HL Deb 03 March 2004 vol 658 cc670-713

3.58 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen rose to call attention to the implications of the Department for Education and Skills' document Removing Barriers to Achievement: the Government's Strategy for Special Educational Needs; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate on the report Removing Barriers to Achievement: the Government's Strategy for Special Educational Needs. I am indeed honoured that it has attracted such a distinguished group of speakers, all of whom have a long-standing interest in children and education, and who will, I know, offer different perspectives to the debate. Several noble Lords from all sides of the House are elsewhere engaged in discussing the draft Disability Discrimination Bill and are very sorry that they cannot be here today.

I shall first give a little background to the report we are discussing and a brief overview. I shall then look at issues which schools are currently dealing with and ask the Minister to respond to specific areas of concern, which have arisen in my discussions with teachers. In speaking about children's issues, I should declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children and as a school governor.

The report is, I know, generally welcomed by parents and teachers. Removing barriers implies that we need to look at the systems a child is in as well as the child herself or himself. Special needs mean that special intervention needs to be set up to benefit the child and that inclusion in the education system, not just integration, is important.

The issues are changing. There are more children with special educational needs in our schools as neo-natal and medical services have improved their chances of survival. Their disabilities vary, so their needs vary. Others may go into the issue of how we diagnose children with learning disabilities and what factors go into that diagnosis. Mistakes are, no doubt, made. Statementing of children is not a precise science. I shall refer to statementing later.

In my experience, teachers of children with SEN are among the most inventive and dedicated in the teaching force, whether they are in special schools or in mainstream education. They sometimes work under enormous pressure. They deserve the support and recognition that the current emphasis on getting it right for children with SEN gives them. Increasingly all teachers will have some role in this kind of teaching.

Education for children who have special needs has come a long way since I was a teacher in schools in the 1980s. The report that we are considering is a welcome culmination of previous policy. The strategy set out in this report was promised in the Green Paper, Every Child Matters. The 1997 Green Paper, Excellence for All Children: Meeting Special Educational Needs, and the 1998 programme of action sought to build on best practice and to improve the statutory framework for SEN. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and the special educational needs code of practice took matters forward. It will be interesting to see how a Disability and Discrimination Bill and the national service framework for children contribute to improving matters for children with special educational needs. The Children Bill, which received its First Reading in your Lordships' House today, will also contribute to an overall government strategy for children. It is good to see children feature so prominently in policy and legislation.

The 2002 Audit Commission Report, Special Educational Needs: a mainstream issue, highlighted challenges including children having to wait too long to have their needs met; children who should be educated in mainstream schools being turned away; staff feeling under-confident about dealing with pupils with a wide variety of needs; special schools feeling uncertain about their futures; and families experiencing varying levels of support in schools and other settings.

The key principles set out in the report that we are discussing are the rights of children with SEN to have a good education and the need to educate teachers to be able to deal with SEN. The report calls for an examination of the way schools are funded and of the way we judge achievement.

There are four key areas. The first is early intervention to ensure that children and their parents receive appropriate support as soon as possible; the implementation of a new strategy for childcare for children with SEN and disabilities; working with voluntary organisations, for example Mencap, on a feasibility study for a national early intervention centre of excellence; and the encouragement of information technology.

The second area is removing barriers to learning by embedding inclusive practice in schools and early years settings. This will involve improved access; practical tools for schools; collaboration with the Disability Rights Commission; improved local planning through SEN regional partnerships; minimum standards for SEN; and monitoring through self-evaluation and Ofsted.

The third area is raising expectations and achievement by developing the skills of teachers; working with the Teacher Training Agency; personalising learning for pupils; changing performance tables so that schools get credit for the achievements of all pupils, including those with SEN; and working across agencies to improve transitions for pupils with SEN.

The fourth area is delivering improvements in partnerships by setting up a team of national advisers; developing the SEN national performance framework; encouraging best practice and support for parents; integrating children's services—an issue highlighted in Every Child Matters; collaborative work including a joint Department for Education and Skills and Department of Health implementation strategy for SEN; and the children's national service framework.

The report calls for greater consistency of high quality provision across services at a local level in order to make children who have special needs, and their parents, valued in the community. The report helpfully divides each concern into sections: where we are, where we want to be and action we will take. I am particularly encouraged to see sections on monitoring progress and supporting collaboration improvement in local authorities and schools. The Minister may want to comment further on this as monitoring is the key to success. It is not easy and it is time-consuming but, as the report says: Inclusion must be an integral part of whole school self-evaluation and improvement".

It can no longer be simply about a few dedicated individuals or direction from outside. As Ofsted pointed out, performance targets need to be set for pupils with SEN. Their achievements should be recognised and promoted. David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools, said: Setting challenging targets for pupils with SEN can help both pupils and schools focus their efforts and learning on achieving realistic goals".

Let me now turn to some of the issues that will need to be kept under review and given attention. The first is the statementing of children. A recent article in the Economist, which included an interview with my noble friend the Minister, pointed out that one child in six has some sort of special need but that two-thirds of the money spent on SEN goes to the 3 per cent who receive statements of their needs.

Statementing is stressful for parents and children. It is time-consuming so local authorities are trying to draw up fewer statements. Research commissioned by the DfES to investigate local authority practices and outcomes found great variations between authorities and suggests that in some LEAs pupils with learning, behavioural and social difficulties now have their needs met without statements; pupil attainment does not seem to suffer. Statements follow the child and are not discontinued. I have heard of some schools applying for statements to get the extra money that goes with a child who is statemented as all SEN money is spent in other ways, for example on extra staffing. The issue of statements needs to be looked at in some detail.

Not surprisingly, authorities with high levels of deprivation also have a high proportion of SEN pupils, with or without statements. It seems that anti-poverty strategies may reduce the number of pupils diagnosed with SEN, pointing to the need for systems to work together at a local level. Local authorities with high levels of deprivation need to be vigilant to ensure that needs are met. In a Times Educational Supplement article, John Wright, a spokesman for the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, said: Whether a child's needs are met depends upon their individual parent or carer being able to police their local authority. It is inevitable that children of less advantaged parents are less likely to receive the provision their needs call for".

This is unacceptable. It is something that the report is trying to avoid but it is a difficult problem. How can we make the implications of the report serve all children and all parents?

With money being delegated to schools, they have choices on how to spend it. Some schools are doing extraordinary jobs. A feature in the Times described the efforts of a state secondary school in Tring. It has educated children with a wide variety of disabilities. The head of learning support said: You can't drop a child in and expect everything to just happen. A huge amount of engineering needs to go on. It's amazing how you become inventive at getting over obstacles". The team there has developed a system where a child who needs help at lunchtime can be accompanied by a classmate; computer games clubs occupy children with Asperger's syndrome; class material is translated into Braille; circles of friends provide volunteers to play with isolated children; and the staff meets fortnightly to discuss every child with special needs. In this kind of situation, it is not only children with special needs who benefit, but also the other children who are involved in befriending and social care. Of course, all schools will not provide such a service but many are. Is there an intention to share good practice? Even with good practice, how do we overcome the desperate shortage of SEN teachers in secondary schools?

Some pupils will continue to need special schools. In the Economist article, the Minister said that she sees the situation not as "either/or", but as "both/and". Presumably, we should be able to rely on specialist schools and teachers to advise and mentor others. How will this work in practice? She also said that, "We need to get very clever quite quickly". Can systems move as quickly as we want them to?

Yesterday, I had a discussion with the SEN co-ordinator in the school where I am a governor. In this school, 136 children out of 445 are designated as having special needs. As she pointed out, some of these special needs are due to deprivation, poor family relationships, a negative view of schooling in the family and recent immigration where trauma, speech difficulties and physical problems may be present. I asked whether SEN could be worked through and whether a child could become a high achiever. She said yes, but that there needs to be not only good organisation in the school, with committed staff time and sufficient adults in the classroom, but effective organisation surrounding the child and his or her family. Collaboration between educational, medical and social services has to be extremely good—a recurring theme for children's services everywhere. I think that this is apparent, and in some localities this collaboration is happening well, but it is a challenge for people to come out of specialisms and see a whole child or a whole family. Those working in schools such as school doctors, nurses and dentists may find this less of an issue, but access and follow-through for agencies outside the school can be problematic. Is the Minister optimistic about getting that sorted out?

The co-ordinator and two head teachers to whom I spoke emphasised the problem for pupils with SEN transferring from primary to secondary school. This is known to be difficult for pupils who do not have special needs. It must be traumatic for those who do. Not only are they faced with change with a bigger environment, new teachers and a variety of new teachers, but also with new subjects and different learning support assistants in each new class. In some cases learning mentors can follow the child from primary to secondary school to help them to settle. In the school where I am a governor there are two learning mentors who act as key workers on transfer to secondary school. They are paid from the Excellence in Cities budget. In Wandsworth the NSPCC is running a pyramid club doing work looking at how to improve transfer systems. Is the Minister aware of that and will she look at the outcomes? Again, good practice will be important.

In conclusion to my introduction to what I am sure will be a fascinating debate, let me simply say how much I welcome any effort to improve education generally and, in this case, the education of children with special needs. I think that this report will give a boost to teachers, parents and children. It puts the focus clearly upon the needs of children and provides a strategy for carrying out reform. I know that the Minister, with her interest in this aspect of education, will follow progress carefully, as shall we all. I beg to move for Papers.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving us the chance to debate this document. I am also grateful to my Chief Whip because if he had not refused to have the Statement on this subject repeated in this House I would have had to fight for a share of 20 minutes and not even be certain of getting anything rather than being able to make a decent speech on the subject. The noble Baroness has done us a great favour in bringing this matter before us in a way that allows us a proper debate.

This debate is also a great illustration of the virtues of having Ministers in the House of Lords. You are able to choose people with experience and quality and set them at an unfashionable subject within the department which the more publicity-conscious Ministers do not want to have too much to do with. It is not a case of dealing with people who chop and change every year as they fight for promotion. An extremely well thought-out and effective document has been produced. When the Secretary of State sees it, puts his own name on it and leaves no trace of its author, there is not a squeak of protest. Over the Peers' Entrance we should have the legend, "Abandon ambition all ye who enter here".

By and large I am full of praise for the document. I read it with an uplifted heart. I am an optimist about these matters. I agree with many of the things that are said in the document and support many of the directions that are taken within it. I certainly do not have it in my heart to be too carping about it. I think, though, that one ought to be realistic. There is a long way from where we are now to where we wish to be. We are not taking a stroll through the Elysium Fields; we are in something much closer to a briar patch.

Even the noble Baroness's own ministry has bits that are not up to the standard which she is hoping will be displayed by her special educational needs colleagues. She will know that I have fights and difficulties with another part which is not her responsibility. I was told at one remove by that department the other day with regard to a project which it had initiated and sponsored that it did not know how many schools had taken part or what the results were, and that it was not that department's responsibility to know. There had been an initiative and they had the publicity for that but now they were moving on to other things and they did not really care what had happened. However, that is not the message that shines through the document. I very much hope that the spirit that the noble Baroness has infused into the document will be allowed to come through in execution. If that means we have to have another six years of Labour government, that will be some compensation.

The thing that pleases me most is the emphasis on personalised learning and the involvement of children in developing the way in which their own particular needs are addressed. Where that happens in schools—and it does happen in some schools; as the House knows, I am editor of the Good Schools Guide so I get a fair view of what is going on, at least in some parts of the education sector—it makes an enormous difference to all children because everyone has needs of some kind. Everyone is different. The old-fashioned school in which the ethos is, "We have this way of doing things and you take it and make the best of it" is not the best way of doing things for anyone, or only for very few children. A school that is much more responsive to each individual child— that necessarily emerges in a really good inclusive school—is a great bonus to everyone who is involved in it. Some schools still like to hide the fact that they do well with special needs pupils because they think that it will frighten off the bright kids. I believe that that attitude is beginning to go and that parents understand these matters better than teachers fear.

However, some real backwaters exist in this area. I have had a fight with a university department which has its own particular way of doing things and has not made proper effort to compromise in favour of a student with multiple disabilities. Bits of the education world have just not caught up with the way in which the spirit of special needs education has changed and the way in which the requirements that we as a society place upon it have changed. An awful lot of schools when faced with a child in a wheelchair are reluctant to make the necessary changes. Some are delighted to make those changes and love the challenge involved. One school I know created a physics laboratory on the ground floor where there was none before so that a particular child could take her A-level there. Such schools undertake those projects with real enthusiasm. The occasions on which one comes across that are a real delight.

However, there is an awful long way to go in educating schools generally on how to open their hearts to the gospel of inclusion which is being preached by the Minister. It will not be an easy road. The document refers to spreading best practice and giving encouragement in this way and that way. I just hope that it works because there is an awful lot to do to overcome the way we do things now.

I am also encouraged by what the document says about special schools. One of my doubts about the way the Government were going concerned whether they were being sufficiently supportive of special schools. I believe that the place that special schools have in the system is now recognised. I would take the matter a little further than the document. One of the great benefits that I see of special schools is that they offer time out for a lot of kids who have special needs not of the deepest forms but of the kind that can lead to emotional and behavioural problems at school. Spending a year or two catching up and consolidating their confidence in a place that really understands and can support their special needs can make an enormous difference to children. There are a number of schools that do that extremely well, and such schools need relationships which run a long way beyond just a one-to-one with one or two local secondary schools. Networks that are larger than just close relationships have to develop. It is like dealing with specialist departments in the National Health Service: those which are more specialist have to have a very wide reach, and sometimes some of the structures we think of for the health service cut off the supply of patients to the specialist centres because we have structured the payment system wrongly. We have to be very careful not to lose these great centres of excellence in dealing with individual kinds of special needs; we need to allow their networks to be wide enough.

I am delighted, too, with the move away from statements. The document is very optimistic about some of the effects that may come of it, in releasing educational psychologists back into schools, which has become a rarity in many areas. It had become a very overworked service, with little time to follow up the people who were diagnosed and provide the correct service. I do not know an individual case well enough to know yea or nay, but if that is the effect the document has, that would be extremely encouraging and absolutely the right direction in which to move.

My dream is to get back to a position—or perhaps it never existed, so perhaps to get to a position—where the local authority is the child's friend, where it is not a matter of the local authority battling desperately to keep within budget because it has no free money left within the education budget, and where—if another two kids with autism turn up—it has to start raiding "care for the elderly" to keep within its capping limits. That is an immensely destructive position to have got into. It' we can start attacking the pressure put on local authorities by funding, and allow them—as I think most of them would wish—to become the advisers and friends of the parent and child with SEN, so that authorities can really help and point them in the right direction, that would be immensely constructive.

I would go further. If we run down this road, I would look at the end and say that for the serious cases we will centrally provide individual funding, that those with, for example, severe autism will be funded by the National Health Service. Local authorities should not have to worry; it should not be like being hit by a bomb every time one of these children appears within their area; they should be able to rely on central funding to deal with these cases. When it comes to the funding that authorities distribute to schools and on which they provide advice, that is indeed the responsibility of the authorities because that is within their purview. However, the more serious cases—the ones which verge on illnesses—are best dealt with by central and national funding. Then perhaps we can find ourselves in a position where local education authorities do not find themselves as pressured as they are now.

I am also extremely encouraged by what the document says on research. There are several mentions of research—doing projects, seeing what the results are, measuring, and trying to develop something along the line of evidence-based treatment. That is a new thing in education—my goodness it is! We have had this in the health service for a little while, but educational research is an absolute miasma of unfinished, unsupported, undocumented activities. Nothing ever seems to be carried through; nothing ever seems to be done with the quality one would hope for; and at the end of the day none of it seems to underpin what is provided in schools or by local education authorities. If we can take on the example of NICE and build on that as an example—and I am enormously encouraged by what the document says on this— then we will have the start of a real understanding of how best to deal with an extremely complex problem of special educational needs.

Would the noble Baroness be prepared to sit down with me and discuss a protocol for the many groups outside the mainstream that have methods that may help with special educational needs? These groups run from small outfits to DDAT. Such a protocol would clarify the evidence needed by the Department for Education and Skills in order for it to agree whether these methods are worth investigating and can be taken on by the department for a proper study to see if the methods work. At the moment it seems extremely difficult for anybody to get to that stage. I agree that these things have to be initiated outside the department, that they have to be carried out with the enthusiasm of one or two individuals and with the funding that they can obtain, but this situation cannot continue—there has to be a way in which the Department for Education and Skills can get involved, because the funding for a proper study is £500,000 or £ 1 million and then it has to be done in exactly the way the DfES wants if it has to have any function. Thus there has to be an interface there, and I would love to clarify it.

Lastly, I just hope that the news we have had today is two more nails in the coffin of the misuse of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Parents and children who look as if they have special educational needs or problems should be treated with enormous sympathy. The presumption should be that they have a problem and it is our responsibility to help them find out what that problem is and deal with it. Far too many people who have children with the more behaviourally accented forms of SEN have talked to me over the past few years about the brushes they have had with social services and about their fear of being tipped into this terrible diagnosis at which point their children and family are ripped away from them There are undoubtedly cases which deserve to go down that road but the initial interface should not be one of antagonism and danger; it should be one of friendship and support.

4.26 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, perhaps I may say first how welcome the Government's strategy document is, if only because it is always good to see something after waiting for it for quite a long time. I welcome the chance to debate the document today and I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for making it possible to debate it so very soon after it was published, which is excellent.

There are many very good things, as I am sure all noble Lords would agree, about the document. For one thing, up to a point it is what it set out to be, which is a statement of strategy rather than a quick fix. The document takes notice of some of the adverse criticisms of present provision in the Audit Commission's most recent publication on special needs; and it recognises in particular the patchiness and variability of the provision currently available.

The document recognises the need for proper research, which I very much welcome, in a number of areas where it is necessary to know rather than to guess or theorise about what works and what does not work, and it acknowledges, as has long been acknowledged, the crucial importance of training for all teachers in identifying the needs of individual children and developing ways of meeting those needs with sensitivity.

However, in one respect at least the document is disappointing. I do not think I shall be the only person to be disappointed here. Though in some ways the strategy seems to be quite bold, it is basically the same strategy that has been in place for nearly 30 years. No fundamental questions are raised in this document. For example, though there are hints that there should be fewer statements for children, that is largely on the grounds that to issue fewer statements would lead to less bureaucracy and fewer delays in intervention. The question of whether there should be any statements is never raised and it seems that this bears on something the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the adversarial position that parents and children find themselves in with the local authority. Although the document shows no sign of an adversarial position, the question of how the issue has arisen and how it can be eliminated is not addressed. Therefore, the question whether statements ought to be issued should have been raised.

Statements are referred to in the document as a safeguard for some children, but the degree to which they work as a safeguard and the extent to which local authorities are committed by their contents to full provision to meet a child's needs is not raised. For example, it is widely believed that what now goes into a child's statement is dictated more by what an authority believes it can afford than by the actual needs of its subject.

In a truly strategic document, surely the foundations of old strategies should be critically examined. Certainly the Audit Commission raised the question whether statementing had had its day and had outlived its usefulness. The idea of special needs, which seemed so fruitful 30 years ago, now seems a little outworn. Again, that question is not raised in the document, although there are hints. Surely the question should be raised again and examined.

As I previously reminded your Lordships, in the 1970s a line was drawn between social deprivation and special educational needs, even though the number of free meals in a school was taken as a broad indication of the number of children who would have special needs. In the 1970s, it seemed helpful to avoid the vocabulary used for special education hitherto and instead to concentrate on what help a child would need in order to make progress at school, rather than on the nature of his disability. The old words such as deafness, blindness, mental retardation, maladjustment and autism were on the way out and the concept of special needs was introduced as an umbrella term. But now it seems to me that it is time to think again. We have perhaps fallen into the opposite trap of thinking of children with special needs as all of a kind—all needing one thing; namely, inclusion in mainstream schools wherever possible.

I realise that to some extent we are bound in the matter of inclusion by the Disability Discrimination Act 2002. We are committed to allowing parents to require almost as a right that their disabled children should attend mainstream schools. But that Act was based on the taken-for-granted assumption that inclusion must always be in a child's best interests. He should be denied it only if his parents eccentrically did not want it for him or that it would harm the interests of other children in the school if he were in the regular classroom.

The document contains plenty of hints that the Government recognise that that is not always the right assumption. Some of the examples of the imaginative use of special schools and special units contain many such hints. I believe that special schools or units may be the best option for, for example, autistic children who may suffer deeply in the relatively rackety environment, inevitably, of a mainstream school and flourish well with the comparative peace of a small school—and a special school at that.

However, we must avoid at all costs the danger, well recognised by the Government, that we pretend to inclusion when in fact it means exclusion from school of the most difficult and therefore the most needy children. I witnessed something of that kind long ago in the 1970s in Oslo. At that time, Norway was uniquely proud of its policy of what used to be called "integration". However, the most intractable children, and those who were most severely disabled, did not go to school at all. That danger is real if we persist in thinking that all special needs children, whatever their problems—whether they are sensory, intellectual or emotional—fall into one vast category of those who can best be helped to learn in mainstream schools, provided that the staffing is good enough.

Perhaps not only statements of special educational needs but the concept of special education needs are due for a rethink. A truly strategic document ought surely to have examined such fundamental issues as these. I am concerned in my suspicion that to concentrate too much on the blanket, catch-all concept of special educational needs is a mistake by the fact that there are two great grounds for optimism in this area of education. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I am an optimist in this field.

The great grounds for optimism at present are the result of government thinking which has nothing specifically to do with special educational needs. The first of these is the Government's admirable development of early years education. I must pay tribute to the work that has gone and is going into this field of endeavour, which is of enormous importance to all children. Early education, early intervention, enables children to develop their social and communication skills before the age of five, when it may be too late for many of them to overcome the disadvantages they started with.

The second ground for my optimism is the new flexibility to be introduced, as I sincerely hope, into the education of 14 to 19 year-olds. This will have huge benefits for many young people currently included among those with special educational needs. I urge the Government to bear this in mind, among other considerations, when they must finally decide what to do about the Tomlinson report.

Lastly, I return to the statement. The aspiration to use special schools as centres of excellence providing research or sharing their expertise with mainstream schools sadly made me smile. The words used were almost identical to those used 30 years ago with the same aspiration and hope. I believe in that hope but it seems to me that very little has changed in that field in 30 years. And still more, the brave goal for collaboration between different agencies all working together in perfect harmony with the common aim of the interests of the child made me sad.

So much work has gone into an attempt to bring that about that I almost despair of its ever happening. But, an optimist must not be cynical. Miracles can happen. Perhaps, as I hope, the new children's trusts may be exactly what is needed to bring off the miracle in this case.

4.40 p.m.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

My Lords, this is a subject dear to my heart. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing it to our attention. I declare an interest both as a mother of a wonderful daughter, with special needs, and because, as a result of watching and sharing in her experience in mainstream schools until she was 16, she became the inspiration and template for a school which I founded 12 years ago called the New School, Butterstone. She was able to attend that school for just over two years and remembers them as the happiest experience—indeed, the only happy school experience—she ever had.

The school caters for "educationally fragile" children—children who do not have severe or complex difficulties but who have special needs ranging from specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia or dyslexia to children with Asperger's syndrome or autistic spectrum disorders, children who are school refusers, elective mutes or those who have developed other responses to the stress of the experience of mainstream school such as developing whole body rashes or losing all their hair. Many of the children have mild to moderate learning difficulties, others are quite academically able and, within the range of difficulties they have, they are all significantly underachieving in relation to their potential and are finding the experience of mainstream overwhelming. At the same time, they have also experienced significant teasing and bullying at school as a consequence of their difficulties and are socially isolated both at home and at school. The school consists of 40 boys and girls aged 12 to 18 who come from all over Scotland. They board weekly and the vast majority of them are funded by the local education authority.

It is the twin experiences of watching my daughter's struggle and of the subsequent growth and development of the school—described by many parents as the most inclusive place they know—that underpin my remarks this afternoon.

I have read the Government's report with great interest and find that there is much to commend in it as a way forward in meeting the needs of children with SEN. Indeed, the past 12 years has already seen great strides in the understanding of and provision for such children in all their varied and often complex forms. I hope that the report will maintain the momentum and address seriously the deficiencies which it has so rightly identified. We are, after all, talking about nearly one in six of the school population, and it is a key area of concern.

I endorse entirely the aim to personalise learning for all children and to make education more responsive to the needs of individual children. I support in large part the four key areas which have been identified. Early intervention is key. Better interagency working, parent support, better childcare facilities and better resourcing have all been identified as areas urgently requiring improvement. Increased working with the voluntary sector is also a highly desirable way forward with all it offers for shared learning and better outcomes.

I have some concerns about the section called Removing barriers to learning. Rightly, the report says that inclusion is about much more than the types of school children attend. It is, crucially, about the quality of the school experience and how far children are helped to learn to achieve and participate fully in the life of the school. It also identifies, rightly, a concern about the lack of clarity over the future role of special schools within an inclusive education system. Their role seems to be reduced in the future to providing only for those with the severest difficulties and most complex needs.

The issue is what inclusion really means and I question the assumption of an automatic connection between inclusion and mainstream. The paradox is that in reality some children will feel and be more included in the real sense in a special school than if they were in a mainstream school— however good and well provided for—and go on to achieve more academically and find a place in society. Indeed, if the experience of my school is anything to go by, it has been precisely the experience of mainstream which has been deeply and damagingly excluding to some children. This is no reflection on the quality or the provision of the children's previous schools, which have been good, competent, caring schools. But inclusion is above all about that quality of experience, of feeling included, which in turn has everything to do with the total environment of the school in relation to the child's particular needs and the attitudes of young adolescents.

Professor Tomlinson's seminal report on inclusive learning in 1996 speaks of the different learning needs and learning styles we all have, from the most able to the most disabled, and the pivotal influence of the learning environment which we all have to have to be helped to learn. For some, such as the fragile child, a mainstream school is simply overwhelming both in its scale and nature. The hurly-burly of the big secondary—the noise in the dining room, the rush on the stairs, the bustle in the playground and the size of the classes—all coupled with the upheavals of adolescence leave the most robust uncertain, trying to find out who they are, coping with emotional, hormonal upheavals as well as the pressures of academic achievement, and so on.

I am never off my knees in thankfulness that I shall never again have to be an adolescent. It does not take much, therefore, to imagine that if you have Asperger's, or you are dyspraxic and always making a fool of yourself in gym or games, or if there is teasing and bullying because you are just that little bit different, slow and unable to cope with the complications of friendships—if you have any, and probably you do not—and all you know is that in any situation you are the person nobody wants as a partner, that it is a short step to school-refusing, or the kind of behaviour which may get you into trouble, or the physiological reactions I mentioned earlier. Self-confidence goes to rock bottom, self-esteem ceases to exist and learning cannot take place. Additional resources, auxiliary help, better trained teachers, a good learning support department—all of which are priorities now—are not the answer for these children because it is the total learning environment which creates the barrier to learning.

For those, and many other children with SEN, the starting point is a much smaller learning environment where different needs can be acknowledged and celebrated and where with individualised educational programmes even a class of seven takes an experienced teacher all his or her time to be sure that all needs are being met.

The Government say that they want to see special schools providing education for children with the most severe and complex needs, and sharing their specialist skills and knowledge to support inclusion in mainstream schools". I urge the Government to recognise that true inclusion comes in many forms, and simple mainstreaming is not the answer for many whose needs are not the most severe and complex but simply different. We talk about celebrating diversity in our society. Why cannot we celebrate a wider, more flexible range of provision, which is essentially needs-led, which recognises that even in the most perfect mainstream school the best may not be brought out of every child and cannot help them to grow into confident and independent citizens, valued for the contribution they make?

It has always seemed to me a most disturbing irony that as the Government have been developing "specialist" schools with enthusiasm, it is the "special" schools at the SEN end that are being phased out. My school is a place where, for the first time, the children feel truly included, valued for who they are, warts and all, where they experience friendships for the first time—including those with Asperger's or with autistic spectrum disorders. And as a direct result of being in an appropriate learning environment they discover that they have abilities they never dreamed of and achieve more than anyone believed possible.

The inclusion development programme is excellent in many ways in that it is predicated on partnership programmes with all the relevant agencies, drawing on shared knowledge and expertise, developing an evidence base of what works and building a consensus on how to implement good practice most effectively. That is precisely what we do at the New School where we are building partnerships with several local authorities and are recognised as part of a range of provision depending on need. For example, our work with school refusers is currently seen as a particularly helpful service, and children can be fed back into the system when and if they are ready. But one must be very careful of those transitions with fragile or vulnerable children. They are difficult to manage.

I urge the Government to apply their programme flexibly, using the criterion of meeting individual need, rather than some inexorable process of working towards the mainstreaming of all but those with the most severe and complex needs. To do so will be to negate all the best practice and the achievement of true inclusion.

Lastly, perhaps I may say a brief word on parents. We talk in my school about fragile children and fragile parents. I speak as a fragile parent. They do not seem to have featured much in the report's consultations. The report speaks of a "culture of mistrust" which is right and springs from the very real anxiety that parents so often have that mainstreaming their children is just not right for them, coupled with the fear that their views are not heard or do not have much weight and thus their only protection comes through a statement.

In Scotland, the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill proposes to do away with the record of need—the equivalent to a statement in Scotland—and the requirement that that lays on local authorities to consider and take account of parental views. For many parents, it is a kind of crutch. They feel that it is the one way in which their views will be heard. It appears that the proposals in the support for learning Bill will be followed in England, and that is causing real anxiety for many. Parents must be part of the partnership programme, coupled with the acknowledgement that some of their children's needs may not be met in the mainstream setting. That would do so much to allay fear and suspicion, which springs from the feeling of not being heard.

Of course, many children with SEN will do more than just cope and will thrive in mainstream if the Government achieve all the objectives that they are laying out and if the right levels of support and adequate training and commitment are available from the teachers, whose task is already enormous. I applaud all those who can and do. But, in the interests of best practice, a differentiated range of provision must remain so that all children's needs can be met in the most appropriate way possible. If that is not the case, I fear that we condemn many who, like my daughter, drowned quietly at the back of the class because her needs were not so severe. I cannot believe that that is what the Government really want.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, first, I express my appreciation to my noble friend Lady Massey for introducing this important debate on special educational needs. Secondly, I congratulate the Government on producing their report, Removing Barriers to Achievement, which I wholeheartedly welcome.

As many noble Lords will know from my previous statements in your Lordships' House, my concern for the interests and protection of children has been a major priority—so much so that I have found myself at odds with the Government whom I support. I refer, of course, to the issues of promoting homosexuality in schools, reducing the age of consent and the adoption of children by homosexuals. It has always seemed to me that, although perhaps the Government wished to extend freedom for the adult, in their haste in such matters they did so at the expense of the protection afforded to the child.

However, the Government's document that we are debating today goes a very long way in the right direction towards making greater educational provision for children who have special needs and towards ensuring that they receive the best education possible and are able to enjoy the best quality of life possible. For that, the Government must be applauded.

Of course, very many schools up and down the country will have pupils of all ages and at all levels of education to whom special educational needs are applicable. Indeed, my wife is a governor of Pownall Green Primary School at Bramhall near Stockport, where 12 per cent of the pupil population of 460 have special educational needs. For years, the school has had a special needs action policy, which it conscientiously applies and reviews every two years. However, in addition to those categorised as having special educational needs, the school also has, on a list of concern, a number of children who are slow learners and to whom extra help is provided. The school has received beacon school status and the headmistress, Mrs Helen Ashcroft, was invited to sit on an advisory committee, chaired by my noble friend Lord Puttnam, dealing with creativity in the curriculum.

However, in my contribution to this debate, I shall concentrate on those with the greatest need—those with the severest disabilities and those who need the maximum attention. I wish to concentrate on those in an educational establishment where the ratio of teachers and carers to one pupil can be 1:1, 2:1 or sometimes 3:1. I refer to the Royal School for the Deaf, Manchester, which is a charity established in 1823 before, I believe, Manchester was afforded parliamentary representation.

For more than 180 years, that school has been catering for children with deafness and other disabilities—often a multiplicity of disabilities, both physical and mental. So much so has that been the case that very shortly the school, of which Her Majesty the Queen is patron, will change its name to "The Royal School for the Deaf and Communication Disorders". As the school is non-maintained, a large amount of the funding comes from the voluntary sector. As I have recently become a little involved in that work, I should declare my interest.

The Royal School for the Deaf, Manchester, costs in the region of £5 million a year to run. Currently, it has 78 pupils. About one-third of those are from Greater Manchester; approximately one-third are from elsewhere in the north-west; and a further one-third are from all over the United Kingdom. Half the pupils are residential and a number of those are in the school's care 365 days a year. At present, there is a short waiting list for places.

All the children at the school have exceptionally complex learning and social needs with a range of additional disabilities, including multi-sensory impairment, exceptionally low cognitive ability and additional communication needs. The school also admits a significant number of children within the autistic spectrum, children with cerebral palsy and those with challenging behaviour alongside other special educational needs. The school is often referred to as "end of continuum" as it takes children and young people whose placements in mainstream and special schools have broken down, more often than not because their complex needs are being compounded by their challenging behaviour. For some, the only alternative would be some form of secure provision.

Having tried briefly to acquaint your Lordships with the work of the Royal School and the children that it takes, I shall now quickly address the Government's strategy for special educational needs, which, of course, builds on the strategy Every Child Matters. The strategy illustrates a continuation, starting with early intervention and working in partnership, which includes working with parents, and it looks at ways of tackling bureaucracy. Those can obviously be wholly supported.

However, the Royal School for the Deaf, Manchester, feels that some areas have not been fully addressed and it has some genuine concerns, with which I am persuaded to agree. In the Government's document, pages 44 to 48 are appropriate to the Royal School. The last sentence of paragraph 2.29 on page 44 includes the words: There are concerns about the high cost of such placements". Although that is a general and not a specific statement, the Royal School is worried. Although it has received a glowing report from Ofsted, the Royal School is concerned that the document may not fully recognise that high costs reflect the high need of provision required. The costs for a day student at the Royal School are approximately £15,000 a year but, for a 52-week residential pupil with a multiplicity of disabilities, requiring education and care on a ratio of one-to-one or higher, the cost can be as much as £180,000 a year.

The fear that arises from the document's comment is that, if the costs are to be trimmed, the quality of provision will also suffer and that will be counter to what the Government's strategy is all about. We feel that there must be a clear realisation of the costs involved in providing education and care for children who suffer from the worst of disability and behaviour difficulties. Although the Government's paper addresses broad issues, it appears, we feel, not fully and specifically to address the needs of children with the most complex difficulties.

In our view, there is certainly a need to ensure that those children do not lose the resources and skills required. Unfortunately, at present, there is a desperate shortage of suitable support for children with complex needs who have additional mental health problems. Regrettably, there is a lack of skilled staff to deal with the needs of complex children, particularly in regard to child and adolescent mental health services. We feel that there must be very positive action on the part of government to ensure that skills and resources are in place if the strategy is to succeed in respect of those children about whom I have spoken.

In conclusion, I hope that I have highlighted the fears and concerns of those at the Royal School who, day in and day out, provide service to those children whose need is great. I hope that in reading this debate the Government will enter into a positive dialogue with those at the sharp end who provide the education and care for those who need it the most. That, I feel, is the approach that will achieve the greatest success for these children and young people.

5 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, all must applaud the Government's sentiments as set out in the recent document. For me, the most important word in the document is "support". It is not only the fragile—a word used by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater—children who need support. Their fragile parents and often their rather fragile teachers, who sometimes encounter cases of extreme behaviour with which they do not know how to deal, also need support.

When I first entered the House 14 years ago the late Lord Joseph, who as Keith Joseph was at different times Secretary of State for Health and Secretary of State for Education, asked me to be a patron for Home-Start, a charitable organisation using trained volunteers to give friendly, unthreatening help to families who find it difficult to cope with their children up to the age of five. He told me that Home-Start was one of his favourite charities because early support for parents with what we used to call difficult children was essential. Today Home-Start UK has 330 schemes running in the UK and for the British forces in Germany and Cyprus. It helps with more than 27,000 families and nearly 61,000 children. It has had, as it were, a baby, Home-Start International, which has more than 100 schemes all over the world. I have the privilege of being chairman of that baby. I hope I am not mixing metaphors. Good practice is being shared and I am sure that those in the DfES today who are developing the strategy for early intervention to identify and to help SEN children will acknowledge their debt to Home-Start.

The second group of people whom I believe need support are teachers. At this point I should declare that I have been a teacher all my adult life, teaching in both the maintained and the independent sectors. I am very proud of the city technology college that I have served as chairman of governors for the past 10 years. Landau Forte College is truly comprehensive, set as it is in the former industrial centre of inner city Derby. It has an admissions procedure that, I am glad to say, is approved by the DfES. It was an excellent idea to have city technology colleges and I am glad that the present Government continue to support them.

Naturally, at Landau Forte College we have our full share of SEN children. Some have physical disabilities such as sight and learning impairment, some are slow learners, some have speech impediments, one or two use wheelchairs and some can hardly read when they come to the college at age 11. Every effort is made to integrate those children, giving them self-confidence, realistic aspirations for the future and a sense of being valued and true members of the community.

Our special educational needs department consists of three full-time and four learning support teachers. The college places high priority on budgeting provision for SEN support. That is what I mean by support for the teachers. The children who need more help than can be given in a large class can be given expert, individual help quietly, on their own. I do not like to use the phrase "withdrawn from a class" because I see those children as being given extra-special treatment. That is how it is seen and the specialist SEN teachers co-operate fully because they are colleagues of the subject teachers.

By the way, I do not believe that there is any shame in the phrase "special educational need". One of the aims at Landau Forte College at the moment is to deliver an even more rigorous and demanding curriculum to those at the top end of the academic scale. They, too, have their special educational needs.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that there is a great diversity and range among the different kinds of SEN, but there is one group of children with special needs who need more help than a mainstream school—even a very good one—can possibly provide. Those are the boys and girls with extreme behavioural difficulties. I mean extreme. We have plenty of naughty children and we can cope with them, but I am talking about something that is very serious indeed. Nowadays, we call it ADHD. It has taken me a long time to ensure that I can remember what it stands for—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are also those with emotional and behavioural disorders that can be very worrying too.

Such children need extra, specialised help. I worry that if such a boy or girl remained in a regular class he or she could be harmed by being given perhaps too much of the drug Ritalin which is used to calm and, I suppose, sedate. On the other hand, the presence of just one aggressive, hyperactive pupil can disrupt the school experience of an entire class—one person versus, say, 29. Exclusion from mainstream schooling, yes, but inclusion in a special school must be facilitated. The present bureaucratic system of tribunals, sometimes reversing the decision of a school principal, is damaging to the morale of the principal and of the staff and does the school and the student concerned no good.

Of course, it is important to have an overall special educational need strategy hacked by government, but the best way to implement it is by encouraging and suggesting good practice in the schools themselves. All good teachers want to get the best possible results from their students. However, if noble Lords will forgive me, orders and regulations piled on from on high can be rather dispiriting. A focused and enthusiastic senior management team, working with the rest of the staff, can motivate students and encourage them to develop the necessary skills naturally and comfortably. Good practice is then developed as a joint project.

I will finish by mentioning a few of the ideas that have been pioneered at Landau Forte College to give help to students with special needs, both those who are "underachieving" and those who are capable of achieving much more than the norm. First, there is the structure. We divide classes into smaller groups at key stage 4 in the basic subjects of mathematics, English and science. We made eight groups across a year group, where there were six before. We operate a longer school day, to give extra time for individual help or for quiet study for those who have no place to study at home.

A personal tutorial system has proved a good idea in Derby. Each tutor group is run by a member of staff who has his or her buddy, and the two of them become almost mentors to the children in their tutor group. It is a vertical tutor group down the ages, so there are two students from each year in the group. Often, the older students in year 12 and year 13 are natural mentors to the younger ones.

Strong communication between the school and the parents is vital. Landau Forte College produces a school guide and a workbook for every student. Parents are encouraged to look to see what their daughter or son is doing, and we like them to sign when they have seen it and the child has done the work. Parents' evenings can be a nightmare both for parents and teachers, as I know only too well. There are long queues of people waiting to be seen and talked to. I once said, "I am the mother of x"—I will not say which of my children it was—and the only answer that I got from the teacher was, "Oh dear".

We have a student guide system, and we endeavour to give a clear explanation of the system and the learning objectives. We share the assessment criteria with those who are being assessed. These are just a few ideas that have worked for us. There are so many good ideas in many schools throughout the country, and I visited a great number of such schools when I was on the education trust for the Wolfson Foundation. I look forward to seeing the development of better provision for S EN overall in the country over the next few years.

5.14 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow a Member of your Lordships' House who has had such a long and important career in teaching, especially in a debate such as this. I hope to come to the point that she made about allowing teachers to teach and riot expecting them to be social workers and take on too many other roles. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and I join my thanks with those of many other noble Lords who have spoken, for this important and timely debate.

I will concentrate on the education of children in public care and the implications of this important document for their education. Today, I visited a children's home run by Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa. Their education specialist said how much she welcomed the changes that the Government made in the Education Act 2002, in prioritising the access to education admissions for looked-after children and in the statutory obligation to provide children with education within 21 days following their exclusion from school. I come to this debate with a prejudice in favour of what the Minister has come up with, because what she has done in the past has been so advantageous to the group of children about whom I am most concerned.

Her Majesty's Government acknowledge that the access to education of looked-after children has not been sufficient. The Government wish to raise their achievement. More than half of these children experienced abuse or neglect before being taken into care. Perhaps more than any of our other children, they need the advantages that a good education can provide to help compensate for that lack of early nurture in their lives.

One in seven children in public care experiences more than three placements each year. Their placement with a foster family collapses once, twice or thrice a year. It is vital for the stability of placements that there is a stable educational place. I ask noble Lords to imagine what it is like for a foster family to take in a child who has perhaps had experience of neglect or abuse and the strain that that puts on that family. Now, imagine if that child is not in school in the regular school day, how difficult it will be for that family to keep that placement going. It is vital that children in care get the full school hours of a full school week. The Minister is concerned about the shortage of foster carers. In England, we are short of 6,000 foster carers. Better access to education for children in public care would facilitate the recruitment and retention of foster carers.

I appreciate the Government's recognition of the special needs of looked-after children and their aspiration to remove the barriers to achievement for all our children and for children with special educational needs. I welcome the personalisation of education and the tailoring of education as far as possible to the individual child; the desire for a better partnership between special and mainstream schools; the adjustments to performance tables so that they better reflect the efforts of schools to include children who are not average; the intention to improve teacher development in the postgraduate certificate in education and for newly qualified teachers, so that they understand the needs of special educational needs children; and the focus on training for school leadership, so that they too are better attuned to the needs of these children.

Special schools often envy the facilities available in mainstream schools. Teachers in special schools wish to share their specialist experience with mainstream schools. However, a special school in Lambeth said that it had approached the local secondary school, a large comprehensive, which had been in special measures, but was now an improving school. Its overtures had been rejected. Apparently, the secondary school wishes to hide its light under a bushel. It was good at managing and working with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. However, it was afraid that if it gained a reputation of success in such work it would be given ever more children with these difficulties and that that would be too much for it to bear. So I ask the Minister how the Government will prevent schools being penalised for working successfully in these partnerships and with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

We should not ask teachers to do more than they are equipped to do. Teachers in France and Japan are expected to teach; they are not given the wide range of pastoral responsibilities assigned to our teachers. Teachers in Paris are not asked to run the after-school photography course or other extracurricular activities; they are there to teach. These extracurricular activities and pastoral care may offer great benefits, but, combined with the additional bureaucracy, are we being fair to teachers by asking them to undertake them?

A few years ago I had the great pleasure of attending the graduation ceremony of the Association of Child Psychotherapists. After the ceremony I spoke to a former teacher who said, "We ask too much of our teachers. We ask them to be social workers and child guidance counsellors. We should stop doing that". The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's recent report on schools and regeneration said that the biggest contribution schools can make to improving pupils' life chances is to help them attain well in their subjects and gain knowledge. If we ask teachers and schools to include more troubled children, we must properly resource schools and properly equip teachers to do it. Neither must that happen at the cost of other pupils.

There must always be alternative special schools for the children who are most difficult to manage, who have the most demanding needs or who do not quite fit into the mainstream, as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said. I therefore welcome the training which I mentioned earlier and the development of an advance qualification for teachers in special educational needs, with a follow-on specialist qualification, to enable teachers to understand the needs of these children and work with them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, rightly emphasised the importance of partnership working. I welcome the strong emphasis which the document gives to such working. However, I remind the Minister that child and adolescent mental health services face some difficulties. If a child psychotherapist works face to face with a child, that work is registered and reported on. However, when the psychotherapist works with a staff group, that work can be very difficult to fund and nearly impossible to recognise. A child psychotherapist at a school in Lambeth told me that the NHS regarded his work in support of a staff group working with very difficult children as about as valuable as if he were playing a round of golf. This afternoon a clinical psychologist supporting staff in a children's home reiterated that point to me.

We need to be able to recognise that work. If we are to have inclusion we need a more emotionally literate front line. We need to support the front line in their stressful work with troubled children if we are to retain them in this field. Will the Minister undertake to look at this particular issue? I will write to her with more details.

I finish by warmly welcoming this document. Implementation will be challenging. However, if children in care are to thrive as they should, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Puttnam

My Lords, I, too, should like to add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Massey for making this debate possible. I should like also to take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend the Minister, whose knowledge and commitment to the subject are evident on just about every page of both the Green Paper, Every Child Matters, and the report which is the subject of this debate.

It is a debate that allows me to take a stab at coherently addressing some of the sights, sounds and experiences I have absorbed in these past almost seven years. I have been enormously privileged to have had access to, as it were, a front-row seat from which to observe the largely unreported and certainly under-appreciated improvements that have taken place in the provision of education for every child in the state sector. My years as chair of the General Teaching Council for England involved not only listening to the way in which the inclusion/exclusion debate was developing within the profession, but travelling the country looking at how practice was developing and being implemented on the ground.

I think that it is fair to say that, over the course of the 350 or so school visits I have made, I have been left with about a dozen memories that have not only informed my thinking generally but will remain with me for the rest of my life. And of these, at least half resulted from visits to special schools or, in a couple of cases, special needs departments within the mainstream. It may interest the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that one of my most vivid memories of last year was giving GCSE certificates to a group of looked after children in the north-west. It was extraordinary because none of the children received more than three certificates that day and most received one. The enthusiasm and excitement in the room were extraordinary, as much among the carers as the recipients. It was the very first group of children in care who had ever passed a GCSE in that region.

So in some ways I suppose that it is not all that surprising to be moved when one is dealing with the special needs sector. One has to be pretty hard of heart not to respond to the extraordinary efforts being made day in and day out by teachers and their assistants trying to build fulfilling lives for children who in many cases suffer every form of disadvantage imaginable. That said, noble Lords can well imagine how much I welcome and endorse the broad thrust of the Government's policy. The report sets out to identify and address the confusion of aims, means and priorities that have for years bedevilled this vital branch of education entitlement.

The report acknowledges that too many children have had to wait too long to have their needs met. It acknowledges that good provision is "patchy"—and I would say that that is being somewhat generous. It acknowledges that the levels of uncertainty that the policies of successive governments have helped to generate have to be a thing of the past. Lastly, it acknowledges that for too long too many children have been denied places within a mainstream setting because lack of provision, inadequate funding and a lack of specialist training make it too easy for schools to duck what some of them see as simply an additional burden.

I should like to address that last point at a little more length. As I see it, this is where we fail to understand the full nature of the opportunity that society is offered when asked to address the issue of disability. Schools certainly represent the best microcosm of society that I have ever come across.

Were I to be totally honest, I would have to admit that when I started off on my educational adventure in 1997, if I thought about special education at all, it was with the belief, or at least the assumption, that children with reasonably severe disabilities would probably be most advantageously educated separately from the mainstream. It did not take many visits to schools of all kinds to discover how very wrong I had been and almost more importantly, the degree to which I had been looking at only one side of the coin.

The benefits to be gained through integration or inclusion within a well staffed mainstream school with a committed head and an understanding local authority have to be seen to be believed, most particularly in terms of the atmosphere and ethos of the school as a whole. I found myself, not for the first time, entirely agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who I thought made this point rather better than I call. From the very earliest years, it can only be good for young people to come to terms with the fact that they live in an imperfect and sometimes very unfair world, and that, as individuals, they have the capacity to help make it that much better.

Imagine spending one's formative years in a relatively enclosed social environment, forming a constructive relationship, even a close friendship, with someone who will never be able to live life as fully as you, and then discovering that, through one's own efforts and through one's own response to their affection and need, one can enrich one's own and their lives in so many ways. I leave it to noble Lords' imaginations to think of a more productive and worthwhile way of enabling young people to develop as caring and sensitive citizens. These are anything but one-way relationships. What the disadvantaged child can offer back to the school is, as most headteachers will confirm, simply incalculable.

Yesterday afternoon, I visited a UNICEF project in Johannesburg. It existed as a children's support group through a co-operation with British Airways and the local council. It is dealing with problems on a scale far greater than any we can even begin to imagine, yet those problems are being addressed with an enthusiasm, a commitment and a desire for change which I am not sure that we constantly or consistently match.

In the time that remains to me, I should like to add a few practical observations. An enormous amount of debate has taken place in the past year or so about what is termed "workforce reform", including the role and the professional development of support staff. However, if one is to go to any school offering first-class provision for special needs children, one will see that most, if not all, of those seemingly intractable staffing problems are not only resolved but are part and parcel of the day-to-day functioning of the learning environment. Every qualified special needs teacher—of course, there are not enough of them—will confirm that they could not for one moment function without the support of their classroom assistants. In many cases, the ratio of assistants to teachers is two to one—occasionally even three to one. I have never understood why the experience of the special needs sector has not been drawn on more heavily in thinking through the most appropriate composition for the professional workforce as a whole. The analogy is not perfect, but valuable lessons for schools' staffing and management are surely there to be learned.

On the subject of lessons learned, while the profession and the Government agonise over the introduction of a more personalised approach to teaching and learning, once again, there is abundant experience in SEN on which to draw, where nothing but a personalised approach has ever been appropriate. That is also true in developing experience of behaviour management and most particularly in the introduction and day-to-day use of technology-enabled learning, but that subject deserves a debate all of its own.

As the report indicates, partnerships, both formal and informal, have developed between special schools and the "engaged mainstream". That is in every way to be encouraged. Special schools have so much to offer, not just to those children with profound disabilities, to many of whom they represent the only lifeline outside of a caring home.

I also am a fully signed-up optimist, so I hope that noble Lords will not deem it inappropriate for me to end on a note of caution. In driving ahead with these overdue and, for the most part, admirable reforms, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Even the best of our special schools will feel their future to be threatened by the now-overwhelming acceptance of the argument in favour of inclusion. However, within our special schools resides a vast wealth of experience, most particularly of differentiation between types of need—how to apply what, and when.

I recall one small and telling statistic, which is little more than a variation on that cited by my noble friend Lady Massey. At any one time, some 2 per cent of the school population attends special schools, yet more than 20 per cent of school-age children are in need of some kind of special needs support. Most of the specialised, highly trained staff in that area have historically been unable to offer their expertise to the vast majority of children who need it. The partnerships to which I have referred offer one way forward, but as the Government's policy develops, I hope that every effort will be made to secure the future of our special schools, while developing and spreading their expertise wherever it is needed. It is absolutely crucial that we develop a range of excellent provision that is sufficient to meet all needs. That was exactly the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater.

I am concerned that those who see state education as largely a number-crunching exercise will be tempted to seek "one-size-fits-all" solutions to uniquely individual problems. In saying that, I simply echo the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I sincerely hope that we can rely on successive governments to resist that temptation. Good education is expensive and it is likely to become even more so. Nowhere is that more true than in our constant search to improve the life chances of children with special needs.

Any society in the 21st century that wishes to consider itself civilised cannot seek to minimise that investment. If noble Lords feel in need of a clinching argument, they should look no further than the title of the Green Paper. It is because "every child matters".

5.36 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, all of us owe particular thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this early debate. Perhaps I may echo the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, to the Minister on her influence being clearly shown in the report before us.

Earlier this afternoon, I was at a conference in Portcullis House, under the sponsorship of Oona King MP. A film was shown that featured a group of dyslexic young people from Hackney. They were very talented young people. It was an outstanding production. It was outstanding because it reflected the determination of the film's director, herself dyslexic, to encourage the youngsters themselves to tell the story of how talent can be released by the right professional help. The film also made clear the importance of peer-group support and encouragement, rather than the mickey-taking and bullying that can happen all too often in the school programme and elsewhere, even from adults, who should know better.

Some youngsters who took part in the film joined us for a little while to hear some of the debate. They saw for themselves that all of us in Parliament really are concerned to reduce, and remove where possible, the very real obstacles that they face and, in the words of the Secretary of State for Education, to allow, all children to enjoy education which enables them to fulfil their talents and provides a firm foundation for adult life". The report is a welcome step forward. It clearly acknowledges that despite what the Government had believed to be a robust legal framework and set of procedures, set down in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, far too many children with special education needs do not receive the support that they and their parents need.

The postcode lottery, about which so many of us spoke when the matter was debated in February of last year, is firmly acknowledged in the report, as is the legal struggle that parents often have to face in order to obtain statements and the like. That means double jeopardy for those in most need of help, because parents from disadvantaged backgrounds are the least able to take the legalistic and bureaucratic route to addressing their problems.

Therefore, many of the conclusions about the way forward that are set out in the report do indeed make sense. The breadth of the whole strategy is impressive. The report accepts that SEN schooling should be tailored to each individual child's need. That is the "personalised learning", as the report calls it, on which so many noble Lords have made comment. The decision to transfer responsibility for children's social services to the Department for Education and Skills is also a step in the right, joined-up-government direction. It might even result in money being saved and/or better spent.

The policy decision that more opportunities should be provided for parents who wish to see their children educated in mainstream schools probably makes good sense too—again, many comments have been made on that—but with the provision that the necessary support and expertise are available. Here, the intention to use the teaching expertise that already exists as a resource from special schools to mainstream schools is clearly right. So is the policy to encourage more special schools, whether in the private or the public sector, to participate in federation, cluster and twinning arrangements with mainstream education.

However, not all parents and children will accept that mainstream schooling is the right route for the child. At present, one third of all SEN children attend a special school, and changing views will take time. It will be important to get parental backing for the policy. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I was particularly pleased to see the remark attributed to the Minister that the approach should be towards a system that can provide not "either/or" but "both/and".

Currently, one in five or one in six children need help during some part of their schooling, and we know that that number will grow, for two reasons. First, there is an increasing recognition of the complex spectrum of SEN and other disabilities. Secondly, more babies survive who, in earlier times, would have died at birth. So the need for special units in mainstream schooling should be a very high priority. That approach is right because the hallmark of any civilised society is the way in which it treats its most disadvantaged citizens. However, it is also right because there is a clear bottom-line benefit for so doing. Releasing and developing the talents of every citizen benefits the whole economy. The more successful we are in that —with every child, particularly SEN and disabled pupils—the greater will be the degree of self-help and personal satisfaction engendered and the less will public resources be needed.

In this respect, your Lordships will also have been pleased to see that the availability of a minimum standard of support and expertise will be a required provision for each local authority, and for every school as well. I hope that that, too, will help to ease the current postcode lottery situation.

There are two other points I should like to commend. First, as others have said, there is the importance given to early intervention. As the report rightly puts it, this is "the cornerstone" of the Government's strategy—that is, reducing the risk of long-term under achievement and disaffection". Secondly, children themselves should be involved. The involvement of parents and children is becoming increasingly obvious in every form of planning for their future. The Salford Early Support Pilot Programme referred to in the report was a useful illustration. It shows how voluntary organisations can and should be involved.

The importance of early intervention is picked up again by acknowledging the very real current difficulties in finding suitable childcare for children with SEN and other disabilities. The new strategy, involving Sure Start and children's trusts, with links to children's centres and extended schools, should certainly help with the dissemination nationally of best practice. If it is still believed that where possible, parents, including single parents, of SEN and disabled children should be encouraged to return to employment, then surely a far greater priority needs to be given for extended hours childcare with the necessary expertise.

There is one more specific issue. It was good to see an acknowledgement of the extra problems faced by looked-after children—again, the issue was highlighted during our debate last year. The finding, in 2001–02, that these children were 10 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers is, and remains, particularly worrying. So it is reassuring that the Government are committed, in full, to implementing the recommendations of the Social Exclusion Unit's report, A Better Education, for Children in Care. What is not clear is the timing of that commitment. By when will it be implemented?

For looked-after children, a local authority is, by definition, in loco parentis. Surely, in that case, as the Disability Rights Commission has pointed out, the special educational needs or disabled child concerned should have an advocate independent of the local authority to represent his or her best interests. Can the Minister please address this point in her reply?

The Disability Rights Commission also draws attention to the important provisions in the draft discrimination Bill which will require every public authority to have due regard in carrying out its duties to the need to eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. Those two phrases are carved on my heart from the Sex Discrimination Act, and I am very glad to see them in the draft Bill. This is a requirement where facilities for disabled persons are not as satisfactory as those for other citizens. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government's strategy, along with the Children Bill—which, in a most timely way, received its First Reading today—ensures that this happens?

Let me close by asking the Minister to expand on three other issues in her reply. First, how is progress to be monitored? Should more specific targets be set? Again, the Disability Rights Commission has pointed this out. What time-scale is envisaged for the various targets that are set?

Secondly, as the Minister will know, the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice is calling for a genuinely independent agency to be established to receive complaints and to enforce the law. Can the noble Baroness say a little more about that and assure us that such an agency is not needed, if that is the Government's policy?

Last, but by no means least, the plans outlined, which so many of us have endorsed today, will clearly cost money, yet we are told that no extra resources are to be made available. So how is that gap to be bridged?

5.47 p.m.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, my vivid initial impression of this House was of a packed Chamber debating higher education. I dare say, in another few weeks, we shall have another packed House debating higher education, and we shall all enjoy it. It makes it all the more welcome that we have this opportunity today, thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to debate our concerns about that one in five of our children who need special help in our schools. We need to be so concerned for them, for our own sakes as well as theirs.

Therefore, I particularly welcome the government report, Removing Barriers to Achievement, and congratulate the Minister on it. I am sure she will be a powerful advocate of its implementation. As an old hand, who has seen many reports come and go, I say to the Minister that the easy part is saying what should be done— the part that matters is getting it done. As a spur to the sides of the Minister's intent, may I request that at annual intervals for the next four years we have a progress report on the implementation of the proposals made in this document?

Let me turn briefly to the specifics in the report and what was said by the Audit Commission in its 2002 report. I welcome the commitment to early identification and action, and the Audit Commission report's frank recognition of the need to break free of the slow-moving bureaucratic processes that stand in the way of instituting action. I can well imagine the frustration of parents as they see their child's needs and, against that, the time—the months, maybe the years— before action is taken which, possibly, because of financial stringency, is insufficient to meet the need.

My second point deals with inclusion, which has been much mentioned this afternoon. Paragraph 122 of the Audit Commission report reads: Almost every head teacher interviewed raised the issue of 'league tables' of school performance. This lay behind the reluctance of some to admit children with SEN, for fear they would 'drag down' the school's position; and could have a damaging effect on staff morale, failing to reflect the considerable achievements of some of the hardest-to-teach children and their teachers. This was seen as perhaps the key issue that the Government in England needed to address if committed to pursuing its policy of greater inclusion". I am sure that the Minister is strongly committed to inclusion. But, if we are going to get that, we need a "pull" factor as well as a ministerial "push".

If teachers, parents and children are going to be as motivated as possible, we need recognition of achievement. In 1996, the Government of the day invited me to write a report on qualifications for 16 to 19 year-olds. That report was proposed that there should be national awards at four levels: the highest level would be equivalent to A-level; the next level to GCSE grades A to C; the next, to GCSE grades D to G; and then there would an entry level. That would allow us to recognise what to some children would be remarkably good achievements; and recognise, also, the teachers and their work.

Mike Tomlinson's report says exactly the same thing: we need four levels, including an entry level. I urge that we do not wait another eight years for implementation of its recommendations, as we did after the Dearing report. I ask the Minister to pick up the Tomlinson report as a matter of urgency in the interests of children with special educational needs so that there is recognition of their achievements. I further advocate that a very important part of that recognition is to value added, and inclusion of the results in the value added tables.

As for the "push" factors, the Minister has potential allies in Her Majesty's inspectors and Ofsted. About a month ago I found myself saying that the work of Ofsted was so important that we ought to have a debate on it in the House. In her response to my supplementary question, the Minister adroitly asked me if I would like to lead such a debate.

I will make a brief overture. The inspectorate is a force for immense good in our schools, especially when it concentrates on what can be done to improve matters, rather than on what is wrong. It should look at the arrangements for securing inclusion on admissions policy, to see that children with special educational needs are admitted to the schools to which they are attracted.

I would like to see a vigorous attack on these time-consuming, bureaucratic processes, that stand between early identification and action to assist those children before they slip so far behind that they may be condemned to regressing even further, because it is so difficult to catch up.

I would also like them to be advocates. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others referred to innovative ideas that are proving successful—for example, the Lazarus Centre in Birmingham and the National Grid Transco Foundation initiative in Reading. I have been impressed to see innovative approaches working very well.

We trust the Minister to act as the champion of the needs of these children. In doing so, she will have the opportunity to help those who otherwise would have impaired lives. What she does matters to the wellbeing of our whole society. Unless we help these youngsters while there is time, we shall reap the cost of a dislocated society. The wellbeing of our society depends on us responding to the report and securing action on it.

5.55 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for initiating this debate. As she and others have mentioned, we were deprived of the opportunity to debate the statement when it was put out three weeks ago, and some of us felt that that was a shame.

It is much more satisfactory to have a three hour debate and be able to give consideration to this matter, rather than to give a quick response when most of us have hardly seen the document. I have enjoyed the opportunity for this debate. We have all benefited from it.

I should also like to congratulate the Minister. It is very much her document. I like its format: where we are; where we want to be; actions that must be taken. It is clear. We know where we are going. I like that.

Like other noble Lords, I looked back to the debate we had on 29 January last year following the Audit Commission's report on special educational needs. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, mentioned that debate because the key issue that we considered was whether we needed another review of the issue of special educational needs, as was suggested by the Audit Commission. In particular, we considered whether it was right that 70 per cent of resources devoted to special educational needs should be concentrated on the 3 per cent of children in our community who have severe special educational—needs severe learning difficulties—as distinct from the 20 per cent of children who have special educational needs of one sort or another.

At the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, argued that we needed, and should have, a fundamental review. Her argument was endorsed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The Minister and I took the view that we needed to see the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act 2001 and the new code of practice bed down before we considered whether we needed a fundamental review. I remain of that view. We are not yet ready for a fundamental review.

However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, suggested, some very real questions need to be answered. This paper has the wrong title. It is not a "strategy". The strategy was laid out 30 years ago in the work that she did. It has been continued and reinforced in the past few years with the series of papers that the Government have issued, and in its implementation through the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act. That is the strategy and the framework of legislation that we are working to.

What we have here—and it is what the Minister promised us in the debate last year—is a programme of action. The Green Paper Every Child Matters is also part of the programme, answering to the Climbié inquiry and being a precursor to the Children Bill which had its First Reading today.

As a programme of action, it picks up on the criticisms that were brought forward by the Audit Commission report. It answers those criticisms by saying, "This is what we are going to be doing and this is the timetable we have in which to do it". What we see in this report is the emphasis on the importance of early intervention and the development of a coherent programme for intervention for those with special educational needs in early years. We see that there is a need for more co-ordination between health services, social services and education services, and the development of the idea of the children's trusts, which was incorporated into the Children Bill and Every Child Matters.

I have to say that I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, some scepticism about how satisfactorily we are going to be able to get joined-up working within the concept of children's trusts. I am very uncertain about the whole question of whether schools should be the prime actors in some of that co-ordination. It will be extremely difficult to achieve that.

Another item that is considered in the paper is the need for more support for schools in managing the whole diverse range of provision needed with special educational needs. Again, it mentions the lack of systematic measures for achievement of children with special educational needs and the need to develop those measures. Lastly, it refers to the uncertainties over special schools.

That is what the paper is about, and there is much in it that I welcome. I suppose that I am particularly pleased, as many other noble Lords are, with the emphasis on early intervention. There is no doubt whatever that the earlier the intervention can be made, the more likely remedial measures are to have effect. We welcome the commitment of resources to that early intervention; to the gradual rolling out of the early support pilot scheme, making it more extensive in the country; to the establishment of a national centre for excellence in early intervention; and to the general emphasis on joined-up thinking, working and partnership at this level of intervention.

I welcome, too, the clarification of the role of special schools. We have had a good deal of discussion of that subject today, and my noble friend Lady Linklater made a special plea that the complementary role between inclusion within mainstream and the role of special schools should be acknowledged. She echoed widespread concerns that there are fragile and vulnerable children who are not necessarily well served within the mainstream sector and who need to be rather more protected—possibly just for a short time. The notion of spending two or three years in a special school and then going back into the mainstream community is one that, if one can achieve it, one would like to see. Undoubtedly, however, we are all agreed that there is a special place for special schools. We certainly do not want to see the demise of special schools in any sense; it is important that they are seen as part of the overall provision.

I welcome very much the development and extension of the techniques for monitoring and assessing performance of special educational needs pupils. It is not right that, in a world so dominated by performance indicators, the special educational needs children have effectively often been left out of the picture completely. Because they have been left out, people have sometimes not been concerned about them. Equally, however, since we on these Benches aspire to a world in which tests and testing play a somewhat lesser part in education policy, we worry about the degree to which performance indicators have in themselves led to a climate in which children with special educational needs, who will not achieve highly within performance league tables, will find it difficult to find places at the schools that they would wish to attend.

Finally, I welcome very much the new emphasis being given to teacher training and continuing professional development, as well as to the development of practical tools and the toolkits for teachers for teaching within special educational needs. That said, some parts of the action programme seem to remain aspirational, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said. The key issue in that regard must be resources. In my speech last year, I referred to the time taken out of mainstream teaching by those teachers who were training in special aspects of special educational needs. For each different variety, whether it is language problems, dyslexia, the autistic spectrum or behavioural difficulties, there are different training programmes. That means teachers taking one or two days out of mainstream schooling. That is a matter of resources. The longer that teachers arc required to spend on training, the more resources are required to undertake those courses.

Similarly, with regard to partnership, yes, we can talk about it, but it means finding time to sit down with the professionals from the social services and health services and work out the plans. That also means time away from mainstream teaching. Extending advice and awareness is good, but that too means teachers spending time talking to parents and explaining to them what is available, and working with them through the choices available. We are short of specialists in those subjects: we are short of teachers for special educational needs, of speech therapists and of educational psychologists. We are short of more or less every form of specialist. Time is money and money is resources. Are we really putting enough into the pot for special educational needs? That is a question that we have not considered. If we have a fundamental review, we are bound to consider it. The paper leads to very real questions as to whether we have enough resources.

I am delighted that we are doing more on initial teacher training, but are we doing enough to cope with the full range of needs within special educational needs? That requires taking people out of teaching and having special training for them. I worry slightly whether we are training teachers to work with other adults. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, mentioned how well special educational needs teams work with learning assistants. However, on the whole we train our teachers to work with children, not to work with other adults. Are we training them enough to use their learning assistants well, and are we training the learning assistants well enough? Sometimes they have four days training but that is all, and they sometitmes have remarkably little in the way of an educational background. It is important that we not only train them but offer them a career pathway, because they could be some of our teachers of the future, if they were well trained.

Will the Minister say a little about gifted and talented children, and whether resources are going to them? I also wish to say something about admission arrangements. I was rather shocked to talk to a friend from London whose child is 11 and applying to secondary schools to discover that she had taken seven separate tests for admission for London schools. The school that they would like their child to go to happens to be at the end of their road, but they cannot get her into the school at the end of their road. It seems absolutely ludicrous that we are in such a situation, when we have created so many schools, which are their own admissions authorities. That is one of the problems. We have set up admissions forums, but those forums have no real ability to mandate in that regard. It is important that we do not use admissions procedures as a way in which to select or deselect the kids. I am delighted that the looked-after children get such high priority, but it is vital that there is not another way in which to select children.

6.10 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for raising an important topic, which unites so many Members of this House, especially those who have participated in the debate.

We on these Benches warmly welcome the report, Removing Barriers to Achievement, and its commitment to giving children with special educational needs the opportunity to succeed. SEN covers a wide range of needs, including learning, behavioural and physical difficulties. But it is important to tailor the specific requirements of each child. Sometimes we talk too often of categories and not enough about individuals. Understandably individual tailoring will be a huge task in terms of resources, but it is surely the only way to go. We cannot have blanket policies.

Will the noble Baroness tell us of the further investigations that the Secretary of State promised about looking into the funding for an individual child's SEN? We have always promoted the theory of early intervention, and we were glad to see it in the White Paper. Catching problems early will help to give children a better chance to overcome their learning difficulties and give them the best opportunities in life. There is no doubt that the first six months are crucial. Will the Minister assure us that her department will work with the Department of Health to expand birth-to-six-months screening, especially for cognitive and sensory development? I understand that there is a correlation between low birth weight and later special needs problems. Has any research been commissioned on either of those issues, as debated last month in the other place?

I am sure we all agree that finding that one has a child who has special educational needs must be a frightening and devastating experience for any parent, so it is essential that there is early intervention to give support not only to the child but to the parents. I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lady Brigstocke and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. We need to ensure that parents do not feel isolated from the process that involves their child.

That means not only effective co-ordination of joined-up government at all levels, but access to suitable child care and the correct information for the child's particular disability. Many parents have made the case that greater co-ordination between the various responsibilities of different authorities would be welcome in the form of a one-stop shop. Will the noble Baroness comment on that? In addition, may I plead, along with other noble Lords, for teacher training colleges to give specialist training, and at least a minimum training in SEN to every teacher to aid that vital support and early identification of problems once the child enters school? That is an issue to which many noble Lords have alluded today.

Within that context, will the Minister comment on the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that it is now time for a comprehensive review of the statementing process? The noble Baroness was largely responsible for setting it up and is now suggesting that it may be too combative. Many parents say that they have to fight for the interests of their child. Each statement of SEN costs on average £2,500, and local education authorities in England and Wales are spending £90 million each year on assessments and writing statements. That is a huge amount of money. Yet between 2000 and 2001, nearly 1,000 children and families had to wait more than five months for a statement.

Despite the fact that the number of pupils with statements of SEN has gone up by 7 per cent to 250,550 since 1997, I was disturbed, as were other noble Lords, to see that 79 special schools have closed and that the number of pupils being taught in special schools has declined by 5 per cent to 93,880. In addition, there are thousands of pupils with SEN but without statements, which I understand currently constitutes nearly 20 per cent of children in England. I find it very difficult to accept that one in five of our children falls into that category. Perhaps I should agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that to parents all children have special educational needs.

The Government's policy of inclusion is arguably hurting the very people whom it was designed to help. The Disability Rights Commission has highlighted that two thirds of pupils with disabilities attend mainstream schools, and that more than a third of those surveyed felt that they did not receive adequate support. For example, 20 per cent said that they had been discouraged from sitting GCSEs, and the vast majority did not go on to higher education—only 4 per cent of university students are those with SEN.

SEN children make up 90 per cent of permanent exclusions from primary schools, and 60 per cent from secondary schools. The National Autistic Society states that one in five autistic children is excluded. That is because their needs are not fulfilled—perhaps not even recognised. Will the Minister guarantee that when a child enters school there will be enough teachers and classroom assistants with appropriate training? Will she also accept that inclusion can fail other children too? The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that we need to be aware of the importance of children who are gifted. There is a growing incidence of children with attention deficit disorders, dyspraxia and autism disrupting the classes for other pupils. Parents of mainstream children are obviously anxious when this occurs.

I am worried that although there is a significant and important debate relating to SEN to be had, we must not neglect another category that has special needs. The children to whom I have just referred are brilliant and academically talented pupils who, I fear, are not stretched to their abilities. What are the Government's plans to increase support and opportunities for those children?

I am sure that Members of this House would like to hear about the current status of the application of the Government's strategy to Northern Ireland. Now that there is no devolved government, it is our responsibility to ensure that the same facilities extend to parents and children with similar problems in Northern Ireland.

A good well-rounded grounding can be established only by high quality education for all abilities of pupil at an early age through to A-level. That is so necessary, especially for those with SEN. Only that will help to remove barriers and prepare them for life with its ups and downs. It is their basic right in a civilised society and our duty of care to provide.

6.18 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for this debate. I confess that I was sad that we did not have the opportunity to have a Statement, but I am delighted to have this debate. I pay tribute to my noble friend for her work as co-chair of the all-party group for children and her work as a governor.

I was flattered by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I recognise what he was saying about abandoning ambition. I have no problem about doing that for myself, but I will not do it for children. I am glad, too, that I perhaps gave him a good reason for there to be another Labour Government.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I am always sorry if I disappoint her. I hope to rekindle the fire of enthusiasm. Sometimes ideas formed 30 years ago need to find their time. I have no problem if some of our work has strong or faint echoes of the work done by the noble Baroness, which was important, lasting and critical.

There is so much to agree with on what the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said. Of course we are humbled by the knowledge and understanding brought by parents of children with special educational needs and/or disabilities. That is the reality of life and it is our duty to respond to it.

My noble friend Lord Davies of Coity described the Royal School for the Deaf in Manchester. I have not had the privilege of visiting that school. Perhaps that can be rectified. He pointed to an important issue in the debate about how our special schools are working increasingly with children who have more complex needs as children survive longer, as medical science advances and so on. The message from our special schools that I have heard loud and clear is that although they may all have the same number of children to work with, the complexity of needs has certainly grown.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, spoke with great authority as a former teacher and with a continuing involvement with the City Technology College. She gave a very good description of what we have described in the strategy as the good day-to-day practice with enthusiasm regarding what is happening in that setting and exactly what we want to do. For example, she described the mentoring scheme. Those are exactly the kinds of practice we want to spread around.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, predictably in a positive sense reminded us yet again of children in public care. This critical group of vulnerable children, many of whom have special educational needs and most of whom have suffered and need to be in care because of that suffering. I agree with everything the noble Earl said. The group is important in relation to the Green Paper and the strategy. As we speak, a great deal is going on in the department. I shall be pleased to talk about it to the noble Earl as time goes on.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Puttnam for his kind words. He has an extensive knowledge—as he rightly pointed out—of our schools and teachers. He has been a strong advocate of support for the teachers and classroom assistants we have been privileged to have in this country. My noble friend made the point that inclusion benefits everyone. If we have one message within this document, it is that it is not a do-gooding strategy, it is about a recognition that done properly and done well—and I will come on to define what I mean by inclusion, because it is not about the setting—all children actually benefit. That is the critical part of it.

My visits around the country too are littered with examples of the kind of enrichment that the noble Lord spoke about in terms of the support that this gives to children who do not have special educational needs and the benefits that they get from working alongside their colleagues who happen to have a special educational need or a disability.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for her support. The noble Baroness made clear points on personalised learning. She gave an important example of the meeting she attended about children with dyslexia. Children with special educational needs can and do succeed. We should never assume otherwise. They fit into the full range of ability of all children. That is the critical point to remember.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing—who I know is not very well today, so I am particularly pleased to see him—focused me, as he always does, on getting the job done. It is critical. He knows all about that. I am not sure whether I would agree with an annual report, but I do accept, and would be more than willing, to come to your Lordships' House at any time to talk about progress. Perhaps I will leave that in the noble Lord's capable hands.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, told me that she thought the paper was not a strategy. I am perfectly happy to call it whatever she likes; I am not prepared to shred the document, for obvious reasons. But the noble Baroness made, as always, important points, especially—and we will come on to this—in relation to children's trusts and the role of schools in terms of their critical focus. More generally I will say that I am looking at admissions and exclusions for children with special educational needs. I have commissioned a piece of research which reports in September, and I am committed to acting on its findings. I want to get underneath what is often anecdotal, but clearly very important, information and evidence to understand precisely what is happening.

It is lovely to see the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. I know she will not mind if I refer to the fact that these issues are very dear to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am very sorry that she is not here tonight. I, for one, would wish to know her views on this strategy. She has been a strong advocate of this area of work. I have her very much in my mind when I think about what I am doing in this area. I hope that she will have a chance to read the strategy and perhaps I will have a chance to discuss it with her.

However, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised some important issues. I say straight away that I shall be in discussion with health colleagues and will need to write to her about some very important issues she raised about low-weight babies because I do not have an answer tonight. Equally, on the points about Northern Ireland, I shall be in discussion and will make sure that I write to her.

Noble Lords raised the point that in fact we started the debate, in a sense, in January 2003 when the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, raised the whole question of a strategic review of special education needs. At the time, the Audit Commission had just published its report, to which noble Lords have referred. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, too many children are waiting to have their needs met; some children who should and could be taught in mainstream settings are turned away and too many staff feel ill-equipped to be able effectively to support children; many special schools feel uncertain of their future roles and many parents feel that they face an either/or choice in the school that their child attends—that is, either a mainstream or special school—and too many unacceptable variations in the level of support available from the school, local authority or local health service.

In a sense I describe that as a backdrop of lack of confidence—a lack of confidence by parents in what their children would get; a lack of confidence by schools that they could address the needs effectively; and a lack of confidence sometimes in our local authorities to know exactly what our strategy was and to be able to address the needs effectively.

So, within this document—whatever we describe it as—I have used the watchword with the people who have been good enough to write it—and they have been very good at writing it—to say that it must address the issue of confidence. I decided very deliberately to go down that route rather than going for a fundamental review. I think that a fundamental review simply will raise all those fears and concerns again and again and we shall spend too much time trying to address those issues rather than getting on with the job.

I hope that as we progress this work—as we get into the "doing" phase of it we shall be able to debate some of the issues more effectively because there will be more confidence in the system. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that when she talks about inclusion sometimes failing other children, we have to be very clear that the inclusion means that every child is appropriately educated in a setting. It is quite possible for a child to be excluded in a mainstream setting by being at the back of the class, ignored, bullied or whatever.

It is also true that some children with special educational needs would feel more included in a mainstream setting. I think that inclusion is what happens to you as a young child or person in the world in which you live. It is not about saying, "That means you always have to be educated here"—for the reasons I have given. That is an absolutely fundamental principle, on which I think all noble Lords would agree.

I am not prepared, and I know that other noble Lords feel even more strongly about this, to see us waste the potential of some of our children because we have not yet found the ways of taking away all the barriers that get in the way of learning. We cannot afford to waste some fantastic good practice that goes on in schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, and my noble friend Lord Puttnam referred to that. Our early years settings, our local authorities and the voluntary sector have an enormous contribution to make in this area.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the strategy is about wanting every single school with children with special educational needs to be successful. If one in six or one in five of our children have a special educational need, every school must have children within it who have a special education need and/or a disability. Therefore, our plan should be to make sure that every school is capable of effectively addressing their needs.

The strategy is also meant to provide a bit of national leadership. That became very clear in our deliberations and discussions with schools, teachers, young people and parents. They wanted us to say what it was that we wanted to do. I hope that noble Lords when they study the document more carefully will see that it is about that. As I have said, it is about wherever children are educated feeling that they are able to be given a high-quality education to get them ready for adult life.

But I accept that that is one of the most challenging areas of public policy, particularly for local services. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that improving provision and sustaining improvements is not about a quick fix. It is very important and I do not pretend for one moment that we either can achieve this with a quick fix or that the Government have all the answers.

I want to focus on the role of special schools that I began to talk about. As I have said already, special schools increasingly tell us that the children with whom they are working have more complex needs. It is my suggestion that as time goes on those children will continue to be educated in special schools, but that increasing numbers of children will be able to be educated in mainstream schools as we get better at the provision, supporting teachers, providing resources and so on.

True inclusion, as I have said, is not about setting. I am very wedded to the concept of "both/and" and not "either/or". It is possible for children to move across these settings. It is also possible—dare I say it —for teachers to move across these settings. It should be recognised that if a good special school is educating some of its children there, it is a fantastic resource that we need to release to support children in the mainstream setting. It is also true that some children with special needs are in mainstream schools, and others with similar needs are in special schools. We need to give flexibility.

There are fantastic examples around the country of children from special schools being educated in whole or in part on mainstream sites. They have the opportunity to be included, to mingle, learn, grow and develop alongside their colleagues and they are getting the intensive educational work that they need at a level appropriate to their needs. There are good examples of co-location and good examples of all these issues being taken forward.

Noble Lords have pointed to the four areas on which we have focused. There was the greatest endorsement for early intervention. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for her tribute to the importance of early years, to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who is a great supporter of the work of Sure Start and of all of our early years work, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, who described it as the key. I agree with her.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, wants a one-stop shop. I agree with her. Part of the thrust of the work that we are doing with the Green Paper and with the Children Bill is to try to develop that. In the Early Support pilot programme we are giving parents information about what they should expect from the services and trying to help them to get integrated support, with one assessment that addresses their needs for education, health and social care.

It is also important to address the issues of childcare for parents and children with special educational needs. I know that noble Lords feel very strongly about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke about getting research right and the national early intervention centre of excellence is a good example of that.

We intend to cut bureaucracy on special educational needs. It is an aim in the document and I am wedded to it. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, in particular will agree that it is very important.

It is my view that if early intervention is right and the work in schools is being done effectively, the numbers of statements will drop because parents will not feel that they need to get a statement. We recognise that statements are very important and will continue to be important for children with complex needs. But if resources in schools are right and there is appropriate early intervention and identification then, as I have said many times in your Lordships' House, children should arrive at school with their needs addressed, ready, willing and able to be part of the school community, whatever the setting. We must get beyond the idea that in order to get needs addressed there must be a period of failure. This is too often the system at the moment and it is something that we cannot have any more.

Removing barriers to learning is also critical. We need to ensure that the learning environment is right for those children. That is particularly important, not least when it comes to the transfer from primary to secondary school. I think that is the most scary part, not just for children with special educational needs but, as noble Lords have said, for all children. But it is particularly scary for children with special educational needs. When the transfer is done well, it is fantastic. When special educational needs co-ordinators work well together, children transfer happily. But there is the fear, which is very much a parental fear, of the big, noisy "big school" with large people in it who might bully or put off the child. In really good examples that I have seen those big people become the biggest advocates of support for children with special educational needs. It takes leadership and a feeling that the children are really wanted in the school. It is an ethos issue that many schools have addressed. It is very important.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, that it is completely unacceptable that the reason that any child is in a special school is because he was bullied. It is completely acceptable that he is there because it is the best setting, but it is totally unacceptable that it is because of such a horror that he ends up there. It is something from which we must move away.

In the inclusion development programme we shall focus on some of the areas which many noble Lords have referred to, including children who are on the autistic spectrum or who have behavioural and emotional problems. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, in particular spoke about the challenge of children with very challenging behaviour. It is an important issue. We have a number of children in residential schools or referral units and many of them are there because of family problems that create those kinds of behaviours. We must address this. It is critically important.

We must also raise expectations. That is important. Children with special needs are perfectly capable across the spectrum of educational attainment. We must improve the skills of our teachers and other staff. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, paid tribute in particular to our teachers and classroom assistants and I know that every noble Lord shares their view. It is important that we give them help. We are working with the Teacher Training Agency on what happens in training, in the induction year and in continuous professional development. It will not work if teachers do not feel confident or if we do not train high quality support staff who can work with these children. But it will work if we do. Where schools do train, it works extremely well.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, personalised learning is important. It is at the heart of all of this. It is the individual opportunity. This is as true for gifted and talented children as for children who may not achieve on the higher end of the spectrum, and for every other child. If we can get that right as a whole then we start to have one education system addressing the needs of all children.

My noble friend Lady Massey also spoke about the issues of self-evaluation, good practice and, of course, about performance tables. I have never and will never apologise for wanting to give information to parents but I agree, and I think that I said this in the Economist article and have said it all over the country, that we must get smarter at what information we give. We must recognise schools for their achievements with all their pupils and recognise the quality of life of all their pupils where inclusion is done effectively. It does not mean that other children get pulled back or left behind; it means that everybody gets a good education. We must get good at that and make schools feel confident that inclusion does not mean that they will get many more special needs children and that parents who have children who do not have special needs will reject them. It is about confidence, as I described earlier. It is interesting that the school that came top of the value-added performance league tables was a special school.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, spoke about the 14 to 19 strategy. It is important that we think about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, also described the relevance and importance of that. The 14 to 19 strategy is about making sure that as many of our young people as possible are able to stay in education. It is important that we see special needs embedded in that. I know that Mike Tomlinson is very keen to do that.

I want to take a second to talk about the Transco CRED project because I played a very small role in the development of that project. I know what a fantastic job it has done in supporting children in danger of exclusion and is a real success. I think it is still has a 100 per cent record on year three or four.

Partnership is critical. How do we develop our services, our children's trusts, our different services coming together to be a friend for the child? It is a real challenge not just here, but in the Green Paper and in the Children Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, again raised child and adolescent mental health services. They are critical players. What they are able to achieve in schools is very important.

I say to my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity that it is interesting how half a sentence provokes a response. One of the issues in this area of policy is that it is very emotive. People look in a document and see something that makes them worry. It is important that schools have the resources but I accept that it is expensive to look after children with complex needs. We should do so; I have no difficulty with that.

I want look at where our schools are positioned geographically. Some parents have no option but a residential place and would prefer not to be in that position. As we look across the map of special school provision we need to consider that and make sure that the best is not the enemy of the good.

Looking at making schools the centre, the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and at extended schools, it is true that teachers are not social workers, but sometimes they feel as if they are. We must make sure that we put them in a position where they can call on expertise, whether in health, social care, social services or whatever, rather than feel that they are constantly trying to find a way to address these matters. Schools want to be at the focal point of their communities and want to be able to get those services working closely with them.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we fund much research and I should be delighted to discuss with him the issues that he raised. I have gone over my time for which I apologise. The noble Baronesses, Lady Brigstocke and Lady Linklater, referred to fragile parents. I take on board what they say about the strategy not addressing those parents. The parent partnerships we have funded are a critical part of that matter. It is absolutely crucial that parents feel that a measure will work for their child.

I pay tribute to Home-Start. I declare an interest as a friend of St Albans Home-Start. The Green Paper suggests that we have a Home-Start style operation in every community. We shall come to that. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the education that we are discussing is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. There will be attainment targets for all children but, interestingly, we shall for the first time know where our children with special needs and disabilities are situated as we are collecting data on all our children that will enable us to develop a better approach for them and ensure that they get the highest possible attainment. I do not support the idea of a separate agency. The system works well now; we just have to ensure that we work better.

I recognise that we need resources. I decided to design a plan that did not rely on resources and crumble without them—we allocate £3.5 billion to special needs—but made them work better. However, that does not mean that I shall not seek more resources in the spending review.

I again offer my grateful thanks to my noble friend Lady Massey. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said, I want to ensure that no child drowns at the back of the class.

6.41 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I said at the beginning that this would be a fascinating debate and it has exceeded all expectations. I am always struck by the knowledge and concern of your Lordships for children. This debate has reflected that. All speakers have expressed passion, commitment to children and to the needs of teachers and parents.

Yes, there is much fragility but there is also—and I am glad to hear it—much optimism. We discussed research, definitions, transitions and collaboration between agencies. We have heard several moving examples of good practice in schools.

I congratulate the Minister not just on her galloping but comprehensive response tonight but also on her involvement in the report and most of all on her continued dedication to the needs of all children. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.