HL Deb 29 January 2003 vol 643 cc1186-223

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Warnock rose to call attention to the case for rethinking the provision of special education; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I must declare two interests: I was chairman of the government committee of inquiry many years ago into the education of children with special needs, which reported in 1978 and which was followed by the Education Act 1981; and I am currently president of the British Dyslexia Association.

There are several reasons why I wish to raise this question now. The main reason is the publication last year of two Audit Commission reports. The first, which was published in June, was entitled, Statutory assessment and statements of SEN: In need of review? . The second, which was published in November, was entitled, Special educational needs: A mainstream issue. In the second appendix to the latter report (on page 60) the commission refers to the public response to a recommendation in the June report that the Government should, establish a high-level independent review to consider options for future reform". Eighty per cent of those consulted were apparently in favour of the proposal and 60 per cent were strongly in favour. Those who were most supportive were local education authorities, health and social services departments and teachers. Those groups feel that the present framework of provision gives rise to the greatest lack of clarity and variation in standards of provision up and down the country. I want to point to a few of the areas in which that lack of clarity is damaging.

The last such general inquiry took place in 1974–78; after that, as I said, the framework was laid down in legislation in 1981 within which provision is still made, although there have been numerous changes in detail. The framework is as follows. Special educational needs may be identified either at birth or soon thereafter by medical or social services. In principle, education can begin at two years of age, although that is not very common. However, the increase in nursery provision under the present Government has made earlier identification of needs much more likely. That is a matter of great satisfaction. Thereafter, assessment may follow at various stages, leading to extra support for individual children in mainstream schools wherever possible. In the case of a proportion of children so assessed, a statement of needs will be issued by the local authority laying down what the local authority is bound by statute to provide to meet the child's needs.

It is largely in the matter of these statements that things have gone wrong in my view and a disastrous lack of clarity has increasingly emerged. In its briefing for this debate, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People said that, it would be folly to alter the framework around statementing". In so far as I understand that, I profoundly disagree with it.

Among the difficulties with statements are these: there is an enormous difference between local authorities as to how many children are issued with statements; as the local authority has a mandatory duty only to "statemented" children to provide what they need, parents have come to feel that only if a child has a statement will any extra provision be forthcoming; and some local authorities even wait for parents to demand a statement before they consider assessing the child to establish whether he needs one. The result is that parents are increasingly demanding that a child be assessed and a statement issued.

For example, in Birmingham, parents are in conflict with the council on the grounds that their children are not automatically assessed or reassessed when they move on to secondary school. Appeals by parents of children with special educational needs are now increasing faster than at any time since 1997. The appeals are because the local education authority has refused to issue a statement; because what is mentioned in it as needed by the child is not being provided; or because parents—very reasonably, I believe—suspect that the only provision that is identified in the statement is that which the local education authority believes it can afford. It has more to do with what is affordable than with what is needed.

More than 3,000 parents lodged appeals during 2001–02, which was an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year; the figures continue to rise. This appears to me to be a frightful waste of resources. Such resources should properly be spent perhaps most importantly on the training of teachers to recognise, take account of and seek help for children in mainstream schools who have special needs; they could also be used for the provision of more classroom assistants. Those assistants are absolutely essential if differentiation within the classroom to take account of children's special needs is going to be widespread. Moreover, an atmosphere of conflict and anger is not a good background for the provision of what is best for the child.

Long ago—in the 1970s—we hoped that there would be a partnership between parents and local authorities. In those days, of course, local authorities had far more powers, they knew their children far better than they do now and the situation was radically different. Confrontational litigation and appeals tribunals, which are the opposite of partnership, are proliferating.

Another problem is that there is enormous confusion within schools and among parents about how the provision of special educational needs is to be resourced—whether for children with statements or those identified as having special needs but without statements. This is made more difficult by the number of resources allocated to schools to dispose of at their judgment. There is little incentive for schools to spend money out of their regular resources on children with special educational needs. Worst of all, there is little incentive for mainstream schools to admit children identified with special educational needs. That is another great source of conflict with parents, who cannot get their children into their first choice school.

The help that schools are supposed to receive from social services and the National Health Service—especially for speech therapy, which is one of the most important areas of help for children with special needs—is often not forthcoming. There is confusion here although a local education authority may place on the statement that a child needs a certain number of hours of speech therapy per year, it is subject to how much the National Health Service in that area can afford. So there is no reason to suppose in the present circumstances that a child will receive the speech therapy he or she needs.

I strongly believe that the interests of the most severely disabled children must be safeguarded. They must be offered the possibility of education in special schools, if such schools are most able to cope with their multiple and complicated disabilities. Some in particular should be allowed the chance to be educated at boarding schools, which are often the best, most secure, supportive and effective means of educating, providing 24-hour education.

Having said that, the unclear and increasingly controversial division between those with and without statements no longer acts as a proper safeguard. Some other safeguard for these most vulnerable children needs to be devised. It leaves those who do not have statements liable to receive little help. A large number of children identified as having special needs have hardly an hour per day's help from a classroom assistant in a mainstream class.

Although the framework within which needs are assessed and met has remained the same for more than 20 years, our concept of educational needs has radically changed, especially since 1997. In the 1970s it was only recently that the most severely disabled children had been brought under the wing of the Department of Education. Hitherto, they were considered uneducable. We on the committee all those years ago decided to change people's view of educational needs and to make them recognise the continuum of needs, at one end of which were children in mainstream schools with needs that could readily be met with a little more help; and at the other of which were children with multiple, severe and permanent disabilities. It was for those children that we invented the concept—I now think it was a mistaken concept—of the statement.

We envisaged that those children needed help and an assurance that they would not be overlooked again. We envisaged them as 2 per cent of all children of school age. Now it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics of the relation between the number of children with statements and the number assessed as having special needs who do not have statements. It is almost impossible to discover how such children are doing at school. We need a method of monitoring the progress of children who either do not take the key stage tests, or, if they do, automatically fail.

I want to explain what I meant when I said the concept of educational needs had radically changed. When the committee was set up, we were given two warnings: first, that we were not to deem that a child had a special educational need on the grounds that his first language was not English—technically at the time the Home Office was supposed to finance the teaching of English as a second language. Secondly, we were told that we must not deem a child to have special educational needs on account of poverty or other deprivation.

I am happy to say that such limitations on the concept of needs now seem ridiculous. We know that by far the largest number of children with special needs and those who most urgently need help to communicate, to enjoy work and play and to progress are those living in poverty; those with abusive or dysfunctional families; and those in care. We know that by nearly any criterion of need there are whole schools within which almost every child has a special need.

That is why I have begun to wonder whether the framework of the 1981 Act has outlived its usefulness. Since 1981, there has been a considerable body of legislation regarding children and their rights. I am not certain that the way in which children with special needs are treated in mainstream schools is always in conformity with this legislation. It will be interesting to hear what becomes of the Bill proposed in Scotland, which was published last Friday, which seeks to remove the duty of recording—which is equivalent to our statement.

I believe it is more appropriate to start again with what I know is the Government's interest, which is to educate all children, however unhopeful their beginning, and to concentrate on resourcing the schools where many of those children are and not to think of them as a race apart. I beg to move for Papers.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the important subject of special education. I will focus on the special educational needs of children with autism, and in doing so declare an interest as the father of an autistic daughter.

The Government are driving the push towards "inclusion". However, the emerging picture nationally is that for many vulnerable children that does not work. Indeed, autistic children and their needs are identified by most mainstream schools as the single issue for which they have the greatest difficulty catering.

Mainstream education failed my daughter totally. We battled it out for four years, the last two amounting to nothing more than childcare. The education provided, and the totally inadequate support, were quite unable to meet her needs. Unfortunately, my daughter's case as a mainstream failure is typical.

The National Autistic Society's recent survey of schools found that one in 86 children has special educational needs related to an autism spectrum disorder. The schools also reported that one in every 152 children had a formal diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Ongoing research in 366 schools in England and Wales suggests that 17 per cent of all statements mention autism or Asperger syndrome. Through its Advocacy for Education service, the NAS hears from thousands of parents who are deeply dissatisfied with the educational provision that their child is receiving. Across all age ranges, and in every type of provision, parents run into conflicts with schools and LEAs in their attempts to identify and meet the needs of their child with autism. This struggle to access appropriate education provision is reflected in the number of cases related to autism registered with the SEN tribunal. Last year there was an increase of 22 per cent of cases registered. It is unacceptable that parents should have to battle for what is every child's fundamental right. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that this is a complete and utter waste of resources.

As the noble Baroness mentioned, last year the Audit Commission published Special educational needs: A mainstream issue, which looks at how well our system is serving children with SEN. I welcome this review as the current system is failing many children with autism who have SEN. However, my understanding of the problems posed by the current system and potential avenues for improvement, differs from the blueprint set out in the Audit Commission report. I would welcome improvements to the current assessment and statementing procedures, but reject the Audit Commission's conclusions that statements add little value, provide little assurance to parents, lead to an inequitable distribution of resources and are inconsistent with inclusion. Without statements, parents, who are not satisfied with their child's SEN provision, would have no practical legal redress.

My concern over the current statementing and assessment process is that there is no statutory body to regulate local education authorities. At the moment, parental vigilance is the only means of monitoring the implementation of a statement of special educational needs. This is compounded by the fact that local education authorities act as gatekeepers to the actual assessment process in the first place. Often parents do not know their rights and are, unsurprisingly, unable to cope with the complexities of the process without support.

I ask the noble Baroness what mechanisms can be put in place to give parents access to quick and easy forms of redress when statutory bodies fail to deliver on their SEN duties. How can the current variations in assessment and statementing practice be removed to end the postcode lottery of SEN provision? Although the statementing system is not working as it should, many parents of children with SEN are desperate to get a statement for their child as it is the only means of ensuring that they receive support in mainstream.

There are three fundamental problems with the current statutory assessment and statementing process. First, there is a gap between identified levels of need and current human and financial resource availability. Secondly, there is the failure of LEAs to act according to current law and guidance. Thirdly, there is the lack of any mechanism to ensure that LEAs implement statements. Those three points must be addressed to ensure that children with SEN access the education they need and deserve.

I do not agree with the Audit Commission's view that reducing the number of statements issued by LEAs would improve the current situation. The sole purpose of the current statutory assessment and statementing process is to determine the appropriate provision to meet the needs of all children with SEN. I believe that the motivation for parents to fight for an assessment comes from a deep dissatisfaction with the level of provision available from a school's SEN budget. As many LEAs are already delegating much of their SEN funding to schools, it seems unlikely that further delegation will lead to provision that will satisfy parents and will be appropriate for children with high-level and complex needs. Instead, assessment and statementing should be modified with the intention of putting into practice the current law and guidance designed to ensure appropriate provision for all children with SEN.

At no point does the Audit Commission ask whether we are spending enough on SEN nationally. There are several indications that we are not. The average lifetime cost resulting from autism and associated learning disabilities is estimated to be £3 million. That is a staggering figure. Only 7 per cent of that sum is spent on education. Evidence suggests that even slight increases in educational provision could result in major savings in later living costs. In my own county, Kent, with a funding gap of £3.7 million as a result of the Government switching resources to Labour core areas, the education budget will have to be cut dramatically.

Whether they are in mainstream or special schools, children with autism and Asperger syndrome need to be taught in an environment that is autism-aware and responsive to the needs of individual children. Regardless of whether the underlying rate is increasing, there are more children with autism in English and Welsh schools than ever previously reported. Resources must be found to meet the needs of those children if the policy of inclusion is to work.

What can be done to improve the recruitment and retention rates of specialist SEN professionals, particularly speech and language therapists, to increase the likelihood that assessed provision will actually be delivered? The noble Baroness rightly pointed out the vital role of speech therapists. Many teachers do not feel that they know enough about autism. Therefore LEAs should plan to train all teachers, assistants and specialist professionals in awareness and understanding of autism as part of the accessibility planning duty introduced by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. The Teacher Training Agency should include modules in basic teacher training on how to meet the needs of children with autism spectrum disorders. The excellent document, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Good Practice Guidance, issued jointly by the DfES and the DoH, provides practical advice on teaching children with autism. I urge the Government to send a copy to every school in the UK.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for opening the debate, and for having the courage to prick the bubble of defence that has built up around the idea of statements. Virtually everyone who has been involved in these matters for any length of time see statements as a shield and support. Should we get rid of them because there is something better, or are they still the only show in town? That is the question that comes out of this debate. Whether they should or should not be the only option is another question. I believe that we should have an alternative, but at present there is not another way forward—at least not from here. I am reminded o f the story about asking directions in Ireland and being told, "Well, I wouldn't start from here if I were your."

The awareness of autism and autism spectrum disorder reminds me of dyslexia 20 years ago. People are suddenly discovering it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, will not take this badly when I say that it is the sexy disability of the moment in education. It is a disorder that we are just discovering. Many of the cases that people are discovering and going through may be fairly mild, but I am not sure whether there are stories about autism spectrum disorders with people saying, "Oh, I knew someone who used to be autistic but he got over it", as I hear about dyslexia. Such people fail to comprehend what a disability is. They do not understand what is involved in the coping strategies, in learning and in getting through the problems. But I am sure that it will happen eventually. It is a little like, in fashion terms, the second run of flares: they have a slightly different cut but basically the same process is going on. People are discovering something new.

Against that background and against the expansion that took place, the statementing process, which finally gave people a way to say, "We need something to protect our educational needs and requirements", was vitally important. I do not believe that we have gone far enough into the process to be able to drop statementing yet, if we ever do.

The words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will be listened to with even greater interest than normal on this occasion as the statementing process was so much part of her drive. I believe that we should think long and hard before we drop statementing as it provides protection for the individual.

Reading the Audit Commission report reminded me of everything that I had ever heard was wrong with the education system in relation to special educational needs over many years. We are told: there is more awareness of the problems; there is not sufficient initial teacher training; there is not sufficient in-service training; it is better than it was; or, it is nowhere near good enough; and so on. That was the impression that I gained from the report.

Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, has already pointed out, the Audit Commission does not address the fact that we may not have sufficient resources. The issue might be put into context if I break with habit and read what the Audit Commission says about itself: The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local and national services for the public. Our work covers local government, health and criminal justice services". It does not say how big the cake is and whether it is big enough to feed all the people; it simply says that it should be done efficiently.

I am convinced that the Audit Commission will say that statements, which absorb money because they allocate needs effectively, are inefficient. More importantly, groups such as the National Autistic Society, the British Dyslexia Association and the RNID, to name a few, are very good at ensuring that people now receive statements.

Another problem pointed out in the report was that it is the middle-class child with the articulate parent who obtains a statement. I am reminded of dyslexia, which was known as the "middle-class disease". Problems do exist but, until we get something better, we shall be in trouble if we try to get rid of the statement. We should not do so until we are able to produce a better framework with teachers who know not only that dyslexia is a Greek derivative word meaning that one's spelling is bad, but who know fundamentally more about the variations that exist, how people are affected in later life and how there are different learning strategies.

I do not even dare to embark on the subject of autistic spectrum disorder. There are dozens of other groups concerned with hearing and sight problems—that is, sensory problems. Until the problems that can occur are known—at least, in theory, in the classroom—people will always be playing catch-up.

I believe that the Audit Commission was absolutely right to point out that we are not giving the teachers a fair start. If we are talking about integrating 10 or 20 per cent of children with a disability-based, special educational needs problem into the classroom, then it is inconceivable that a teacher would be able to meet the problems that he would face without starting with a better basis of factual knowledge. I believe that some people are receiving only two or three hours' initial training. A technical factual base is vital in getting this matter right. We must provide such a start.

The Government are always telling us that more will be done in this area. But perhaps we may finally have a Statement at some point saying that league tables are a problem. Such a high proportion of the school population will have difficulty in passing examinations or there will be so many holes in the exam-passing mechanisms that it will not add up. There cannot be simple league tables; they must be adjusted in some way. If they are adjusted often enough, surely league tables will become so complicated that they will become useless. If we are to be fair to special educational needs, we must tackle that problem. At present, teachers are having to defend their positions.

I do not know what more can be said on the subject. I shall simply say that if 20 per cent of the school population can potentially lower the status of a professional institution, that is not a great way forward. I hope that we shall hear more about that. But I suggest that the ultimate answer is, at the very least, to get rid of these crude league tables and to consider their entire status.

I hope that the answer that we reach in considering our whole approach to this matter is that in future it might be possible to get rid of the statement. I believe that we can do so if we institute better training and better resourcing in special educational needs. But that should not happen now or in the immediate future because, at present, it is the only show in town and we do need something.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Warnock for providing another opportunity to discuss such an important issue. As president of Mencap, as the father of a daughter with Down's Syndrome and as the grandfather of a grandson with a like syndrome, it is an issue close to my heart, as it is to the hearts of many other noble Lords present. In one sense, it has all been said before, but I do not apologise for saying it again. Each child with special educational needs who gets less than the best we can offer is an affront to both our society and our educational system.

With not a little help from this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and her colleagues have done a good job on education and disability. They deserve credit for that. Nevertheless, I need to sound a note of caution. Legislation is important—we would not all be sitting here if we believed otherwise. However, even more important is the implementation of that legislation locally—in each local education authority and in each school. The findings from the two recent Audit Commission reports do not leave me with great optimism about the extent to which we have already secured full-blooded implementation.

In my view, special education means tailoring to the individual needs of the child the curriculum, the teaching skills, the teaching materials and the measures of achievement. With that tailored support, every child can enjoy his or her childhood and fulfil his potential. Having seen what children labelled as "ineducable" have achieved, I am not willing to settle for anything less than the best that we can offer. That means that mainstream schools and pre-school groups must try much harder.

In the light of the two Audit Commission reports and their tale of what has yet to be attempted and achieved, I want to focus on two areas that particularly affect children with a learning disability: early years provision in inclusive groups and meeting health needs in mainstream and special schools.

One of the recent Audit Commission reports made a very strong case for a substantial increase in early years investment. Children with severe learning and other disabilities are too readily sidelined into specialist settings—bypassing the experience and losing the benefits of mainstream nurseries or pre-school playgroups. Separation can mean isolation: missing out on early educational experiences and on early social experiences as being members of their local community. The children are separated from their brothers and sisters and from their potential friends. At the same time, their parents are separated from important contacts with other parents.

Inclusion is a real possibility for virtually all children, particularly in the early years, and it should be explored, not ignored. Indeed, there are many examples of children with the most complex needs being successfully included to their benefit and to the benefit of other children. As I said, the Audit Commission calls for more investment in early years provision for disabled children. Quality is not cheap; and I am pleased to hear about the new special educational needs and disability development fund. Can the Minister confirm that that will be extra money and that some of it will be used to support the inclusion of children with complex needs during the vital early years?

To pursue my central theme of including those who are most readily excluded, I jump from early years education to the subject of meeting the health needs of pupils with special educational needs. If that seems a jump too far, I trust your Lordships will remember that Eddie the Eagle was once a national hero. Since my noble friend Lady Warnock wrote her historic report some 25 years ago, there have been significant changes in the child population. Many more profoundly disabled babies are surviving. That steady rise in a very special population is thought to be due to improvements in healthcare, including enhanced prospects of survival for premature babies. By no means all, but a significant proportion of those children have multiple disabilities and complex health needs. Unless the Minister can tell me otherwise—we do not have precise numbers but we are talking about some thousands of children who may need to be tube-fed, are on complex medication or need specialist support of some other kind.

Mencap's report, Don't Count Me Out, revealed the exclusion from school life experienced by children with substantial health support needs. This very day Mencap has held a seminar to bring experts in the field together to help to plan the changes that are needed to include all children with health needs in education. Progress in that area is patchy. Some schools have been able to include children with major health needs with a minimum of fuss. Sadly, in other areas schools have made it clear to parents that their child was being refused admission on health grounds. Some claim that insurance is the problem, while others claim that t hey do not have a school nurse. Whatever the excuse, exclusion on health grounds is clearly discriminatory and the Disability Rights Commission, with the support of Mencap and many other organisations, is keen to do battle to stop such discrimination.

Severe disability comes as a challenge to some head teachers and school governors; it does not come easily to the parents or indeed to the child either. However, those who have risen to the challenge have shown that even the most complex health needs can be met successfully with the help of health colleagues. My generation of parents fought to get any kind of education for their disabled children. My wife and I, together with other parents, raised thousands of pounds to build a school many years before the 1970 disability legislation came into force. Today's parents still struggle to acquire the best education for their disabled children. Many want mainstream education, but all want really good appropriate education. None has a child who is ineducable, but there have been some blatant cases of discrimination against children and young people with learning disabilities, of whom society's expectations and priorities are often appallingly low, especially when it comes to educational needs.

Often discrimination is not premeditated; it arises out of a lack of imagination and planning. and sometimes a lack of resources to develop the right infrastructure in which disabled children can flourish. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act has removed many barriers of exclusion and blatant discrimination for disabled children but, as with the weeds in my garden, new barriers seem to spring up when old ones are removed and unless those barriers are swept away, we shall be unable to follow Plato's prophetic dictum: The direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life".

7.14 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate special education provision following the Audit Commission's report. I thank my noble friend Lady Warnock for initiating the debate and for her report that gave birth to the 1981 Act which together with the codes of practice in the 1993 and the 1996 Acts forms the pillars that prop up special education law.

Only six months ago at Third Reading of the Education Act 2002, which introduced powers to free schools from the national curriculum and so on, many noble Lords who are present today were involved in tabling an amendment to secure for the future the legal safety net for children with special educational needs created by those pillars: the duty to identify, to assess and to statement when necessary. My noble friend Lady Warnock was swift and stalwart in her support. At cols. 226 to 227 of the Official Report on 3rd July 2002—I paraphrase—she said that the so-called 18 per cent of children without statements were those at risk of being swallowed in the excitement of innovation—which was greatly welcomed—and that the preservation of the duty to identify children with special educational needs was the most important part of the amendment.

Your Lordships will remember that the Minister, while unable to agree to the amendment, gave firm assurances at cols. 230 to 235 that the protection would remain, but that innovation, if judged in the best interest of children with special education needs, would be permitted. I am sorry to go over old ground, but I believe that, welcome as the noble Lord's view may be, we need to keep the concept of the safety net firmly in mind. I hope that the Minister will reiterate that assurance today.

The first report argued for a high level review of statements. Eighty per cent of responses supported that recommendation. It is interesting to note that the least supportive of it were SENCOs, parents of children with statements and voluntary organisations, the people nearest to delivery or receipt of special education provision. They worried that the review may be focused unduly on the erosion or the removal of statements in a world where there is no other framework for assuring parents of the provision to be made for the child. Several said that they would welcome strengthening the law around statements, rather than scrapping them and argued for some practical solutions.

IPSEA, of which I am a patron, said that at present, the law which gives disabled children legal rights to appropriate provision can only be enforced by individual parents in respect of individual children. That is manifestly very hard especially for those children whose parents, for whatever reason, lack the ability or the resources to challenge the actions of their LEA. That was a problem that was also highlighted by the National Autistic Society.

For many years IPSEA has argued for the establishment of an independent enforcement agency that could ensure that LEAs fulfil their legal duties towards disabled children. That could be achieved through an extension of the ombudsman's role or that of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. That is a practical suggestion that would remove from parents the burden of having to police local education authorities. It would bring immediate benefit to many children.

The second report highlighted difficulties with SEN as a mainstream issue. Many of those points—weak accountability for SEN provision or a patchy approach to early intervention and so on—underlined the importance of the safety net. As the SEC puts it, precisely because of the difficulties identified in the second report, it is crucial that we have the statutory framework in place. The SEC welcomes the second report and the 10 point agenda for action, and has been pressing for many of those points for a long time. The Government have done much to promote some of them and the report will be a spur to putting the more neglected elements back at the top of the agenda. The new duties on schools and LEAs to increase access to schools for disabled pupils should be a great help and with the new initiatives involving a multi-agency approach for pupils at a very young age it is hoped that children will no longer experience failure before they receive additional help. The National Autistic Society and the RNID made that point.

However, the SEC stressed that even if statements are being very little used, it is important that they are not abolished. They still provide the safety net, should schools or LEAs be unwilling or unable to provide for the individual child's special education. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said about cost. A small increase in what is spent would produce a spectacular result.

Why do I sound such a fuddy-duddy when I used to go on about integration and then inclusion? I should be the last to meddle in Scottish affairs, certainly since devolution. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, was in her place; unfortunately, she is no longer present.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I shall ensure that the comments of the noble Baroness are passed on to her.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Last Friday, the Scottish Parliament published a Bill, the Education (Additional Support for Learning)(Scotland) Bill. If enacted, it would remove a disabled child's right to the special educational provision for which his or her needs call. IPSEA and her sister organisation in Scotland have condemned that move.

The warning that we must heed from the actions of the Scottish Parliament is that not all those engaged in the debate on the legal framework for the delivery of special educational provision will have as their prime concern the aim of protecting and extending disabled children's education. Some will argue, as it seems to be argued in Scotland, that it is too bureaucratic to assess individual disabled children's needs and too expensive to provide for them. That is why I was so delighted that we had the debate in the summer during which the Minister gave us her firm commitment about that. I do not suggest that that argument will prevail, but things can go pear-shaped and we always need safety nets.

I am less hesitant about raising another point about Scotland. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 covers Britain—it is not devolved legislation. Noble Lords will remember that when that Act was extended to cover schools, including schools in Scotland, the Government decided that failure to provide the auxiliary aids or services that a child needs would not constitute discrimination. The reasoning behind that was set out in the code of practice for schools on the Act at paragraph 6.20, to the effect that special educational provision should include any educational aids and services where those are necessary to meet the child's identified needs as specified in the statement.

Clearly, if the legal framework for special education in Scotland is changed to remove children's rights to assessment and provision, they will be exposed to disadvantage under both education law and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It is not for me to decide how to sort things out, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will convey that message, as he promised. The Disability Rights Commission in Scotland is well aware of that difficulty. When the Scotland Office consulted on the ideas behind the Bill, the DRC' in Scotland argued: It is not in the best interests of the child to displace the legal right to assessment, recording"— that, is statementing— review or appeal … We support a revised and strengthened process whereby the Record of Needs is developed to become an entitlement to support". By all means let us have a full review, innovate and be imaginative, but I urge the Government to hang on to the safety net. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington said, we have not yet gone far enough to do without it, if we ever will. One never knows; things can go pear-shaped, as we have seen in Scotland. Let us hope that that can be sorted out, but if the two pillars were to become the twin towers and the whole safety net were to collapse, children with special educational needs would be left without a lifeline.

7.24 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the debate and for all her care, concern and hard work over many years on behalf of disadvantaged children and those with special needs.

I shall speak briefly from my perspective as a bishop and from the point of view of the Church of England, which has always been much concerned with education—not least, to cite the Board of Education, with, the education of the most disadvantaged in society and of children with special educational needs". Those priorities were reiterated in the Church's report entitled, The Way Ahead, published two years ago in response to a General Synod debate in 1999 that identified Church schools as being at the heart of the Church's overriding concern with mission.

A bishop has a particular interest in that aspect of education. At his consecration service, he is charged by the archbishop to have a special care for the outcast and the needy. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, eloquently explained how wide a spectrum of disadvantage we need to consider—not simply those children whose special needs are such as to warrant a statement but all those from variously disadvantaged backgrounds, for social, political, economic or linguistic reasons, who need special care, encouragement and help. So the cause is dear to my heart.

However, to concentrate for a moment on statemented children, I agree with what has been said by most noble Lords during the debate: we need to retain that system. It is interesting to note how policies towards their education have changed over the years. In the early 1980s, following the establishment of the new framework, there was at long last a recognition of the need for both proper identification of special educational needs and the inclusion of children with those needs, as far as possible, within mainstream schools—although it is of course true that the most severely disadvantaged children will continue to need to be educated in special schools.

I have two severely autistic great nephews for whom inclusive education was briefly possible in a local primary school with special support. Both now have to be educated in special schools. I am glad to say that that education is reasonably satisfactory.

In Herefordshire—or Hereford and. Worcester, as the LEA was in the 1980s—special units were established in each secondary school. Since 1997, most of them have been disbanded. The statutory framework for inclusion, Inclusive Schooling, Children with Special Educational Needs, published in 2001, gives all statemented children a strengthened right to a place in a mainstream school unless that would be incompatible with the wishes of their parents or—this is difficult to evaluate—with the provision of efficient education of other children.

As noble Lords have mentioned, there is an inherent conflict of interest between the inclusion agenda and the league table culture. They make uneasy bedfellows and can sometimes cause serious tension or outrigit conflict. The inclusion of children with moderate or severe learning difficulties in ordinary classes creates enormous difficulties in most cases, although some schools—I speak in particular of Church schools—that have welcomed SEN children have found it an enriching experience.

The answer must be that we need varied and flexible provision. Classroom assistants can give valuable help with moderate SEN children or children who do not have a statement but still have considerable problems with learning. Last week, I visited a primary school on the edge of Telford, an area of considerable social deprivation, that has been turned around, by a brilliant headmaster, from a failing school to a beacon school in which, in one classroom, three classroom assistants are working with the class teacher in a good and happy atmosphere.

But the disbandment of most special units in secondary schools in Herefordshire has meant that secondary-aged children in the county with more severe problems—either of physical disability or of learning difficulty—have gravitated to the one remaining specialist unit, which is excellent. It is within the Church of England secondary school in Hereford itself, happily called the Bishop of Hereford Bluecoat School. That unit accommodates 46 children in a school of about 1,100 with generous specialist staffing needs. It is on the campus, physically linked to the main buildings yet distinct and distinctive in its ethos and style. It is an impressive place. The children who go there are happy and achieve what are for them remarkable results. There are excellent relationships between the SEN and other children—good social interaction, which is beneficial to all.

Let me give another example, this time from the primary sector and from Suffolk. A Church of England voluntary aided primary school there has worked very closely with the LEA and has provided for two classrooms to be adapted and staffed in order that statemented children, some with multiple disabilities, can be educated within the environment of a mainstream school, with real benefits, education and social, to the whole school community.

In the same county—this picks up on the issue of a wider interpretation of multiple disadvantage and the special education provision which may be necessary—the diocese and the LEA are working together on a Sure Start project for pre-school children with severe behavioural difficulties which enables them, after proper assessment, to move into mainstream schooling.

These are small but typical examples of good practice, implementing an inclusive policy in a sensitive way which respects all the children involved, those with special needs and those without. From my conversations with teachers, I believe that there is a reluctance on the part of the teaching profession to embark on further new developments, let alone to see new legislation introduced at this stage, although I recognise the point, well made by the noble Baroness, about the disproportionate resources which at present are going into the statementing process. We need to find some way of reducing that disproportionate use of resources.

It would be better to share existing good practice. There is not an even spread of good practice across the country and sharing it must be the first way forward to increase the integration of the Sure Start and Home Start projects with local schools which can do so much to help children get a good start when they first enter primary schooling.

Alongside that initiative for very young children, there must be continuing efforts to overcome the multiple problems caused by poverty, broken homes and all the damaging consequences of disfunctional families and social exclusion. But I suggest, for the time being at least, that we will have to live with the statementing process and build on best practice.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I declare an interest as editor of the Good Schools Guide.

The 1981 report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was a great achievement from which many good things have flowed. If one looks back over the years at what life was like for the kind of children who are now statemented—before the process began, before the Warnock report and before the progress that has been made—we can see that undoubtedly things are much better than they were and that we have done many good things. However, I share entirely the noble Baroness's analysis that we have reached a point where we need to look to see whether we are going in the right direction and whether we could not do better by changing tack to some extent.

It is not satisfactory that local authorities are seen as the enemy of statemented children, but it is inevitable given the current structure of funding. Local authorities are under a great deal of funding pressure. They have very little free money in their schools budgets—a delegation of which I thoroughly approve—which necessarily makes the statementing process contentious. In many local authorities great delays creep into the process, to the great distress of parents and the disadvantage of the child.

It is a process which, in financial terms, can be extremely difficult to manage and can result in a great misallocation of resources. The system is bureaucratic. Educational psychologists and other people—a resource which is very short in this country—are tied up in the process and do not have time to dedicate themselves to looking after the children. It is very rare that a local education authority EP sees a child twice. The child is seen for the statementing process and then the EP is gone. If we were providing proper support for children in need of educational psychological assessment, it would happen every couple of years or so in order that a child's progress through the system could be charted and adjustments made as necessary.

A system is emerging where resources are very much directed at 2 per cent of the school population. If you are a fraction outside that, you get nothing. In many schools, 98 per cent of the population do not benefit from the things that are done for SEN children. The way things are going, the way things are structured at the moment, I cannot see how this situation will do anything but get worse.

Parents, not unnaturally, see the statementing system as the solution to their problems with their child, and those who are articulate and able will push extremely hard to get their child into the system because of the benefits that flow from it. And quite rightly too. If the money is there for that purpose, I entirely support parents who choose to make use of it. But it is a source of continuing pressure on the system, and will continue to be the source of distress and malfunctions within the system in years to come if we do not look for a better way of managing it.

There are possibilities for doing things differently. My vision is for a system based on SEN-friendly schools, taking inclusion a stage further to the point where schools are truly able to deal, in a routine way, with most mainstream SENs. This would involve schools taking a great deal more responsibility in this area than they do at the moment. It would involve a great deal of training, principally. Teachers should be trained to deal with children with dyslexia, Asperger's and ADHD and other disabilities. Resources should be available with the SENCO or with the LEA to help a teacher who needs an additional understanding of how to deal with a child who has a mainstream SEN in a disruptive or extreme way.

The structure is already there in some schools. Such schools are wonderful for all children because a school that is good at dealing with special needs is a school that pays attention to the needs of every child. It adapts itself to the needs of every child, rather than having a set way of operating and letting the children bump around regardless of their individual needs. That kind of school can deal with the needs of most children with SEN, providing great benefits to all children in the process.

Under that kind of structure you could put a border on statementing. You could say, "This is what should be treated by the school and anything beyond that will be provided for by the statementing process". I imagine that most of the charges of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, would stay within the statementing process. Children who require such a degree of support need specialist, individually provided and individually crafted support, whereas most children with dyslexia can deal with an environment where the resources are there and teachers know how to help the child make use of them, but they are not specially provided for the child.

You could give parents the right to expect and schools the duty to provide that kind of education. You could provide the resources to schools as part of their financial baseline to train teachers up to the necessary standards. You could expect schools to have a general awareness of special education needs. You could expect schools to indulge in baseline testing so that they know the pattern of abilities and disabilities of their students and know how to respond to it. You could expect schools to have teaching styles which are SEN friendly. And, in many other ways, you could expect schools to provide, as a matter of routine, the kind of support that parents now have to fight for under the statementing system.

I do not believe that we can hope to establish such a system merely by making changes in legislation and saying, "We now expect schools to do this", and leaving all those children who are presently supported by the SEN system to sink or swim according to whether or not their school responded in a correct way to this change in expectations. It is much more complicated than that. Under those circumstances, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is quite right to ask for a proper investigation and report on how such a change might be achieved.

I would like to see a situation in which children with SEN could expect support from all the professionals who were involved in the SEN business. Everything would work together to make sure that they received the support they needed, but in a way that benefited everybody and kept costs under control. People would not have to fight all the time to have extra money spent on their child as the resources would be available in the way that they are for the ordinary needs of most schoolchildren as a matter of course.

It is worth looking again at the system. I do not think that we can go on the way we are, and so I thoroughly support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

7.40 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for allowing us this opportunity to think carefully about special education. I have no view on statements—I do not have the experience to have such a view. I am concerned about inclusion, particularly the inclusion of children in care, and that is why I speak.

I should like to describe how one primary school maximises inclusion and works very much in the spirit of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has just said. I should also like to call attention to one model of teacher support that I think could be more widely used. I suggest that we have smaller secondary schools in areas of high deprivation or devise some means to make smaller community schools for secondary students in those areas.

Marion Rosen, the head teacher of Star primary school, has minimised the number of her children needing statements. She has achieved that in a school of over 600 pupils that has a higher than average number of pupils on free school meals. The school has very high pupil mobility—half the pupils have spent less than two years there. The establishment is in Newham, an area with large numbers of families in bed-and-breakfast and substandard accommodation. The area's social services are overstretched and under-resourced. In this area, a child's death was associated with fearfulness on the part of the social services department to visit the violent parents. The neighbourhood has a large ethnic minority, asylum-seeker and refugee population.

In 1997, Star primary school was in special measures. Marion Rosen was seconded in March 1999, and by March 2000, her institution was removed from special measures. Sadly, there is not time to catalogue and detail all the improvements the head teacher and staff have made. If your Lordships are curious to learn more about this remarkable school, please ask me outwith the Chamber.

Star primary school has two children in the autistic spectrum who have not been statemented. Four-year-old Tanya's needs were identified by Sure Start before she arrived in the nursery. She already has a full-time worker and when she settles into the nursery class she will receive support from a full-time nursery nurse. Later she will be supported full time by a teaching assistant.

On Monday morning of this week, we saw Hamid being taught. Jane, his teaching assistant, had her leg behind his chair so that he could not remove himself from the task in hand. As he turned away, she would reach to the side of his chin and gently redirect his gaze to the work in hand. Watching Jane was Olga, another teaching assistant, who is being trained up with Hamid. Jane was described to me as an outstanding teaching assistant who was being used to model the correct way of working with autistic children.

The funds that might have gone to provide for a statement had here been delegated to the school for it to develop the whole school framework to provide for children with SEN. In co-operation with the local education authority, three criteria for deciding the quantity of delegated funding were identified—the numbers of children on the school roll, the numbers of children on free school meals and the rate of pupil mobility. Additional funding is available by application to a board of special education needs coordination officers, who moderate such payments.

With the assistance of this funding, money from Sure Start, Excellence in Cities and the Healthy Schools initiatives as well as from education action zones, Marion Rosen and her staff have transformed their school. According to the latest Ofsted report, Star primary is now a very good school providing good value for money. This is an inclusive school which provides a very good education for all pupils. The school has made rapid improvement because of the head teacher's careful analysis of the needs of the school and the very effective management systems and structures she has put in place. The quality of provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs has improved under the inspired leadership of the school's Access Manager". One needs to be realistic in making decisions about which children will benefit from inclusion in the mainstream. One needs to ensure that they do not hinder or harm other children. There is still an important role for special schools. At Star primary school, two children benefit from three days a week at a local special school. However, the better managed and resourced a school is, the more able it is to include challenging pupils and harmonise them into the whole school. That is what one sees at Star primary, Marion Rosen's school.

Last night, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—I see that she is in her place—and I were reminded of the Office for National Statistics figures for the mental health of pre-school children. Some 15 per cent have moderate mental health difficulties, while an additional 7 per cent have severe mental health difficulties. In the United States, one in seven children is prescribed Ritalin, a drug to manage hyperactivity. Such hyperactivity in children is associated with postnatal depression in their mothers.

Lady Young is with us in spirit today, and I hear her drawing attention, as she always so eloquently did, to the changes in family structure that have contributed to this. However, there is no going back to past models of family life. We must deal with the needs of children and families as we are confronted with them now. We should also recognise that our decision not to invest in housing, not to invest more in midwives, health visitors, social workers and teachers has pushed many of those families that might have been viable over the edge.

In this context, I ask the Minister to consider making available to staff of schools with particularly challenging children regular consultation with an appropriate mental health professional. It would be on a group basis and the consultant would need an understanding of the particular circumstances of schools. Such a service might play an important part in teachers' professional development and prove an effective means of strengthening teachers' capacity to deal with emotionally unhealthy children and occasionally with their emotionally unhealthy parents. It might well prove useful in improving the retention of teachers in such stressful environments.

Three weeks ago I was speaking with the manager of a children's home who has 30 years' experience. Once every three weeks, she and her staff meet and discuss their work with a child psychotherapist from the Anna Freud centre. This has been part of the home's culture for many years and the manager has found it invaluable.

I have seen a similar system at work to great effect at Centrepoint. Speaking today with the deputy head of a well respected pupil referral unit in Lambeth, I was told that his staff benefit from such a consultation once a month. He, too, finds it invaluable but dearly wishes that it could be more frequent. His view is that many mainstream schools could benefit from such support and significantly fewer pupils might then be excluded.

If teachers are to work effectively in milieux within which there are growing numbers of increasingly troubled young people—and, from what I hear, there are worrying increases in disturbed behaviour in children, with increasingly young children acting in very troubling ways—they need to be adequately supported in doing so. I should make clear that I am not suggesting that teachers stop teaching and concentrate on their pastoral role. Rather, I believe it may be necessary for teachers to have a protected place in which to think about their work. They might then be better enabled to teach well; to teach creatively; and to carry on teaching well and creatively.

In that proposal, I am supported by Kairen Cullen, head of the child and educational psychology department of the British Psychological Society. Marion Rosen, last Monday morning, repeated to me several times the need to make schools more emotionally literate. If the Minister would care for more information about that proposal, I will gladly furnish her with it.

Finally, as we rethink special education and as we think about inclusion, perhaps we can also think about the size of our secondary schools. Is their scale suitable for building a sense of community, a sense of being valued and of being considered among their pupils? Are children who have lacked nourishment within their families likely to warm to an anonymous institution in which the head teacher may know them by name only if they cause trouble?

Practitioners are telling me and academic research demonstrates that we need to give serious consideration to smaller secondary schools—not necessarily smaller classes—in areas of high deprivation. Alternatively, it might be possible to have larger schools broken down into smaller units where every child and adult knows every other child and adult.

My time is up. I am grateful to the children's mental health charity, Young Minds, for its advice in preparation for the debate. I look forward to the Minister's response.

7.51 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Warnock, who is so deeply knowledgeable about SEN children, for raising the matter for debate. While I was reading the Audit Commission's report, my mind went back to the late 1950s when I was on the management committee for Botley's Park hospital for those suffering from mental deficiency, as it was called in those days. I admit to being fairly appalled at the conditions that existed then for the patients—including children—and I suppose that from then on I have supported campaigns for reforms aimed at what is today called "inclusiveness"; that is, enabling those with handicaps to live as full a life as the rest of us. However, sometimes I wonder whether we think through sufficiently the consequences of our well-meaning policy changes.

One recent Starred Question in your Lordships' House wanted to know whether the NHS had abolished mixed wards in hospitals. Yet it is not that long ago that after much campaigning these were introduced. Those of us who had campaigned—including myself—felt that to keep the sexes separate in this way, especially in long-stay hospitals, was not the natural way the rest of would want to live. That example illustrates the kind of problems we face today due to the well-meaning emphasis on full education opportunities for SEN children and, in particular, our wish for as many as possible of them to be educated in mainstream primary and secondary schools.

I am not suggesting that that approach is wrong. But I fear that unless more resources are allocated the short-term effect may well be the exact opposite of what was intended.

A top government priority—rightly, in my view—is to get children out of poverty. SEN children, like looked-after children, form a targeted group within the category. But, sadly, the report highlights sharply that this group is still not the priority it should be. There are even some potentially counter-indicative trends emerging.

We have heard how the budget of £3.6 million is split between children with statements and those without. That leaves only one-third of the budget to be spread over the remaining 1.5 million children. No wonder the vast majority of SEN children are not diagnosed early enough. There are clearly far too few resources available for that important early diagnostic work, which, with the right support, might well prevent later suffering and expenditure.

Secondly, there is an appalling dearth of reliable statistics, not least about the higher absentee and permanent exclusion rates for SEN pupils. LEAs' provision and support services generally vary considerably. Some case studies show just what can be achieved, but the overall picture is fairly dismal.

Thirdly, there are concerns from SEN children and their parents. These include, for example, difficulties over school access—and not just for the physically disabled. There is a lack of speech therapists and a perceived lack of friendliness on the part of other pupils and, no doubt, for seemingly good reasons such as safety, restrictions on access to some curriculum subjects and the fuller school life. There are hints, too, that one reason why fewer academic SEN children may be discouraged from taking exam subjects is the competitive league table problem.

Recommendations to deal with many of these problems are made in the report. They include more training in SEN for all teachers in their induction year. But there is a general need for wider knowledge at all levels of SEN problems and how to cope with them. There is a need, too, for far better support from the LEAs' educational psychology service and more detailed record keeping by both LEAS and schools.

But, apart from children's educational needs, as the report points out: It is clear that educational inclusion poses particular challenges to health and social services, as children with complex needs who might previously have been grouped together in special schools are increasingly attending mainstream schools". As my noble friend Lord Rix said, many more babies survive who might not have done so previously, which is good. We face, too, a more complex scene partly because of a better understanding of the range and complexity of those with SEN. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned autism. It was not that long ago that autism was not acknowledged and parents fought strongly to win that acknowledgement. Now we have a spectrum of autistic disorders, all of which contributes to the complexity of the problem.

So have we got the policy wrong? Are more children, not fewer, being disadvantaged socially as well as educationally by our wish to see as many as possible educated within mainstream schools? I am sure that the answer to that question should still be "No". But despite the considerable efforts in some areas, and considerable improvements over the past few years in some areas, the report shows how much work there is still to do.

Much the most important factor is the need for a joined-up-government approach—very much at the heart of the Minister's thinking. We need to use every kind of resource available, statutory and voluntary, at both central and local government level. Almost certainly the families most in need of help will be from poorer, more disadvantaged, often dysfunctional backgrounds. They should all have been identified, although clearly this has not happened and not early enough, through splendid schemes such as Excellence in Cities and Sure Start.

On the voluntary side, this should be a major target area for established organisations and for those such as the Experience Corps, which is doing so well in recruiting the new wave of retired volunteers. Home Start, on the voluntary side, is exactly the kind of hands-on practical support needed, with individual, confidence-building relationships developed and practical help given where needed.

Finally, I turn to the teachers themselves. As I read and agreed the report's recommendations, my heart sank. I think I have supported almost all of this Government's attempts to break the Keith Joseph "cycle of deprivation" and yet I am beginning to feel we are asking teachers to take on far too much simultaneously. They need—and must have—more time and resources to tackle these requests and, above all, to do the actual teaching they are qualified to do. That is why we must look hopefully for a fast-growing number of assistants to be involved in classroom work in future.

I close by emphasising that these key people—the teachers and those who work with them and, dare I say it, ahead even of those responsible for our health—should have the resources, proper pay and respect that reflects the vital role they play in our society.

8 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, as usual in debates of this kind, I declare my interest as the father of a mentally handicapped daughter, with Down's syndrome, who is now 22.

I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the debate and particularly for her support for parents of children with severe learning disabilities who want those children to go to special schools, including boarding schools. My own daughter was very fortunate in being able to go to such a school.

I trust that it will find favour with your Lordships if I reveal that I said most of what I would otherwise say tonight as recently as 18th December of last year (at cols. 755 to 758 of the Official Report) and feel sure that noble Lords will be relieved if I do not repeat it all again now, especially as some of your Lordships participated in that debate. The debate was an Unstarred Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, to ask Her Majesty's Government what consideration they were giving to introducing legislation to protect people with mental incapacity. I devoted most of my remarks to the very distressing situation which is being created—perhaps, one should say, made even worse—by the recent Special Educational Needs and Disability Act with its emphasis on mainstream education for all children, however handicapped, if that is what their parents want. The distressing situation to which I refer is that parents of children with mental handicap or severe learning disabilities are finding it even harder than before to place their children in special schools if that is what they want to do because they believe it to be essential for their children.

In the debate, I quoted the assurance of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, when the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill was going through your Lordships' House early in 2001, that parents who want special schools would not find themselves in a worse position as a result of the Bill. I drew the Government's attention to a substantial article in the Daily Telegraph on 12th December 2002 and I quoted from a letter in the same newspaper on 14th December from Mr Mic Carolan, headmaster of Hurst Special School in St Helens, both of which set out the detail of the difficulties I have mentioned.

The debate on 18th December was focused on the many problems surrounding mental incapacity in general and was answered, therefore, for the Government by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor's Department. I did ask the noble Baroness to do her best to make sure that her colleagues in education took note of what I had to say and of the article and correspondence in the Daily Telegraph. It is entirely understandable that the noble Baroness did not confirm in her winding up speech that she would do so, and so my purpose in intervening briefly tonight is merely to make sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, and her colleagues in the Department for Education are indeed aware of what I said on 18th December and will take it into consideration in their deliberations on the future of special education needs in this country. The noble Baroness nods her head. So on the assumption that she will feel able to do so, I need trouble your Lordships no further now.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for initiating the debate and for raising this important if challenging question: whether the process of statementing has outlived its usefulness.

Two years ago, we were debating the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, now an Act. For the most part, we were united in our vision of the inclusive society that we wanted to see in which each child was treated as an individual and his or her needs met within the school system, either mainstream or special schools. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, assured us that the special schools system still had a place, even though she and other noble Lords wanted to see a more inclusive approach within mainstream schools.

However, at the time we warned that such a vision needed resources to match it. The vision of a mainstream school which is thoroughly inclusive was mentioned today when the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to Star Primary School. It is a primary school that I, too, have visited. I was enormously impressed. But it is a primary school in an Excellence in Cities programme, receiving vast resources. That two children who are not statemented can be given classroom assistance indicates that the school has resources for that purpose. Most mainstream primary schools do not have the resources to devote a classroom assistant to an individual child unless they are statemented. That is one reason why schools and parents are anxious to get children with special needs statemented: it brings extra resources into the schools to enable them to cope with those problems.

We warned the Minister time and again that in some senses the aspirations and visions set out in the Bill required resources. By and large, at the time the Minister and the Government were willing the end but not the means. The estimates of the costs of implementing the Bill were grossly inadequate.

In the two reports received last year, the Audit Commission gives a good snapshot of what has been happening. It considers the question of resources. A number of noble Lords have asked whether there are enough resources. My answer is no. When debating the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, it was clear that many noble Lords believed that resources were insufficient. However, it is not the Audit Commission's role to say whether resources are sufficient. Its main job is to consider the resources available and to advise local authorities on whether those resources are being spent wisely and whether we are getting value for money. It is clear from the two reports that at present the commission feels that even if there are not enough resources, the resources available are not always spent wisely. The question that many of us have been hit by is why 70 per cent of the resources are being spent on the small minority of children with statements. Is that right, or do we need more resources in the system as a whole?

Among the issues that the Audit Commission has identified as being unsatisfactory in the present use of resources is, first, the arbitrariness of provision. Whether needs are met varies enormously between local authorities and schools. There is a complete postcode lottery in that regard. Secondly, the Audit Commission has made it clear that the early years agenda is hardly being addressed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said. Thirdly, there remains a big problem of interagency co-operation. Fourthly, there are major shortcomings in training. A huge effort needs to be made to ensure that all staff have some understanding of how to cope with the challenges of children with special educational needs and to put best practice into practice.

Fifthly. there are major tensions in schools between the performance and inclusion agendas, as highlighted by the fact that a disproportionate number of children with special educational needs find it difficult to gain admission to the school of their choice and, subsequently, a disproportionate number tend to be excluded.

Lastly, but by no means least, it is extremely difficult to monitor what is happening because there is no coherent monitoring of what schools are doing with special educational needs.

In the time available, I shall consider four of the issues from that list. First, on the matter of the tension between performance demands that are made on schools and the special educational needs agenda, only a couple of weeks ago the schools Minister reiterated that in the light of the disappointing STATS results for key stage 2, the Government would renew their pressure on teachers to get better performance from children. That is a most unsatisfactory approach. We know that those statistics are unsatisfactory because they are crude at the moment. Yes, we are beginning to receive value-added statistics but, if the secondary school value-added tables are anything to go by, they will not be worth much more than what we have now.

Why do we have to go on treating children as statistics rather than as individuals? The whole purpose of the inclusion agenda is to treat children as individuals, as we should be doing. As the Audit Commission says, there should be a separate plan for each child; each child needs to be monitored according to its own plan, not according to set performance indicators from Her Majesty's Government.

Secondly, I want to address the issue of early intervention. It is clear that the sooner that one identifies needs and starts to meet them, the lesser are the problems that must be met. One has only to consider the costs—not only to society. When children are emotionally and behaviourally disturbed, as an increasing number are, if one could nip that in the bud one would save on the enormously high costs of hooliganism, of sending children to special schools and at a later stage to what used to be called borstals and now to prison. If we could intervene early enough and help the child and parent, all those costs might be saved. Surestart is a marvellous programme, but we need to follow it up.

That brings me to my next point, which is the need for joined-up thinking and interagency working. As the Audit Commission said, the fact remains that teachers and schools are not involved alone. One needs to bring together health and social services and frequently the housing authority, because many problems may stem from housing difficulties. However, we know perfectly well that there is an enormous shortage of social workers and educational psychologists. In a school where I was a parent/ governor, I remember the head saying, "We try to get these people together, but when I ring up the social services and ask them when I can come along, I am told in six weeks time. If I have a problem today, I need these people now for a case conference. It is no good making it in six weeks time".

The fact is that all local authorities are squeezed by the Government in terms of the local authorities settlement. The situation is extremely difficult, particularly in the South East, and I view the matter very much from the Surrey point of view. We do not have enough social workers. Social services are squeezed. Even to stand still we must increase the council tax by 13 per cent. If we were to fulfil our agenda entirely, we would have to increase the council tax by 20 per cent. It is a difficult agenda. It is made the more difficult by the fact that the money that used to go to schools directly from the DfES is now incorporated within the SSA. For all that the Minister says that the money is there, it is there in the SSA but it is not there on the ground, as it used to be.

Fourthly, I have little time left in which to speak but I wish to say a few words about training. Training requirements are clearly extremely important. We need to train teachers and we need to be aware that specific training is available on each aspect of special education. Teachers have to be put through these training programmes and that takes time. Time is the most precious resource of teachers these days. The headmaster of one of the big local secondary schools told me of a two-year training course on the needs of the visually impaired. Two of his teachers are undertaking that course but they have to do it largely in their own time. As the headmaster said, those teachers are voluntarily undertaking to do that course in their own time. Different training courses are needed across the spectrum of special needs. We expect our teachers to devote an enormous amount of time to such courses. As I say, time is a scarce resource.

I have run out of time myself. However, I should like to finish by coming back to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, when she asked whether it was time to review statementing. I believe that we need a review. I make two points on that. First, we need to allow time for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, and the codes of practice that were introduced subsequent to that Act, to shake down, to put it colloquially. Much change is occurring in the system at the moment and we need to see whether it is working. Secondly, I think that a review is probably needed, but we clearly cannot change the system until after such a review has been held. As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, said, the statement is a lifeline for parents to ensure that they can exert their rights. It is important that that lifeline remains. We must not take it away until a new lifeline is introduced.

8.16 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I join noble Lords who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for providing us with the opportunity to have this debate. We have very much more to thank the noble Baroness for. I refer to the enormous amount of work that was done in the 1970s, the Warnock report and the Act that followed it. We are enormously grateful to the noble Baroness for that. The great strength of this House is the ability of its Members to select a subject and to provide such informed and expert opinion. It is always a joy to participate in these debates.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, calls for a new look at the framework in which special educational needs are identified and met. The work that preceded the Warnock report and the Act that followed took place almost 30 years ago. The noble Baroness. Lady Warnock, is right to argue that the world has changed and that assumptions made all those years ago should be challenged today.

Many points have been made tonight to which I should like to respond. But, alas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, time is our enemy. I cannot do justice therefore to what I consider has been an extremely important debate that needed to be held.

Two main issues need to be considered separately: first, the statutory framework and whether it is timely to call for another fundamental review; and, secondly, the current system, its strengths and weaknesses. I support the call for a review. However, it would take a long time. Therefore, the present system has to be sustained and has to be made to work more effectively. The safety net of the statementing system is important and has been argued for cogently by my noble friend Lord Astor and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth.

My noble friend Lord Astor concentrated on the condition of autism and the spectrum of related disorders. My noble friend made the case for more effective statementing but I couple with that the concern for non-statemented children who also have special educational needs. Because the system demands it, there is a tendency to focus attention on statements and statemented children. The challenge for teachers in the classroom are those children who are non-statemented. But the problem arises—this was picked up in the report—from both the perception of, and the actual incidence of, the system not meeting the requirements of children who have needs over and above the norm. That is where I believe more effective teacher training is absolutely crucial.

I am attracted to the idea of learning centres outlined by the noble Baroness. I believe that having such centres of excellence would help enormously in many areas. Such centres could help in a practical way but could also help to develop teachers' expertise. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned autism. I do not believe that he chided my noble friend Lord Astor about autism but he was absolutely right to say that it is not a new condition.

I was particularly moved by the programme which told the story of the life of young Prince John. In addition to suffering from epilepsy that young boy probably suffered from autism or a related condition. As one watched the programme it was clear to see how easy it is to become very angry and cross with a child who looks insolent, disaffected or something else. In the same programme one saw what progress could be made by someone who understood, empathised with and worked with the condition of the child. Although it is newly discovered, we have a very long way to go towards identifying and picking up those signs early.

I have some concerns that I hope will be picked up in any review. There is the issue of statementing and non-statementing. I believe that it creates unnecessary tension and dissipates energy. It certainly dissipates resources. It tends to concentrate on statements and not on the needs of the other children who fall short of needing a statement.

I am also concerned about those who are philosophically opposed to specialist schools providing for children with special educational needs. I do not believe that we should have a philosophical hang-up either way. We should focus policy on the appropriate provision for children with special educational needs whatever they may be.

The IPSE point is very well taken; it is to make the distinction between those children who are failed by the system simply because the LEA, the school, the teacher or someone in the system is disobeying the law and those failed by the system because it needs reform. Those are two very different things.

I hope that the review will focus on the 20 per cent. As I understand it—and I stand to be corrected—it refers to the fact that at any given time approximately 20 per cent of children in the system need special attention. Two to 3 per cent will need continuous, almost lifetime, attention because they are at the severe end of young people with disabilities. But it also includes young people with a temporary condition. It also includes children who simply did not learn to read early enough. It includes children who received poor teaching early on and those with parents and families who did not work in concert with the school. Therefore, there are innovative ways of looking at how some of the needs of quite a large part of the 20 per cent could be met.

The other issue is exclusions. One sees some very depressing statistics. The vast majority of young people excluded from our schools are children who have special educational needs. Very often they are needs which have not been identified and where there has not been effective attention.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that teachers deserve to be trained better to identify special educational needs. Quite a number of them could be dealt with in the classroom. My right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, and my honourable friends Damian Green and Eleanor Laing in another place, who is responsible for special educational needs, held a conference six months ago with all interested parties. They said much the same as we are saying now. They certainly would have supported much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that yesterday my honourable friend Eleanor Laing went to see a Mencap project in Birmingham. I believe it was called The Transaction Project. It is a pilot project where young teenagers without special educational needs are brought together with young people with such needs. They are learning ways in which to make the transition from teenager to adult life more straightforward and effective. She was extremely impressed with the project.

In summary, a fundamental review is timely and I hope that that can be supported. I believe that there is scope for improvement in the delivery of the current provisions and that more attention should be given towards obeying the law. The noble Baroness is right. In 1981, 1993, 1996 and in 2002, we passed legislation. However, there are two serious problems with it. One is that a policy of inclusion is very expensive, and to resource it would create great tension. The other is that the law is frankly being ignored. Simply passing law does not make the system any better.

There should be a fundamental review, an improvement in the delivery of current provision and more research, especially into what works. To pick up a point made by the right reverend Prelate, there should be more research into what we would define as good practice. First, the research should say what good practice is, and, once that has been identified, it should be disseminated. We also need more research into autism and related conditions.

The right reverend Prelate also made a point about the exploration of greater flexibility. There are many ways to meet the special educational needs of the young people concerned. We should have many more structures in schools, such as separate units, clustering children and using learning centres. All sorts of ways can be explored; we could do more. We should certainly improve teacher training.

Whatever the outcome of the review, however long it takes, and whatever comes at the end of the exercise, early identification and effective early intervention will always be the key to addressing special educational needs of young people. We thank the noble Baroness for the opportunity to discuss an absolutely fundamental subject.

8.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for initiating the debate, for the work that she has done, and for her on-going work with dyslexia. I associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about this House. I also say that I have never thought of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, as fuddy-duddy, which is how I think that she referred to herself.

I want to begin by putting on record what we mean by children with special educational needs. I am fully aware that the expertise in the House at present means that that may be unnecessary, but it means children who require additional or different help, in order to access the curriculum and to make progress, from the provision normally available in maintained mainstream schools in their area.

I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that my figures—they correlate well with what she said—state that about 16.8 per cent of children with special needs do not have statements, and have their needs met by their schools with occasional help from local education authorities. I hope that figure clarifies that point.

The committee of inquiry that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, chaired in the late 1970s laid tile foundations for the statutory framework for special educational needs. We have built on that framework, most recently through the changes introduced by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. The purpose of the 2001 Act was to broaden access and opportunity for children with special needs and disabilities by giving them a stronger right to mainstream places in schools, where that is appropriate, and extending the Disability Discrimination Act to education.

I agree with all noble Lords that now is a good time to take stock of where we have reached, and to consider what steps we can take to improve support further for children and young people with special needs and disabilities, and, in doing so, for their families as well.

The Audit Commission's recent report, referred to by most noble Lords, is timely. It provides an overview of the key issues and recognises the action that the Government are already taking. It highlights how, as said by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, implementing some of the statutory processes can be time-consuming and bureaucratic. However, it acknowledges the assurance that they offer parents, and that they are the safety net referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Blatch.

We believe that the statementing process offers assurance not only to parents, but to schools in helping them plan and make provision. We recognise the value that it has in ensuring that severe or complex needs are carefully assessed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, supported by some noble Lords including the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, argued for a wide-ranging review of the statutory framework for special needs. I do not believe that making further changes to the legislative framework at this time is the right way forward. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we must ensure that the new changes have time to bed down, and we must evaluate their impact. As the right reverend Prelate said, we need to look at the sharing of good practice and ensure that we focus on what the practical measures are to help our schools—that was referred to by every noble Lord who spoke. We must also look carefully at the role of and support for local education authorities and their partners in order to improve the quality of provision for children with special educational needs.

However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that there is a focus on the statementing process; some parents see that as the only option available. We all desire a better system that addresses that issue.

We announced in answer to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in December an SEN action programme. The purpose of the programme will take forward some of the work that is already under way and address many of the areas highlighted in the Audit Commission report and by noble Lords this evening. All of the action areas that we will examine have been mentioned this evening. They include: earlier identification of special educational needs and early intervention; the co-ordination of education, health and social services; support for schools in meeting diverse needs, including managing behaviour, autism, dyslexia and dyscalculia; the attainment and achievement of children with special needs; and their transitions to further education, work and adult life. The programme will consider the future role of special schools. It will include measures designed to enable schools and local education authorities to develop their arrangements for monitoring performance and sharing effective practice. We will be consulting widely on its development and hope to publish it later this year.

A number of noble Lords discussed the complex issues of early identification. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we stand a much better chance of addressing the needs of children with special needs if we identify those needs early on. Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we are investing heavily in ensuring that we do so. We already have a £25 million package in place to provide special needs co-ordinator support, SEN training and experts for early years settings. Moreover, there is £3 million to support early years development and childcare partnerships for low incidence special needs; that rises to £8 million next year. We are also promoting good practice through Together from the Start, which is guidance for professionals on identifying the needs of disabled children aged nought to two and co-ordinating services for their families. There is also an early support programme to test out the principles of the guidance and related guidance on early intervention for children with hearing impairments and their families. It is being piloted in 28 local areas. We want to evaluate those programmes but they are essential tools to ensure that we have the early intervention that we want.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that early intervention is essential and critical. Within the SEN code of practice, we must ensure that we offer appropriate guidance to our early education settings. We have a range of materials to help teachers to support pupils with special needs. That is being provided through the national literacy and numeracy strategy. They are important developments, but I agree with all who said that there is more that we need to do. We want to put this at the heart of our Sure Start programme. We recognise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, the value of the Home Start programme. We also recognise that we need to look at issues of childcare for families with disabled children and ensure that our childcare provision is able to assess children with special educational needs and ensure that those needs are met. We hope to provide family support for those children in the children's centres that will be developed to ensure that those children get the best that they can.

A number of noble Lords rightly indicated the need for better integration and co-ordination of education, health and social care. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that I agree completely that regular contact with mental health professionals is an essential part of that. We are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that child and adolescent mental health services can work as close to schools as possible. We know that for parents getting help to meet their children's needs can be very frustrating. They want the professionals to be integrated and joined up. For too long we expected families to join up the professionals, but we need to do that for them.

I also accept that we need to get better at recognising how the services can integrate. We are promoting a co-ordinated approach to the children's national service framework, which will set new national standards in health and social care and in links to education. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will be pleased that the national service framework, especially the strand on children with disabilities, is collecting data at last on those children.

When services are joined up we recognise that the benefits are enormous. Our communication aids pilot project, which offers fast-track assessment and access to ICTs for school-age children facing significant communication difficulties, illustrates what can be achieved. We hope that the children's trust pilots, announced yesterday, working in collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of Health, will model local joined-up planning. They will enable services to be commissioned and delivered for children with special needs and disabilities across education, social care and health. We believe that that will answer some of the issues noble Lords have rightly raised.

Many noble Lords talked in detail about ensuring that we supported our children in meeting their diverse needs. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about increasing the diversity and range of provision by allowing schools to collaborate and do things differently, providing centres of excellence and so on. I will read with care their comments in Hansard to ensure that we are fully addressing those issues. We need to ensure that our teachers have access to the knowledge and resources that they require.

I did not completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, when she said that schools have no incentive to support these children. Many schools support them incredibly well. But I agree that we must ensure that we have, for example, the right quantity and quality of speech therapists. We have been considering how to involve other professionals in providing ongoing speech therapy support, working closely with qualified speech therapists.

We offer training and support through the SEN Standards Fund, to which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred. I recognise that we must give far more support to teaching assistants. I am in discussion with the Teacher Training Agency about how to improve the quality of training for teachers, recognising the issue of time and the importance of not taking teachers out of the classroom so much, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said. We are looking closely not only at teachers' training years, but also at their induction years.

I am also interested in ensuring that teachers have the opportunity to talk to each other, either through ICT in a virtual forum or in other ways, so that they can learn from each other. There are many teachers with many years' experience of working with children with special educational needs. That experience is locked up in their particular schools and I am keen to help new teachers or those new to a particular kind of special need to use that informal mentoring support, which can add a great deal to their work.

We often discuss whether we should give money directly to schools. I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is unsure about our putting money directly through to local authorities. Where schools have the resources—going back to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—they are able to make choices, particularly for children who are not statemented. They can use the support that they are able to purchase with their own resources flexibly and effectively and in a way that will benefit such children, whom they may be unsure about classifying as having special educational needs.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, children come in and out of the system in terms of their special needs requirements, which needs to be recognised. I am concerned—and noble Lords have raised this issue—that we ensure that for low incidence or complex special educational needs resources are available at LEA level to move with the pupils so that their needs can be addressed. I hope that I shall have more to say on those issues as we develop the system.

Dyslexia and autism will feature prominently in the work that we do. Further work with national literacy and numeracy strategies will take account of the needs of children with special educational needs, and will offer a key means of support for children with dyslexia and dyscalculia. We have already provided targeted help for teachers.

I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that the Medical Research Council estimates that 60 per 10,000 children under eight have autistic spectrum disorders. We know that improvements in identification of ASDs mean that every school is likely to have a child with an autistic spectrum disorder. Seventy three per cent of parents who have been surveyed by the NAS said that they were satisfied with the education provision made for their children. That means, of course, that 27 per cent said that they were not satisfied.

I believe that we have to raise awareness of the issues of autism, Asperger's syndrome and the entire spectrum. We have to encourage the spread of good practice and to iron out the variations described by the noble Lord to promote greater consistency between schools and education authorities. We have published guidance, which has been welcomed. It is an important step forward. I was grateful to the noble Lord for supporting that. We are following it up with dissemination events, rather than just simply sending the guidance. We want to ensure that we have the opportunity to talk to teachers and schools about it.

We believe that a multi-agency approach, clear pathways of identification through diagnosis and early intervention are vital. We look forward to seeing the report from the national initiative on the identification and screening of autism, which will inform the autism exemplar under the national service framework for children. It will set national standards of provision for children with autism. I intend to pursue that issue. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising those issues and look forward to discussing with him further what more I can do.

Noble Lords talked about the high expectations that we need to have in raising attainment and achievement levels for children, and the need to recognise that many children with special needs achieve very well. They fulfil the full spectrum of educational ability. New data are coming on stream that will help us to learn more about children with special needs. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that we need a range of bench-marks to analyse the performance of children with special needs, some of whom will not reach the national targets.

I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the purpose of key stage 2, level 4, is that we are confident that children can access the secondary curriculum effectively. It is important that we know where our children with special needs are. We have made some progress with the introduction of scales to measure the performance of children who are not expected to reach level 2. Guidance and target-setting for pupils operating at that level have been distributed. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that there is much more work to do in that area. We know that Ofsted inspections can be valuable. They are important, but we must also ensure that schools that are strong on inclusion and support do not feel disadvantaged by the performance tables. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said. We know that valued-added measures can help, but we have a long way to go. I shall be considering the matter carefully as part of the action programme.

I am not sure about the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about SEN-friendly schools, partly because I think that all schools should be SEN-friendly. It is important, however, to recognise and celebrate their achievements, which I think is the point that the noble Lord was getting at.

I was pleased that a number of noble Lords raised the issue of the future of special schools. We are committed to a more inclusive society. We recognise that an inclusive education system is paramount to that. All children can benefit from an inclusive education. It is not only those with special needs or disabilities who can do so. Our policy is that children should be taught in mainstream schools when parents want it and it works for the child, the school and the other pupils. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that many disabled children thrive within that atmosphere. Increasingly children with special needs are being taught in mainstream schools. We are looking again at the more diverse range of provision.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford described a good example of co-location. That is something that I am keen to encourage. I pay tribute to the work of many of the Church of England schools in developing those new models. I am also aware of the links that the Star primary school has with special schools. I have not yet had the good fortune to visit the school, but I have met the head teacher with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. That is again something that we want to encourage.

I shall read what was said on 18th December and shall come back to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I say to him and the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Warnock, that there is a vital and continuing role for special schools as centres of expertise and as part of the community of schools, both special and mainstream, working together with other schools and other partners. It is crucial that noble Lords and noble Baronesses understand that that vital role is there.

I know that the inclusion agenda has made some of our special schools very unsure and unclear. Therefore, a few months ago I established a working group to help us to develop a clear vision of the future role of special schools, involving special schools. It focuses on the practical measures to support the role of special schools and to celebrate their achievements. It will present its report to us shortly and I shall be glad to come to your Lordships' House to discuss it with noble Lords. It will, of course, form a huge part of the action programme. I stress that special schools are critical and important. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that at present 11,000 children are in residential schools.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the issue of children in care. We have deliberated on that subject many times. I say to the noble Earl that from next year—2003–04—we shall introduce a new vulnerable children's grant, which amounts to £84 million, including matched funding from local education authorities. I believe that that will have some significant advantages for children in care, many of whom—26 per cent—have special needs, as the noble Earl knows.

I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned the issue of transition to adult life. We have the Social Exclusion Unit report, Bridging the Gap, and are looking to see what we can do within the 14-to-19 strategy. As noble Lords will be aware, Mike Tomlinson is advising us on this matter. We have 25 14-to-19 Pathfinder projects with a strong special educational needs focus. We shall ensure that we learn more about that.

I was interested in the proposal that secondary schools should be smaller. I shall be glad to pass on that idea to my honourable friend the Minister for Schools. Of course, I cannot comment on the Scottish system, but I watch it with great interest.

Finally, I agree that we must get better at monitoring performance and sharing effective practice. I believe that our special needs regional partnerships will make a difference to that work. I carry out a continual review to ensure that we work with our parent partnerships to support parents in finding their way through the system.

Again, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the debate. It has, as always, been extremely useful for me. I look forward to continuing the discussions and to doing more to support these children.

8.47 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her very careful and sympathetic response to all the points raised. I am also deeply grateful to all noble Lords who have stayed and contributed to the debate. I have learnt an enormous amount from it and, for that, I am grateful.

I believe that we still need what is rather sadly called a "safety net", but we probably need it just as much for the non-statemented children as for those who have statements. I still believe that we should soon grasp the nettle and start to question some of the assumptions that we now make about the conceptual framework within which the delivery of special education is made. But, meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.