HL Deb 27 July 2000 vol 616 cc576-8

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What account they will take of the needs of pupils who stammer in the new Special Needs Action Plan.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the existing code of practice gives guidance on policies and procedures aimed at enabling pupils with special educational needs to reach their full potential. In the SEN Programme of Action, we declared our intention to establish a working group to look into the provision made for children with communication difficulties, including stammering. That work is now almost finished and a report on speech and language services will be published in the autumn.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware of the analysis made by the British Stammering Association—I declare an interest both as a member and as a long-term practitioner—which showed that 95 per cent of the teachers surveyed knew nothing about how to help a disfluent child at school? Can she ensure that the work of the British Stammering Association, which welcomes the initial interest shown by the department, is used to good effect in teaching?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, all newly qualified teachers must be able to demonstrate that they can identify pupils with special educational needs and then refer them on to appropriate services. They must also know how to give the positive and targeted support that such pupils need, and they have to be familiar with the code of practice. More specialist knowledge is provided through various forms of in-service training. The department is now spending some £26 million a year under the Standards Fund on such in-service training. However, we very much welcome the training resources that are being developed by the British Stammering Association. We shall do our best to publicise them.

Lord Rea

My Lords, bearing in mind that 95 per cent of teachers do not have the skills or training to cope with such speech or language problems, are the Government satisfied that there are enough trained practitioners for every secondary school, so that all children can receive the treatment that they need when they need it, if teachers can identify those with difficulties? If the Government are not satisfied, what is being done?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, my department and the Department of Health have been examining the issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of speech therapists. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has set up a review to examine the difficulties in recruiting and retaining such specialists. The review will report later this year.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. There is an acute shortage of speech therapists. The reason for that is their abysmally low pay. Is there anything that the Government can do to help?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health is looking at issues of pay as well as other matters relating to terms and conditions of service and the recruitment of specialists in this area.

Lord Puttnam

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me if I broaden the issue slightly. In the past two years I have visited a number of special educational needs schools and units. As well as being very impressed by the work that they do, I have been alarmed to note that decisions as to whether children should be excluded or included seem to be taken largely on an anecdotal and personal basis—one might even describe it as prejudiced. Can my noble friend assure me that sufficient resources will be made available over the next few years so that judgments can be made on a far more secure basis with regard to whether special educational needs children should be educated in special schools or in general schools?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, this matter is very much on the Government's agenda. The Government are committed to attempting to increase the number of children with special educational needs who can be educated in mainstream schools. But it is vitally important that sufficient and appropriate specialist resources and back-up are provided for those children.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, one of the categories of people who are most helpful for children who have this condition are the speech therapists who work in and with schools. Are they included in the threshold payments? It seems to me that there may well be tension now between speech therapists and the teachers alongside whom they work, given that teachers will enjoy the benefits of the threshold payments.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, speech therapists are employed by the health service. They are occasionally attached to schools, but for the most part they work outside schools, and pupils are sent to them in the clinics where they work.