HL Deb 08 January 2004 vol 657 cc54-5WA
Lord Morris of Manchester

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What improvements there have been in meeting the special needs of children with autism since the first statutory provision specifically for them: and what assessment they have made of still unmet needs; and [HL448]

What improvements there have been in meeting the special needs of children with dyslexia since the first statutory provision specifically for them: and what assessment they have made of still unmet needs. HL449]

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

The Education Act 1996 places duties on local education authorities (LEAs) and all LEA—maintained schools to identify, assess and make suitable provision to meet children's special educational needs (SEN), including the SEN of those with autism and dyslexia. In doing do, maintained schools and LEAs must have regard to the SEN code of practice, which gives practical guidance on identifying and meeting children's SEN, including difficulties in communication and interaction and cognition and learning.

Provision for children with SEN has greatly improved over the years. Ofsted and the Audit Commission have reported that LEAs have "improved their SEN work significantly" in recent years (Local education authorities and school improvement1996–2001. Ofsted 2002.) However, two reports from the Audit Commission in 2002 have pointed to continuing challenges in relation to the inequitable distribution of resources to meet children's SEN, the uneven quality of SEN provision across the country, the bureaucracy involved and the need for earlier intervention, among other concerns.

The Government's forthcoming SEN strategy will address these issues, building on the improvements to the SEN framework brought about by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and the revised SEN code of practice (2001). The strategy's implementation will be helped by the new requirements on schools and LEAs to collect data by types of need, including autistic spectrum disorder and specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia. These data will assist schools and LEAs in identifying children with autism and planning provision to meet their needs.

Education providers, in the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors, have responded to the increasing numbers of children being identified with autism, in part by opening specialist provision—the All—Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, for instance, noted that several LEAs had set up autism-specific units attached to moderate learning difficulty schools (The Rising Challenge. APPGA. 2001). The new SEN strategy will help all schools to meet these children's needs by promoting effective approaches to teaching and learning for children with autism as well as other types of need, such as dyslexia. It will seek to develop the role of special schools so that they work more closely with mainstream schools and specialist services to provide for children with SEN. For those with autism, action under the strategy will be consistent with the good practice guidance the Departments of Education and Skills and Health published in 2002 and the autism exemplar under the forthcoming National Service Framework for Children. The department continues to work closely with the National Autistic Society and other relevant groups to improve provision for children with autism.

A range of guidance materials for teachers on dyslexia and dyscalculia has been produced as part of the national literacy and numeracy strategies to help to promote inclusion of pupils with specific learning difficulties. The guidance has been well received and other material is currently in preparation. The department continues to work closely with the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Institute to help to raise awareness and develop new resources that will be of practical assistance to teachers and other staff.

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