Thursday 13 September 2018
[Graham Stringer in the Chair]
Deaf Children’s Services
I draw Members’ attention to the fact that our proceedings are being made available for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired. The interpreters are using British Sign Language, and Parliament TV will show a live, simultaneous interpretation of the debate. We are also trialling live subtitling for the first time on channel 15 on parliamentlive.tv. I call Jim Fitzpatrick to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered deaf children’s services.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding over today’s debate, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting us time to raise this matter with the Minister. I look forward to his response and to those of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), and the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). I am also grateful to colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group on deafness, who supported the bid for the debate—it is good to see a number of them here. Finally, I am grateful to the House authorities for ensuring that, as you mentioned, Mr Stringer, the debate is transmitted live with signed simultaneous translation. Surely that is the future.
The title of the debate is “Deaf Children’s Services”. I intend to concentrate on educational support for deaf children, and I am grateful to the National Deaf Children’s Society for the briefing that will form the bulk of my comments.
Deaf children are 42% less likely to achieve the top grades than their hearing peers, but there is no reason a deaf child should do any worse than a hearing child if given the appropriate teaching. That is the historical perspective. The worry for the deaf community, and many colleagues here, is not only that the situation is deteriorating, but that it looks unlikely to improve—indeed, it could get worse.
In addition to their educational disadvantages, deaf children can be more susceptible to mental health issues. NHS England has said that around 40% of deaf children suffer from mental health problems, in contrast to 25% of hearing children. Continuing into adulthood, people with hearing loss are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety-related issues. Investment in early life would likely lead to healthier adults, without the need for employment support or NHS attention.
The NDCS briefing predicts that more than a third of local authorities in England plan to cut £4 million from their budgets for education support for deaf children this year. At the same time, the number of teachers of the deaf, who provide vital support for deaf children, has fallen by 14% over the last seven years. Those figures are drawn from freedom of information requests, as detailed in the House of Commons Library briefing.
The NDCS “Stolen Futures” campaign is calling on the Government to step in and tackle that growing crisis. Cuts are putting the education of thousands of deaf children at risk, leaving their futures hanging in the balance. Vital services for deaf children must be adequately funded, both now and in the next spending review. That review has led to today’s debate.
There are more than 50,000 deaf children and young people in the United Kingdom. More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. Those parents rely on advice from specialist teachers of the deaf to support their child’s language and communication skills. Around 80% of deaf children attend mainstream schools, where they may be the only deaf child. Teachers of the deaf play a key role in helping all teachers to understand how to differentiate the curriculum and provide effective support.
Despite the fact that deafness itself is not a learning disability, deaf children underachieve throughout their education. That is demonstrated in the early years foundation stage, where only 34% of pre-school deaf children were reported as having achieved a good level of development, compared with 76% of other children. At key stage 2, less than half of deaf children achieved the expected standard for reading, compared with 80% of other children. At key stage 4, deaf children achieve, on average, a whole grade less in each GCSE subject than other children, and in recent years that attainment gap has widened. Finally, 41% of deaf young people achieved two A-levels or equivalent by the age of 19, compared with 65% of other young people.
Most deaf children do not have an education, health and care plan. The NDCS estimates that less than a fifth—19%—of deaf children have their support confirmed through a statutory EHC plan. The NDCS has been researching what is happening on the ground, and believes that services are clearly under threat. The NDCS has tracked local authority spending on specialist education services for deaf children since 2011. This year alone, more than a third of local authorities—37%—have told the NDCS that they plan to cut funding for those vital services. Deaf children in those areas will lose £4 million of support this year, with local authorities cutting 10% on average from deaf children’s services.
My own borough of Tower Hamlets, which is regarded as a model of excellence, has among the highest figures in England for hearing impairment and special educational needs and disability. It comments that it is difficult to make fair and equitable decisions for all children with special educational issues. The NDCS says that cuts are likely to affect my local services too, and believes that those cuts are being driven by wider pressure around SEND funding. I know that the Department for Education has protected high-needs funding to support children with SEND in cash terms, but I also know that the budget has not been adjusted to reflect several key aspects.
First, the number of children and young people requiring additional support is rising. Government figures show that more than 30,000 more children had statements or EHC plans in 2017 than in the previous year. Secondly, local authorities have greater responsibilities to support young people with SEND aged between 16 and 25, following the SEND reforms introduced through the Children and Families Act 2014. Since 2014, they have seen significant increases in the number of 16 to 25-year-olds with a statement of special educational needs or an EHC plan. Finally, there is a trend towards many more children being placed in special schools. The number of children in special schools rose by 12.5% between 2014 and 2017.
The NDCS has published more background material to back up its concerns, and the Local Government Association has also recognised the funding pressures, saying:
“we are calling for an urgent review of funding to meet the unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with special educational needs and disabilities.”
As we head towards the next spending review, the needs of some of the most vulnerable children in society must not be forgotten. A failure to invest in deaf children’s futures will likely result in a generation of lost potential.
The NDCS raised a number of issues with me that I know its representatives have already communicated to the Minister and his team. The Department responded that £6 billion is the highest budget on record. Nobody disputes that, but the demand outstrips the supply, and that is the fundamental question for the Minister to respond to. There is more money in the budget—it is the highest it has ever been—but the demand is even higher. I would be grateful if he would address those figures.
The NDCS has raised other issues and put forward some suggestions. For example, it wants to explore with the Department whether the ring fence on the schools block can be relaxed or removed. The national funding formula means that 99.5% of the schools block is now ring-fenced. The remaining 0.5% can be transferred to the high-needs block, which funds SEND support services, only with the agreement of the local schools forum.
That ring-fencing makes it harder for local authorities to move funding in response to growing SEND pressures, as evidenced by the large number of local authorities that have applied to the Department for permission to overrule the schools forum locally and/or go beyond the 0.5%. The NDCS understands that 27 local authorities made a formal request for disapplication of the ring fence, 15 of which were allowed to proceed. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on those figures and on that principle. I would also welcome his views on whether there is more we can do to ensure that the local school forums include more representation around special educational needs and disabilities.
The NDCS wants the gaps in the specialised SEN workforce addressed. As I have described, teachers of the deaf play a key role in supporting deaf children, their families and other teachers. Where services are working well, they ensure that deaf children start primary school with age-appropriate language and communication skills and that they are effectively supported and included within mainstream schools. In 2017, there were 913 qualified teachers of the deaf working in a peripatetic role or in resource provision. That total has fallen by 14% in the past seven years. In addition, more than half of teachers of the deaf are over the age of 50 and hence are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. Many services are telling the NDCS that they cannot recruit. In 2017, 45% of services reported difficulties in recruiting new teachers of the deaf or arranging supply cover over the previous 12 months.
The NDCS believes a national systemic approach is needed to address this growing crisis. There is little incentive for local authorities to be proactive in ensuring there are sufficient numbers of teachers of the deaf being trained to meet future needs. Many will not be able to meet the financial cost of training new staff while also employing someone who has yet to retire. In 2016, the Department for Education commissioned a report from the National Sensory Impairment Partnership on the supply of specialist teachers, which recommended a central bursary scheme. However, the NDCS is not aware of any action taken in response, and I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate if there is any progress in that regard.
The NDCS asks whether there is a way to incentivise or even require local authorities to work together to commission more cost-effective services for deaf children. Given that deafness is a low-incidence need, it is important that local authorities, and particularly smaller authorities, work together to commission specialist services and provision. There are too many services employing just one or two teachers of the deaf, who are trying to meet the diverse needs of deaf children in their area. There are just nine consortiums delivering education support services for deaf children in England—the largest is in Berkshire. There has been no noticeable increase in recent years in the extent to which services and provision for deaf children are regionally commissioned. I would be grateful if the Minister might comment on that suggestion.
The NDCS welcomes that the Department has asked Ofsted how schools can be better held to account for how they support children with SEND, but it has concerns about whether more could be done to strengthen the accountability framework around specialist services for deaf children.
Finally, the NDCS raises the question of a review of post-16 funding. SEND funding for mainstream post-16 providers is given where a young person has been commissioned a place, using high-needs funding. In practice, that means that, in many areas, colleges will receive funding for young people only if they have an EHC plan.
Government figures suggest that more than 85% of deaf young people do not have an EHC plan. If SEND funding is, in practice, restricted to those with an EHC plan, a large number of deaf young people are less likely to get the support they need to access the curriculum, such as a radio aid to help with additional amplification or notetakers. In further education, deaf young people are twice as likely to drop out as their peers, and one quarter do not gain any qualification. Teachers of the deaf are unable to provide advice to mainstream college staff or support young people there, as they are not funded. Again, I would welcome comments from the Minister, and I hope he would be prepared to look at that point.
A number of individuals have been in touch with me directly. I apologise for not being able to mention their cases, but there is just not enough time—there are so many colleagues who want to contribute to this important debate. The House Facebook post for the debate was seen by nearly 64,000 accounts, had over 6,000 post clicks and 1,700-plus engagements covering funding, accessing support, good experiences, geographical differences and lack of understanding. There are some very poignant accounts, especially from parents. I hope the Minister has a chance to view them, if he has not done so already.
There are some very able deaf young people out there who can be huge assets to UK plc. If we do not allow them to develop—if we do not encourage and support them as they mature—we are not just denying them their birthright, but robbing our country of a significant contribution from some highly skilled and intelligent individuals. We owe them more than that.
Order. Eight people wish to speak in the debate, and we have 45 minutes. I am not going to impose a time limit straightaway. I hope people will do the arithmetic and follow that. If not, I will have to impose a time limit. I call Peter Aldous.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate and on the unstinting work he does on behalf of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. I also welcome the Minister to his place.
I start by raising some of the challenges faced by deaf children in Suffolk, where there is dissatisfaction with services in the north of the county. The National Deaf Children’s Society points out that the county has lost four teachers of the deaf since 2011. Suffolk County Council has also discontinued running an integrated specialist service for deaf children, which brought education and care together. The service was praised and singled out by Ofsted in a thematic review carried out in 2012 as being a good example of good practice, and no assessment appears to have been carried out of the impact on deaf children of removing the service. More widely, its removal goes against the emphasis on joint working and commissioning in the special educational needs and disability reforms.
There is a concern that local authorities across England are being put under pressure to reduce services as a result of short-term budgeting constraints at the cost of the long-term future of deaf children. I have raised those concerns with Suffolk County Council, which is aware of the problem. It highlights that all services for children with disabilities and special educational needs are significantly under-resourced nationally across both the education and health sectors and point to a projected 18% to 20% increase in SEN demand. The lack of funding impacts on resources for deaf children, alongside all others with SEN.
With the new national funding formula for SEND, Suffolk receives less funding than similar areas. Although the county has been awarded some additional funding, it has been capped at a rate that means that it receives only half of the extra that it should be receiving each year—a shortfall of £1.5 million per annum.
In terms of NHS speech and language services, which support deaf and hearing impaired children, there has been a 21% rise in demand in the last three years, but no significant change in the level of offer for community health services. That will only get worse, as a further 10% increase in demand is projected by 2020. That has a negative knock-on impact on the county council; where the NHS is unable to provide the necessary resources, the county council, as the local education authority, becomes the funder of last resort, thereby putting further pressure on its already under-resourced education budget.
Suffolk is looking to put resource bases into mainstream schools to address the needs of deaf children, which would enable a child with a specialist need to access a mainstream offer. Generally, I believe that is the right approach.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for securing the debate. In my constituency, Knotty Ash Primary School provides such a deaf resource base for 14 profoundly deaf children. It is a huge boon for those children, but also for the hearing children in the mainstream school, all of whom learn British Sign Language.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The resource bases in Suffolk, both in primary and secondary schools, are very popular and go down very well—the feedback from pupils who are not deaf is that they welcome the provision. They are incredibly proud of the young people in those units. The problem in Suffolk is that there are three resource bases at primary level—in Ipswich, Bury and Lowestoft—but at secondary level there is a resource base only in Bury St Edmunds. They need to be put out across the whole county, particularly in the north.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse is a champion for the deaf and the hard-of-hearing community, but it is important to highlight the sterling work of another such champion, Ann Jillings from Lowestoft, who has been working tirelessly with passion and determination to secure the best possible education for her son Daniel. In doing so, she is campaigning for other parents of deaf children in north Suffolk. Ann chairs the Waveney Deaf Children’s Society and, along with Daniel, has been campaigning for the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language as soon as possible. They made their case firmly and passionately but politely to the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), at a meeting in March. I hope that the Department for Education will continue to do as much as it can to support the development of the new GCSE, and I would welcome the Minister’s reassurance on that point.
Daniel was born deaf. Following a diagnosis through the newborn hearing screening programme, Ann receives support from a person she describes as a “fantastic” teacher of the deaf, who acted as an advocate for the family as Daniel grew up. Daniel has been able to make excellent progress throughout his education. Ann is very clear that that is because of the support he received from specialist teachers of the deaf and communication support workers. That confirms that, provided that deaf children receive the right support from the start, there is no reason why they cannot thrive and break through any glass ceilings that get in their way.
Getting support for Daniel has been a challenge. Ann comments that she has fought tooth and nail for it, which has put the whole family under incredible stress. She highlights that it took 50 weeks to complete the transfer from a statement to an education, health and care plan—more than twice the statutory deadline. She points out that initially the local education authority did not agree with the advice that Daniel would need to continue to have support from a teacher of the deaf in his school. Only when she stated that she would take up her right of appeal was it accepted that a full-time teacher of the deaf was needed. She says:
“Getting the support for your deaf child is a battle which parents should not have to fight, and I do wonder what happens to the children whose parents cannot persevere in the same way as we have.”
I have got a lot to say, Mr Stringer, but I sense I am preventing others from speaking.
To help the hon. Gentleman, there were roughly five and a half minutes for everybody if they self-allocated. He has now been speaking for six and a half minutes.
Thank you for guiding me, Mr Stringer. I will cut to the chase and conclude with what I said at the end of the debate on deafness and hearing loss in this Chamber last November. Many barriers have been placed in Ann Jillings’s way in her pursuit of better education for Daniel. It is our duty and the duty of Government and local authorities to remove those barriers as soon as possible. Thank you for bearing with me, Mr Stringer.
It is probably easier if I impose a five-minute time limit on speeches.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. It is also a pleasure to serve with the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), whom I have known for a long time, in the all-party parliamentary group on deafness. I congratulate him on securing this important debate.
I have got five minutes, so I will try not to repeat anything that has already been said, other than to thank the National Deaf Children’s Society for its “Stolen Futures” campaign, which is a key reason why most of us are here. I also thank Willingdon Community School in my constituency, which is a fantastic institution with a unit for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. I have been there many times and have always been a big fan of it.
Deafness is a funny disability. I say that as someone who had been hard of hearing since I was about six. I have been involved with this issue for many years in various areas, including as a trustee of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, patron of the British Society of Audiology and loads of other things in between. At the ripe old age of 61, I have concluded that it is still an interesting disability. I do not mean that facilely. At my age, and given my involvement over the years in many areas of deafness, I would have thought that there would have been a quantum leap—an improvement— in the opportunities for deaf people. In some ways that has happened, and in other ways there has been almost no advance at all. When I say “deaf”, I mean either profoundly deaf or severely hearing impaired. The situation is very different for people like me—I am hard of hearing but have a hearing aid, so relatively speaking it is almost no barrier at all—and for people who are profoundly deaf or have severe hearing loss. Our world is one of communication, and if you cannot hear what people are saying to you, or they are not able to communicate with you, it is an enormous barrier.
Teachers of the deaf play an important role. Over the years, I have seen children who have had good teachers of the deaf or adequate provision go on to lead fulfilling, successful lives and have good careers. Others who did not have that opportunity have, through no fault of their own, mostly spent their lives on benefits or in low-paid work. That is not a reflection on their intellect or ability; it is because of the barriers of deafness and because they were not helped at the right time.
The fact that, for various reasons, the number of teachers of the deaf is dropping, and that a substantial percentage of them are over 50, which means they will be approaching retirement in the next few years, worries me greatly. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about how the Government propose to deal with that. I can say with conviction, based on years of experience, that if profoundly or severely deaf children are not supported at the right time in early years, they almost have no chance at all. We must bear in mind that 90% of the time profoundly deaf children are born to hearing parents, and if the parents have no experience of deafness it is an absolutely shattering blow. I am not exaggerating; I have seen that so many times. A good trained teacher of the deaf not only helps the child to acquire communication skills so that they can maximise their ability to communicate, but plays a crucial role in supporting the parents, because when that happens to hearing parents it is like hitting a wall.
I am keen to support this terribly important campaign. In the limited time I have left, I want to focus on one particular ask: the review of post-16 funding. In theory, there will be enough funds to support deaf children from 16 to 18 if they go into further education. I urge the Minister to look at the report, because there is a clear anomaly—a gap between what is supposed to happen and what is happening. If a profoundly deaf young person goes into FE at 16 and there is no support, they immediately go backwards—I have seen it many times—and that is a terrible waste. I urge the Minister to consider the review of post-16 funding.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. As others will do throughout the afternoon, I congratulate my former colleague—now my colleague in this House—the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). We agree on so many things, and we agree yet again on this issue. He based his brilliant speech on the summary that the National Deaf Children’s Society, which I congratulate, sent out. Its timing is perfect, as we are now looking at the funding formulas and the allocations that will be given out.
At this stage I must declare that I have for many years been the patron of the Hertfordshire Hearing Advisory Service. It is not something I am new to, because I was asked just after I had become an MP. I had mentioned in passing one afternoon that I had a hearing impairment from my military service, which I must admit I did not tell the fire service about when I joined it—fortunately I am now out of the fire service.
I will not go over the many issues that have been raised, but I agree with nearly everything that has been said. SEN provision is a real difficulty in all our constituencies—how people are assessed, how long it takes for them to be assessed—and getting an EHC plan in place is massively difficult. Such provision carries on now, because the Government have rightly extended it to 25. The report clearly shows the anomalies and issues there.
In the short time I have, I will talk about a couple of things. For this country, British Sign Language is a language, the same as any other language we are lucky enough to use—for some people, it is their only language—but no one can get a formal qualification in it. That is fundamentally wrong, and discriminatory against people whose language it is, through no fault of their own. Yes, we have 80%—that is a fantastic figure—of those with deafness, profound deafness or hearing disabilities in mainstream schools, but teachers get nothing in the way of training.
I declare an interest again: I have a daughter who is a primary school teacher. She took her PGCE, her postgraduate certificate in education, four years ago, but in a whole year of training she had only half an hour on physical education to teach her how to take PE lessons, and absolutely nothing on deafness in young people even though, with that 80% in mainstream schools, she is obviously likely to be teaching them. I have not asked permission to speak on her behalf today, but I speak on behalf of lots of other teachers.
It would cost the Government absolutely nothing if British Sign Language was included as part of a degree in education, the post-qualification PGCE or any of the new ways of becoming a teacher that have come through, not because teachers necessarily have pupils in their school, but they might do so later—almost certainly. At the moment, if a school does not have someone who can provide that sort of help, a teacher might be sent away, or people train in their own time, at their own cost, offering their own provision. That is fantastic, but surely in the 21st century, when we train a diversity of teachers and want more and more people to be in mainstream schools, we must understand what the needs for provision are.
The figures are shocking, and not to give basic support to a young person in school is fundamentally wrong. That basic support is not as a replacement for a deaf adviser, but just so people can communicate, “Good morning”, “How are you?”, or “Did you watch the football?”, the sort of normality that we all take for granted. That would not cost the Department for Education a single farthing, because it could be added into the curriculum, perhaps taking something else out.
Ninety per cent. of the education training for teachers—especially in the PGCE—is done in schools, but that provision does not ensure that the teachers go into a special needs school as part of the one-year course. Why not, Minister? It seems logical to me that they should do that. Why do we have to retrain them further should they need it when so many children have those special education needs under an EHC plan?
For me it is fundamental. If this House and this Government—which I am very proud of—want to treat people in a civil way, looking at them equally, with equalities in mind, then young people who need help should at least have the basics to be able to take a qualification. It is fundamentally wrong that in this day and age they end up less qualified than their peers sitting next to them simply because the provision was not excellent. That is wrong.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, my Select Committee colleague.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this debate and for so comprehensively and effectively setting out the issues facing deaf children. I know how passionate he is about the issue, and he is a great advocate for the deaf community in this place.
It is important that the focus of today’s debate is services for deaf children. Children’s voices are not heard often enough in this place, and it is right for us to talk about them. I am also absolutely delighted that Parliament is making the debate accessible for all those who might want to follow it live. I hope that will be rolled out more widely.
There are 282 deaf children in the city of Nottingham. The majority attend their local mainstream school, supported by the sensory team at Nottingham City Council. Firbeck Academy in Nottingham, a mainstream primary school in the north of the city, has specialist provision for 12 deaf children—the school is actually in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris)—but all the children in the school are surrounded by British Sign Language in classrooms and assemblies, and many of the hearing children grow up signing and can communicate with their deaf classmates using BSL.
In addition to ensuring that deaf children get an excellent education at school, many parents require support from outside agencies, whether that is the BSL teacher, speech and language therapists, doctors, social care or audiology services, to name but a few. Managing those relationships adds to the increasing extra workload of the two full-time teachers of the deaf at Firbeck Academy. They increasingly spend more time out of the classroom, juggling budgets and timetables, because the school’s overall budget has been reduced. Those at the school told me that
“it is the same old story, if the Government want an outstanding education system, there needs to be more funding for schools.”
They are concerned that many SEN children’s needs are not being met due to lack of funding. Firbeck has been set up with specialist deaf provision and it is struggling. I am concerned for those schools that do not have the same set-up but provide education for a deaf child. How can the Minister be confident that such children and their families are getting the support that they need to thrive?
Looking to the future of deaf children’s education, as my hon. Friend said, 57% of peripatetic teachers of the deaf are over the age of 50, and insufficient new trainees are being brought through. The training itself to become a teacher of the deaf has been reduced from one year full-time or two years part-time, which is less than in many other countries. As a result, some topics cannot be covered in detail and others not at all. There is no requirement for continuing professional development and very little budget to support it. I hope that the Minister tells us in his response what is being done to recruit more teachers of the deaf and to ensure the quality of their training. Also, will he reassure us about the mainstream training of all teachers, that it properly alerts them to the needs of deaf children and how to meet those needs?
Some children cope well in mainstream education, but others struggle in that setting. Nottinghamshire Deaf Society tells me that, in its experience, too many children do not get the specialist support that they need, find communication difficult and, of course, then leave school with lower attainment. The society told me that those children can lack a sense of identity, so missing out on the support and richness of deaf culture. That is worth addressing.
Deaf children do not need access just to deaf services; they rely on health services too. The NICE—National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—guidelines on acceptable criteria for cochlear implants are now out of date and out of step with those in most other developed countries, such as the USA and Australia. Lots of parents are understandably frustrated by that. The children might not be reaching their potential with a hearing aid, but they do not meet the UK criteria for implants. Over the past year the Ear Foundation, a charity in my constituency, has lobbied NICE to review the guidance so that clinical discretion may be applied in the best interests of the children. I hope that the Minister will liaise with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care about what benefits access to that technology could bring for deaf children.
I am conscious of the time, but I hope that the Minister will also tell us a little about what is happening to ensure that deaf children and young people get access to proper careers information, advice and guidance, to help them as they enter the world of work. As we know, poorer educational opportunities mean poorer opportunities for life, and that impacts on things such as mental health and isolation, as my hon. Friend said. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I too congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate. Some things we disagree about, but there is a whole lot more that we agree about, and this subject is one of them. I look forward to supporting him in this debate, as I often do in many of the debates that he secures—likewise, to be fair, he often supports me.
Nothing is more frustrating than not being understood. At times, most especially at the beginning of my Westminster journey, I spoke to people in this place only for them to look at me searchingly, trying to get past my accent. Perhaps that is still an issue—I am not sure—but I hope everyone present can understand me. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) says, Jim Shannon gets more words to the minute than any other MP. I am not sure what she means, but I suppose I know what she is saying, so over the past few years I have tried to slow it down.
My point is that it is frustrating in the extreme not to be understood. I cannot imagine the frustration of deaf people who find it difficult to understand and to be understood, and there is also the frustration of those who love them, knowing how little help and support is offered through the education system or, as the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, the health system.
I know that Northern Ireland is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to give a flavour of what is happening there. There are 3,500 British Sign Language speakers and 1,500 Irish Sign Language speakers in Northern Ireland, but just 30 registered interpreters. That tells us immediately that deaf people have a problem being heard in Northern Ireland. There are 1,400 children —46 deaf children per teacher—who have moderate to profound hearing loss. The numbers do not add up, so it is impossible to deliver a system.
I read an interesting article in the Belfast Telegraph six months ago on this very topic. It reported that the prognosis was not good. It stated that,
“despite a 25% increase in the number of deaf children in the last seven years, the number of specialist teachers of the deaf has reduced by 16%.”
Of those teachers, 61% are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years, which is an issue that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and others raised. The Scotland and Northern Ireland director of the National Deaf Children’s Society said:
“In Northern Ireland we’ve got around 1,400 deaf children…out of those children, 71% of them are currently educated in mainstream school. In those schools, the staff require support from teachers who have the specialism to be able to deal with those deaf children.”
The article added:
“Additional support would allow trained staff to educate teachers on the awareness and communication needed for deaf children.”
The director continued:
“It would also allow for one-to-one tuition, if required, and organise specialised technology for the pupils. Those teachers help the children to integrate and they help the teachers to help the children to integrate, so it’s a dual support.”
We must remember that it is not just about being heard but about being part of the group of pupils. She further said:
“There’s a great opportunity here because of the five education and library boards recently consolidated into one Education Authority so we can take a Northern Ireland-wide approach in addressing this situation. We would like to see a plan to train new teachers of the deaf so we have new teachers coming through to replace those who retire in the near future, and we would like a recruitment drive to get more of them into the classroom. At the moment, because of the increase of children who are deaf along with the reduction in teachers…we will soon have in the workforce, we would like to see education for deaf children recognised.”
I could not agree more.
The numbers are increasing and we do not have capacity to handle them. We do not have a Minister in office either to bring about policy change, but we look forward to the possibility that that might happen. When we return on 15 October, some things will come before the House. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is beginning the process of bringing new legislation to this place to allow senior civil servants to make policy decisions. That cannot come soon enough.
A recent study found that deaf children are falling behind their hearing classmates due to funding cuts. Unfortunately, only 40% of deaf students achieve two A-levels, compared with 65% of hearing students. The National Deaf Children’s Society attributes this attainment gap to “year on year cuts”. Only 9% of deaf students attend a Russell Group university, which indicates where the fall-down is. We are failing to understand their needs, and that must change. Thomas Edison, thanks to whom this Chamber is lit with electric light bulbs, had scarlet fever in his youth and therefore was severely hearing impaired, but look what he did and what we have today thanks to him.
The Minister has had a hard week; he has been in this place three times to respond to debates. We need an impetus from his Department, here and back in Northern Ireland. The hearing impaired can excel if effort is put into the process. I want to be heard and understood; deaf children need to be, too. Everybody has that right. We must do better.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
On 5 March I had the great privilege of presenting a debate in response to the e-petition on making British Sign Language a part of the curriculum. Much of that debate was about giving deaf children the best possible chance of communicating with other people and the best educational outcomes. Sadly, attainment evidence shows that is not happening at present.
I want to talk about services for deaf children at a much earlier stage in the education system. I am sorry to have to do that; the latest figures show that services for deaf children are reducing across England. That means that their futures are being “stolen”, as the National Deaf Children’s Society puts it, because without the support, intervention and specialist skills that they need, they will not be able to make the best educational and social progress compared with other children who are not deaf or hearing impaired. That cannot be right.
There are more than 50,000 deaf children and young people in the UK. As we have heard, more than 90% of them are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. Some 80% of those children attend mainstream schools, where they may be the only deaf child in their school. Figures from the National Deaf Children’s Society show a stark difference in educational achievement as it is. In the early years foundation stage, 34% of pre-school deaf children were reported as having a good level of development compared with 76% of other children. At key stage 2, less than half of deaf children achieved the expected standard for reading, compared with 80% of other children. At key stage 4, deaf children achieve, on average, a whole grade less in each GCSE subject than other children. In recent years this attainment gap has widened. As we have heard, 41% of deaf young people achieve two A-levels or equivalent by the age of 19, compared with 65% of other young people. This is not a gap of intelligence but of the support and the tools to communicate and understand as other children do.
Where do deaf children sit in the special needs system? Most of them do not have an education, health and care plan. The NDCS estimates that less than a fifth of these children have a plan that sets out their supported needs. Most schools do not have the knowledge or skills to support deaf children themselves. Access to specialist support is essential for their learning and development. Because deafness is a low incidence need, that support is best provided by teams of experts, especially teachers of the deaf, centrally organised in education services, who can go out and provide support and advice to teachers, families and the children themselves. Research from the Department for Education just last year showed that specialist education services for deaf children play a crucial role in advising mainstream teachers and ensuring that the needs of deaf children are met. Those services are funded through the high-needs block of the dedicated school grant. It is essential that that service is provided centrally to help deaf children achieve in school.
As the National Deaf Children’s Society says, it is essential that services are funded in a way that allows early intervention not just at school but at pre-school, so that families and children can be given the best advice. It is worrying, as we have heard, that local authority spending on specialist education services for deaf children has been reducing since 2011. That includes my authority of Gateshead, where the budget for this year has reduced by 17%. Like many councils, Gateshead has done its best to protect funding for specialist services.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) about the pressures on funding and the asks of the National Deaf Children’s Society. I endorse those asks, but as we approach the comprehensive spending review we also need additional funding for local authorities, to provide these essential education services. I have met some incredible people in the course of the last year, from Erin, who I met last year, who is pushing for a GCSE, to Ella, who messaged me this week. It is important to give them the time they need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this important debate.
I pay homage to the work of the National Deaf Children’s Society in its “Stolen Futures” campaign. Earlier this year I had the honour of being invited to visit the Sunnyside Academy in Middlesbrough, where some of my constituents are employed and where deaf or hard of hearing children from Hartlepool receive an excellent education. Sunnyside is a mixed-sex primary school that services more than 350 children aged between three and 11. To say that my eyes were opened when I visited the place is an understatement. It truly was a magnificent experience to interact with the children, to visit their classrooms and to talk to teachers and support staff. I particularly enjoyed the magical experience of a signed storytelling and book reading session provided by one of my constituents. I was blown away by the experience and impressed by the enthusiasm of both staff and pupils.
The learning environment at Sunnyside is without question happy, comfortable and inclusive, but it made me think of two things: first, what experiences will the children have when they move to secondary school; and secondly, are there sufficient resources for sign language users and teachers of the deaf in our school system to support pupils? Sadly, according to the “Stolen Futures” campaign, the answer to the latter question is no.
Around 615 deaf children in Hartlepool receive support from the specialist education service for deaf students. The borough is part of a group of local authorities that jointly provide and commission services, but more than a third of local authorities in England plan to cut £4 million from their education support budgets for deaf children this year. That is likely to have a significant detrimental impact. The service is being reviewed this year, and it is vital that the feelings of parents and young people are taken into account. To help my constituents get the best education, that review must lead to improvements and factor in the growing demand for support from children with special educational needs.
What I saw at Sunnyside enthused me. I can only hope that the work of the teachers there is not in vain. It is important that we get the right resources and support in place to help students throughout their school career. That is why I fully support the National Deaf Children’s Society’s campaign.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for securing the debate, not least because it gives me an opportunity to present the cases of the many constituents who have been in touch about this issue. They and I are grateful for that opportunity.
I am privileged to have Elmfield School for Deaf Children in my constituency. It provides specialist services to early years and primary pupils in a specialist setting, but it has plans to integrate those into a mainstream setting. It also provides a secondary service, which is already integrated into Fairfield High School, a mainstream school in my constituency. Elmfield provides a full range of services, with signed bilingual educational approaches and an individual language profile for each pupil. I will say in a second why that is so important. However, like other schools, Elmfield struggles to meet demand. In the south-west, where there are more than 3,000 deaf pupils, there has been a 16% drop in the number of fully qualified teachers of the deaf and a 12% drop in the number of teachers training for that role. That is why, in Bristol and other places with vacancies, there are no guarantees that those specialist positions will be filled.
I picked two sets of constituents—Mr and Mrs Ward, and Mr and Mrs Bolton—at random from a number of families who got in touch with me. I thank them for doing so, and I will spend the rest of my speech telling their stories. Ella is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Bolton. She is in year 1 and is six years old. She has moderate hearing loss, which was diagnosed at birth, and wears hearing aids in both ears. I have met Ella, and her mum rightly describes her as a
“confident, creative, brave girl, who loves learning.”
She is bright and is expected to do well. However, because of the level of her hearing loss and the fact she appears to cope well in school, her disability is often overlooked when she is in a mainstream setting. The perception that it is not a serious condition or that she is coping or performing well means that the provision she requires to fulfil her potential is often missed. Ella has to put extra effort into hearing in the classroom, which gives her concentration fatigue. Because she has to focus so much on her teachers to be able to engage, on most days she is exhausted when she comes home. Her mum says it takes Ella until Sunday evening to fully recover before she starts again on the Monday morning.
Mrs Bolton says that deafness is not naturally understood by teachers, even with the best will in the world. Ella is an example of why specialist provision is required so much. However, as has already been said, this issue is not just about young people; it is about their families, too. Mrs Bolton told me how teachers of the deaf had helped the family come to terms with having a child who was deaf and with how best to support Ella at home and school. She wrote that teachers of the deaf played
“a pivotal role in providing and coordinating support and promoting deaf awareness”
among other staff and providers to Ella, and to the family.
Oli, the Ward family’s son, is much older and further down the track. They wrote that he had “a very mixed journey”, and that it felt like his choices narrowed and became more limited as he got older and progressed through the system. Mrs Ward says that specialist teachers of the deaf made a huge difference to Oli everywhere he went, not just in terms of education provision but in the way he navigated life socially in a mainstream setting. She says that teachers of the deaf were his lifeline on many occasions.
Oli moved around between specialist and mainstream provision while he was in secondary school, which caused him difficulties. Mrs Ward said she was told by a teacher that her son had outstanding GCSE results “for a deaf child.” She rightly makes the point that that should not be a distinction—just because someone is deaf does not mean a C is an outstanding grade for them if they have the potential to achieve an A. Mrs Ward wrote:
“Teachers of the deaf navigate schools and classrooms…in no end of subtle and clever ways”
to get the best out of her child, Oli, and so many other children, whom we want to flourish and do well.
I look forward to the Minister’s answers. There is cross-party support for getting this right. He has heard the stories of my constituents and those of local authorities on the frontline, which are really struggling to do the best, not just for children who are deaf but, as we have heard, for children with special educational needs. Many of my constituents face a struggle to get EHC plans in place, and schools cannot really afford to top up the money they get. This is a real slog. Parents, teachers and local authority staff are passionate about getting the best provision for deaf children and children with special needs to allow them to flourish, and I look forward to hearing how the Minister will help them do that.
The restraint on interventions and speeches means that we have gained a couple of minutes, so the Front-Bench spokespeople will have a generous 10 minutes each. I call Angela Crawley.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate, and on his sustained and dedicated campaigning on this matter. I welcome the fact that the House has made suitable accommodations so that the debate is accessible for everyone, and I welcome everyone watching, both here and at home. That should be standard practice, and I hope we can look at doing it for all debates.
The debate is important because we are looking at a section of society with particular needs that require specialist support. Where support for children and young people is available, they can achieve just as much as their hearing counterparts. However, as we heard, there is evidence that, where support is not provided, children can lag behind. That simply is not good enough.
Let me acknowledge some of the notable contributions to the debate. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse outlined the statistics, and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) highlighted his own experience, which was welcome. The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) rightly highlighted the issue of equalities. This is an issue of equalities of outcome, which we should always strive to do more about. As ever, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) represented Northern Ireland and spoke about his constituents—indeed, everyone who contributed did their constituents a service.
We have clear evidence of the effect of young people not being provided with support. Studies of educational attainment prove conclusively that we must pay more attention to this area. The debate has focused primarily on provision for deaf children in England, but as my counterpart the hon. Member for Strangford outlined, education powers have been devolved to Scotland and other areas.
In Scotland, there are 57,000 people with severe or profound deafness, and 701,000 with mild or moderate deafness. Many of them are people over 60 whose hearing has deteriorated with age, and the figures also include the estimated 2,000 deafblind people in Scotland.
Some 75 babies are born deaf in Scotland every year, of whom around five are born with severe to profound hearing loss. There are an estimated 3,000 children and young people under 25 with severe to profound deafness in Scotland, and approximately 34,800 in the whole UK. Nine out of 10 deaf children have hearing parents, many of whom have no experience of deafness, which shows just how important the existence of specialist services is to those children.
As in England, there is a fear that educational attainment in Scotland will fall due to the declining numbers of specialist teachers. We have already heard about the constraints on local authorities and funding services. There is a clear attainment gap for children from the deaf community across the UK, and while deaf pupils can achieve as much as their hearing peers with the right support, evidence shows that pupils with any degree of deafness score below the average academic scores, particularly in language subjects.
Early years education is crucial for children’s development, and it is important that deaf children are supported through the additional barriers that can delay development. One such challenge is the development of age-appropriate language for children as they experience communication barriers, because deaf children may struggle with social interaction in everyday communication. While most children pick up such skills during their early years through exposure to the language around them, deaf children can be three to five years behind other children. That can make it difficult for them to understand and recognise simple things such as sarcasm and humour when their hearing peers begin to develop such language and understanding.
As the National Deaf Children’s Society has outlined, there has been good progress in Scotland, particularly with the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 and the implementation of “Getting it right for every child”. However, I recognise that there is always more to do, and we must do more across the UK to tackle this issue.
Many of the deaf children in my constituency are lucky enough to be able to attend the Hamilton School for the Deaf, situated in the neighbouring constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West. The school is run by the South Lanarkshire local authority, which has a commitment to deaf children in our community. Pupils work in classes of no more than six, allowing intensive training specifically tailored to each child’s needs. Each class is led by a qualified teacher of the deaf and supported by classroom assistants with excellent signing skills. The school campus is shared with the neighbouring Glenlee Primary School, allowing some of the curriculum to be shared with hearing peers. This means that the children are not secluded from other children their age.
It is deeply important that children with additional needs are given the requisite support to allow them all the opportunities of their hearing peers. I join hon. Members and colleagues across the House in supporting calls for funding for deaf children’s services, as outlined by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the House for making BSL interpreters available to help people to follow today’s debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) not only for securing this important debate on deaf children’s services, but for his sterling work chairing the all-party parliamentary group on deafness. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken.
Many of us, I hope, will have fond memories of school, but we probably take for granted the fact that being able to hear facilitated our learning and socialisation during that time. We are living in an era where advances in technology and teaching mean that deaf children need not be isolated. Nor should they be missing out on this vital part of learning and interaction, but the tragedy of this debate is that they are.
That failure can be laid at the Government’s door. A toxic combination of Government-imposed local authority cuts, education cuts, the shambolic roll-out of SEND reforms and unfettered off-rolling have led to what the National Deaf Children’s Society rightly refers to as “stolen futures”. Local authority spending on services for children and young people has fallen in real terms by almost £1 billion since 2012, with a £3 billion shortfall predicted by 2025. Just last year, the APPG for children found that 89% of directors of children’s services were struggling to fulfil their statutory duties towards children in need of support.
In that environment, it is no surprise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse noted in his opening remarks, that over one third of local authorities in England plan to cut £4 million from their budgets for education support for deaf children this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) rightly said, all that will do is exacerbate current issues.
The recent steps to ring-fence SEND funding represent an inflexible policy, where strict rules mean that only 0.5% of a school’s overall budget can be transferred to the high-needs block. The policy is also not working, as evidenced by the 27 authorities that have appealed, asking that it be relaxed to meet their local need. Interestingly, the majority of successful appeals have all been in Conservative-led authorities—I sincerely hope the Minister is not playing politics with deaf children’s services and education.
The £50 million announced earlier this year to help local authorities create new places or improved facilities for SEND pupils is also nowhere near good enough. Not only is it not new money, but it is a one-off cash injection, not the sustainable funding that people are crying out for.
Up in the north-east, my hon. Friend and I are in neighbouring constituencies, so I am sure she will be aware of the situation in Sunderland. We have 236 deaf children in Sunderland, yet the local authority has had its budget to provide the services for those children cut by 10%. Does she agree that, at a time when we see an increase in the number of deaf children and when deaf children are to be supported up to age 25 through the reforms to SEND, which is good, we should be seeing more money put in to support these children, rather than cuts?
The SEND reforms are a topic I will refer to later in my speech, but my hon. Friend leads me aptly to my next point: that when funding and support are denied in cases such as the ones we are talking about today, education is also denied.
In his response, the Minister will likely refer to the funding given to the National Sensory Impairment Partnership and other bodies, but that money does not address the falling number of teachers of the deaf. Having British Sign Language-trained teachers is vital to deaf children, a point that was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), but some areas have only one specialist teacher per 100 students. I was sorry to hear from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that that scarcity of teachers is the same in Northern Ireland, although I should say to him that I always follow every single word he says, and I love listening to his speeches.
None of that should come as any shock, since our schools are facing the first real-terms funding cuts in 20 years, with £2.8 billion cut from their budgets since 2015. As always in these austere times, specialist provision is the first to go. Bamburgh School is a specialist school in my constituency, which is now in the unenviable position of having to pay out of an existing budget for its existing teachers to learn BSL level 1 on a 30-week course, which will take the school into a deficit. On top of that, these dedicated teachers are completing the course in what little free time they have. However, their equally dedicated headteacher, Peter Nord, shared with me that he has a duty to the children he teaches, who, without BSL, would not get the full learning experience they deserve.
Not every deaf child or school will have a head and teachers as dedicated as we have at Bamburgh or the Elmfield School for Deaf Children in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones). I wonder what will happen to those children. I appreciate that a review of the SEND workforce in schools is under way, but a report commissioned by the Department and published over two and a half years ago has already identified a drastic shortage of deaf teachers. Instead of yet another review to give the appearance of doing something, can the Minister please advise us when there might be a response to the review that was done nearly three years ago, and what the timescales are for the current ongoing review?
The decrease in support is taking place against the backdrop of an increasing number of children requiring it. In just the last year, the number of deaf children increased by 11%. Earlier this year, it was shown that the attainment gap between deaf children and hearing children has widened—the figures were ably shared with us by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist).
Sadly, Government neglect of deaf children continues throughout their education, with post-16 funding bearing no resemblance at all to the number of deaf pupils without an EHC plan. Just last year, it was revealed that some county councils in England charge 16 to 19-year-old SEND students £1,500 a year for their transport. Since 2015, students have been required to pay a £200 contribution towards the cost of certain essential equipment that used to be covered by the disabled students’ allowance.
Parents have told me that support often only comes with an EHC plan, yet we have heard that most deaf children do not have such plans. Those who do, as outlined by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), have to fight, and suffer the exhaustion of taking on, the might of their local authorities. A recent damning report by the local government and social care ombudsman found that children and young people were missing out on provision, with health often a missing factor.
As we heard, 80% of deaf children and young people are not on EHC plans and rely on SEND support from their local authorities, which authorities struggle to provide following savage cuts that have resulted in up to 40,000 deaf children in England having no support at all. Deaf children and young people also remain stubbornly over-represented in alternative provision and exclusion figures. Schools, headteachers, support staff and parents work tirelessly every day under ever-challenging circumstances to give our deaf children the very best education, which they deserve. The Minister should be doing the same, and I look forward to his letting us know his plans.
I will end with a quick quote from Thomas Bailey, a 16-year-old pupil from Bamburgh School in South Shields. He sums up far better than I or anybody here could the damaging impact of the Government’s policies:
“Being deaf makes me feel depressed and very frustrated. Having no support in school is very mean. When I don’t have support, I don’t have that person to repeat and break down that information for me and to sign important key words, so I am not able to learn the same as other children in class. I feel left out. Improving equipment would make the sound easier and clearer for me to hear, but having no equipment makes everything very quiet and unclear. This means I’m not getting any important information, leaving me feeling annoyed and again left out. My life and learning becomes a blank.”
The Minister should know that, unless he takes urgent action, the despair and emptiness so well articulated by Thomas will continue to be felt by more and more deaf children across our country.
Before I call the Minister, I remind him that it would be helpful if he left a couple of minutes for the debate’s sponsor to wind up.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and congratulate him on securing this important debate. Much of his speech rightly advocated for the National Deaf Children’s Society. I let him know at the outset that I will meet the NDCS on 29 October.
I thank the many colleagues who participated in this important debate, including the shadow Minister; they really brought home the voices of the different stakeholders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) talked about his daughter, who is a teacher; the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) spoke of the Bolton and Ward families; and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) spoke of his personal experience.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and the hon. Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) reminded us that Thomas Edison achieved so much with such a disadvantage. I also thank my good friend, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for her intervention.
The debate is timely, following my recent meetings with members of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness. I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including those who are deaf and hearing-impaired. It was great to see the percentage of pupils with a hearing impairment getting good GCSEs in English and maths increase last year, from 38% in 2011-12 to 46% in 2016-17. I congratulate those young people who received their results in August.
As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse pointed out, there is more to do, and I am determined that all children and young people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment receive the support that they need to achieve the success that they deserve. I think hon. Members will agree that the 2014 SEND reforms were probably the biggest change to the system in a generation. They are about improving the support available to all children and young people with special educational needs and disability. I am clear that this vision applies equally to deaf and hearing-impaired children and young people.
I think we all recognise that we are only part way to achieving our vision of the reformed SEND system. We know that there has been a steady movement of children with special educational needs out of mainstream schools and into specialist provision. We also recognise the significant consequence of this trend of moving away from mainstream schools into specialist provisions is extra pressure on councils’ high needs budgets, as we have heard from many colleagues.
The Secretary of State recently spoke at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services conference, where he set out his core mission, which I absolutely share, to provide every child with world-class education, training and care, whatever their background or needs. Our plan to build on the 2014 reforms includes equipping and incentivising mainstream schools to work with all pupils— I will say more about that in a few moments—and supporting and challenging local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to become more effective planners and commissioners of provision.
In the current financial environment, both central and local government continue to face difficult choices. Local authorities are best placed to judge local priorities and to make local funding decisions, in consultation with local people and having regard to the range of statutory responsibilities placed on them. However, I fully appreciate that that is not easy in times of financial constraint. To support local authorities, the core school funding that the Government provide will rise to a record £43.5 billion by 2020—a 50% real-terms, per-pupil increase since 2000. Within that total, the high needs budget for young people with more complex special educational needs in schools and colleges is £6 billion this year, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman, we will keep this level of funding under careful review and will of course discuss it with ministerial colleagues in the Treasury as part of the next spending review. I and my officials in the Department engage with local authorities and schools so that we understand what drives the increasing costs of provision and how we can support them in managing their high needs and wider special needs budgets.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the ring fence on the schools block and whether we can allow more flexibility for local authorities to fund schools more. I am sure he will agree that there is a balance to be struck in protecting spending on mainstream schools and making sure that local authorities have enough for high needs. We are keeping that under revision, as I mentioned. We are particularly interested to ensure that the financial incentives in the current system do not lead local authorities and schools to make decisions that are not in the best interests of their children and young people with special educational needs.
As the hon. Gentleman recognised, local authorities play a crucial strategic leadership role, both in managing the special educational needs provision in their area and in overseeing high needs budgets. Those responsibilities are discharged most effectively when there is a strong partnership between the local authority and education providers, good engagement with parents and young people, and a shared understanding of where different types of need are best met.
The Department has committed £23 million of additional funding to support local authorities to conduct strategic reviews of their SEND provision, and we are investing £265 million of additional capital funding specifically aimed at helping local authorities to develop provision for children and young people with education, health and care plans.
To respond to the hon. Gentleman’s specific point on funding for FE colleges, they also receive disadvantage funding, which provides funds to support students with additional needs, including moderate learning difficulties and disabilities. Disadvantage funding is not ring-fenced, which means that institutions are free to use that element of the funding to choose the best way to attract, retain and support those with additional needs.
I appreciate the reassurance that has just been given, but as the money is not ring-fenced, if the NDCS or anyone else can find any evidence that it is not being used properly for profoundly deaf students between the ages of 16 and 18, will the Minister be prepared to review the matter?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I will take up that point with the NDCS in our meeting on 29 October to understand the evidence in relation to that. In addition to high needs funding, colleges receive disadvantage funding, which provides funds to support students from areas of economic deprivation, based on the index of multiple deprivation—the IMD—and with additional needs, including moderate learning difficulties and disabilities. As I said, that funding is not ring-fenced and can be moved.
I am very supportive of local authorities working together and I know that many will be considering how best to support the sensory impaired children and young people in their area, including by working closely with neighbouring authorities to provide joint services. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney asked about joint working. To support that, we have established a national network for designated clinical officers, funded a local authority-led regional network and developed resources to support joint self-assessment and peer review. We have also funded a SEND leadership programme and legal training for all local authorities and their health partners to ensure that they are clear on their statutory responsibilities.
I understand that many local authorities have provided information to the National Deaf Children’s Society, setting out their plans for sensory support services in the future. My hon. Friend raised particular concerns about provision in Suffolk. We have provided an additional £140 million in high needs funding this year and will provide an additional £120 million next year. In Suffolk, the local authority will receive £59.9 million in high needs funding this year. I understand that Suffolk has not indicated cuts to funding for deaf services this year.
Also this year, we have contracted with the Whole School SEND Consortium to deliver a two-year programme to help to embed SEND in school improvement and help schools to identify and meet their training needs in relation to SEND. That will of course include ensuring schools, including mainstream schools, know where to access the expertise that they need to support pupils with a hearing impairment.
In addition, a team from University College London will be working with the SEND sector to understand better the supply, demand and drivers for SEND training and continuing professional development. That will enable us to target resources at addressing those areas, too. The National Sensory Impairment Partnership will feed the views of the sensory impairment sector into that work, and we will review the NDCS report on local authority funding as part of that work. We have also asked Ofsted to consider how our accountability system can sufficiently reward schools for their work with pupils who need extra support, and encourage schools to focus on all pupils, not just the highest achievers.
As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse stated, the vast majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. That is why the Government have separately invested in a number of programmes to support children and young people with hearing impairments, and their families. We have funded the development of an early support guide for parents of deaf children, available through the Council for Disabled Children website. In addition, we have funded the NDCS’s I-Sign project and the development of a family-orientated sign language programme, which is available free on the family sign language website.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether more can be done to ensure that school forums include more representation in respect of SEND. Local authorities are required to include at least one representative from a maintained special school, and a special academy, in their area. Many extend the representation of specialist providers by creating SEND subgroups to look specifically at issues relating to children and young people with SEND across the whole age range to 25. In some areas, there is strong partnership with parent groups so that they are engaged as well. We need to learn from those areas and spread that good practice.
I want to touch on a few issues that colleagues mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead and the hon. Member for Nottingham South talked about the lack of teachers for deaf and hearing impaired children. To be awarded qualified teacher status, trainees must satisfy the teachers’ standards, which include a requirement that they have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with SEN, and are able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them. Also, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) pointed out, we provided £900,000 of funding to the National Sensory Impairment Partnership between 2016 and 2018 to equip the school workforce. The new SEND schools workforce contract with the Whole School SEND Consortium, led by nasen—the National Association for Special Educational Needs—aims to equip schools to identify and meet their training needs.
There was a question on the specialist workforce and the report by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education that there has been a 14% reduction in the number of teachers for deaf children over the past seven years. That is based on annual surveys of local authority specialist educational services, and we will look at it very carefully, especially in my discussion with the NDCS. As I understand it, the figures do not include teachers of the deaf in special schools, but I will take that up with the NDCS.
The hon. Member for Blaydon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead spoke about British sign language and the curriculum. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for School Standards has written to the NDCS. We are open to considering a proposal for a new GCSE at this stage—for possible introduction during this Parliament. The development of a new qualification is of course a lengthy process, but we are certainly open to that.
I shall conclude now to allow my very good friend the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse to wind up the debate.
I am very grateful for and appreciate the responses from the Front Benchers. I hope that when the Minister has the opportunity to meet the NDCS in October, he will have good news for it. I have been somewhat encouraged by some of his responses to the questions that I have asked today, but he has heard appeals from everybody who has spoken. He knows the pressures that have been described, and the hope is that he can champion the deaf community in Government.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for our opportunity to have this debate; the signers for their sterling work; the House authorities for providing them with this opportunity; and all colleagues who have contributed to the debate. Many of them made kind comments about me, and I am grateful for them, but they apply to everybody who has participated in the debate and all the members of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness, who work with and for deaf people and with great organisations such as the National Deaf Children’s Society, Action on Hearing Loss, Auditory Verbal, The Ear Foundation and so many others.
Deaf people do not want charity. We know that. They want fairness. This debate demonstrates that we here collectively get that, and the hope is that the Government get it, too.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered deaf children’s services.
Road Safety (Schools)
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered road safety around schools.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for granting time for this debate. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to discuss an issue of national and international significance, which has had a profound effect in my constituency.
Bobby Colleran was a bright, fun and loving boy. He was good at football. He loved playing cowboys and Indians, and he loved his Xbox. As his mum put it, he was, “Cheeky but charming.” He was,
“his own person and didn’t care what anyone thought.”
He loved his family and friends, and would not allow anyone to be upset or alone when he was around.
Bobby loved his nan and his grandad Richie—“Grandy,” he called him. He loved his mum, Joanne, and his dad, David. He was the “Most loving little boy.” Bobby was the middle child and he loved it that way. He had his big brother, Harry, and his younger “twinnies”, Frankie and Georgie. When his younger brothers started school, Bobby would stand by the nursery railing every day at playtime, to check that they were okay and to talk to them. He had a big, caring heart.
On 24 October 2014, while Bobby was returning home from Blackmoor Park Infant School with his mum, he was knocked down and he died. He was six years old. The incident, when it happened, sent shockwaves around my constituency of West Derby, and around Liverpool as a whole. The coroner said:
“When a six year old dies in these circumstances, it affects the whole city.”
As the local community mourned, questions were asked about how this could have happened outside a school. In the aftermath of Bobby’s death, the Bobby Colleran Trust was created. The trust works hard to encourage and promote better road safety awareness for children and parents, and throughout the education system, to help prevent future tragedies. We are here because we need to ensure that roads around schools are safe for children and parents, because we want to see changes in the law that will make the areas around schools less dangerous, and because we owe it to Bobby and his family to make it clear that an incident of this nature should never happen again.
The Bobby Colleran Trust is leading the way in encouraging local authorities and the Government to make our roads safer. I am pleased to say that it has had a lot of success in the city of Liverpool. People across Liverpool applaud and endorse its efforts to make roads near schools safer. One way it is doing that is by encouraging schools to introduce Bobby zones. If you drive around Liverpool, Mr Evans, you will see huge banners outside schools with the straightforward slogan, “Slow Down for Bobby”, next to a picture of his face. In fact, every primary school in Liverpool now has a Bobby zone banner, which is a testament to the Colleran family’s ceaseless work for Bobby’s legacy.
I also want to put on the record my thanks to Radio City in Liverpool, which has supported the Colleran family and the Bobby Colleran Trust since its creation. I am pleased that Adam from Radio City is here today, along with the Colleran family. They have used the medium of radio to raise awareness of Bobby zones and the “Wear Blue for Bobby” campaign.
Bobby zones are designed to slow down the traffic around schools and prevent the unnecessary build-up of vehicles. The maximum speed limit in a Bobby zone is 20 miles per hour. No dropping-off or picking-up is allowed in the Bobby zone, even when the traffic appears to be at a standstill. Drivers should not park on the pavement in any manner within these zones, as that can force pedestrians into the road, which can act as a further distraction to other road users. Drivers should not park in locations that could block the walkway for children and parents. Drivers should be extra vigilant in these zones, and aware that the surrounding area is full of children and their families.
I know that there is an appetite for such measures right across the country. In the past 24 hours, just on social media, I have had responses from parents, campaigners and others from right across our country. In July, for example, there was a furious row at a meeting of Manchester City Council, where discussions were held about which schools in Manchester should get new safety crossings. Earlier this year, two children were knocked down outside Crossacres Primary School in Wythenshawe, Manchester. According to the council’s road safety sub-committee, there were 48 serious incidents outside Manchester schools from 2014 to 2016. A legally enforced Bobby zone outside those schools may have prevented some of those incidents from happening in the first place.
Bobby zones have probably already saved lives in Liverpool. In a cruel twist of fate, earlier this year, on what would have been Bobby’s 10th birthday, another pupil from Bobby’s school, Blackmoor Park, was knocked over in nearly exactly the same spot as Bobby. Paramedic Gary Earps, who had just picked up his daughters from the school, saw the incident and rushed over to help. Fortunately, the pupil suffered only a broken leg, but it could have been a great deal worse. In an interview with Radio City, Gary said that he believed that the Bobby zone had saved that child’s life. He said:
“If what happened…is a prime example, then a life’s been saved because of this. You’re not going to eradicate incidents, but what you can do is put measures in place to minimise injury or death ultimately… I think every school in the country should have these zones where the speed limit is low.”
Bobby zones are now in effect outside every primary school in Liverpool, but that alone is not enough. Like Gary, I would like to see a Bobby zone outside every school across our country. The small changes that drivers and other road users can make will have a lasting impact on the safety and security of roads around schools. Does the Minister agree that every school should have a Bobby zone? If so, what action will the Government take to make that a reality?
The Bobby Colleran Trust did not stop at Bobby zones. It has developed very helpful education tools for schools to use to help educate their pupils about road safety. One such programme is the “Superbob!” books, developed and written by local author Jude Lennon. Superbob is, as we might imagine, a bit of a superhero. His most important job is not to fight crime or take on the bad guys, but to help people cross the road safely. The aim of the book is to create an interactive, fun, educational resource that can be used in primary school assemblies. It has been taken up not only in Liverpool but across the north-west of England. Since the book was launched, Jude Lennon has visited hundreds of schools and spoken to nearly 60,000 children about staying safe on the roads. Indeed, the book was such a huge success that it spawned a sequel, and earlier this year “Superbob S.T.O.P: Superbob Tells Off Parents” was released.
The trust has also given out around 15,000 high-visibility jackets for pupils, which make students more visible when they go to and from school, particularly in winter, and therefore easier for road users to spot. In April, the trust established a children’s bereavement counselling service in conjunction with Aquarius counselling. The service provides support to grieving children and young people between the ages of five and 19 living across Merseyside, in Liverpool, Huyton, Knowsley and Sefton. The counselling team provides therapy in creative ways, for example through artwork, music, role play, storytelling and dance. The trust has done so much good work in Bobby’s name that in some ways it is hard to put into words. The passion with which the Colleran family have pushed the issue speaks to their heartfelt desire to ensure that no child is knocked down or killed outside school ever again, and I want that to become a reality, too.
I have been a long-standing supporter of improving road safety and, in particular, recognising those who respond in the immediate aftermath. In my previous tenure as the Member for Enfield, Southgate, a similarly tragic incident led to my becoming chair of the Livia awards. The Livia Award for Professionalism and Service to Justice is an annual award given to the Metropolitan police officer in the traffic operational command unit judged to have provided the most meritorious service. It arose from an exceptional circumstance: the untimely, tragic and avoidable death of Livia Galli-Atkinson, who was killed in Enfield on her way to ballet on 12 January 1998. I have proudly chaired the Livia award panel for almost 20 years. I pay tribute to Livia’s parents, Guilietta and George. Like Joanne and David Colleran, they are dedicated campaigners for road safety.
In 2003, when I was an education Minister, I was pleased to speak at the first Safe Routes to School conference in Leicester, which had been organised by the charity Sustrans. The Safe Routes to School programme was set up by the previous Labour Government to support infrastructure developments around school catchment areas and clusters to make it easier and safer for pupils to walk or cycle to school. Surveys show that one of the main barriers for parents allowing their children to walk or cycle is concern for their safety along the way. The fund was set up to mitigate such concerns by building cycle paths and walkways, laying down road markings and introducing clearer signage to help get pupils to school safely. The Scottish Government still run a similar scheme. Will the Minister update the House on the status of safe routes to school now in England?
Every month, almost 200 children receive life-threatening injuries or tragically lose their life while crossing a road in our country. Evidence shows that 11 and 12-year-olds are the most at-risk group when it comes to road safety. An 11-year-old pedestrian is three times more likely to be killed or seriously injured during the school run than a 10-year-old. That age group accounts for almost one third of all child pedestrian deaths. The statistic is striking, and I understand that the main explanation is that 11 is the age at which many children get their first mobile phone. Nearly a quarter of 11 and 12-year-olds say that they have been distracted when crossing a road because of a mobile phone or MP3 player.
I am told that the term for such people is “smombie”, which we think means a smartphone zombie. So-called smombies put themselves at risk by not paying attention to the road, but it also puts drivers under more pressure and risks unnecessary incidents. In fact, in some states of the United States and in Abu Dhabi, it is illegal to cross the road while using a mobile phone. I am really pleased to hear that First News will be running a big campaign on this specific issue during Road Safety Awareness Week in November to try to educate children about the dangers of not paying full attention when crossing the road.
It is vital that children and young people have road safety education and skills from the youngest possible age so that they can continue to put those into practice in their teens and then in adulthood. That is one of the reasons why the Superbob books are so important; they teach children a lifelong lesson—the often neglected lesson—of how to cross a road safely. What are the Government doing to ensure that all students are given high-quality road safety education in schools across the country?
Since 2010, the Government have increasingly sought to devolve transport powers to local government and to city regions. Of course, that brings with it some benefits as it allows local areas to adapt their roads and transport to local needs and priorities. However, safety around school is an issue of national significance, so I urge the Government to develop and update their national framework in conjunction with schools, the police and local authorities to ensure that best practice is enforced throughout the country.
In 2010, when the current Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Secretary of State for Transport, he told the Transport Committee,
“We have not ruled out”
a new national road safety framework. Indeed, the coalition Government released the framework in 2011, but it lacked specific recommendations on how to deal with road safety around schools. Do the Government have any plans to update the road safety framework? If so, will they consider the specific set of issues of safety around schools, including my suggestion that Bobby zones be taken up as a national priority?
Unfortunately, last year we saw in this country a small increase in the number of deaths on the road after a long period in which in most years the figures declined. In 1990 more than 5,000 people were killed on the roads. The figure for 2017 was 1,792. That fall is hugely welcome and is in part down to the extraordinary campaigning of organisations such as RoadPeace and Brake, and of course the Bobby Colleran Trust. However, 1,792 deaths is still 1,792 deaths too many. We have some of the safest roads in the world, but that does not mean we can be complacent. We must instil best practice, ensuring that roads around our schools are safe for children and families, and listen to groups that have been working on the issue, such as the Bobby Colleran Trust, which are out in the community making changes to people’s lives and wellbeing.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite the Minister to meet me and the Colleran family in Liverpool. I know that he met them briefly at the beginning of the debate this afternoon, and I thank him for that, but if he has the chance to come to Liverpool he will see the schools with their Bobby zone banners and gain an appreciation of the city-wide impact that Bobby’s death had, and the city-wide effect of the campaigning efforts of his family and the trust. I wish, of course, that we were here debating the issue in less tragic circumstances, but we have an opportunity to learn the lessons from the death of Bobby Colleran and to do everything in our power to ensure that no other child is hurt or dies on our roads. In many ways, Bobby has left a wonderful legacy: 60,000 children are better educated about road safety, there are Bobby zones in every primary school in Liverpool, and now there is a special bereavement service for young people and children across the north-west of England. Let us keep Bobby’s legacy going by making sure that every school in the country has a Bobby zone, and by keeping pupils and their families as safe as we can.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr Evans. I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for initiating it and for the way he spoke. He set out some appalling reasons why this matter is important, and why it is important for the Government to take more action—to assess what they can do to improve road safety around schools and give a lead to local authorities. The local authority aspect of the matter is what I want to talk about.
It would be wrong of me not to mention my heartfelt sympathy for the family of Bobby Colleran, who are seated behind me, in the Public Gallery. Any parent will be aware of how horrifying it is to think about one of their children no longer being with them. It is unimaginable, and I can only pay tribute to the Colleran family for the way they put their energies and focus into making things better for other parents, and for their dignity. They are lucky to have the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby as their MP, campaigning on their behalf.
I was moved to attend the debate because I serve a rural constituency of 200 square miles with many small primary schools. Naturally, they are on roads, and as those roads have got busier, the safety situation has got worse. For example, Punnetts Town Community Primary School, a few miles from where I live, is on a busy road, on the left-hand side as one drives through. On the right-hand side are the car park, sports facilities and other amenities the children go to, such as forest school. To get from drop-off, or to use the amenities during the day, which is good for their health and fitness, the children have to cross a busy road. There is no crossing, and there are no lights. There is nothing; the children just have to cross when it is safe to do so on a busy, straight road. It is not safe to do that.
My frustration, and the point on which I look to the Government to lead local authorities to do more, is about the fact that, while there is a 30 mph zone, which of course tends to be flouted, and a flashing sign indicating a speed limit of 30 mph as drivers come in, we are told by East Sussex County Council that it will cost £120,000 to deliver a puffin crossing. I have put some research together, and I could do that work a lot cheaper. The difficulty is that local authorities, perhaps with their procurement on a smaller, localised basis, cannot buy equipment at as good a cost as they could if all local authorities acted together to cram the prices down. There is also a tendency to say, “It will cost this amount,” and to decide that, therefore, it is a question of spending money the council does not have or doing nothing. Many of the costs in the project I have outlined would relate to moving some signage. The parents would be happy with the signage as it is, if they could get the puffin crossing. We tend to go to the platinum standard, whereas the parents would find the gold standard absolutely adequate.
Another difficulty is that there is no longer a lollipop lady, because she decided it was not safe enough. My idea was to monetise 10 years’ worth of lollipop salaries and put them towards the cost of the puffin crossing. Then we would not need the lollipop lady. However, that type of thinking does not seem to work in local authorities. I recognise that the Government do not control the issue, which is devolved to local authorities—we want local authorities to keep making those decisions—but there must be a better way to lead or advise them on procurement. To some extent, there should also be a model in which they are told, “You have to provide this.” It should not be enough to say, “It is too expensive and we can’t afford it, so there will be nothing.” I therefore pay tribute to one of the parents, Alice Conyers-Silverthorn, and the councillors, who have together rallied to try to make the change happen.
I want to champion those who go into schools to teach safety awareness, such as by helping with artwork to be displayed by the road, as happened in the village of Five Ashes. Susan King, a resident of Cross in Hand, goes into a school to give awards to pupils for their work. She also tries to encourage parents not to bring their children by car in the first place. I am afraid that parents’ parking often increases the dangers to their own children or, more often, their children’s fellow pupils.
The ideas behind the Bobby zone are superb, because they effectively ring-fence an area that is safe. However, that will not work in isolation, because the issue of where to park then arises. So I want every primary school in the country to have a walking bus. It should be a statutory requirement. Walking is good for health, and it would mean a school would have one central point where everyone would be dropped off and where it would be safer. Cars would then not congregate around the school gates. That should be built in.
I should like more children to walk and cycle. Doing that is a bit of a double-edged sword at the moment. It is not safe to walk and cycle, so everyone drives cars, but that is what leads to its not being safe in the first place. On 10 October, it is Walk to School Day, when all pupils are encouraged to walk to school. I do not know about when you were growing up, Mr Evans, but there was a cycle ride and a walk for me. I walked to school four times a day, because I went home for lunch. Understandably, parents are now more concerned about safety, but I would tell parents in my constituency to let their children go a little more—let them walk. If the Government can make changes that make walking safer, parents, in return, could let things go. When we consider such things as type 2 diabetes, there is more need than ever to get children walking and cycling, to be fit and well.
My final point is about police enforcement. I have written to the chief constable of Sussex police. When I knock on doors in villages, speeding tends to be the issue people raise more than anything, including Brexit. It is all a question of how they can keep their community and environment safe. Part of the issue is of course engineering, but another part is enforcement. A welcome 250 extra police officers are now coming to East Sussex, and I should like them to be allocated for at least part of their time to road enforcement, stopping those who speed, making examples of them and thus lessening the chance of its happening again.
The Minister takes great care and attention with this matter. He met a group of my constituents who came to talk about speeding on the A21, which is one of the busiest trunk roads and has a primary school on it. That is our only school with a 20 mph zone; but another one, Vinehall School, further down, does not have one. I should like more roads to be routed away from schools. If that means more housing to build the roads, it would fix two issues.
I am a member of the Transport Committee, and it is about to consider local roads. What I have heard in the debate about the Colleran family, and what they have been through, will inspire me to try to broaden the subject to include road safety around schools.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding this afternoon, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. As he said, every road casualty is a tragedy, and the death of Bobby Colleran is no different. I join my hon. Friend in commending the campaign to remember Bobby, and I love the idea of Bobby zones. It is very personal and it makes the point.
When I was a Minister with responsibility for road safety, I had the privilege of meeting several families who were affected by a family member being killed and who channelled their grief and bereavement into campaigning for the safety of others and for road safety in general. Bobby’s is a powerful story, and we want to ensure that it is transmitted across the political spectrum. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the suggestion about Bobby zones and the progress that might be made.
I hope the Minister will also respond to the points of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) about school crossings, parking near schools, school travel plans and 20 mph zones. I know the hon. Gentleman talked about 30 mph zones, but, certainly in London, the big campaign is for schools to have 20 mph zones. Most of them are there, but enforcement is key.
I raised the issue of deaths of schoolchildren in an international context earlier this year, on 29 March and 24 April. The United Nations and the World Health Organisation estimate that about 500 children leave for school every day and do not return home. That is one reason why the sustainable development goals contain targets to cut the numbers killed and seriously injured on the world’s roads. At the moment, more than 1 million people die on the world’s roads every year, and 20 million are seriously injured.
In the UK, we are lucky, because we have one of the best road safety records in the world. In a variety of ways, we also help many countries that are more challenged. The charity Fire Aid, which I chair, delivers equipment and training from fire brigades and the fire sector across the country. It also trains fire brigades in developing countries, in particular, in post-crash response. In many countries across the world, apart from delivering that equipment and those techniques, it delivers the THINK! campaign’s road safety education programmes to get the message out in schools, as the Minister knows.
As has been mentioned, however, the domestic statistics do not make comfortable reading. A paper from the Department for Transport shows that, on average in 2013, which is when the last available data in the World Health Organisation’s global status report comes from, one child aged nought to 15 was killed and 37 were seriously injured every week in the UK. It also shows that most were killed or injured on their way home from school.
This year, the Department for Transport published a capacity review for the UK. It says:
“The removal of the ring-fenced Road Safety Grant and the substantial reductions in local highway investments and in traffic policing levels, experienced since 2010, have had visible impact on the level and quality of activity. Most local authorities are struggling to carry out and prioritise effective road safety activity in a time of budget cuts and growing demand in other areas, such as social care, without the impetus provided in the past from national measurable objectives”—
I will come back to that later. It goes on to say:
“Britain’s safety record for pedestrians and cyclists does not compare well to the leading road safety performers internationally.”
The latest Department for Transport figures for 2016 on child deaths and injuries show a jump compared with other figures, as has been mentioned. The number of child deaths in reported road traffic accidents in 2016 was 69, which is 15 more than the 54 child deaths that occurred in 2015. The 2016 figures are the highest since 2009. The Department for Transport’s factsheet on child casualties says:
“Children under the age of 16 are one of the most vulnerable road users”,
which I think we can all understand, adding that
“child pedestrians are not experienced and well educated about using the road…78%...involved in accidents failed to look properly”,
“38%...were careless, reckless or in a hurry.”
This is very much about education. Some 72% of the accidents that kill or seriously injure children on a school day happen between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock or between 3 o’clock and 7 o’clock—clearly during the school run. That is despite the fact that the proportion of trips where children walk to school has fallen from 47% in 1997 to 42% in 2013.
To come back to my original point about measurability, in 2010, the coalition Government decided to break with the 30-year consensus on having targets to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. That decision was badly received by the whole road safety industry. The targets had been introduced by the Administration of Mrs Thatcher—later Baroness Thatcher—in 1986, when I think the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) was the Minister with responsibility for road safety.
The coalition Government decided that they did not want to risk being accused of failure if the targets were not met, but the targets were never about providing an opportunity for party political point scoring. They were about creating an atmosphere for all involved and demonstrating the ambition that we wanted to do better and to have safer roads.
Perversely, the coalition Government, and now this one, have happily signed up to European Union targets and to the UN’s sustainable development goals, which also have targets. We are joining in on international targets, but we will not set a target in the United Kingdom. If the Government want to demonstrate some determination in this area, they need to announce that they will go back to killed or seriously injured—KSI—targets, which were started by a Conservative Government more than 30 years ago and which should be in position today.
All hon. Members hold the Minister in high regard, have great respect for him and do not doubt the integrity he brings to his position. We all wish him well, but we need a Department for Transport policy that reflects his personal commit. I look forward to his response to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby about Bobby zones, and to other hon. Members’ exhortations about doing better for schools kids. I also look forward to the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner).
I am more than pleased to support the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who put the case so succinctly. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman): the constituents of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby are lucky to have such a conscientious and hard-working constituency MP. This debate is an example of the hard work that he does, so I say well done to him. I also thank the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Bexhill and Battle for their contributions.
I commend the family of Bobby Colleran and extend my sympathies to them. This debate is taking place because of the tragedy that took place. It brings it back to us all. I well remember the death in a collision of a six-year-old child down the street from one of my local schools—the Model Primary School in Newtownards—not more than two years ago. Whatever the reasons for that, a family was bereaved. I still consciously think of that family, and particularly the parents, as they continue to grieve. They are very much in my thoughts and prayers.
At most of our schools, we have warning lights in place and a sign advising people to reduce their speed, but I am an advocate for a 20 mph speed limit during school time on any road that has a school. The Minister cannot respond to my questions about Northern Ireland, but I echo the comments and the contributions that have been made, because it is the same issue wherever it may be—it does not change because it happens to be on the mainland and not in Northern Ireland, or in Scotland or Wales—and what we need to do is the same.
Two weeks ago, in my major town of Newtownards, Transport NI, which was previously known as the Roads Service, put in a new pedestrian crossing across from the local secondary school. That was the result of the hard work of the elected representatives, including local councillors, Members of the Legislative Assembly and me as the Member of Parliament. It was necessary, because the school has more than 1,000 pupils. The car park is alongside the school, but many pupils cross the road to get to the school, so that crossing is good news.
I am of a generation—Mr Evans, there might be at least one other person not too far from me who is of the same generation or thereabouts—that well remembers the green cross code, which was the methodology of encouraging and educating our young people on the way to cross a road. I suppose that big man in that green and white suit with a green cross on his chest was the guy who put it in our minds, and it was effective. However, times change and moves on, and the reality has changed. There has been a build-up of schools and housing around schools, and the increased number of children involved means that we have to change how we do things.
It is coincidental that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby has secured the debate this week. I think it was yesterday that the announcement was made in Northern Ireland that the Schools (Part-Time 20mph Speed Limit) Order (Northern Ireland) 2018 will come into operation on 18 September for certain schools, including one in my constituency. Carrickmannon Primary School, which I and others have been lobbying on behalf of for the last couple of years, is currently adjacent to a national speed limit area, Carrickmannon Road in Ballygowan. The effect of the order is that the national speed limit, which is applicable to eight lengths of roads, will be reduced to 20 mph, when a 20 mph limit is indicated by means of a variable-message traffic sign.
There will be a number of these zones in Northern Ireland. As I say, there will be one in my constituency, and I will be very pleased to see it in place, because we have campaigned long and hard for it. Carrickmannon Primary School is a rural school, and I go back to the examples the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle gave earlier of rural schools. Indeed, Carrickmannon Primary School is right out in the middle of the countryside. The road has a couple of corners on either side of the school, it is bumpy, and there are large businesses, including a quarry, close by. The traffic going up and down that road, including large vehicles, is quite exceptionally heavy, and someone who does not know about the school will not know they are coming upon it until they come round a corner and over a hump.
Those are the realities, so how do we respond to them? To be fair, Transport NI, which was formerly the Roads Service, has responded in a way that shows it agrees that the 20 mph speed limit is absolutely critical and crucial; we welcome that, and I want to put that on the record as well. Many people lobbied for that 20 mph zone near Carrickmannon, including the principal of the school, the parent-teacher association and local representatives. Again, it is a victory for community, and for pupil and teacher power. That is good news.
I met school teachers and officials from the then Roads Service back in October 2016—very close to two years ago—and it is great to see the 20 mph zone coming into place. However, such zones should not simply be for this school and the other rural schools on the Northern Ireland list, but should be established throughout the Province and indeed across the UK as a whole.
I have also lobbied for some time on behalf of Grey Abbey Primary School, which is also in my constituency. Again, there are flashing lights up on either side of the road, but the school is on a corner, so it is in a difficult place. However, it seems logical to have the 20 mph speed limit for a corner that is actually right-angled; I cannot understand why there is not one there already, but there we are. Kirkistown Primary School is another local school that comes to mind. There is a straight bit of road beside it, but a 20 mph speed limit there would still be critical and crucial.
I know that such zones are in operation near many schools across England. The UK’s first 20 mph zones were introduced in England in 1991, in Sheffield, Kingston upon Thames and Norwich. Increasing the safety of road users and pedestrians has been the primary driver of 20 mph zones in the UK. It is now estimated that there are 2,150 such zones in operation in England, which again is an indication of the commitment by successive Governments to address this issue. However, what we may need to do now—it is perhaps why we are having this debate—is to try to up the ante and prioritise the issue, to see whether we can move closer to reducing the number of deaths around schools and finally stop them.
Case study evidence indicates that 96% of 20 mph zones take the form of vertical traffic calming/deflection measures, such as road humps. Only 1% of zones utilise horizontal measures, such as chicanes; 3% contain a mix of vertical and horizontal measures. Some 10% of 20 mph are speed limit-controlled areas using signing only. The UK Department for Transport recommends the use of signed-only 20 mph zones in places where speeds are already low.
We cannot ignore the statistics, even though they may be hard to listen to. The majority of pedestrian casualties occur in built-up areas; 29 of the 34 child pedestrians and 302 of the 413 adult pedestrians who were killed in 2016 died on built-up roads. Pedal cyclists are also vulnerable in built-up areas, with more than half of the cyclist deaths in 2016, at 58 out of 102, and most cyclist casualties in that year, at almost 17,000 out of nearly 18,500, occurring on built-up roads.
In total in 2016, 789 people were killed, almost 16,000 people were seriously injured and 113,055 people were slightly injured in reported road collisions on built-up roads in Great Britain. A large proportion of those accidents occurred on residential roads, with 90 deaths on B roads in built-up areas and 309 deaths on other minor roads in built-up areas. In Northern Ireland alone, we have had some 2,600 collisions close to schools, which signals—if I can use that terminology—a need for change, and although I welcome the change that has happened thus far, I believe that we need to do more.
The facts are clear. I think the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle referred to a 30 mph zone. If someone is driving at 40 mph and they hit a child, they will probably kill them; at 30 mph, the child has an 80% chance of survival; and at 20 mph, the child is likely to survive being hit, with only minor injuries. Those statistics show quite clearly why we need to have 20 mph zones outside all schools; having them would be simple and would save lives. If anyone wants the facts and the statistics, those are the key ones; I think they prove the case that a 20 mph speed limit around schools has made a difference.
I do not make this comment for the Minister to respond to, but our current budget at home, channelled through Transport NI, does not allow us to undertake all of the prioritising that is needed for the creation of 20 mph zones. Nevertheless, I believe that the eight such zones that will be created in Northern Ireland, including the one in my constituency, are a step on the road towards trying to change things, and will hopefully initiate the drive from within to make change happen.
I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who said in his introduction that there must be additional ring-fencing of the funding that is given centrally, and I ask for that to be considered in the upcoming Budget discussions. Also, as a result of this debate, I will go back to Transport NI, not only to congratulate it on the Carrickmannon school zone but to remind it that there are other such zones to be done —I will do that while thanking officials.
It is not difficult to see that we can and should do more, at every school, in every town, in every village and for every child—now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this crucial debate. He has long been a prominent campaigner for better road safety, not only as a Member of Parliament but, as we have heard, when he was a Minister in the Department for Education, where he did a great deal of work to improve road safety around schools, and we thank him for that.
I pay tribute to the family of Bobby Colleran and to the important work that the Bobby Colleran Trust does. I know that the introduction of Bobby zones outside schools in Liverpool has been successful. The roll-out of such zones nationally is something that the Government should seriously consider. I am very keen to meet people from the trust to hear more about the great work it does.
Over the past two decades the UK has earned a reputation for having roads that are among the safest in the world. Sadly, over the past eight years progress has stalled and even begun to reverse. The latest statistics show that road deaths are at a five-year high and that serious, life-changing injuries are up by 9%. The latest data from the Department for Transport shows that child pedestrian fatalities rose by 36% in 2016, and they were up slightly the following year. The introduction of maximum 20 mph speed limit zones around schools would help reduce the number of such incidents dramatically. All the evidence shows that areas that have implemented the 20 mph limit have seen a reduction in casualties. My own city of Hull has introduced a number of 20 mph zones to address the issue. Over a six-year period, we have seen a staggering 74% drop in child pedestrian casualties.
The 20 mph zones would not just have benefits for road safety; importantly, they would improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and encourage more physical activity, such as walking and cycling, by contributing towards a safer environment. In the Labour party’s 2017 manifesto, we said that a future Labour Government
“will reset the UK’s road safety vision and ambitiously strive for a transport network with zero deaths, reintroducing road-safety targets, setting out bold measures that will continuously improve safety standards.”
Will the Minister say why the Government scrapped the road safety targets introduced by previous Governments?
The Government talk about road safety being a top priority, but they have failed to reduce the number of people seriously injured or killed on our roads. The evidence points to the reduction targets working successfully to promote safer roads. Enforcement is a vital part of keeping our roads safe, yet the number of traffic police officers has been slashed due to huge cuts to police forces. It is not a time to be party political—the debate is far more important than that—but the evidence shows that when police officer numbers are slashed, casualty numbers near schools tend to go up. According to a Department for Transport statistical table, the number of serious road injuries increased by 7% in the year to September 2017. Do the Government not recognise the link? It is time for them to reverse the cuts they have imposed during their time in office, which have undoubtedly led to the decline in road safety we have seen in recent years. I look forward to hearing what the Government are doing.
Although we have one of the safest road networks around, we should never be complacent, and the Government should be doing much more to make our roads even safer. The roll-out of Bobby zones nationally would go a long way towards reducing deaths and serious injury. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s remarks on the important points raised during today’s debate.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate on road safety around schools. I very much share his concern about the issue. It is a sobering fact that children are killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents every year near schools. The hon. Gentleman will have heard many stories, and he referred to a couple in his speech in a moving and heart-rending way. He will have heard such stories in his previous role as shadow Secretary of State for Education and in other positions in and around government.
I also pay tribute to Mr and Mrs Colleran for the work they have done. It was lovely to meet them briefly earlier, and I look forward to a further conversation. I absolutely pay tribute to them, because obviously Bobby Colleran was a marvellous, marvellous boy. They have vindicated his memory by the great actions and energy they have shown in promoting Bobby zones and the other measures that the hon. Gentleman discussed. I have been through their website with some care, read the stories and seen the work, and I pay tribute to them. It is a remarkable achievement.
I and my officials are only too keenly aware of road traffic fatalities and injuries and the need to protect the most vulnerable road users. As Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Gentleman will know that by internationally measured standards the UK has an excellent road safety record and a long history of success in encouraging safe behaviour from all road users. This country should be proud of the fact that the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads dropped by 61% from 1990 to 2016. There has also been a recent drop in the total number of children between nought and 17 years old who are killed or seriously or slightly injured on Britain’s roads, from 23,383 in 2014 to 21,661 in 2016. In the hon. Gentleman’s area of Liverpool, there has been a drop from 236 in 2014 to 232 in 2016. However, we are striving to make our roads even safer still and before turning to the specific questions that have been raised by Members, I will talk about the range of measures and initiatives we are taking to try to address these issues. I am extremely grateful for all their contributions.
I will start by talking about the THINK! campaign, which is very close to many Members’ hearts. We want to build road safety knowledge. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spoke about education and its centrality, and he is absolutely right. We want to build deep road safety knowledge and skills at reading roads and pavements among younger generations, forming good habits that last a lifetime. The THINK! team has recently completed a two-and-a-half-year project to produce new educational resources for three to 16-year-olds. They are entirely free and are available to any school, any other educational institution or non-educational institution or any individual that would like to use them, whether in the home or in teaching.
The team engaged parents, teachers, youth leaders and road safety professionals in the development of those resources, which include films, songs and games—different modes of education and play—to encourage as many young people as possible to understand the importance of using the road safely. Those resources are, in a way, the modern equivalent of the green cross code that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned. We launched the resources at a London school in April, and the campaign has received very positive support online and from the national and regional press.
We are also taking other important measures. One that has been much in the headlines recently is our cycling and walking investment strategy and the safety review that has come out of that. We as a Government are committed to increasing cycling and walking and to making our roads safer for vulnerable users, including pedestrians and especially children. We will only achieve that ambition if children feel safe when they walk and cycle to and from school, for the very reasons picked out in the debate today, because that is a point of vulnerability.
In September 2017, I announced a cycling and walking safety review, launching a call for evidence that closed in June. It was astonishingly successful in eliciting a public response. We have had something like 13,000 responses, covering a wide range of issues, from infrastructure to road user education, and with hundreds of suggestions. I have already made various interim announcements this year that reflect the input and expertise shown through that consultation process. They include measures to improve standards for infrastructure; measures to incorporate better guidance on close passing of vulnerable road users—bicyclists or horse riders, for example—into The Highway Code; and £1 million to fund pathfinder projects to upgrade the national cycle network. We will be making further announcements in that area soon.
Much of the focus of the review, as one might imagine, is on protecting cyclists, walkers and other vulnerable road users. However, cyclists themselves must play their part in creating safer roads. In rare but tragic cases, the dangerous or careless actions of a cyclist have led to death or serious injury. I am afraid we had one involving an e-bike recently in London, as colleagues will have seen. We are consulting on plans to create new offences—legal expertise has identified a gap in the law in England in that area—in order to bring penalties potentially for causing death or injury by dangerous cycling into line with those for driving. We expect drivers to be held to account if they carelessly or dangerously cause death or injury, and the same will potentially be true for cyclists if the consultation plays out that way. The consultation is open until 5 November.
The question of education and its link to road safety receives particular attention in Government through Bikeability, the Government’s national cycle training programme designed to give children the skills and confidence to cycle safely and competently on today’s roads. Bikeability has substantial funding—£50 million to cover cycle training from 2016 to 2020. That includes a £5 million investment in Bikeability Plus, which introduces four-year-olds to balance training, teaches pupils how to fix and maintain their bikes, and encourages families and children who do not currently cycle to do so.
Local authorities have bid into the Department for the training places that they wish their schools to deliver across levels 1 to 3 and Bikeability Plus. As of May 2017, more than 2.1 million places have been delivered across the country since Bikeability started in 2007, and we have secured an additional £1 million to support it during 2018-19. Bikeability is about learning not only how to ride a bike, but how to keep oneself safe on the road, and how to read roads. It therefore makes an important contribution to understanding of general road safety.
Another scheme to mention is the Walk to School project. The emphasis rightly placed by colleagues on walking buses is very welcome. During the coming year, the Government will invest a further £620,000 in the Walk to School project, which has been highly successful. It is delivered by a charity called Living Streets and aims to increase the number of children walking to school. It will support the delivery of the Government’s target to increase the percentage of children aged five to 10 who usually walk to school to 55% by 2025. It builds on previous funding that targeted all kinds of schools that were not covered by the access fund “Walk To” consortium, to ensure maximum geographic reach. I have asked my officials to input all aspects of today’s debate—such as walking to school, and understanding walking buses as a way of safely co-ordinating road use—to our cycling and walking safety review. We want to take all the learning today, including Bobby zones, to which I will refer in a moment, and walking buses, and add it to the process of reflection and consultation.
Another important area in which we are taking measures is pavement parking. Parking on the pavement can, of course, cause serious problems for child pedestrians, and not just those in wheelchairs or with visual impairments. A child’s-eye view of the world is a much lower one. It is harder to see where one is, and if the pavement is being blocked it is harder to negotiate for a young person who may have very limited experience. It is also bad for parents with prams or pushchairs.
Within London, as Members will know, there is a statutory ban on pavement parking. Outside London, local authorities have powers to prohibit pavement parking by making traffic regulation orders—TROs—under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. They may also use bollards to protect pavements physically. We have heard a lot of concern from interested groups, the general public, those with disabilities and the elderly about the incidence of pavement parking outside London. We are currently gathering evidence to try to understand the effectiveness of current legislation. That includes considering alternative methods for tackling inappropriate pavement parking. The review is in progress, and I expect it to draw some conclusions by the end of the year. It is an internal review, and if it concludes that there is a case for change, the next stage will be to proceed to consultation sometime next year.
Pavement parking is a big issue nationally, as the Minister says, and certainly in my constituency. I encourage him to seriously consider extending the London ban to other parts of the country, including Liverpool.
It is interesting the hon. Gentleman should say that. As a former London MP, he will be extremely familiar with this matter. Of course, the London experience is part of the data that officials are being asked to consider as they frame future proposals.
On parking around schools, under section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide appropriate traffic management schemes for local roads. They are free to make decisions about the streets under their care, provided they take account of the relevant legislation. Local authorities can put in place “school keep clear” markings that are legally enforceable when used in conjunction with an upright road sign and a traffic regulation order. Local authorities with civil parking enforcement powers can enforce those restrictions by issuing penalty charge notices to any vehicles found parked in contravention of them. Although there are certain restrictions on the use of CCTV by local authorities for parking enforcement, the Department has ensured that CCTV can continue to be used to enforce parking outside schools to protect children.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby raised the question of whether every school should have a Bobby zone. Bobby zones are something I was unfamiliar with until now, so it is hard for me to comment directly on that. What I can say is that all schools can have them under existing law. Local authorities have all the legal powers required to create Bobby zones, and Liverpool is a great example of that. It has those powers, and has applied them to create a cluster of local regulation, which has created that protective effect. That possibility is in play already.
I thank the Minister for mentioning kerbside parking—I should have done so, as it is hugely important. He talks about local authorities having the powers. In my constituency I have two of the 15 local authorities that do not have the powers because they have not brought in civil parking enforcement. Is there something that the Government could do to try to incentivise the handing over of the power from the police, who of course do not have the resources, to local authorities, so I will have the same rights in my constituency that other authorities do around the country?
This is, of course, a matter for local authorities, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. Some authorities have those powers, and some do not. Colleagues across the House have expressed concerns about that, and we are looking at it. To the extent that traffic regulation orders in relation to pavement parking may require some kind of reform, there may be scope to extend such reform to cover the kinds of aspects he describes.
One of the key issues that many colleagues across the House have discussed is 20 mph speed limits. It is important for the House to be aware that over the last few years we have introduced several new measures that can help local authorities to improve safety near schools. Local authorities have the power to introduce all-day 20 mph speed limits, and to introduce speed limits that apply only at certain times of day. Schools that are located on through roads, for example, where there may be conflicting desires on the part of local government, can have 20 mph zones imposed for periods of time, precisely to protect children at the beginning and end of the school day. Those limits can be indicated with variable message signs. Alternatively, authorities can now introduce an advisory part-time 20 mph limit using traffic signs with flashing school warning lights. They were prescribed in 2016 and can be a more cost-effective solution, as well as reducing sign clutter.
Some offences—this point has been acknowledged in the debate—are better tackled by training than punishment. Colleagues will be aware that earlier this year we commissioned some evaluation of the effectiveness of speed awareness training as an alternative to fines and penalty points for low-level speeding offences. That evaluation was broadly positive, and the national speed awareness course is now offered, as colleagues will know, by most police forces in England and Wales. We are also improving training for new drivers outside local roads by allowing learners to go on motorways with an approved driving instructor. Those are all part of trying to get safer drivers. We have new materials in progress to develop and improve learners’ awareness of hazards in different weather and lighting conditions.
On crossings, the new parallel crossing has been developed to enable pedestrians and cyclists to cross where a signal-controlled crossing is not justified. The now-ubiquitous pedestrian countdown units can be used to give extra information, allowing children to understand how much time they have left to cross the road. That is being supplemented by the Department with updated guidance. Chapter 6 of the “Traffic Signs Manual” will bring together and update existing advice on designing traffic signals and provide new guidance, which should be helpful.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) raised the issue of the costs that local authorities often attach to the kind of measures that the Minister is outlining. That was precisely our experience in Liverpool after Bobby died. It was quite a battle to persuade the authority to spend the money, and the amounts seemed surprisingly high. Is there anything the Department can do to take a lead in terms of procurement and guidance to local authorities to reduce the costs of the measures?
It is a very important issue. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in a previous incarnation, I led a vigorous and successful cross-party group to try to reduce costs in private finance initiatives. Believe me, I understand how expensive public procurement can be. As he will have seen, the Department has taken some steps to try to provide lower cost alternatives. If there is a reform of traffic regulation orders, that may well enable the reduction of costs. Local authorities have existing powers to band together to share procurement powers if they wish, but it is right to say that there are some parts of the country, particularly under framework contracts, where one could be seriously worried about some of the costs that local authorities find themselves operating under. One would like to see the democratic process operating in order to encourage them to take the low-cost but effective solutions wherever possible.
Before I come on to the questions that have been raised, I would just mention one more thing—mobile phones. We have taken a tougher stance on drivers who use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. The penalty doubled to six points and a £200 fine last year, which means that drivers face having their licence revoked if they are caught using a mobile phone while driving.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) raised the issue of procurement costs. He is absolutely right; I have responded to that, and to the point he raised about walking buses.
My great friend, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, has been a superlative campaigner for international road safety and the genius of the fire service internationally, as many colleagues will know. He focused on national targets. As he says, the country is bound to international targets. We have taken the view that national targets do not necessarily play a role in improving safety. It is a contested matter. There are countries that have national targets with very good safety records, but it is very hard to point to a process of causation. We have taken the approach of trying to balance a wide range of interventions. Although the general trend remains broadly downwards, it is true that it has levelled out, and that is certainly something we are taking seriously. The Department is doing a lot of work on the areas of causation for that. Part of the current work on the two-year road safety strategy is looking specifically at older and more vulnerable users, young people, rural users and motorcyclists—they are four of the most at-risk categories. Work in the cycling and walking safety review very much targets a portion of those groups.
The hon. Member for Strangford was absolutely right to emphasise the impact of speed and the speed differential. The case for 20 mph speed limits rests heavily not just on the evidence of the more civilised approach that they bring to urban traffic—or that they are likely to bring if combined with the appropriate traffic calming measures and the like—but also on that of the initial impact of 30 mph versus 20 mph causing greater injury or greater risk of death. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise that point.
I have discussed the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) about national road safety targets. I understand why he raises the point. It is important to say that our road safety record remains the second best of any country in the EU and the fourth best in Europe. The concern about its levelling off is not restricted to the UK. There are similar concerns in many other countries with good safety records around Europe, and that is why it raises some difficult questions.
I have a couple of other points to touch on in response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. I have talked a little bit about the question of whether schools should have Bobby zones. I pay tribute to the work of Highways England and the police in educating young people in schools, and other charitable organisations such as Brake and RoadPeace have been mentioned. They have all had very important impacts.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of smombies. Our two-year road safety action plan is looking into that issue as part of the young persons’ component. Whether that is responsible for some of the increased injuries that we have seen in city environments is an interesting and open question. I should mention that Bikeability has entered a very interesting pioneering arrangement with Halfords, so they can leverage off each other in terms of spreading the word about road safety to potential users.
As I mentioned, I have asked officials to take the details from this debate, including the very interesting conversation we have had about Bobby zones, as input to the cycling and walking safety review. If there is evidence from Liverpool on the beneficial effect that Bobby zones have—it may be anecdotal at this stage rather than fully evidential—we will be very interested to see it.
The Government are taking an active and wide-ranging approach to tackling road safety in general and around schools. We will continue to support and work closely with all parties in making our roads safer for everyone that uses them.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive, thoughtful and reflective response. In particular, I am grateful for his comment that he will treat what I said during the debate as an input into the safety review. I will ensure that additional information is available from the Bobby Colleran Trust, Liverpool City Council and Merseyside police to assist in those efforts.
I thank colleagues from all parties who participated in the debate. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for undertaking to raise some of these issues in the Transport Committee, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who was the road safety Minister and is tireless in raising the international dimension. The sustainable development goals are so important in tackling poverty and inequality around the world. Road safety is one of the major killers in many of the poorest countries. I pay tribute to Fire Aid, which is an absolutely brilliant organisation. On the issue of targets, the UK submits itself to the UN for a voluntary national review next year as part of the sustainable development goals, and I encourage the Department for Transport to consider making road safety a priority for its submission as part of the wider voluntary national review.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for reminding us that, although the focus of this debate has been on England, there are many similar challenges in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I, too, remember the green cross code and learning about safety on our roads in that way when I was a child. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) for agreeing to meet the Bobby Colleran Trust, and for all that he said today.
We have had a very positive debate. It is one of the strengths of Westminster Hall that we get these opportunities to demonstrate cross-party concern on behalf of our constituents. I am very pleased that the family has been here to hear the debate. I know that they will be encouraged by what has been said, but the test is what we do after the debate. We must ensure that we learn, and we have a real opportunity, with the review that the Minister described, to have Bobby zones not only in Liverpool but right across the country.
On behalf of all parliamentarians and those who work in Parliament and in the processes of government, I pass on our deepest condolences to the family. I commend the fact that, through you and your work, Bobby has a living legacy that is saving lives.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered road safety around schools.