HC Deb 14 September 2004 vol 424 cc371-93WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.[Vernon Coaker.]

9.30 am
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)

Recently, the Down's Syndrome Association published a report entitled "Access to Education: a Report on the Barriers to Education for Children with Down's Syndrome". I want to draw it to the attention of the House and the Minister. We launched the report in Parliament on 26 May this year, and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), kindly attended that launch. I am pleased to see in the Chamber my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, who also has responsibility for young people. I look forward to her response to what I say.

During this year's Down's syndrome awareness week, the education support pack for special schools was launched. It was produced, with the support of the Department for Education and Skills, in the wake of the DSA's education support pack for mainstream schools, which in 2003 won the "Books for Learning and Teaching" award, given by the National Association for Special Education Needs and The Times Educational Supplement, at the NASEN annual conference.

Two babies are born with Down's syndrome every day in the United Kingdom; that is roughly one in every 1,000 births. Today, there are 60,000 people in the UK with the condition, which is caused by an extra chromosome in a baby's cells. People with the syndrome have varying degrees of learning difficulty. I know some Down's syndrome people who have quite exceptional skills, for example in drama and music. At the other end of the spectrum, there are Down's syndrome children who will never cope with mainstream education, and who need a special school.

The DSA is the main UK charity carrying out initiatives to improve the life of people with Down's syndrome. It was originally set up as a parent-led organisation in 1970 to provide advice to its members, but it now also campaigns on behalf of people with Down's syndrome. I am pleased to say that it has moved from its previous headquarters at 155, Mitcham road to Dr. Langdon Down's house, where he carried out all his research. That is now known as the Langdon Down centre, and is in Langdon park, near Teddington. I look forward to visiting that fine, listed building in the not-too-distant future.

Over the past 50 years there has been a dramatic improvement in the life expectancy of people with Down's syndrome, and today that is beyond the age of 60, which is good news. However, that has brought its own problems. The DSA is challenging health and care professionals to stop discriminating against the 40 per cent. of people with Down's syndrome who develop Alzheimer's disease later in life. That is a debate for another day; suffice it to say that dementia presents itself much earlier in people with Down's syndrome. The DSA has a network of regional development officers, who are available to provide bespoke training on Down's syndrome and related matters such as dementia to groups of health and care professionals and others.

In 1999, the DSA produced a report entitled "He'll Never Join the Army" on access to the NHS for people with Down's syndrome. That report, too, was highlighted in the House, and I tabled early-day motions and parliamentary questions and arranged Adjournment debates and even a meeting with a Health Minister on the subject. Those with Down's syndrome were experiencing considerable discrimination in the NHS at the time. I am pleased to say that the culture in the NHS is slowly changing, and that is helped by awareness training in medical schools on people with Down's syndrome. However, the "Health Alert" campaign continues. At the moment, its focus is on the ageing of Down's syndrome people and, of course, dementia.

I seem to have become one of the unofficial spokespersons in this place for people with Down's syndrome—a role that has given me a lot of satisfaction. I have worked closely with the DSA since 1997. When I was elected to Parliament in that year, I was persuaded to campaign on behalf of people with Down's syndrome by one of my local Labour party members, Flo McBrien, who lives in Farnworth in my constituency—her daughter, Shelley, now in her 20s, was being discriminated against by the NHS—and by others, including Joanne Harris of Shrewsbury, whose parents and friends were raising money to send Jo to the USA for a heart-lung transplant operation. Right hon. and hon. Members may know that Joanne Harris was the young woman who received the first cheque when the winner of the first "Big Brother" programme came out of the house. She got a lot of publicity a few years ago at that time.

Down's syndrome is the most common form of single learning disability in this country. There are approximately 16,000 school-aged children who have the syndrome in the UK. It is important that they receive the appropriate level of support and training to ensure that they are able to have the highest possible quality of life.

A welcome move away from institutional care to semi-independent living for many Down's syndrome adults has highlighted the need for better training and education. In March, the DSA undertook a survey of 5,500 of its parent members with children aged between two and 19. It asked about their experiences of the British education system, and 1,500 of those invited to respond returned their survey forms. The survey covered both mainstream and special schools and collected evidence from all 120 postcode areas in the UK, thereby giving the fullest representation. I will deal with each of the major concerns in turn.

It is essential that Down's syndrome children's needs are assessed as early as possible. The vast majority of children with the syndrome are receiving a statement of their special educational needs from the local education authority, although one in three parents found that to be a very tedious process. Many of the statements were considered unacceptable at first drafting and needed amending. Seven per cent. of parents encountered difficulties in getting their preferred school named in the child's statement. One family reported that The named school refused to accept our child unless full-time adult support was included in the statement. We appealed to a tribunal to get this but the LEA gave in a week before the tribunal hearing. Obviously, that led to a lot of stress for the parents.

Another parent responded: The statement is tailored to resources". Yet another stated: The statement was in place at the start of school but most of the items detailed did not happen until a term and a half, after a lot of discussion with the professionals.

Parents' comments received by the DSA showed that the statementing process can be unnecessarily protracted, causing avoidable stress and creating additional problems with provision at school. Although improvements have been made in that process, more needs to be done to make it simpler and easier for parents to follow. The DSA believes that efforts should be made by all LEAs to get the statements right at the first draft.

An important part of education for children with special educational needs is the amount of contact time with adult support workers—for example, in the classroom. Sixty-one per cent. of parents who took part in the DSA survey said that their child received 21 to 35 hours of support a week, although only 43 per cent. had that specified in the statement. Although 69 per cent. rated the work of the adult support workers as either excellent or very good, many were concerned about the level of training that the support workers had undertaken. One parent commented: I feel that the job of learning support assistant is a specialised position and yet the person is paid the minimum wage and expected to be dedicated and trained … it is very difficult to get dedicated staff under these circumstances. Another parent reported: The Headteacher does not allow us as parents to have the names or access to any of our son's support staff". Yet another one said:

The one to one helper is very good, but … if she is ill then he cannot attend nursery because there is no cover". The DSA is concerned that statements do not always give a clear enough indication of a child's level of need for adult support. In the short term, the DSA recommends that specialist training and information should be offered to teachers and support staff throughout the UK. In the longer term, the DSA believes that a nationally recognised qualification, with a dedicated unit on the specific learning profile of children with Down's syndrome, would resolve many of the issues surrounding learning support assistants.

Speech and language therapy can play a vital role in the development of children with Down's syndrome, although unfortunately that form of therapy is not as widely available as some would like. The service tends to fall in the gap between health and education provision. Most parents participating in the survey reported that a specified amount of speech and language therapy had not been included in their child's statement. Sixty-six per cent. of parents felt that the state provision of therapy did not meet their child's needs, and 35 per cent. felt that the quality of therapy delivered was poor.

The comments of many parents reflect the fact that they have to battle to get the therapy for their children, with long waits and poor service being the main problems. One parent commented: I am still fighting for my daughter to receive speech and language therapy as she is desperate for it. She has received one 30-minute session in three years. Another parent told the DSA that the speech therapist had advised that, in her opinion, it is not, and would not be, prudent to teach speech production to their child as what came out of their daughter's mouth was a reflection of what she had in her brain—namely, not a lot.

The DSA feels that the provision of speech and language therapy falls far short of the needs of children with Down's syndrome. There should be a steep improvement in the quality of service, with an obligation for LEAs to buy in provision from the private sector, if necessary. One of the problems is a shortage of therapists, which the Government need to address fairly urgently.

On Down's syndrome children's pre-school provision, most children—about 80 per cent.—appear to be receiving adult support, although a third of parents reported difficulties in obtaining it. Only 58 per cent. of parents had applied for a statement of their child's pre-school special educational needs; 25 per cent. had not applied; and 13.5 per cent. had been told that a statement was not necessary at that level of education. Only 42 per cent. of initial statements for that age group specified the amount of support and therapy required by the child. Many parents were unsure of whether statements are appropriate or even applicable for children of that age. Parents of children in that age group need to be correctly informed by the LEA or other agencies of what exactly their Down's syndrome child is entitled to.

The confusion does not seem to be limited just to parents. One submission stated: We were unable to have an LEA nursery place as our child had no statement. The LEA said no statement was needed, the head said otherwise"— total confusion. Another parent reported: We are currently awaiting a proposed statement from the LEA for pre-school support. This whole process has taken eighteen months, despite our insistence on starting the process early in order to avoid delays". To ensure that adequate support is available from the beginning of a Down's syndrome child's life, LEAs should make a commitment to begin the statementing process as soon as the child enters pre-school provision. Also, parents should be encouraged to request a statement during or prior to pre-school provision, and should not have to wait until their child receives such provision. Would it not be a good idea if all the agencies came together and prepared a booklet to guide the parents of a Down's syndrome child from the minute that the child is born in all matters—health, education or otherwise—that affect their child?

I turn to post-16 education and transition planning for those with Down's syndrome. It is important to remember that education for people with Down's syndrome—as with any other adult—should not be forced to end when they reach the age of 16. They are as entitled as any other student to continue their education, and it is important that support at the further education level is also in place. That is one of the most difficult areas across the education spectrum. Parents responding to that section of the DSA survey were carers of young people with Down's syndrome in the 15 to 19 age group. Some 17 per cent. of parents of that age group were not offered a transition planning meeting, and, of those who had had such a meeting with their LEA, only 69 per cent. were offered a meeting in the presence of the young person being talked about.

Provision of information prior to the meetings was poor; few options were presented by the LEA for consideration. Some 31.5 per cent. of parents were given no opportunity to comment on the draft plan for their young adult, and 28 per cent. of parents did not even receive a copy of the transition plan at any stage—prior, during or after the meeting. Some parents reported very welcome news of support and inclusion, but others mentioned problems: a lack of contact with the Connexions service in their area and a lack of support and understanding at further education establishments in general. One parent reported: Sixteen years of inclusive mainstream experience was disregarded by an archaic college system which segregates my son with others with learning difficulties, literally in the farthest corner of the building, away from mainstream typical students. Another parent said: No review was conducted at sixteen when he left school. No information about college or training was provided over the last four years. There has been no contact with the Connexions service; they are useless. I should add that the Connexions service is still bedding down; I see that in my own town of Bolton. Perhaps the service will get better; I hope so. The DSA believes that the range of alternative accreditation schemes in further education is not well used, and that that denies many students with Down's syndrome the wherewithal to measure their achievements. Further education establishments are less likely to be inclusive and integrated than any of the other educational establishments that I have mentioned: that needs attention. Employment and work-placement schemes for young people with Down's syndrome are also under-represented; that also needs attention.

Mainstream schools receive an extra £4,000 to £8,000 for most children with statements, in addition to the £2,800 received by primary schools or the £3,400 received by secondary schools to educate each pupil. Overall, 80 per cent. of parents are satisfied with their children's placement, and 68 per cent. reported that they had not faced a significant struggle to get their child into the facility of their choice. Fortunately, those figures are quite high.

Disturbingly, one in three parents felt that they had encountered prejudice or discrimination, including from other parents or carers. More than half of parents had encountered a lack of specialist knowledge and skills among teaching professionals. Some 11.6 per cent. of parents would prefer a special unit that is integrated into a mainstream school. I therefore welcome steps taken by Bolton LEA three years ago to co-locate Rumworth school as a special unit with the 11 to 16 Ladybridge secondary school. That has allowed children with Down's syndrome to receive the support that they require from dedicated adult helpers and to integrate with mainstream pupils wherever and whenever they can.

Bolton is developing a similar provision for all children of primary school age with special needs, including those with Down's syndrome. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Greenfold special school in Farnworth. On the day of my visit, a large number of the children were spending time in a local primary school; that was a regular occurrence. The plan is to attach special units to primary schools, for the better integration of all Bolton children with special needs and other children of the same age.

Parents across the UK who have experience of special units that are integrated into secondary schools have welcomed the results. One parent responding to the DSA survey commented: My daughter attends a special unit within a mainstream school. She is very happy and well adjusted and is equally happy when mixing with her friends in the unit and also in the mainstream part of the school. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will give careful consideration to that way of integrating children with special needs, including those with Down's syndrome, into mainstream schools, while ensuring that they do not miss out on the adult support that is so vital for their development. The Bolton LEA reminded me that resources for special educational needs have doubled during the past decade and that some 90 per cent. of funds now go directly to the schools.

In summary, children with special educational needs such as those with Down's syndrome benefit significantly from good mainstream educational placements. Their gains in speech, language and literacy put them several years ahead of those in special schools. I am proud of the progress that this Government have made in meeting the needs of all people with learning difficulties, including those with Down's syndrome, but there is much more to do. I hope that we can all work together across the political divides to do it.

I am pleased to have had this opportunity to draw the Minister's attention to the important report of the Down's Syndrome Association, and I look forward to her response. Perhaps she would be willing to meet officers of the Down's Syndrome Association and me in the near future to discuss the contents of that excellent report in far more detail than is possible this morning.

Finally, I draw the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to early-day motion 1278 on the report and its contents, which I tabled on 25 May. I am pleased that so far 119 parliamentary colleagues have signed it, and I urge all others who can do so to sign it before the end of the Session. I look forward to my right hon. Friend's response once other Members have made their contributions.

9.52 am
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

This morning, we see this Chamber at its very best: caring, compassionate and trying to help people in society to fulfil their potential. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who is a friend of mine. He is right to bring this important debate to the House and to praise the Down's Syndrome Association for its excellent report. I do not recall exactly but would guess that mine was one of the first signatures to his early-day motion.

I shall make a short speech and discuss the need for common sense. There is no political edge to what I have to say. I thank the Government for continuing to increase resources for care for special needs pupils. Generally, the Government are moving in the right direction, but I shall make some suggestions about balance in the inclusivity that they are pushing.

I praise our special schools. I have been the chairman and a governor of a special school. Such schools are a great joy. I often find that it is much nicer to go to them than to ordinary schools, and the best schools in my constituency are the special schools, which have special, very caring staff. The schools are sustained by wonderful groups of volunteers who help in many ways, whether that be through fundraising, organising social events or just helping children by listening to them, reading and so on.

Perhaps my most important point this morning is a cry on behalf of the moderate learning difficulties schools, which seem to be squeezed between the severe learning difficulties schools, which must be provided and do a wonderful job, and inclusivity in the mainstream. The MLD schools felt that they were being squeezed out somewhat. Heaped on to that, they were starting to be used as a place for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Such children were not really suited to a special school environment but could not easily be placed anywhere else, so it became a soft option to stick them in the MLD school. In some cases, that began to change the nature of those schools. Staff time began to be spent on dealing with emotional and behavioural difficulties rather than with the slightly different difficulties of straightforward special needs children, and the change caused disruption and distress to special needs children who suddenly saw different faces in their school. We must be careful not to put too many inappropriate EBD children into moderate learning difficulties schools.

Essex has several—four, five or six—moderate learning difficulties schools. The one in my constituency is Cedar Hall. It is a wonderful school; it does a fantastic job. I want it to go from strength to strength. I want it to be there to provide choice for parents, because some parents want their children to go into the mainstream and others think that their children are better off in such a special environment—I think in particular of Down's syndrome children. Parents often know best. They deserve a choice in education; that is my policy, as the Minister knows. For there to be a choice, there must be options. We need to ensure that we keep moderate learning difficulties schools. They must be available, and we must not disrupt them by putting emotional and behavioural difficulties children into them.

There is nothing wrong with inclusion; it is a great thing. Cedar Hall does what the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East was talking about: it has outreach into a mainstream school where it has some special classes. Its children go into the mainstream school sometimes for a Friday morning, and at other times for the whole day. Those who benefit most from that are probably the mainstream children, who learn to understand the range of physical and mental abilities among people. Therefore, there is a payback for both sides, and I very much welcome that.

The arrangement works extremely well in Castle Point. Cedar Hall goes into King John school, and The Deanes school—a boarding school—does sporting activities in the special school. It sends its physical education master to that special school to give its football team some rigour and discipline. That is fantastic; I want there to be much more of that.

I share some of the concerns of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East on the statementing process. It is too long, it is too expensive, it starts too late, and it is a little hidebound by too much political correctness and too little common sense. I want it to be more flexible. I want it to be used as an instrument to benefit the child rather than to protect the professionals. I do not want the defensive approach that has crept into it in the past decade to continue; I want that to be relaxed.

I turn to the issue of speech therapy. When I go back to Keighley where I was born, they say, "Bobby, here, couldn't speak until he was 10—hasn't stopped since." I did not speak at all until I was six, and I went to speech therapy until I was 10 or 12. I left not because I had learned how to speak—as hon. Members know, I am not very good at that—but because it became too embarrassing for me to sit at the desk as a big boy with all the other little boys and to be given a sweet. They say that when they mended me they wished that they had put a switch in.

Speech therapy is very important. It is much more important to send kids from school with the ability to speak and communicate than it is with the ability to read and write. If somebody cannot read and write, they will get by and have a reasonable quality of life; they might get cheated or short-changed occasionally in shops, although they probably will not. However, if someone cannot talk—if they cannot make themselves understood because they cannot enunciate correctly—people will not understand them, and that becomes very embarrassing for both sides and people will turn away and avoid them. That truly affects quality of life and ability to perform in society. It is most important to put money into speech therapy, because sufferers will not be able to move forward until they can speak properly and make themselves understood. I want more effort put into speech therapy.

Speech therapy was withdrawn from Cedar Hall school for about three or four months from January 2003. I kicked up a stink and raised questions in the House, and now speech therapy has returned and there is better provision in that school. Cedar Hall had to divert some of its own money to pay for that, and it was right to do so because speech therapy is a great priority, but it should not have had to do so. So, like the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East, I ask the Minister to consider the issue of speech therapy carefully.

I want briefly to advertise Business Opportunities for the Physically Handicapped, which is in Canvey Island. I am going there at noon on Friday to meet Joan Lithcoe, who set up the establishment in 1993–94. Her family includes a special needs child. She set up BOPH to provide opportunities in business for people with special needs. It works extremely well and pulls together our community. Everybody loves a place on Canvey; everybody knows that 17 or 20 children, young adults and older adults go there. We know what a great joy it is for them to do something useful and get a small wage.

However, there are funding issues. It would cost much more to take those people out of BOPH and put them in county council-run day centres—it would cost society a fortune—yet the council cannot help by providing a few pounds a week of pump-priming funding to help support the young adults and adults in that establishment. We need some common sense and balance in supporting, funding and making sure that places such as BOPH can continue to provide more work and social opportunities for people with Down's syndrome and others with special needs.

I will hang my next comments on the term "education for life" because otherwise you may call me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that, in a way, youth clubs provide education. For someone with Down's syndrome at least they provide education in social graces, contact with other people and speech, game-playing-building confidence by giving someone a place to go rather than sitting at home in front of the box.

An arbitrary rule has been brought in that hoiks people out of youth clubs at 25 years old. Someone with special needs, such as a Down's syndrome person who has gone to a youth club all their life and for whom it is part of their life and family and who does not understand the wider picture, is told, "Sorry, you've reached 25. You can't go any more." No questions are asked about whether it is appropriate for the person to go to the club. It would not be appropriate for some people at 20 years old, but for others it might be appropriate and right at the age of 35. There is no common sense, just an arbitrary line drawn at 25. They are told, "You will lose a part of your life." We cannot do that to vulnerable people in our society. The rule is a politically correct response, but the matter requires simple common sense. I ask the Minister to consider that policy. I have raised the issue in the House before, and I will raise it again because I think that it is nonsense.

I thank hon. Members for listening to my points. I hope that they did not find them too idiosyncratic. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me.

10.4 am

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on introducing a debate on such an important topic. He has an excellent record at supporting issues such as this. As I understand it, the education of children with Down's syndrome is covered by education law and is not distinguished from the education of children with special educational needs. The Minister can correct me if that is not true. That is a sound basis, because it means that all children's special educational needs are individual and that each child should be treated in a way that ensures the best provision to develop their talents.

I have a special interest in education for children with disabilities as my two youngest grandchildren—they are brothers aged eight and four—both have a rare neuromuscular disorder and exceptionally complex educational needs. I know from personal experience that the laudable aims that I have described are not put into practice universally. Sadly, some children still come up against discrimination not from other children but from local education authorities, which for whatever reason are not providing equality of opportunity to equal access.

Having witnessed at first hand my daughter's struggle to obtain suitable education support for my grandsons and the difficulties that she has encountered in her dealings with the local educational authority, I certainly have sympathy and a soft spot for all parents of children with special educational needs, who must provide care and support. They face the added difficulties of finding out what the law says on such issues, finding the time to attend numerous hospital appointments, clinics and meetings, and finding the courage and confidence to speak out and demand the same rights that other children receive in education.

My daughter is a qualified educational psychologist, so she understands the statementing of children, the process, the appeals procedures and tribunals. At such tribunals, she has represented others in similar circumstances to herself. Officialdom always tells us what we cannot do, and very seldom explains how to achieve something. Looking round the Chamber, I see a few nods, because we have all received negative letters as a result of the bureaucratic system.

In my family's circumstances, the request was for a chair lift to ease the mobility of my grandson at school. The decision that was taken, after going through the whole process, including tribunal and appeals, was to move him to a school several miles away on the other side of the city, which put another hour and a half to two hours on his day's travelling. The cost of that was six times the amount that it would have cost to install a chair lift. The travelling involved and the support that he needs getting to and from school was extremely costly. Anyhow, the decision was taken and my daughter's family had to move house.

Parents have to advise schools and doctors. No one knows more about children than their parents, who find themselves in a serious situation. They have to advise all professionals on best practice and often have to engage the local education authority in a battle to obtain a full and supportive education that will give their children the opportunity that all parents want for their children: the right to an environment to develop their skills and talents to the full. Too many parents have to attend tribunals in order to obtain the education that their child needs.

Discrimination exists not only in schools but in many playgroups, nurseries, after-school clubs and holiday play schemes, which are restrictive and discriminatory in their admissions. Sometimes, the only holiday schemes that take children with special needs are those catering only for children with complex and exceptional requirements. That is perhaps because they are anxious about their responsibilities and their ability to meet those exceptional needs, and they may not have the skills and resources to meet the level of support that some individuals require.

Another problem is that education authorities, in order to meet their legal requirements, sometimes designate certain schools to provide for children with specific needs. In my experience, however, that deprives children of access to schools in their locality. Even when schools are willing to accept the children, the local authority can override that and make provision in another area where it has designated provision. Often, that designation is based purely on cost. For example, schools that need little adjustment and therefore less expenditure are often chosen, with little regard to the locality of the children, who then have to travel a considerable distance to school. That means that such pupils have a longer school day and a longer school journey than others. That was our experience. Such designations also mean that parents are excluded from the local community, as they have little contact with local parents. I believe that all parents and children should be given the same opportunity to choose a school in their locality.

Local education authorities need to be open about what they are doing with their special educational needs budgets. Schools should be open about how their budgets are spent. More accountability to parents is important; parents should be aware of why money is spent in certain areas. Formulae for the allocation of such budgets should be explained to avoid total confusion. At present, LEA support provision seems to be in the hands of officers who do not necessarily meet the relevant parents or children. The system for providing resources often leads to delays in provision and too much bureaucracy. Many professionals, such as teachers and educational psychologists, see the child and the parents and gather information to design an accurate programme, based on the child's strengths, weaknesses and areas of need, and that is sent for a decision by officers. Unfortunately, the officers are driven in some cases by policy based on formula and cost, and the resulting statement fits the policy and not the child. All children with special educational needs deserve a fast, efficient statement, to give them the best possible education. We often receive representations from constituents asking us to speed up that process.

Another form of exclusion exists in the way that services are provided for special educational needs. Medical, social and educational needs are provided for separately, but a seamless approach would surely be more beneficial to all. Why should it be necessary to take time out of school to attend speech therapy? Why can physiotherapy not be provided in school? Why are occupational therapists not working in schools to provide advice on seating, desk arrangements, lifting children and trying out equipment? A multi-agency approach would be of immense benefit to all in the classroom. Teachers and learning support assistants would learn from others; they would feel empowered by their new knowledge and feel less threatened. Children would spend more time in school, and all pupils would be aware of the benefits of such interventions. The practical help readily available on site would mean that more time would be spent on educational tasks.

I realise that I have spent time discussing special educational needs in a general way, but I feel that the same principles underlie education for all. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East about the desperate need for parents of children with Down's syndrome and other disabilities to have as much information as possible, which should be given to them in a clearly understood format. That does not seem to happen at present. That information should be upgraded as the children grow and their differing needs become apparent, and should be made available to schools and other agencies. It should also be explained to all teaching and non-teaching staff and to the children's classmates, to foster empathy and understanding. It is our experience that children learn faster than adults; they always make children with Down's syndrome and other needs feel more comfortable in their environment. The information should be explained in a positive way, emphasising the talents and strengths involved as well as the difficulties.

People often talk about the advantages that inclusion will give pupils with special educational needs, but there is another side to the coin. There are huge benefits for the teachers, parents and pupils of all schools in which the policy is inclusive. Discrimination is based on fear, and daily contact will help to promote the understanding of each individual's strengths and weaknesses.

In my constituency I have the pleasure of knowing a young man with Down's syndrome, who is now in his 30s. He did not go to school with my children, but attended the same youth club, the same church—in which he served as an altar boy—and a gymnastics class in the locality. He learned to ski, and represented the United Kingdom at the Paralympics. He brought back a medal and was rightly proud of his achievement, which was recognised by the local authority. Like many other children in his situation, he received very little provision for further education, which should be extended so that access to education can be lifelong. At present, some areas of provision seem better than others. My friend has a great love of life. He is a karaoke enthusiast, and a very good salsa dancer. His mother, who has worked hard to help him develop his talents, has supported him in all his achievements.

Most parents of children with special needs would like to feel that they have given their children the best opportunity they could to achieve independence. Access to further education and job training is a vital component, but that is not always available. I was glad to hear the Minister for Disabled People stating that the Government want every disabled person to have the chance to play his or her full part in society, and I was glad to hear her commitment to providing support and opportunity for those who want to work. I hope that further education and training for jobs is encouraged, and that employers are made aware of their responsibilities in including those with special needs in their employment recruitment processes.

My friend who has Down's syndrome has made considerable achievements in his life. He deserves the support of society and a change of attitude that recognises his contribution to the local environment and that includes education and other services. He should be treated by service providers with the dignity that he deserves.

10.16 am
Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD)

May I begin with a grovelling apology for having arrived a minute or two late for the debate? I will have to get a better watch.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on initiating the debate, and on all his hard work in Parliament on behalf of Down's syndrome children. I congratulate all Members present on what they have taught me, as I do not claim to be an expert on the subject. Congratulations are also in order to the host of professionals, teachers and parents who, over decades, have significantly improved the education available to Down's syndrome children. Considerable progress has been made, and a lot of innovation and genuine skill has been shown in developing educational resources relevant to Down's syndrome children. I have seen some excellent IT resources recently that emulate what is available under mainstream provision.

Talking of innovation and skill, I should like to mention a project initiated in a special school in my constituency, Merefield school in Southport. A film was made that featured a number of Down's syndrome children. I will happily make that film available to any hon. Member present who wishes to see it. The film was premiered, and the children, who are not normally made a great deal of fuss of, arrived in limousines as the stars of the film, walked on a red carpet and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was not only emotionally good for them but a great learning experience. What impressed me when watching the film and looking at the reaction to it was how much it reinforced the bonds of emotional solidarity and support among those children. It was heartening to see, and not something that one would automatically see in a mainstream school.

Much is now agreed about Down's syndrome education. One crucial aspect agreed on is that learning and progress is a family matter. The relationship between parents and schools is even more critical than it is in a mainstream situation. The support given by parents of Down's syndrome children to their local special school, or to special school provision in general, is exemplary. A second idea that is clearly admitted is that a successful outcome of Down's syndrome education requires an early start, and a very early start if possible, because Down's syndrome children often have hearing problems that are not readily picked up.

Down's syndrome children need intensive early training in order to cope with reading, and need particular training to cope with linguistic structures and the kind of ordinary language expression that other children take for granted. That is crucial if they are to develop an expressive use of language—something that everyone needs if they are to convey and deal with their emotions and relate to the people around them. That is well understood, and I pay tribute again to the various organisations in and beyond the Department for Education and Skills, including voluntary bodies such as the Down's Syndrome Association, that have done an awful lot of work in getting that understood.

A body of research appears to show that the inclusion of Down's syndrome children not only works but is wanted by the great majority of their parents. The improvement of Down's syndrome children in mainstream schools with regard to language, behaviour, reading skills and general academic skills has been well monitored. Equally well monitored is the fact that the existence of Down's syndrome children in a mainstream school is normally good for that school. It is good for mainstream pupils, and Down's syndrome children are often popular in the mainstream school. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East argued that they are not always very well catered for, but they are a net benefit to most schools that manage to absorb them successfully. Inclusion has got to be a good thing, because the long-term outlook for Down's syndrome children is that they must establish a degree of personal independence. They must develop as individuals in their own right rather than he solely in a dependency relationship throughout their life.

However, the one area where the research is a bit greyer concerns the emotional needs of the Down's syndrome child. The Portsmouth research that looked into inclusion versus special school provision established that many of the conversations that began in mainstream education were, unusually for children, possibly initiated by an adult, and that a lot of the peer-group conversation was not personal-related but work-related. Like all children, Down's syndrome children need and wish to talk about their personal life as well as what they are doing at one specific time. I accept—and I think that my party and people in general accept—that there is a genuine case for special schools for the more severe cases. A sensible pragmatic approach must be the right one, and one would hope to see that reflected in whatever statements are made.

There is a case for choice, but choice is inevitably accompanied by the fact that as more people opt for inclusion there will be less demand for special schools. Because the provision of special schools is very expensive and such resources are not easily found, all of us have from time to time been confronted in our constituencies by the spectre, or the occurrence, of the closure of a well loved resource. That means in addition a long journey for many children who previously might have been educated in a more local establishment. That is an agonising problem that cannot easily be solved. The Government have to face up to it on a fairly regular basis, as do local authorities.

The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East mapped out not that dilemma but the problem that inclusion might not be properly, thoroughly or effectively delivered. Inclusion half delivered falls between two stools. I do not disagree with his analysis. He highlighted a number of specific problems to which I hope the Government and the Minister will respond. One is a problem related to statement delay, and another is the shortage of appropriately trained staff, which must be known to everybody present. Other hon. Members have specifically mentioned speech therapists. I cannot remember a decade of the past three when people have not been complaining about a genuine shortage of speech therapists across the educational spectrum.

A new and appreciable problem is coming up on the rails. In some sense it follows from the success of educational provision in the early years. It is the problem of continuing that education and of how the education system for Down's syndrome children connects with Connexions. The hon. Gentleman suggested that it does not connect very well at the moment.

Finally, there is the fact that facilities are not yet up to scratch in mainstream school provision. There is a definite demand in the mainstream for training for dealing with Down's syndrome children. Mainstream schools would like to know better how to do their job. They are not relaxed or indifferent about how their job is done; they recognise that when they take in a Down's syndrome children they are taking on a serious responsibility and they wish to be properly trained so that they can discharge it.

There is much to be done, and as ever there is a shortage of funding. There is also something of a learning curve, as always when educational progress is made. However, I want to finish on an optimistic note. It is an exciting prospect that mainstream school provision and society as a whole is coming to terms not only with the needs of Down's syndrome children but, as anyone who has anything to do with those children will recognise, with the contribution that they can make to the life of society and the school community.

10.25 am
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con)

I add my congratulations to those paid to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this debate—it is a very important subject. His reputation as a champion for the Down's Syndrome Association and for children with Down's syndrome is well deserved.

As expected, this morning's debate has been a consensual one. Members of all parties wish the best possible educational opportunities for children with Down's syndrome. I worked in a special school for many years, and one of the first things that I learned was that it is impossible to generalise about children with special needs—they are all individuals. Children with Down's syndrome demonstrate that well, because they span the spectrum of ability.

Improvements in health care over recent years have increased the life expectancy of people with Down's syndrome. Given that many of them are born towards the end of their mother's child-bearing years, their long-term future after elderly parents predecease them is becoming an increasing problem. It follows that acquiring as much independence as possible prepares them best for adult life and that education is the key to that independence.

The first educational hurdle facing parents is obtaining that essential statement of educational needs as early as possible. There is evidence that some parents, particularly those who are less determined or articulate, experience difficulties in obtaining a statement. We have all had letters from constituents about that. It is as well to realise that people usually contact their Member of Parliament only as a last resort: when they have tried everything else—all the normal channels—and they have not succeeded. Therefore, when they come to us they are fairly desperate.

Local education authorities have to bear the cost of the statementing process, which is considerable. They often have insufficient staff to cope with the level of demand and the consequential delays often result in tribunals, which cause additional stress to the parents, and, more seriously, a delay in the pupil accessing proper education.

Most, if not all, statements will include a need for speech therapy. As we have heard this morning, good communication is an essential life skill and is particularly important to somebody with Down's syndrome. As all hon. Members present will be aware, there has been a chronic shortage of speech and language therapists for decades. Even when primary care trusts are able to fund additional therapists, they find it almost impossible to recruit them. The Government face a real challenge to find out why that underprovision has proved so intractable.

I was told that 180 speech and language therapy students graduated last year. The mystery is where they went. What career paths did they choose? Apparently, they did not choose special education. I know from discussions with the very dedicated team of speech and language professionals in Havering that they suffer frustration at being unable to meet the level of local demand, and I know that that is not peculiar to Havering.

Interestingly, some children attending our Sure Start programme are presenting with speech and language problems. Although identifying problems at that stage is highly beneficial to those children, speech and language therapy resources are finite and that early intervention is leaching resources from other areas of provision, such as schools.

I noticed a question that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East put to the Minister on 13 July on the subject of availability and competencies of speech and language therapists. In her reply the Minister said: With the extra investment announced in the 2002 Budget, we expect the NHS to have net increases of at least 30,000 therapists and scientists, including speech and language therapists by 2008."—[Official Report, 13 July 2004; Vol. 423, c. 1117W.] I know that is a global total. How many of that 30,000 does the Minister anticipate will be speech and language therapists, and what progress has been made since 2002 towards increasing the total available?

Access to pre-school and nursery provision is an important building block in the development of a child with Down's syndrome. Learning social and interpersonal skills and gaining self-confidence through play, music, painting and games at nursery school makes those children ready to benefit from the next stage of a more formal learning experience at school.

The next dilemma for any parent whose child has Down's syndrome is whether to opt for mainstream or special school placement. Some families find coping with disability harder than others, and supporting those families is something that special schools are particularly good at. Because they are smaller, it is possible for the staff to get to know the whole family—siblings and parents—and to understand their problems, lend a sympathetic ear and offer a word of support in a way that the demands of a busy mainstream school would make difficult.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 gave all pupils the right to be educated in a mainstream school if that is the choice of their parents. Sensibly, the learning and safety of others must not be jeopardised by the placement of a child with special needs in a mainstream setting, and so the success of the placements depends heavily on the provision of special learning assistants who are properly trained and available for enough hours to meet the child's needs. The special relationship between the SLA and the pupil is essential in understanding the child's difficulties, recognising triggers for difficult behaviour and establishing workable strategies to avert crises in the school day. That support can make the difference between success and failure for the pupil, but the cost is high and can cause severe pressure on school budgets.

The Down's Syndrome Association's survey of parents this year revealed among other things that both types of school have had widespread success in educating pupils with Down's syndrome. The report on the survey contains many supporting statements from parents, many of which we have heard this morning from the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East, but the satisfaction level is not universally high. Some experiences have not been happy and it follows that LEAs need a flexible arrangement whereby mainstream pupils who do not thrive are able to transfer to a special school, and vice versa. In that way, the two types of school can be mutually supportive and offer the best possible opportunities for pupils.

The process must, of course, continue post-16 in local sixth-form and further education colleges, and offer Down's syndrome students a range of opportunities to continue to establish basic skills, and to learn new workplace skills to maximise their employment chances. The London borough of Havering is particularly good at that. Our aim should be that every LEA supports students with Down's syndrome who wish to continue to improve and develop to their full potential.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) about an establishment on Canvey Island that offers business opportunities to physically handicapped people. We need more of such establishments for those people with Down's syndrome who cannot quite cope with the standard employment environment. Having said that, a young man with Down's syndrome who works at my local Tesco has an instinctive idea of customer care. Nothing is too much trouble for him when he is asked for help. He is an asset to the organisation, and others would do well to learn from that. People with Down's syndrome, who often have a charming and helpful side to their nature, would be a great asset to a shop floor or in other workplaces.

Bob Spink

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great benefits to society at large of such business opportunities for physically handicapped people or those with special learning needs? The BOPH on Canvey Island provides printing, T-shirt printing and packing goods for other firms. It provides a very reasonable, high-quality service to the businesses and people for whom it works. It is a two-way process, and we congratulate those people on making use of such an establishment. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Angela Watkinson

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is a very good example of how Down's syndrome people contribute to the rest of society. It is not always their needs but their contributions that are overlooked, and they have an enormous amount to offer.

The good work being done in some areas must be built on, so that all children with Down's syndrome, wherever they live, can access education without having to fight for it, beginning with that "open sesame"—the statement. That means finding a nursery place with properly trained staff and a school place where they will not be patronised, sidelined or even just tolerated, but welcomed and accepted for themselves and where they will receive learning opportunities suited to their specific needs. There must be a levelling up to the standards set in the good practice that we all know.

If the Minister would like to visit any of the three splendid special schools in Upminster—Corbets Tey and Dycourts, which are for children with moderate learning difficulties, and Ravensbourne, which is for children with severe learning difficulties—or any of the mainstream schools where pupils with Down's syndrome are doing very well, she would be very welcome.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara)

Order. Before I call the Minister, may I draw attention to the message on the Annunciator? There will be one minute's silence at 11 o'clock. If the debate proceeds to 11 o'clock, I ask hon. Members not to depart before the observation of the one minute's silence.

10.37 am
The Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge)

Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing the debate and on the work that he has done on behalf of children with Down's syndrome and the Down's Syndrome Association, and recognise his huge dedication. I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the quality of the debate has been first class. It reflects well on Parliament when, in a serious debate on a less contentious issue, people try to consider solutions to complex problems that require a lot of innovative ideas, in order to improve the quality of life for any group of people, particularly those with Down's syndrome. I always enjoy debates in Westminster Hall, and this one has been high quality.

I pay tribute to the Down's Syndrome Association. We in the Department for Education and Skills worked with it to produce the support packs for mainstream and special schools, and all professionals who have used them have warmly welcomed them as a valuable resource. I am delighted that, with funding from our special educational needs small funding programme, we were able to contribute to the production of that pack. I am also pleased that we were able to join my hon. Friend when he launched the pack.

My hon. Friend asked whether we would be willing to meet him, and I am sure that Ministers in the Department would be. He will be interested to know that Lord Filkin is taking over day-to-day responsibility for these issues. I shall be speaking to Lord Filkin later today to remind him of my contribution in this debate and the commitment of his time that I have given.

The report that the Down's Syndrome Association put together, entitled "Access to Education", which I read last night, is a good piece of work. It is based on the experiences of 1,500 parents of children with Down's syndrome and how they have been affected throughout the school system. All too often we do not undertake such a wide survey, but good voluntary organisations and interest groups can do very important groundwork on which we can build.

The report mirrors the findings of the Audit Commission report that was published in 2002, which I am sure hon. Members have read and highlights many of the problems that need to be tackled. Statementing is a battle. It takes far too long and is a struggle for far too many parents unless, as hon. Members have said, they are articulate and persistent. We ought to support parents when their children move into the education system, as they try to think through what is best for their child with special education needs. The last thing that they need is a battle with professionals in the local education authority. They need support at just that point, which is why we are trying to do more work around such issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) and the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) discussed the importance of supporting parents, and I could not agree with them more. That area of public policy is greatly underdeveloped. Interestingly enough, it is contentious; we are all too often accused of running a nannying state when we think about what support we can give to parents in all sorts of situations. However, I have absolutely no doubt, given the wide body of research that I have seen, that the state in all its forms, whether central Government, local government or the third arm—the non-statutory sector—must think more about appropriate support to parents in that most difficult task of bringing up children, particularly children with special educational needs such as those with Down's syndrome. The education process, particularly the transition periods that have been talked about a lot this morning, is very important and something with which parents need special support.

Another issue that has been highlighted is that of children who should be taught in mainstream settings sometimes being turned away. I was somewhat shocked by the assertion of my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton that LEAs designate certain mainstream schools as appropriate for catering for children with special educational needs and others as not appropriate. That was a worrying statement. With his permission, I shall come back to him to discuss where we are on policy. Clearly, it is appropriate that particular units are attached to mainstream schools for children with, for example, hearing difficulties—partially or totally deaf children—but it cannot be the intent of Ministers that an LEA should designate some schools as not appropriate for catering for children with moderate learning difficulties. We must examine that, particularly the situation in his authority.

Members also said that many staff, particularly teaching assistants, feel ill-equipped to meet the wide range of pupils' needs in today's classrooms. Training is very much at the heart of what the Government are doing. The work force reform agenda around the whole of the team who work in a school is about providing better training, better support and routes to progression for individuals who may come into a school as a teaching assistant and who could move up the hierarchy to other jobs in the school. I take the matter seriously. If we are to be successful in our work force reform, we must focus on the training that we give to all school staff—not just the teachers but others who play a key role, particularly with children with special educational needs.

Much has been said about speech and language therapists. We all have experience in our constituencies of problems with getting enough speech and language therapists. I agree entirely with the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), about early intervention through speech and language therapy. If we can support children's communication skills at an early stage, it can make all the difference not just to their educational outcome but to their independence and social and emotional development. There is a problem. I have just been talking to my health authority—the primary care trust—which recently withdrew the funding for speech and language therapy in schools. I am battling with them to bring it back.

We are investing a lot more—both in training and through the NHS and education budgets—to ensure that we grow the body of speech and language therapy support. I do not have the precise split in the 30,000 figure that the hon. Lady quoted and which I gave in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East about how many are speech and language therapists and how many are other professionals. I will try to get that figure and will write to the hon. Lady about it.

Coincidentally rather than deliberately, I am meeting representatives of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists later this week to talk about how we can grow that cohort of people. We think that there are more than 1,000 extra speech and language therapists in our schools than there were when we came into government, but there is still a vacancy rate and the problem of training remains.

I have seen some innovative work on speech and language therapy provision. Interestingly enough, it has occurred particularly in Sure Start programmes in which, to tackle the shortage, professional speech and language therapists are used to cascade some competences and training to untrained people so that they can provide much of the routine support that children require. If we can build that cascading process in as a much stronger presence in many more of our institutions, authorities or health authorities, we can grow that competence more quickly than we have done in the past.

A number of Members raised the issue of special schools. We all know that what we are attempting to do is to ensure that inclusion, where appropriate, must be on offer to individual children, especially those with Down's syndrome. I agree with what many hon. Members have said about the benefit that children with Down's syndrome can gain from being integrated into a mainstream environment as long as they are properly supported in that environment. Equally, we wish to provide choice to parents and children and, therefore, to maintain our special schools focus.

Bob Spink

I am not going to ask the question that the Minister thinks that I am going to ask. Does she acknowledge the great benefit that children with special needs can provide for children in mainstream schools?

Margaret Hodge

I do indeed. I have seen that in my own children's education. Their primary school had a good link with a neighbouring school that had children with severe and multiple physical and cognitive learning difficulties. My children benefited hugely from the integration of the two schools, because of their increased understanding of the diversity of the population and their sensitivity in dealing with children who did not have all the benefits that they had. I completely and utterly concur with that point.

In fact, I was proud to take through the House much of the disability legislation when I had responsibility for those issues. I was particularly proud to get on to the statute book provisions about discrimination in education based on disability. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties now agree that those provisions should have been in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which the previous Government passed.

A number of Members have said that the one-size approach does not fit all. That is as true of Down's syndrome children as it is of everyone. We are attempting to reflect that, both in legislation and policies. We have a strong legislative background and the discrimination that has been described is unacceptable. However, getting legislation on to the statute book and then changing the practice in LEAs, health authorities and schools is a long-term process. The legislation has only recently reached the statute book and we need to do more.

Let me talk about the strands of our strategy, which the Department was proud to publish. Early intervention is one strand; everybody has talked about how important that is. The hon. Member for Southport built on some important research, and the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) also mentioned the matter. I want to say one thing: if we get the early intervention right, we may not have to go down the bureaucratic route of always going for a statement. Much energy is lost in the bureaucracy of the statementing processes. However we have tried to arrange things so that there is a partnership effort, there still tends to be an adversarial element, because local authorities are always worried about resources while individuals want the most for their children. The more that we can move away from formal statementing to agreement between professionals, the better it will be for children, and the earlier the intervention, the better still it will be. I am proud of our early support pilot programme. We are spending £4 million this year and £6 million next year. We want to learn from what works through that pilot programme and to try to evolve that as we develop our early years infrastructure.

As hon. Members probably know, we are also developing the national early intervention centre of excellence. A feasibility study is under way, and we want to work with voluntary organisations including the Down's Syndrome Association to get that right. We are encouraging the delegation of SEN resources to schools so the sort of conflict with the local education authority that my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton met could be got rid of. We believe that schools are best at determining how they should use their SEN resources.

The second strand is considering how we can remove barriers to learning. We want to develop inclusive practice so there is no conflict between special schools and mainstream education—although the trend is to try to support as many children as possible in the mainstream system. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East mentioned that Rumworth school in his constituency is attached to a secondary school, and the hon. Member for Castle Point talked about Cedar Hall and its relationship to mainstream education. That sort of arrangement is the way forward. That is how we can develop inclusive practice; it meets the needs of individual children.

We are developing a new inclusion development programme. We are trying to bring together all the professionals across education, care, social care and the voluntary sector in order to develop much more effective approaches to children with special educational needs. We are looking first at autistic spectrum disorder syndrome. Having learned from that, we shall look at other particular special educational needs; I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be pressing me on the subject of Down's syndrome.

We are also looking at how we can develop practical tools and practical material, which we want to publish in 2005. We are looking at proposals for how we can improve the quality of education for children with more severe behavioural and emotional difficulties; we have a group of people working on that. We are looking at how we can improve regional planning of provision, so that we make best use of our special school infrastructure, and then we are looking at how we establish minimum standards for SEN advisory and support services. We are doing some work around that issue with Ofsted in particular.

The third strand of our work is to do with expectations and achievement—a five-year plan about the personalisation of learning and the importance of considering individual needs and determining the educational offer. That concerns my new role, bringing together education and all other children's services around the needs of the child. There is the development of children's trusts, too. All that will lead to improvements.

I shall never forget that one of the first things that I did as Minister for Children was visit an eight-year-old child in her home. She was being educated, but had hugely difficult physical disabilities and needed 24-hour care. She was receiving education in a mainstream school, but had undergone 18 assessments during the previous 18 months from different professionals who were trying to support her. It was completely mad and totally wore her out. Her mother had become the manager of all the different professionals who were supporting the child. Ensuring that those professionals—or the lead professional—work around the needs of the child will make things better for everyone. As we try to raise the quality of achievement and aspirations for children with special educational needs, we are consulting on how best to measure progress—a very difficult area—and on matters such as whether we continue the P scales, to determine whether there are better value-added measures that we can introduce.

A number of hon. Members have talked about transition. That is utterly central, and we have a group of people considering the matter. Some authorities deal with it better than others, but we all have experience from our constituencies of people with learning disabilities or other needs falling through the net as they move from the education system into adulthood. I hope that the youth Green Paper, which we aim to publish in the autumn, will tackle some of the issues relating to children with additional needs and special needs as they move into adulthood, and the services that we provide for them. I was a little puzzled by the issues raised by the hon. Member for Castle Point about people being pushed out of provision at the age of 25. That shows the need for sensitivity at local level.

The only area that I have not talked about is partnership. Underpinning everything that we have done is the desire to strengthen partnership between all the players involved, so that it all makes sense to children and places children and parents at the heart of what we do. We will know whether our strategy has been successful when we cease to rely so much on separate structures and processes for children with special educational needs, such as children with Down's syndrome; when all children with special educational needs have their needs met as soon as they become apparent and can feel valued members of the school community; when the barriers that divide mainstream and special schools have disappeared; when all schools work together in partnership and with other services in their locality to meet the needs of local children; and when there is much greater quality and consistency of provision for children with special educational needs, not just across the needs and schools, but right across the country.

Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools will evaluate our progress towards those aims, and we shall constantly reflect and reconsider as we learn from what has worked to establish whether we need to make any further changes to remove the barriers to learning that can prevent children with special educational needs, including children with Down's syndrome, from achieving their potential and contributing to society.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call Mr. David Kidney, I draw attention to the announcement on the Annunciator. We shall commence the next debate, but we shall suspend for one minute's silence soon after commencement.

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