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Special Educational Needs

Volume 525: debated on Monday 21 March 2011

3. What proposals he has to improve the quality of teaching of children with special educational needs. (47459)

Our Green Paper on special educational needs and disability set out proposals to improve initial teacher training and continuing professional development so that leaders and teachers in schools and colleges are well equipped and confident to identify and overcome a range of barriers to learning and to intervene early when problems arise.

We will encourage schools to share expertise and learn from best practice and ensure sharp accountability for pupils’ outcomes.

Will the Minister look at how we can help young people with special educational needs make the transition into work, given that they are more than twice as likely as their peers to be not in education, employment or training?

Transition is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve with the Green Paper, and the reason for setting out an education, health and care plan from nought to 25. The focus is much more on outcomes, specifically to try to deal with transition, so that we start planning for independent life at a much earlier stage. The Green Paper sets out the direction of travel, and we hope to get input from across Government. I encourage people with a specific interest in the subject to respond to the Green Paper and give us their views on whether it meets young people’s needs and whether we should do more.

Is the Minister aware of the concern in local authorities about the impact of the cuts to councils on their ability to provide central advisory teams for SEN? Does she realise the impact that that has in dramatically reducing SEN provision when schools do not buy back into those services?

We recognise that local authorities throughout the country are having to make difficult decisions, just as the Government are. However, money is not always well spent at the moment. For example, much money is wasted on the adversarial system, with parents unnecessarily going through tribunals. There is often a real push to get expensive independent provision that can be a drain on local authorities’ resources when, if we could get some of the necessary health care delivered earlier, parents would not necessarily push to go all the way to the expense of independent provision. A lot more can be done to spend the money that we have better.

I thank the Minister for the Green Paper, which is a wonderful document. However, may I draw her attention to Tourette’s, which appears to have been lumped in with many other developmental disorders, when it is specifically a neurological disorder? That perpetuates many of the concerns of people with Tourette’s about how society treats them.

The issue of Tourette’s and ensuring that we provide for children and young people with that condition is extremely important. If my hon. Friend has specific concerns about the way in which the Green Paper tackles it, I would be grateful if he wrote to me. I will ensure that that is taken into account as we move on.

While I very much welcome the Green Paper and many of its aims and principles, especially proposals to improve teacher training, there is real concern across the sector that Ministers perhaps forgot to look out of their Whitehall windows to see what is happening on the ground now. Councils are laying off key SEN professionals, children’s centres are closing and disruptive reorganisations of our NHS and schools systems are making it harder, not easier, for local services to work together. Given all that, how confident is the Minister that the promises in the Green Paper can be delivered?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words of welcome for the Green Paper and recognise that she has spoken positively about it before. I hope all parties can work together, because on the whole, I have had helpful input on the Green Paper from Labour Members, just as I have had from Government Members.

As I just said in response to the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), we must recognise that, like the Government, all local authorities must make tough decisions, because of the state of the finances that were left by the previous Government. Nevertheless, the whole point of the Green Paper is to raise the bar to ensure that we have good quality provision right across the country. The pilots process will test how we deliver working together better, and I hope we will ensure such provision and raise standards everywhere.