is surely not alone in wanting the statements for these children to be scrutinised, to check that needs are identified and provision duly made in accordance with the educational, medical, psychological and any other advice tendered to the local education authority.

I come next to the amendments to the 1981 Act that have been proposed by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I greatly regret that he is unable to be here tonight to present them in person. However, it is characteristic of his anxiety for the well-being of disabled children that he has made his observations available to us in his absence.

In summary, my noble friend's proposals are as follows: for the child, a strict limit to the time that he or she must wait to be assessed for special educational needs; for the parents, a power of appeal against a local authority's refusal to make a statement; for the local appeals committee, a power to amend a statement made by a local authority; and, for justice to be done and be seen to be done, a neutral appeals committee on which no members of the local authority against which the appeal has been brought would any longer be permitted to sit.

Such reforms would improve not only the educational prospects of the children who need formal statements but also the lives of their parents and siblings. We should do all that we can to end the protracted battles that sometimes take place before a statement is granted when whole families endure almost intolerable stress.

Without ceasing to be concerned for those children with severe difficulties, I do not wish to overlook the much larger number of children with special needs who are not formally statemented. I should like to see much greater effort made by some LEAs to meet the individual needs of primary level children without statements. There are models of good practice waiting to be followed, both in urban and in rural areas, where specialist remedial teachers are employed.

It is particularly regrettable that not all schools enjoy the services of a specialist remedial teacher trained in the multi-sensory method. Such a teacher can assist the memory development, and hence the learning capacity, of many children, not only the dyslexics. As an aside on the subject of memory, I wonder how many noble Lords heard a recent wireless programme in which the pianist Peter Donohoe spoke of rehearsing on a soundless keyboard as: Reminding my tactile memory of how it feels". The actor Ian Richardson told listeners that: The muscles used in producing speech are also a memory aid". I think it right that a review of the 1981 Act should also take into account the ways in which that Act is compromised by other legislation. The side-effects of the provision for local management of schools in the Education Reform Act 1988 are a case in point. LMS, too, needs to be reviewed in the light of experience.

I must also give warning that the examination league tables that Her Majesty's Government are known to favour may have damaging consequences in terms of parental choice where children with special needs—especially unstatemented needs—are concerned. I shall say no more at this stage as we are to have the opportunity to debate this issue later in the Session.

It is often said that the 1981 Act cannot be effectively implemented unless and until special educational provision is fully resourced. That is self-evident. At a time when increasing demands are having to be met we must look for new ways of meeting special needs. And it is in this context, too, that some of those new ways may be suggested by developments in information technology.

I am glad to know that IT-mediated assessment and remediation programmes are being researched at a number of universities, including Dundee, Sheffield and Hull. I also gather that a DES-funded research project at a school in Croydon is developing ways of using IT to assess dyslexic children through the national curriculum.

If developments such as these can be fostered I trust that resource-led provision for dyslexic children will cease to be the scandal that in some areas it has become. When partnership between parents, teachers, and local government officers is untainted by bureaucratic subterfuge, attrition, and recrimination then we can say that the 1981 Act has fulfilled its great promise.

6.24 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, all children have special needs, as their parents and teachers will testify. But some needs are more special than others and in that sense some children are more special than others. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, performed a major service for those special children when she published her report on children with special educational needs which led to the 1981 Act. She made those of us who were then in the teaching profession realise that children with special educational needs were the responsibility of all teachers not merely those with specialist training.

I am not sure that prior to her report the teaching staff and I at St. Paul's Girls School would have had the courage to accept pupils with serious physical disabilities which, it would previously have been argued, would preclude them from benefiting from a full, demanding academic curriculum. I have in mind in particular three young women who came to the school as children in the 1980s. The first suffered from cerebral palsy and could hardly walk into my office when we interviewed her at the age of 11. When she left at the age of 18, she could walk up the stairs, admittedly with difficulty, and was a much respected, active member of the sixth form. I agree that she attained only one A-level, but she was well integrated in the school.

Highly respected, too, was a girl who was statemented as partially sighted. She could see only dimly through a tiny pin point in one eye. In the past I should certainly have described her as being blind. She too was determined to read classics, of all subjects. She mastered the classical Greek script and has had a most successful academic career at Cambridge.

Most moving of all was the student whose growth was impaired as a result of taking steroids prescribed for her chronic juvenile arthritis. While she was at school she had two hip replacements. Determination characterised her, too. She ran the school's theatre box office and was determined to become a businesswoman. Understandably, she took three rather than two years to attain her mathematics and economics A-levels. But she passed them and, to the delight of her teachers, she is now reading business studies at Manchester University.

My reason for recounting those three anecdotes is to make two points. First, special educational needs are diverse and wide-ranging. They derive from physical disabilities, the limited perception of blindness or deafness, and from mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. Secondly, not all children with special educational needs can profit from being taught in a mainstream school, fully integrated with his or her age group. If they are to do so successfully, they must have support and back-up from parents and teachers as well as from medical doctors, and often from psychiatrists. Clearly, children with severe learning disabilities need to be in specialist schools.

A particularly worrying group are children not with serious but with moderate learning disabilities. They are the most numerous and perhaps their parents are not sufficiently articulate to fight for the help that they need. It is the moderates who flounder in class and are likely to be difficult at home and in their communities.

The Government are clearly demonstrating their concern for children and for education. Perhaps I may ask them to look carefully at the effect which their well-intended measures might have on that special, vulnerable section of our young people. An otherwise laudable emphasis on examination and test results reflects badly on the majority of youngsters with special educational needs. That emphasis could undermine the determination of mainstream schools to give such children the extra, expensive and demanding attention that they need. Tomorrow will see the Second Reading of the Further and Higher Education Bill. Will the Government remember that the Warnock Report recommended that further education should be available to all students with special educational needs. I fear that is not yet the practice.

Finally, I turn to teacher training and support. There has been a reduction in the range of training courses available to staff working with children and young people with special educational needs. Specialist initial courses for teachers whose pupils had severe learning difficulties were closed in 1989. It was hoped at that time that to compensate for any shortfall in such specialist teachers, teachers from mainstream schools would transfer to specialist schools. Unfortunately, this has not happened; but the picture is not all gloom. The National Autistic Society in association with local societies and the University of Birmingham, is developing a training module concerned specifically with the learning and teaching of children with autism. It will be ready in April 1992.

I ask the Government, in their proposed new arrangements for Her Majesty's inspectorate, to remember that there is among them a small and valuable group of Her Majesty's inspectors who have built up considerable expertise in the areas of special education that they represent and in the inspection of specialist schools. This valuable group, with its invaluable expertise, must be cherished and retained. I hope that the debate today will help the Government to identify the areas of anxiety which will need attention if all children, including those with special needs, are to be assured of the best possible and appropriate education.

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for giving us the opportunity to look at the working of the 1981 Act and for outlining to us such a comprehensive yet compact overall picture.

The aim of the 1981 Act—the noble Baroness put it much more elegantly—was to ensure that children with special educational needs were equipped to survive and compete in an able-bodied adult world by mainstream education where possible and to develop to their full potential by discovering their needs and making appropriate provision.

I should like to look at integration generally and at some particular points on assessment and statements. The national swing towards integration since 1982 has been slow —8 per cent., as shown in an analysis of 1990 [)ES data which was made by Will Swann of the Open University for the Centre for Studies on Integration in Education: 98,441 children of five and over were still in separate special schools.

I should like to ask the Minister—I have given her notice of my question—about DES statistics on children in special schools without statements. That should not happen. An earlier CSIE fact sheet in 1989 showed that 26 LEAs had large numbers of such children. In 1990 the DES stopped collecting this information which hitherto had been collected as a matter of routine. Why was that? I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the collection of statistics has started again. Since 1982 44 LEAs have considerably reduced their levels of segregation, 15 of them by more than 25 per cent. That is very welcome, but 15 LEAs have significantly increased their level of segregation, three by more than 25 per cent., which is very disturbing.

The CSIE study found that opportunities for integration varied enormously from one part of the country to another, between 0.6 per cent. and 2.79 per cent. This patchiness in integration is worrying. It is hard for families when children with similar disabilities or learning difficulties are treated differently according to where they live. Why is integration so slow and why is it going backwards in some cases? Why is it so patchy?

The conditions attached to the duty to integrate in Section 2(3) of the Act allow LEAs to argue that the special educational provision which is required is available only in separate special schools. It takes a very committed LEA to adopt an integration policy which puts the resources and support which are needed by a disabled child into the mainstream system. At present integration has to be justified and fought for, whereas it should be the norm and a fundamental human right.

A possible solution would be to strengthen the integration section of the 1981 Act by placing a duty on authorities to justify segregation. In New Brunswick, Canada, Bill 85 attaches conditions under which segregation can take place, while we have conditions under which integration can take place. The Minister may well argue that Canada is different; but it can be done here and is being done by committed authorities. Reluctant authorities would simply be nudged into commitment if they had to justify segregation.

I should like to make two points on statements and assessments. Many problems stem from statements being resource led rather than needs led. I shall let other speakers give examples of that. Some have done so already and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, spoke forcefully about this. I should like to say only that it is essential to know a child's true needs before it can be enabled to develop to its full potential.

The department made that clear in Circular 22/89. Paragraph 60, page 17, states: Section 2 must detail the child's SEN. It should include reference to all SEN identified, whether or not the LEA feel able to make provision for those needs in Section 3". However, the draft circular which is planned to revise that reads: Section 2 must detail all the child's special educational needs. It should include a reference to all SENs identified during the formal assessment". Does that mean that the statement of need will still be made regardless of provision? If so, why does not the draft circular say so? I should be very grateful if the Minister could comment on that. I have not given notice of my question about this but if she cannot reply this evening perhaps she would write to me.

A second point about statements emerged from discussions with the Independent Panel for Special Educational Advice. There is a weakness in the 1981 Act which can prevent children developing to their full potential. A child is deemed to have a learning difficulty only if he has significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of his age, not in relation to his own potential. Therefore parents who believe that a child is under-performing may be refused assessment unless he is at least two years behind his peers. Parents of a severely disabled child who question whether he is receiving the most appropriate provision are likely to be told that he is achieving on a par with others of like disability and therefore it is not necessary to examine any other approach. We should consider whether the law needs to be changed here, because this matter is very important.

The 1981 Act opened up possibilities for children with special educational needs, but I feel time has shown that it needs to be given more teeth if it is to ensure that children with special needs can survive, compete and thrive in an able-bodied adult world.

6.37 p.m.

Lord Blyth

My Lords, communication difficulties, in one form or another, face just about every child with a special educational need, whether those with cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome or hearing impairment, or those for whom a communication difficulty is the primary disability. All these children have to be taught the skills we take for granted.

Children with speech and language difficulties, however they may be caused, number over 1 million within the school population and, unless and until they receive the help they need, access to the national curriculum, with its emphasis quite rightly on literacy and oracy, will be unattainable. This help is as yet only available in a scanty and patchy way, with few suitably qualified and trained teachers and little speech therapy within schools.

The parents of these children face ignorance and lack of understanding within the medical profession and often go without a correct diagnosis. If they achieve diagnosis, they are frequently then faced with intransigence on the part of their local education authority, together with an offer of help which could be considered an insult—a placement in a mainstream school with no specialist staff and no speech therapy support; a placement in a school for children with severe learning difficulties, where staff have little or no experience in developing language skills; or a placement in a school for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children, on the erroneous basis that the behaviour difficulties suffered by these children are a primary disability and not a secondary one, caused by their inability to communicate.

Many parents experience disputes with their local LEAs which last for years. In desperation they have taken them to court at public expense, despite the immense anxieties and stresses it creates within the family. In such cases the families have invariably won—a success which is hard won and in isolation.

Such children need help in their early years if they are not to remain foreigners in their own land; unable to understand and express themselves; unable to appreciate the things that we all take for granted such as television, cinema, theatre and books; unable to participate in verbal games and conversation—forever the outsiders. AFASIC, the Association for All Speech Impaired Children, represents those children and recently brought together a large number of voluntary organisations, among them MENCAP, the Spastics' Society, the National Autistic Society and the National Deaf Children's Society, to ensure that LEAs fulfil their legal responsibility with regard to speech therapy for all children with speech and language impairments.

A "legal responsibility" was the outcome of a court case involving the Lancashire County Council in 1989. In that case the Court of Appeal ruled that where speech therapy was needed to, teach a child who has never been able to communicate by language", to enable him, to be fully understood by others", then it seemed to the Appeal Court judges, just as much educational provision as to teach a child to communicate by writing". Only in a small percentage of cases, where a child's ability to speak had been damaged as a result of an accident, illness or operation, would speech therapy be a non-educational provision. The court ordered Lancashire LEA to provide speech therapy, if necessary by employing its own speech therapists, going to other health authorities or using the private sector.

Recently the Department of Education clarified the legal responsibility of LEAs by issuing a draft addendum to Circular 22/89. However, that goes only some small way to helping those children, for it applies only to children with statements under the 1981 Education Act. Also, no extra resources have, so far, been made available either for speech and language therapy or for the specialist training of teachers. However, in an ITN interview on Friday, 15th November, Michael Fallon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, said, If it emerges that there isn't sufficient [speech therapy] provision in a number of District Health Authorities, and Local Education Authorities are having to buy it in from elsewhere then, if necessary, we will make sure that the Education Authorities have extra funds to do that". That statement is welcome.

I have not given the Minister prior notice of my request, but in her reply perhaps she could indicate how all children with speech and language impairments are to receive the remediation necessary, including speech therapy and special teaching, to enable them to participate meaningfully in education, the national curriculum and, at the end of the day, employment. Perhaps she could further indicate what extra resources the DES intends to make available for those children, and how they are to be funded?

6.44 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the debate today. In her speech the noble Baroness explained the procedure of statementing children with special educational needs and the submission of that statement to parents. As far as is practicable and possible the needs of the child must be met in the child's local school and neighbourhood, thus enabling the child to live at home with his or her parents. On the other hand, it was recognised that there were some children where the disability or home circumstances were such that they needed to be sent to a residential school.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said that in some cases those decisions were resource-led rather than meeting the needs of the individual child. I spoke to a city treasurer who said that his local authority could not afford to send a child to a residential school even if that were recommended. In another case I was told that the treasurer in question asked the director of social services to submit three schools and he would then choose the cheapest rather than the one which best suited the child. We should all take note of that aspect.

Perhaps we should look at the part played by the Department of Education. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether the implementation of the Act has been monitored by the department? If so, has the report been submitted to the Secretary of State? Again, I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said that at one time it was being monitored, but no more. Are Her Majesty's inspectors who are specialists in the knowledge and understanding of the special needs of handicapped children spread throughout the country? I listened with interest to my noble friend Lady Brigstocke. I have not had her experience, but I have seen HMIs—extraordinarily nice and in many ways knowledgeable people—inspecting schools containing children with special educational needs of which they had little knowledge, experience or understanding.

I turn to the role played by local education authorities. Can my noble friend say how many local authorities are implementing the 1981 Act? I received written evidence from a doctor in one area regarding a matter mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. It said, Educational psychologists are briefed not to diagnose any problems; then there are no grounds for [the local authority] carrying out the Education Act of 1981". That is a serious matter.

An independent panel for special educational advice carried out a survey of 34 different local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. It found that 34 per cent. of children with special needs were in ordinary schools, 38 per cent. were in special schools and 28 per cent. were in no school at all. Having presented that worrying and dismal pattern I should say that throughout the schools in this country there are dedicated and interested teachers who give help to children with special needs beyond the call of duty. There are education authorities which are attempting to implement the Act. Alas, they are in the minority.

That brings me to the question of resources. It has often been said that resources are the problem. But what has the Department of Education done in regard to resources? Had a survey found that children were not receiving the education they should, as laid down by the Act, surely it would have been possible to submit a report to the Secretary of State for Education. The Secretary of State for Education could then submit a report to the Treasury. The problems have continued for too long. We are all aware of the situation but nothing is being done. Resources are a problem. However, if the matter was properly considered from a managerial point of view, throughout the country, then the country would want to do something about such children.

Perhaps the Minister could say whether the teacher training college students are taught to recognise and to teach children with special educational needs. I was recently in touch with two dyslexic boys. One achieved 14 credits in GCSE in a school using a word processor. The other, in a different school, speaking with sympathy of his teacher, said that the teacher had little time to help him. In fact, he has been placed in a class much lower than his age should require.

Another problem which I must mention is this: what has happened to the child guidance service which gave sound help to families and children and which helped in assessing the needs of children? At the AGM of Young Minds, Professor Rutter gave a notable paper on the services for children with emotional disorders; their needs, accomplishments and future development. He said that research showed that a psychiatric disorder in a 10 year-old in the community could have been diagnosed earlier and, if that had been done, it could have been better treated.

This area needs to be looked at. I know that research is taking place in certain parts of the country. In the voluntary sector the Caldecott community is carrying out research through the Dartington research unit. The National Children's Bureau is conducting research into schools for maladjusted children. There is not time now to speak about non-school attendance, the health of children and the lack of school meals for those who badly need them. That will be dealt with in the Education (Schools) Bill. Meanwhile, if a good case for more resources is made by education officers surely that would be cost effective to the country. In the long run statemented children would be helped to take their place in society in earning their own living as stable, happy individuals. Instead of that, in the juvenile court I have had to deal with many children who were statemented and who later got into trouble. They were expensive to the country. Therefore, on an economic basis it is in the long run cost effective to help these children.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, as I have been listening to this debate I have been stripping away parts of the speech that I was going to make as noble Lords who have spoken have covered virtually all the points that I intended to make. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I briefly recap on some of the points made and also pass comment.

I decided to speak principally about dyslexia for the simple reason that I am dyslexic. I have been involved with the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Institute in connection with various functions. Some of the luminaries and what I might call the very bright shining lights connected with those functions are sitting on the Benches here. I have a knowledge of the disability of dyslexia. That disability is similar in many ways to many other disabilities which have been spoken of in the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Blyth, spoke about the disability of dysphasia which means that people are unable to communicate. One cannot communicate with the rest of society; therefore one cannot learn.

Most disabilities will also have an educational implication. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), spoke about integration in schools; for example, for people who have motor difficulties—that is to say, difficulties in moving. Such integration can and should be achieved. If all that is necessary is to provide a ramp inside a school or to provide help in the form of having someone to push a wheelchair or to assist the person up a flight of stairs, I see absolutely no reason why that should not be done. In addition, I cannot see that such provision would be very expensive. Once a ramp is in place it is there for as long as people are prepared to repair it, and that should be done whenever possible.

As regards other disabilities, it is unfortunate that people will be unable to take part in certain lessons to the same extent. The noble Baroness said that integration in classes worked for some but not for others. The huge variety of problems means that we have to take a far greater overview. For example, a dyslexic child who can get to a classroom for English may well receive no benefit from the lesson if the wrong type of teaching is used. However, if someone in a wheelchair can be assisted to get to the classroom, that person will benefit.

Virtually all noble Lords have referred to the problem of resourcing and ring-fencing. It is important to see that the resources which are available get to the people with special educational needs—we have heard of a great variety—and are used in the correct way. That is a matter that must be addressed very soon. As many noble Lords have said, a statement can take years to obtain. The problem is often with the local authorities. But whatever the reason, we cannot go into it now. However, once the statement has been obtained the resources must be available to help if full benefit is to be gained from it. But we must have the statement as soon as possible. If that is done we shall find ourselves able to give greater assistance to a child with a problem. That means that the child will stand a better chance of competing in the adult world for employment. That is surely what education is about—preparing a child for later life.

Once again I echo what many noble Lords have said. We must spot the child with difficulties and give the correct help. That means that greater emphasis must be placed on specialist teachers and on general awareness among them in spotting the problems. We already have screening for disabilities such as deafness and blindness. Someone with a motor difficulty and who cannot move is easily spotted. For those who are deaf and blind, occasionally the difficulty is great enough to cause a problem but not great enough to be apparent at the start. Many other disabilities such as dyslexia fall into the same category.

If a child is badly dyslexic and happens to be reasonably talkative, with verbal skills greatly outstripping written skills, the problem will be easily spotted. However, if the child is equally badly dyslexic and quiet, the disability will not be spotted as quickly. If the child is equally badly dyslexic and disruptive, the child will be considered merely as a troublemaker. Therefore, screening is vital. One method is to screen everyone at a certain age. If the Government's assessments at the age of seven were concerned with screening and testing, and if the resources were made available, I would certainly support that. Unfortunately, it appears that we shall have something like a written test. The noble Baroness shakes her head. I look forward to being corrected.

We must make sure that the disabilities are spotted early so the correct help can be given. I shall give one example to show that correct testing can help by using myself as an example. As a dyslexic I was given an eyesight test when I was very young. I could not read the letters and therefore I did not know what they were. I could not pass the test. It was assumed that I was very short-sighted. If there was similar testing for disabilities which were not so obvious and which did not have such apparent physical manifestations we should achieve that aim. But the teachers must first spot the problem, so first the test needs to be in place; but it will be of use only if we have the correct resources available to help the child later on.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for her helpful speech today in introducing the debate. She was in the chair of the committee whose report formed the basis of the 1981 Act. She was not then a Member of this House. Like my noble friend Lord Radnor, I took part in the debates in this House on the Bill in 1981. In fact, 1981 was also the International Year of Disabled People. One reason why I took part was that I was the chairman for Scotland of that international year. I was also brought in to participate in a number of events in England because the chairman for England was ill and in hospital for much of the year and, to our great distress, died at the end of the year.

I must point out that there was also a Scottish Bill in the same Session. The Act being discussed in this Motion applies to England and Wales. I am glad that there was an Act for Scotland at the same time and in the same Session. Of course, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office education department are responsible for schools in Scotland. The Act that we are now considering has no application there. The Scottish Act included provisions for other education subjects in addition to special educational needs, but its intention was to apply in Scotland similar policies for children with the special needs. It is of course the Education (Scotland) Act 1981.

The noble Baroness's comments on what has happened since 1981 are of great interest to those of us who were involved in the formulation of the 1981 Acts. Today I was interested in what she said about examination results. I see that, putting it in another way, schools may well not wish their results or averages to be lowered. They may feel that if they take a large number of children with special educational needs that will happen. There is no time to go into the issue now but I urge the Government to remove any disincentives of that kind.

With regard to the statements and how they are being acted upon, I was appalled to hear about the delay of three years in one or more cases. Sections 3 and 4 of the Scottish Act have similar provisions, though in Scottish legislation the procedure is called recording. There is an appeal procedure for parents. The provisions of both Acts will be nullified both north and south of the Border unless inordinate delays are done away with. I ask the Government to investigate.

In 1980–81 majority opinion among those considering these matters was that children with handicaps or learning difficulties should, so far as possible, be enabled to attend ordinary schools. "Integration" was the dominant word—it would be good for everyone, including the able-bodied children with no special difficulties; they would learn from an early age to live with the disabled.

There had to be some exceptions. I and others pointed out at the time, 10 years ago, that some children are, and will be, so severely incapacitated that it is not practicable for them to join other children in ordinary schools; for example, a child who is totally paralysed except for being able to move two fingers. Cases of that degree of severity exist. It is astonishing what young people with these great handicaps can achieve. They should be encouraged in every way. Aids and equipment have to be brought to them, where they are already surrounded by devices to help them with everyday life. The difficulties of moving such severely disabled children to an ordinary schoolroom will outweigh any likely benefits.

That exception does not invalidate the policy of integration where possible, which received strong support in 1980 and 1981. But how and where the dividing line can be drawn is a difficult matter, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). In 1981 we had especially in our minds—because it was the International Year of Disabled People—the physically handicapped. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred in particular to the problems of the emotionally disabled. She also mentioned the contribution that speech therapists can make. Noble Lords may remember that some four or five years ago I was successful in the ballot and initiated a debate on speech and communication. Some noble Lords may have heard me on other occasions calling for more speech therapists. They are needed both for health and education, which involves several departments. That is part of the trouble. Too many departments are involved and as a result it is difficult to get agreement on the allocation of funds.

Twenty years ago I was a Minister who started action on the Quirk Report. In the report Sir Randolph Quirk recommended that there should be more speech therapists. We increased the numbers, but there are still not enough because there is so much more that they can now do. An increase in numbers and a rational distribution of speech therapists throughout the country could make a great difference to the learning capacities of many children.

In 1981, in the spirit of the International Year of Disabled People, there was great determination and enthusiasm behind the changes being made through the 1981 Acts. That pressure should not now be allowed to subside.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Wise

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for initiating this debate. We all seem to have much the same reservations about the 1981 Act. I am particularly concerned, as are many other noble Lords, about the procedures linked to statementing a child. I am concerned that those are becoming far too long and complicated. I feel that this could perhaps be viewed as an enforced means to reduce the number of statemented pupils, thereby reducing LEA expenditure.

LEAs will pay only for what they have identified. If a child has needs not noted on the statement, then no help or support is available. The trend is now to refer children later rather than sooner. Apparently a child is not statemented until the key stage two. Thus an eight-year-old who should be working at key stage two level and is assessed as functioning at the beginning of key stage one/level one, or even before that, is statemented. That seems to be rather late, for surely the earlier problems are identified and the needs met, the more likelihood there is of success in the long term or indeed the elimination of short-term problems. I wonder whether there are sufficient resources to provide pre-school identification. Can my noble friend the Minister enlighten me? Perhaps some counties are better than others.

I am also concerned about the somewhat simplistic views expressed on integration. Integration is not always good and segregation is not always bad. Sadly, disabled and disadvantaged children will always be with us. As my noble friend Lord Campbell has said, some children are very badly disadvantaged indeed. Their special needs must be addressed with compassion and understanding. There must be as much integration as possible—one would wish to see that—but there must also be segregation, as necessary, according to the needs of the children in order that they realise their full potential. That must surely be of paramount importance, not financial constraints or idealistic philosophies.

The role of special schools is changing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said the children being referred now are more complex and challenging, especially as there is now more parental choice. Teachers are being asked to take on a new role with very little training. Within special schools the variety of need is such that it is difficult to identify the area of expertise required and to provide it. The mix of children makes life very difficult when considering all their needs.

Uncertainty regarding the future of special education is worrying to all staff. It makes it difficult for them to retain and maintain motivation. Again, I shall be glad to hear my noble friend's comments on the matter.

7.11 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, many of us have, for some time, been anxious about the way the 1981 Act was being implemented. That Act introduced very positive reforms and those of us who worked together very closely on that legislation believed that we were making real strides forward and changing attitudes. Every subsequent education Act has had different priorities. Special needs had hardly a mention and some of the 1981 reforms were undermined. Therefore, we are especially grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the debate today. She did so in her usual clear and incisive manner. In this way the anxieties can be aired and the Government forced to make their assessment of the present situation and their position clear.

The Warnock Report established that there could be as many as 20 per cent. of children who needed special help at some point in their school career, not just the 2 per cent. in special schools. It stated that it was important for these children to be identified early so that they could have the necessary help to enable them to develop their abilities to the full. That is why nursery provision is so important. There is an early opportunity for staff to spot children who need help. But it is well known how inadequate our provision is in this country compared with our European partners. Providing for special needs is expensive. I believe that we can say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said in a very interesting article in the Oxford Review of Education, that it was the financial crisis that made it inevitable that the 1981 Act should be more or less stillborn.

The 1988 Act has caused great problems for those catering for children with special needs. A recent HMI survey concluded that, this sector is not well prepared to meet the challenge of the 1990s, such as those of the national curriculum and LMS". Yet both of those policies were central features of the 1988 Act. How will the national curriculum affect these children? Will they be included in the test results that the Government wish to be published? If so, will the school which allows them to be included have poorer results, and will that affect parents when deciding on the choice of school for their child? With LMS and the funding methods being used, will heads and governors be keen to receive children with special needs? The Government have given no coherent advice on the matter. If schools with LMS have problems, how much more will those with grant-maintained status have?

Those questions are at their starkest when several schools within one LEA are bidding to opt out. The law does not explicitly say how an LEA can meet special needs in a grant-maintained school as regards entitlement to the national curriculum or through the deployment of support teachers. Can the Minister give us some information on that aspect? The Further and Higher Education Bill, which is now before the House, pays scant attention to the problems of special need. That is an area which we will certainly have to explore in Committee.

The AMA's valuable review of 10 years' experience of the Act has been mentioned. It says that a number of LEAs have worked hard to implement the Act. One difficulty has been how to cope with the essential production of statistics if categorisation is to be avoided and to resist a natural tendency to regard particular types of school as appropriate for particular types of children. The review comments that the completion of a statement amounts to a form of prescription, but that has undesirable features. Children change and develop, their progress is erratic and at times unpredictable. A statement which has taken six months to produce—we have heard that many take much longer—is very likely to be out of date by completion. The reviewing of statements annually as required in the Act is hardly ever done as the resources, both of finance and of people, are not there.

The Spastics Society and the Institute of Education in London suggest that parents are well aware that local authorities are tailoring statements of provision according to the resources that they know they can command which fall far short of requirements. They say that there is evidence that LEAs are short circuiting the problem of having to meet extensive need with very limited resources by not identifying the need in a statutory and therefore binding way; for example, by arbitrarily limiting the number of statements that they make as a result of assessment. However, there have been widespread reports about statements and increased demand for them as it is hoped that perhaps the money which will go to the schools because of this will be of assistance.

The scale of special educational needs is vast. It has been said that over 150,000 children are the subject of individual statements, with some 90,000 in special schools. But the number of statemented children in ordinary schools is growing fast—from 26,000 in 1985 to 58,200 this year. The figure is expected to be 75,400 by 1994. Those are huge proportional increases. The number of special schools is falling, but only gradually. Special schools are becoming more special in that they tend to serve a greater proportion of children with more severe learning difficulties and handicaps.

I should like to mention staffing. I understood that there had been changes in initial training to ensure that prospective teachers cover some work in special needs. However, from what the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said, I am not sure whether that is correct. Perhaps the Minister can give us the right information in that respect. HMI point out that the quality and effectiveness of such coverage is extremely variable. There is need for much in-service training. LEAs have drawn attention to the inadequacy of the resources offered by the programme of grants for educational support and training—GEST for short. But it is not only teachers who need the in-service training; support staff, ancillary workers and governors also need it.

The 1981 Act put LEAs at the centre of responsibility for SEN arrangements. Authorities have acted with good will in operating them. If LEAs did not exist, it is highly questionable whether an alternative administration could do as well. The control role presupposes resources at the centre, but LEAs have suffered attacks from Ministers for allegedly retaining excessive funds for central administration. But meeting special needs is an important part of that expenditure.

I should also like to mention the pressures from the NHS. Reorganisation has placed emphasis on the health service market and there are signs that the district health authorities will be keen to present bills to LEAs. If the whole of the community health service goes for trust status, it is unlikely that it will be able to provide freely for LEAs and schools in the future. It will appear economical to concentrate provision, but this goes against the principle of integration.

There is the particular problem of speech therapists. Although several noble Lords have already mentioned this aspect, I do not apologise for doing so. I believe that it is extremely important. It is not surprising that there is an overall shortage when one considers their low pay and the long training that they have to undertake. Some LEAs employ them direct, but there is uncertainty about financial responsibility. Can the Minister say whether a circular has been issued offering guidance, as has been suggested, or whether there is a hope that such guidance will be given 3ecause of recent judgments in the courts? I should like to finish with a reference from the Labour Party's consultation paper Every Child a Special Child: The challenge facing us is to meet the educational needs of all children and young adults of every race, the especially bright, those with severe disabilities, those with behavioural problems. The assessment and identification of the children from minority ethnic groups who have special needs, both before and after the 1981 Education Act, has been an ad hoc procedure. This is particularly the case when their first language has not been English. Education is an entitlement. We seek to make that entitlement a reality. It is the "ad hocery" to which I should like to draw attention. What children have been offered has varied enormously over the country. Monitoring has been inadequate. A number of questions have been asked about monitoring and I hope that we shall receive an answer. Are the Government committed to the Act? It is not working. I ask the Minister whether the Government are prepared to set up a review body to evaluate the present situation, along the lines of the special needs advisory body, as recommended in the DES-funded feasibility study—following the recommendations of the Warnock Report.

7.21 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity given to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to consider the important subject of provision for children with special educational needs. I wish to say, first, that the sound framework for special education which we have in this country today can be attributed largely to the ideas which found expression in the report of the committee of inquiry into the education of handicapped children and young people which was chaired by the noble Baroness.

It will be impossible to do justice to this interesting debate. As always, the House has done the subject great justice. I am afraid that I shall fall short of that in my reply. If I may be forgiven, I shall go at a fair gallop so that I can cover as many as possible of the points raised in the debate.

The noble Baroness mentioned a number of ways in which she thought that LEAs were failing to meet their legal obligations. There are well-established rights of appeal and complaint open to parents if they feel that their LEA is failing to perform its statutory duties, or acting unreasonably. Those avenues of appeal and complaint provide proper safeguards against the avoidance by LEAs of their legal obligations. The Brent example given by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, almost defies belief. I do net suggest that it was not true, but it means one of two things: it either reflects badly on the authority or the authority did not bring to the notice of the parents that they had a right of appeal.

A number of noble Lords mentioned speech therapy. The DES takes the view that speech therapy for children who cannot progress with their education, and who have a communication difficulty, is a special educational provision. That has been spelled out in the department's recently issued draft addendum to its Circular 22/89 which makes clear where the responsibility for the provision of speech therapy lies.

My noble friend Lord Blyth quoted a remark made by my honourable friend in another place, Mr. Fallon. If speech therapy is prescribed for educational reasons, LEAs are under a duty to provide it. LEAs are, however, entitled to look to DHAs to arrange it, but if they are unable to do so then the LEA must provide it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, and a number of other noble Lords mentioned an important point: initial teacher training. HMI also pointed to the positive changes to initial teacher training courses which have occurred as a result of the introduction of the Government's Revised Course Approval Criteria 1984. The revised criteria require that all students on initial teacher training should at least be introduced to the needs and potential of pupils with special educational needs.

The LEAs' in-service training policy should also enhance, improve and build on that initial training element. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter expressed anxiety that dyslexic children would be penalised for their spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSE examinations. The examining bodies can make special provision for assistance to be given to such pupils if head teachers require it. They can also modify the curriculum where that is appropriate.

My noble friend Lord Renwick and many other noble Lords asked about evaluation. I can assure all noble Lords that the various aspects of the 1981 Act, and subsequent legislation, are the subject of continuous review by the DES. The department receives regular reports from HMI as a result of inspections of special schools and of mainstream schools which provide for special needs.

In addition, the Audit Commission and HMI are now undertaking a joint study of certain aspects of the working of the 1981 Act. That is a partial answer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David. I am sure that that study will provide helpful guidance in some of the areas in which problems may arise.

A number of noble Lords have referred to statistics. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, said first that about 150,000 children are now statemented. He said that that figure would rise to 750,000. I hope that he meant 175,000. If he predicts a 400 per cent. increase by 1994, I should be interested to know where he obtained that figure. What is important—this conflicts with the perceptions of many noble Lords—is that in 1985, 21 per cent. of the children who were statemented were in ordinary schools, and by 1990 that figure had risen to 37 per cent.; so there a steady stream of young people is being absorbed into mainstream education, and I believe that that is the right way to go.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) was worried about the number of children placed in special schools, and how that can vary between LEAs. Again, the whole emphasis of the 1981 Act requires LEAs to make provision to suit the needs of individual children. They are required by the Act to make that provision in ordinary schools wherever that is consistent with the child receiving the help that he or she needs; the efficient education of the other children in the school; the efficient use of resources; and must take account of the views of the child's parents. Those guiding principles under the Act remain appropriate today.

There is no point in placing a child in an ordinary school unless the child will receive the help that he or she needs. It would be wrong, for example, to insist upon quotas for integration irrespective of the needs of individual children. The noble Baroness also expressed anxiety about the department's draft addendum to Circular 22(89) and wondered whether we were suggesting that a child's needs should be defined in his or her statement without reference to provision. That is not what was intended. The draft addendum makes it clear that the statement should include all of the child's special educational needs and must specify the special educational provision required to meet those needs.

My noble friend Lady Brigstocke spoke eloquently and movingly and gave three examples of absorbing into her school children with severe difficulties—some of them physical—and how not merely the school rose to the challenge but how the young people themselves rose to the challenge. That must also be taken into account.

My noble friend also expressed anxiety about provision for disabled students. HMI confirms that FE provision for students with special needs has increased considerably in recent years. More students with special needs are now on mainstream courses. There has been an even larger increase in special educational needs students taking specially designed courses. We are now monitoring SEN student numbers and we shall be able to measure the scale of the increases in future. I can testify to some imaginative provision being made for young people in further and higher education.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull asked about monitoring. Monitoring takes place as a normal every day activity of HMI when inspecting special schools and mainstream schools where there are children with special needs. A great deal more is now happening over evaluating, to which I have already referred. My noble friend also asked how many education authorities are implementing the Act. All education authorities should be implementing it. Where it is known that they are not, the sooner the department is informed and the sooner procedures are invoked, the better.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull was concerned about the number of statemented children who were not in schools at all. These include pupils in maintained special schools, pupils in non-maintained special schools, pupils with statements attending special classes or units in ordinary schools, pupils with statements attending ordinary classes in ordinary schools, pupils in maintained hospital schools, pupils with statements attending independent schools approved under the 1981 Act and pupils with statements receiving education otherwise than at school, some of whom will be receiving approved home tuition. That accounts for only 0.02 per cent. of all these children. Pupils awaiting the provision specified in their statements account for only 0.01 per cent. of these children. The total number of pupils with statements—this excludes London—is 139,000, with 1.9 per cent. of those children identified as statemented children.

My noble friend also mentioned the useful role played by the child guidance services. I recognise the value of those services. In Circular No. 2289 we encourage local education authorities, district health authorities and social services departments to co-operate fully in the interests of the child.

I have dealt with the matter of speech therapy. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was concerned about testing at the age of seven. He suggested that that was merely summative. Assessment of young children goes firmly with testing. Assessment is a real part of the process for teachers in the classroom to determine both the weaknesses and strengths of young people.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy took part in the discussions in this House on the 1981 Act along with other Members of your Lordships' House. At that time I was a member of a local authority. I and many of my colleagues very much welcomed that Act. The noble Lord made reference to degrees of severity of handicap. I have been particularly moved when I have seen young children who can do no more than move a finger or flick an eyelid. Some children cannot even do that. However, it is a great achievement to progress from flicking an eyelid or moving a finger to looking around at one's surroundings or identifying the tinkling of a bell. Such progress is a great achievement for such children. This Act is concerned with such achievements.

My noble friend Lord Wise was anxious to know the age range of child to whom this Act applies. The 1981 Act covers all children from birth to the upper limit of compulsory school age at 16 and any pupils who are in education until their 19th birthday. To that end it is open to LEAs to decide whether and in what way to make a statement on a child under two. The referral of a child under the age of two can be carried out in many ways. For children over two, LEAs are required to maintain statements where they are of the opinion that they themselves should determine the special educational needs to be met.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked whether statemented pupils would lose out in the case of schools that became grant-maintained. Where a child has a statement of special educational needs, an LEA has a statutory duty to ensure that the provision specified in the statement is met whether the child concerned attends a local authority or a grant-maintained school.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the 1981 Act, which was introduced following the 1978 report of the committee of inquiry, has been successful in establishing a coherent basis for the identification of children with special educational needs. It has promoted a view of children which places emphasis on their individual needs rather than on their handicap.

The 1981 Act has created a system of assessment which gives LEAs clear and specific duties towards children with special educational needs. The emphasis is placed firmly on assessing an individual's needs and making appropriate provision to meet those needs. It provides for children with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools where this is compatible with their receiving the help they need, the efficient education of the other pupils and the efficient use of resources. The Act quite rightly also gives parents clear and significant rights of involvement and of appeal.

Progress in achieving the aims of the Act has been substantial. As envisaged by the Warnock Committee, the majority of pupils with special educational needs are being educated alongside their peers in mainstream schools. While the number of pupils with statements has increased since the 1981 Act came into force n 1983 it is still below the 2 per cent. of the school population estimated by the committee at the time of its report.

In the years since the Act came into force, there have been criticisms about the way it has been implemented by LEAs. There has been criticism, for example, of the length of time taken by LEAs to carry out assessments. We must consider that criticism in the light of the fundamental purpose of the assessment process. We need to acknowledge that pupils with special educational needs stand the best chance of receiving the kind of education programme required to meet their learning difficulties if their needs are carefully identified at the outset. Where a formal assessment is required, it will involve reports from a number of specialists. This process can take some time to complete if it is to be done properly. However, that is time well spent. Notwithstanding that, the department recognises that it is in the interests of the child for the process to be speedily completed. The department has therefore made clear to LEAs that the Secretary of State expects a draft statement to be prepared for parents to consider within six months of the initial notification that an assessment of their child will be carried out. Ministers have stressed that they attach particular importance to this specific target being met by LEAs wherever possible.

A major strength of the 1981 Act has been the extent to which it has ensured parental involvement in decisions concerning the education of their children. In the advice which the department has issued to LEAs it has emphasised that assessment must be seen as a partnership between LEAs, teachers, other professionals and parents. Parents are encouraged and helped to seek advice from independent sources and, if they wish, to submit independent assessment reports which the LEA must then consider.

LEAs must also provide the parents of a child with a statement with the name of a person to whom they may apply for information about their child's special educational needs and the processes of assessments and statements. The concept that people are entitled to know who they are dealing with is important and is fundamental to our Citizen's Charter and to our Parent's Charter.

It has been suggested that in producing statements for pupils with special educational needs LEAs sometimes fail to specify in enough detail what a child's learning difficulties are and what kind of educational provision should be made for the child. There will doubtless be some cases where that is true. However, we have made clear in statutory regulations what is required of LEAs. The department has also issued detailed guidance—I believe this point has been mentioned—to all LEAs which stresses the importance of specifying properly a pupil's needs and the help which will be provided to meet them. The guidance specifies that information should be provided in such detail as to enable parents, teachers and all those involved with a pupil's education to know exactly what is required of them.

Some have argued that there should be little difference between LEAs on whether or not a pupil receives a statement. Given that individual pupils' needs will vary considerably and that each LEA has developed its own pattern of provision for special educational needs tailored to reflect the particular characteristics of their pupils, it is not unreasonable to expect a degree of variation in approach. It would be wrong to attempt to prescribe nationally the precise circumstances under which individual pupils should be issued with statements. It was always envisaged that under the 1981 Act the pattern of provision for special educational needs would be developed locally. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), for her point about collecting information on the number of children without statements.

I wish to reaffirm the Government's commitment to a well resourced education service. Substantial and increasing resources are being provided for education. The facts speak for themselves. The latest available published figures show that over the past decade spending on special schools in England has risen from around £250 million in 1979–80 to an estimated total of more than £700 million in 1990–91. After allowing for inflation, that is a real terms increase of 25 per cent., which is a substantial increase.

Noble Lords may ask about integration and about what has happened to spending on ordinary schools. Spending per pupil in primary and secondary schools rose, after allowing for inflation, by more than 40 per cent. over the 10 years from 1979. There have of course been many changes over that period but the figure represents another substantial increase which, if properly used, should have benefited all kinds of children.

We do not yet have detailed data on spending patterns this year by education authorities. However, we know that the local authority financial settlement for 1991–92 allows for authorities in England to spend nearly £17.5 billion on education. That represents a 16 per cent. increase over the comparable total for last year. We cannot yet say how much of that will be allocated to providing for pupils with special needs. Within the national funding framework, it is up to each authority to set its own education budget and to decide how to allocate it between the different parts of the service, but the overall spending allowed for is a substantial rise, well in excess of inflation. Once again, properly used, that should benefit all types of children. We all recognise the importance of investing resources in children with special needs.

It is clear that the 1981 Act established, for all pupils, an equality of opportunity to education designed to encourage them to progress whatever their abilities. It has changed attitudes and established the principle that pupils with special educational needs should be included rather than excluded.

The measures we have introduced in the 1988 Education Reform Act have reinforced that principle. I want to illustrate that by highlighting how two important elements of the 1988 Act, the national curriculum and accompanying assessment arrangements and local managements of schools, have contributed towards the continuing improvement of provisions for pupils with special educational needs and built upon the firm foundation laid by the 1981 Act.

With the introduction of the national curriculum and associated assessment arrangements pupils with special educational needs now share, for the first time, a common legal entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum relevant to their particular needs. That is important. The fact that teachers in both mainstream and special schools now work within a common framework with common benchmarks should facilitate greater opportunities for integration. The programmes of study and attainment targets in the national curriculum and the related arrangements of assessment and testing have been designed to allow nearly all pupils to show what they have achieved and, more importantly, what progress they have made over time.

We have recognised that in exceptional cases some pupils—including some of those with special educational needs—might need to have all or part of the national curriculum and associated assessment requirements modified or lifted altogether to meet their individual needs. Your Lordships will know that the arrangements we have introduced are flexible enough for that. Where exceptions have to be made for individual pupils that will happen either through the existing LEA arrangements for making statements of special educational needs or through the new arrangements which allow a headteacher to make temporary exemptions.

I am pleased to be able to say that we have no evidence to suggest that LEAs are modifying or disapplying the national curriculum requirements too readily.

The recent report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate on schools' preparedness for implementing the national curriculum showed a widespread commitment by teachers to planning for maximum access to the national curriculum for all children. None of the 76 schools visited by HMI was proposing to disapply any part of the national curriculum for pupils with statements. That is encouraging news.

I should add that it is certainly not true to suggest that the inclusion of those pupils' results in tables of aggregated information will make it more difficult for them to gain entry to the schools of their choice. Under the law only selective grammar schools are allowed to discriminate on grounds of ability between applicants for places.

It is also worth stressing that the introduction of the national curriculum with its structured framework, core subjects and arrangements for regular assessment and testing should enable teachers to identify pupils with dyslexia at an earlier stage and to secure appropriate help for them. The national curriculum changes will be of enormous benefit to all children with special educational needs, not just those with dyslexia. I am convinced that in time they will result in improved teaching strategies and programmes for those children.

The movement towards delegating more responsibility for pupils with special educational needs to schools can also be seen in the increasing number of LEAs which are delegating, or planning to delegate, to their ordinary schools the resources for pupils with statements. The common claim in the earliest days of LMS that schools would hive off money intended for pupils with special educational needs and use it for other purposes has not been substantiated in practice. Experience has shown that head teachers and governors take their responsibilities towards children with special educational needs very seriously. Early reports from HMI visits indicate that extra resources for pupils with special needs are often one of the priorities for schools when they take over responsibility for their own budgets.

LMS should serve pupils with special educational needs but without statements just as well as those who have them. Formula factors for special needs have been included in LEAs' LMS schemes. The governors and teachers in daily contact with those pupils will be just as concerned as LEAs were to meet all their needs. Moreover, LMS gives schools flexibility in deciding how best to provide for their pupils with special educational needs.

We have provided for the extension of formula funding to special schools by 1994, or even earlier if LEAs wish.

The process of extending LMS to special schools provides a particularly good example of the way in which LMS is contributing to the development of special needs policy, and extending the benefits of local management of special schools will extend beyond the special schools themselves. That is because we are requiring all LEAs to produce a comprehensive and coherent statement of their policy for special educational needs for submission with their LMSS proposals. I was asked that question. That requirement is in keeping with the thrust of our policies for local management of schools which has been to ensure that LEAs have a clear rationale for and regular evaluation of their provision for children with special educational needs and that the allocation of resources for special education is subject to scrutiny and review.

That will undoubtedly lead to the biggest, most comprehensive review of special educational provision since the passing of the 1981 Act. The authorities will need to set out in their policy statements how they identify and assess special needs in children. They must outline what role the schools, ordinary as well as special, play and detail how co-ordination works in their areas between the education, medical and social services. They must state how they monitor those arrangements to ensure their policies work.

The Government attach especial importance to that review. The preparation of the LEA policy statement will result in a meaningful, productive dialogue within authorities and result in a more cohesive, better understood and better promulgated pattern of special educational provision. The information we obtain as a result of that review will help us to monitor LEAs' progress since the 1981 Act came into force. Importantly, it will enable us to answer in an informed way criticisms that such progress has been uneven and it will provide a spur to any authorities whose progress is not up to that of the best.

To sum up, the 1981 Act has achieved a great deal over the past 10 years. We all know that there is more to do, and we must not be apathetic. The Act has established a coherent basis for the identification of pupils with special educational needs and has placed the emphasis firmly upon their needs as individuals. The solid foundation laid by the Act has been built upon by the measures introduced under the Education Reform Act 1988. We must look forward to achieving even further progress over the next few years as those measures take full effect.

Once again I thank the noble Baroness for initiating this very special debate.

7.47 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, the time is up, but I must just express my enormous gratitude to those noble Lords who have remained through the debate and above all to those who have spoken. The amount of anxiety which has been expressed and the knowledge of the subject which has been demonstrated has been extraordinarily impressive. I must also thank the Minister for her gallop through the scene.

I may have missed some of the elements of that gallop, but I did not hear her say anything about one of the problems which I consider to be one of the most worrying—namely, the policy regarding exclusion of children from schools. I hope that the noble Baroness will write to me on that matter because it is a very general and worrying problem.

If I may stretch the patience of noble Lords for a few minutes more I should like to say that, despite what has been said, I believe that there are enormous difficulties with the statementing law and I still believe that the Act should be re-examined. I do not believe that the appeals system is adequate. I am extremely sorry tat the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was not able to be present tonight because he was able to produce some very disturbing figures on exclusions, which I had the benefit of reading.

The only other thing that I should like to say is that I put on a white sheet so far as concerns the report which tried to remove the categorisation of children. I think now that that was a rather trendy mistake, because children are necessarily referred to by the category of their disabilities and it is necessary to have some way of referring to those children as a whole and according to their individual needs. There was a terrible time, to the alarm and horror of my children, when the children covered by the 1981 Act were known as "Warnock children". Fortunately, that name has not persisted. However, we must go back to thinking of children who have emotional and behavioural problems and to thinking of blind children and deaf children. It is absurd to try to cut that out.

That is all that I want to say. I hope that we shall have a chance to debate some of the issues again in the light of the new Education (Schools) Bill because some of the implications of that Bill are, as many noble Lords said, extremely dangerous with regard to children with special needs. I should like to conclude by thanking the House and particularly the Minister for her words. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.