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Handicapped Children (Educational Treatment)

Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Warnock report on the special educational needs of handicapped children.

The committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Warnock presented its report in March 1978. Shortly afterwards, a consultation document was issued to seek the views of the many organisations concerned with the education, health and welfare of the handicapped. Their responses were almost wholly favourable. In addition, a thorough interdepartmental study of the report's recommendations has now been made and completed within the Government. In view of the anxieties expressed on both sides of the House during discussion of the provisions of clause 9 of the Education (No. 2) Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have decided that it would be right to announce at once the Government's response to the report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be dealing separately with the application to Scotland.

The central recommendation of the report was that, in the light of the experience gained since the passing of the Education Act 1944, the concept of special educational treatment appropriate to defined categories of bodily or mental handicap should be replaced by that of the special educational needs of individual children. Such a change, which would reflect enlightened current practice, was welcomed by the bodies which we consulted. The Government accept the arguments in the report for changes in the current statutory provisions relating to special educational treatment and intend to introduce early legislation to enact a new framework substantially on the lines recommended in the report. The new legislation will incorporate provisions designed to safeguard the interests of children with severe or complex special educational needs, including arrangements for more widely based assessment and for the recording of individual needs.

The legislation will also define and protect the rights of parents to adequate information and consultation about the education offered for their children, taking account of the relevant recommendations of the report and in the spirit of the provisions about information and parental preference embodied in the Education (No. 2) Bill.

Many of the other recommendations in the Warnock report were addressed not directly to the Government but to those concerned with the local provision of education, health and welfare services. Some recommendations—for example, those relating to nursery education, teacher training and further and higher education—have major implications for central and local government expenditure, and their implementation must be considered in the light of the economic situation and the need for restraint which it entails. The Government's current expenditure plans provide for the maintenance of expenditure on special education at its present level, despite the fall in the size of the relevant age groups.

We propose to lay before Parliament in due course a White Paper outlining the form that the new legislation might take and dealing with other recommendations made by the Warnock committee.

In conclusion, I wish to congratulate Mrs. Warnock and the members of her committee on their carefully presented consideration of the many issues surrounding the education of handicapped children and young persons. Their report will, I am sure, be a constant source of reference for many years to come for all with an interest in the development of special education.

I endorse the right hon. and learned Gentleman's thanks to the Warnock committee, and I add my own expression of admiration for the work which it undertook. May I commend also those organisations and individuals, some of them in this House, who have campaigned so hard for progressive developments in educational provision for those with special learning difficulties?

In view of the work which has been done, is not the Government's reaction a shallow and somewhat ineffectual response to so much earnest and authoritative work undertaken by the Warnock committee and others? Nevertheless, I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's decision to accept the argument for changing the legislative categories from the rather narrow definitions of handicap and subnormality. Does his undertaking to enact a new framework mean that we shall have a broader, more sensitive and more sensible definition of special educational need which is related to the individual characteristics of individual children who suffer from behavioural and emotional disorders as well as from physical and mental handicap and retardation?

When shall we see the White Paper which the Secretary of State has announced? Second, and more important in a sense, why do we in this place and parents and others, outside who are concerned with these matters have to wait at least another eight months for a Bill, another year for enactment and another 18 months for its operation? Is this not an unwarranted delay, especially since there has already been exhaustive consultation over two years and there is ample scope in the Education (No. 2) Bill, now in the House of Lords, to make these changes of definition and changes in the scope of parental rights, which were recommended in the course of debates on the Bill both by us on these Benches and by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and other hon. Members on the Government Benches? Does the delay arise because the Secretary of State is perhaps trying to head off a threatened rebellion in the House of Lords, or because he cannot yet decide what the extent of choice and parental rights should be for those who have children with special educational needs—which, I recognise, is a complex matter?

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose in the new legislation to remove section 10 of the 1976 Act, as has been rumoured in the press, and, if he does, will that be because he has abandoned any hope of getting the vital additional resources necessary to make integration of children with special educational needs into ordinary schools a practical and acceptable possibility? If he does not remove section 10, will he now specify a date on which under that Act the process of integration can become legally required and operated?

On the question of resources, since this was a matter of some concern dealt with in his statement, will the Secretary of State accept that the recommendations in much of the Warnock report emphatically urged the commitment of what Mrs. Warnock called substantial additional resources? Even in the current economic situation, cannot the right hon. and learned Gentleman make additional provision to meet the first priorities of the report, as Mrs. Warnock called them, that is to say, new provision for under fives and over-sixteens who have special educational needs and, very important, the extension and improvement of initial and in-service training of teachers of children with special educational needs?

What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that the Government's professed intention to maintain expenditure on special education at its present level will be fulfilled by local education authorities, especially those authorities which may be tempted to transfer resources from special education into ordinary education under the pressure of the cuts which are being felt in local education authorities and schools of all descriptions?

Finally—[HON. MEMBERS]: "Too long".] The report has been out for two years, there has been a year of consultation, there is widespread interest and concern, and there is a Bill now before the House of Lords. I am sorry that this is one of the few opportunities that we have for intensive questioning.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the change of definitions will have major financial implications in that 15 to 20 per cent. of British schoolchildren may now legally have an entitlement to special education during periods of their educational life? If he does not accept that view, does he admit that his statement has much more to do with words than it has with actions? If that is the case, what should not be a matter of contention and controversy between the two sides of the House may become so, to the detriment of all concerned.

The hon. Gentleman asked a fair number of questions and I shall do my best to answer them. First, I appreciate what he said about those who served on the Warnock committee, and I join with him in recognising the role played by various hon. Members on both sides as well as those outside who have expressed concern for handicapped children.

The hon. Gentleman's overall description of my response as a shallow one was somewhat surprising in view of the fact that there was only one real direct recommendation to Government, namely, the changing of the legislative framework. I stated that the Government accepted that major recommendation and that they proposed to legislate to carry it into being. In view of the recommendation to Government, it is difficult to know what more I could have done which would have avoided the accusation of being shallow in my response.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right about what the framework will be. As I made clear in my statement, the whole purpose of changing the legislative framework is to introduce a framework in accord with the general recommendations of the Warnock committee, which are to get away from the narrow categorisation of bodily and mental handicap and instead to provide a much broader framework for children in general special educational need.

I was somewhat surprised by the hon. Gentleman's criticism of unwarranted delay in my statement about the Bill. I remind him that the Warnock committee made 225 separate recommendations.

If one adds Scotland, there are 225. There are 224 for England and Wales.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Warnock committee was set up when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education and Science. It took Mrs. Warnock and her committee nearly four years to report. They reported in March 1978. The then Government went out to consultation, inviting reactions by the end of February last year. I do not think that it is at all unreasonable, in view of the length and complexity of the report, to be in a position to announce within a year of taking office our reaction to that report. It has nothing to do with the Education (No. 2) Bill, which is now in another place, save to say that, as hon. Members on both sides raised the issue of the relationship of information and parental choice to those in special schools, I thought it right to announce at once our decision with regard to the Warnock report.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about resources. The Warnock report makes it clear that its recommendations as a whole will mean substantial additional resources. But it is also right to point out that the Warnock committee recognises that the first necessary stage is to change the legal framework and to accept that the recommendations will come in step as resources become available. That is why I thought it right to make clear in my statement the resource implications that would have to be considered in the light of the economic situation.

As to the hon. Gentleman's two final points, he tightly said that I could provide that money spent on special schools should be similar next year to what it is this year. I cannot force local authorities to spend their money in that way, any more than I can dictate any other form of educational expenditure. I can only say what the Government propose, and advise and hope that local authorities will react in this sensitive area. I do not accept that the change of definition itself has wide financial implications. I accept that the implementation of the whole of the report has wide financial implications. But Mrs. Warnock's central proposal was a change to a broader framework of understanding of the problems of the disabled, a much changed system of assessment, a much more parental involvement and a much greater ability to record different degrees of educational need without the financial implications which the hon. Gentleman suggested.

While the Secretary of State's acceptance of the main Warnock principle is welcome, would not it be fairer to all the parents to make it quite clear that, against a background of present cuts, the implementation of many of the proposals will take a long time indeed and that there may be little progress? Would it not be better to avoid the kind of situation that arose following the implementation of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, when many false expectations were raised? Will the, right hon. Gentleman again consider the question of school meals and transport charges in relation to handicapped children when he is considering this matter?

I carefully pointed out in my statement that there were resource implications and that they must be considered in the light of the economic situation. I do not accept that that is a reason for delay in going ahead with the change in the framework, because I believe that that is a necessary first step. There are many parts in that, such as the question of assessment, the type of assessment, the type of discussion with parents and the sort of proposals recommended for the recording of information about children, which could well be implemented with advantage to the parents and the children without resource implications.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept our congratulations for the speedy implementation of the undertaking that he gave during th. Report stage of the Education (No.2) Bill? Can he give some idea of the time gap between the implementation of that Bill and the introduction of the proposals in the Warnock report?

Yes, I shall.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Bedwelty (Mr. Kinnock) because I failed to answer one of his questions. He asked when it was hoped that the White Paper would be presented. The best answer I can give is the early summer.

As to legislation, obviously I cannot anticipate the contents of the next Queen's Speech. However, I can stick to the phrase "early legislation", and I express the hope that the new legislation on Warnock will reach the statute book at a date prior to the implementation of clauses 6, 7 and 8 of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman indicated how the proposed changes in law and administration will be implemented in two of the three parts of the United Kingdom for which other Secretaries of State are responsible. He will be aware that law and practice in Northern Ireland has not been identical with that in Great Britain, but presumably he will not deny that these considerations apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom. Can he indicate when an announcement will be made in relation to Northern Ireland, and what form and character it will take? Would not it be generally more advisable, when statements of Government policy of this kind are made, if they included some reference to the fourth part of the United Kingdom?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the question of Northern Ireland, because it is right that it should be raised. As he will know, the terms of reference of the Warnock committee did not extend to Northern Ireland, and its report is not, therefore, a direct commentary on special education in Northern Ireland. Having said that, I understand that the report is of considerable interest to those in Northern Ireland concerned with the education of handicapped children, and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider, with his ministerial colleagues, the need to take action in the light of the announcement that I have made this afternoon. I shall certainly draw to my right hon. Friend's notice the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman as to the form of any statement which he might care to make.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that both sides of the House welcome his statement, particularly that part in which he said that he broadly accepts all of the recommendations of Mrs. Warnock? Is he also aware, as has been pointed out, that their full implementation will require resource priorities and that many Conservative Members would regard the fulfilment of Mrs. Warnock's recommendations as a high priority in the social sphere?

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am grateful to him for his general support.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that he will leave the duty to supply special education within the Education Act 1944 in the new legislation that he brings forward? In doing that, will he take into account Lord Alexander's suggestion in another place that that section of the Bill be amended to include gifted children to make unnecessary the assisted places scheme? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider doing it in that way?

Secondly, are there any changes contemplated in bringing the salaries of teachers in special schools more into the broad structure of the Burnham committee?

The salaries of teachers is a matter for the Burnham committee and for negotiations with the committee.

The hon. Gentleman's first question enables me to answer another of the many questions asked by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). The hon. Gentleman will realise that a totally different concept is being proposed by Mrs. Warnock from the duty under the 1944 Act, or from section 10 of the Education Act 1976, which was an intention to alter the presumption in the 1944 Act. I think it right to ask the House to wait and see the terms of the White Paper and what the Government say on the general issue of integration that will appear in it.

Order. I propose—I wish that I had risen earlier to say so—to call those hon. Members who have been rising to question the Secretary of State for Education and Science. When that has been done, I think that it would be unfair to the House to remain any longer on this issue.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that an important part of the education of both the physically and the mentally handicapped is education in sport and physical recreation? In the context of the Warnock report, will he lend his support to paraplegic children's education, with particular reference to the excellent work that is done at Stoke Mandeville? Secondly, will he give his support to the special Olympics, which this year brought together about 4,000 mentally handicapped children from 15 countries? As such an Olympics is intended to be held in Britain, will he give it his general support?

I recognise the importance of education in sport for those who are physically handicapped. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks. I think that everybody welcomes the opportunity that paraplegic children now have to compete with their fellows from other parts of the world.

I am mindful of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's responsibility for England and Wales. However, will he give us some assurance about the timing of legislation for Scotland? Will he pass that on to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is absent today? Will he give an indication that the consultations will be short? The Warnock committee began its work in 1973, a very long time ago for those who are the subject of the report.

If we are to talk merely of meeting the central recommendations, that will do severe damage to the morale of those engaged in this form of work. We talk about shortages of resources, but there are resources for which the Secretary of State has direct responsibility, namely, the training, for example, of occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Such people are vital—I speak with a specific interest as I have a young daughter who is a spastic—in ensuring that these young people, especially as they move into their teens and into adulthood, get a fair chance in our competitive society.

I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was in the Chamber until a moment ago. My hon. Friend had been present since 3.30 pm. As the hon. Gentleman says, the position in Scotland is slightly different. I shall ensure that his comments are conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I have no ministerial responsibility for special schools in Scotland. I understand that my right hon. Friend has answered a written question that appears on today's Order Paper, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to study. Following that, he will be able to ask any question of my right hon. Friend that arises from the written answer.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement on financial choice will be especially welcomed by the parents of these unfortunate children? Will he confirm that provision will be made regardless of county boundaries? Will he make a point of ensuring that special funds are available as early as possible to avoid disappointment?

I must ask my hon. Friend to await the forthcoming White Paper, in which we shall set out our general legislative proposals. On this occasion I must limit myself to what I said in my statement, namely, that our proposals will be in the spirit of the provisions that exist in the Education (No. 2) Bill, which is now passing through another place.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is the second occasion within a week when a major oral statement has been made affecting England and Wales, following which hon. Members representing England and Wales may ask and have answered their questions—the other statement concerned housing—whereas Scotland has been dealt with by means of written answers? That means that Scottish Members have no opportunity to ask questions and to receive answers. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is most unfortunate? Does he further agree that it would not have arisen if we had had a Scottish Assembly?

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question concerns a matter that he will have to take up with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. It is not for me. I do not propose to comment on the hon. Gentleman's second question.

I welcome the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend on the movement towards implementing the important recommendations made by the Warnock committee. As it will be a lengthy and fundamental process for the schools, I invite my right hon. and learned Friend to comment on the deep implications and the effect that it will have upon schools that take children with a certain form of handicap. Of course, I welcome such an arrangement. It will have a valuable effect on children in the schools. However, it might be difficult to move into a situation in which more than one area of handicap is taken. That will require deep thought and consultations with teachers and everyone concerned. May I have my right hon. and learned Friend's view?

I do not think that our implementation of the Warnock committee recommendations will necessarily have the consequences that my hon. Friend fears. In the report Mrs. Warnock makes it clear—she takes a much wider definition of education need and recognises that it will cover many who now require remedial education during different parts of their school life—that those who have serious educational need for which provision is not generally available in the ordinary sense will be recorded as such. The local education authority will have to assess whether there is availability in an ordinary school for their education or whether they should, in view of their degree of disability, go to a special school in consultation and, it is to be hoped, in agreement with the parents. Therefore, it is not intended by Mrs. Warnock that there should be no role for the special school. There is a wider area of educational need, a wider area of assessment and a greater degree of flexibility between the different areas of assessment.

I very much welcome the statement. The implementation of the Warnock committee's recommendations might involve increased expenditure on access, adaptation of buildings and mobility. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department undertake to meet such costs? Will he make it mandatory for the parents of handicapped children to be represented on any governing bodies that are established?

One of the specific recommendations is the representation of the local authority on the governing body of any school. I shall consider parental governing representation. I hope that that is one of the matters that we shall be able to deal with in the White Paper. Such representation would be in accord with the Education (No. 2) Bill, which provides for elected parents on other bodies.

I turn to the hon. Gentleman's first question. I know that he was unable to be present when I made my statement. I cannot go beyond what I said at that stage. Undoubtedly there are substantial resource implications in certain of the recommendations of the Warnock committee's report. Their implementation will have to be considered in the light of the economic situation and the need for restraint that that entails.

Has a policy decision been reached on recommendation 733? It is contained in a formidably argued, well written and highly readable report. Recommendation 733 proposes that every resource centre, special class or place that is organised internally by the head teacher can have as much material support related to its needs as would have been given formerly to one designated by the local education authority. Some of us believe that this is an important recommendation. Has any conclusion been reached?

I realise that the recommendation about resource centres in major secondary schools is important. It is also an important suggestion that certain special schools might become resource centres as numbers drop in those areas. However, as I have made clear, these recommendations were addressed to local education authorities rather than to the Government. Although we may make some comment in the White Paper, the hon. Gentleman should direct his questions to them.