My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the debate and I look forward to hearing the contributions of all those who can be here. I particularly look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.
In calling the attention of the House to the Ofsted review, I hope that the Government will not simply disregard it—a view which I am sure is shared by all noble Lords. I know that there is a Green Paper in the offing but, because we do not know when it will arrive, I hope that there is time still to take account of the Ofsted review in the Green Paper.
In 2007, the all-party Select Committee on Education and Skills, chaired by Mr Barry Sheerman, chose special educational needs as its subject and later published two powerful reports. In these reports, the committee suggested that the current framework within which special educational needs are provided for had outgrown its usefulness and that there should be a new quango to look at the whole framework from the start. I very strongly expressed that view when giving evidence to that committee, and although one has to admit that times have changed and we cannot expect a new quango, as this Ofsted report points out, matters can be addressed short of rethinking the whole issue from the very beginning.
To those who have criticised the Ofsted report, saying that it is exaggerated or false, I say only that Ofsted took and examined a fairly large sample and that its findings are reflected in my almost daily postbag from parents who are extremely unhappy with the way in which their children’s special needs are being addressed. I shall take the Ofsted report as read and if other people wish to criticise it, so be it.
One of the matters about which the Select Committee report was most critical was the system of issuing statements of special need for some children but not all. It pointed out all kinds of difficulties with statementing, the main ones being that it is contentious in every single case, it leads to an enormous amount of anxiety and misery on the parts of both parents and children, and it is extremely costly in both time and money—money that can ill be taken away from the educational purposes to which it properly belongs.
I have no wish to defend the concept of the statement—noble Lords will realise that I cannot disclaim all responsibility for the idea of it—but it should have been glaringly obvious, and it was extraordinarily short-sighted of us not to realise, that if a local authority had to assess a child and its needs for a statement, and the same body had to fund those needs, it would in the end look not to what the child needed but to what it thought it could get away with: what it thought it could possibly afford. That was not obvious to the committee that reported in 1978. I think we were so bedazzled by the light that we thought we were going to shed on special education that we were blinded to the obvious financial consequences of statements for which the local authority had responsibility for both assessing and funding. One of the main objectives of the Ofsted report was to separate the funding from the assessing in such cases. I go along with that.
However, the main body of criticism in the Ofsted report is not so much of the statement itself but of the procedure for those children—by far the majority—who do not receive statements but are assessed within schools at two grades of special need. One is where it is considered that the school can provide for their needs. The second is the Schools Plus assessment, where it is recognised that help needs to be brought in from outside. The criticism targets those children who are being assessed in school.
The number of statements issued is marginally smaller than it was five or six years ago, but the children who are issued with assessments that they need special help, in school or partly from outside, are in far greater danger of being neglected or mishandled than children whose needs are so extreme or complex that they were probably picked up and noticed at an early pre-school stage, possibly soon after birth, and who will therefore slide quite easily into the issuing of statements and will have their needs attended to as far as possible. It is the children who are less severely disabled in one way or another and whose needs are less acute who are both the more numerous and more at risk of getting a very poor education. The conclusions of Ofsted are very much borne out by what I hear from parents up and down the country. These children start by being assessed for special needs, at the request either of their parents or of a class teacher, and are then given help or support according to how the assessment rates them.
The review finds that many more children are being assessed as having special needs than should properly be so assessed—I repeat that these statements have been disputed—and gives two main reasons for it. Rather brutally perhaps, I denominate them, first, as laziness and, secondly, as greed. It is laziness that makes teachers anxious to categorise pupils who make slow progress in learning, show little inclination to learn or are very hard to control in class. It is laziness that makes teachers often assess the children as having special needs, when in fact, as Ofsted states, their needs are no different from those of most children. What they need is better teaching. Like all children, they would benefit from dedicated, observant, sympathetic and, above all, exciting teachers. There can be no one in your Lordships' House who cannot testify, either from personal experience or from that of children and grandchildren, to the enormous difference that can be made to the ability to learn and the ability to want to learn when one moves, somehow miraculously, from the class of a bad teacher to the class of a good one. This is true of all ages and at all levels of academic or practical competence.
I do not deny that there are many children in mainstream schools with special needs, and many who can be identified very early on in their school career by well trained and vigilant teachers. That is to the great advantage both of the rest of the class and of the children so assessed. However, I also note Ofsted’s conclusion that,
“schools should stop identifying pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching and pastoral support”.
I hope that this will be addressed in the Green Paper when we have it.
The greed is displayed at managerial level. More children with special needs at school, especially at Schools Plus level, means more classroom assistants and perhaps other perks in the form of equipment or refurbishing. Perhaps a school can gain in reputation for being apparently so caring of its pupils as to bring in classroom assistants whenever it can, but extra classroom help does not necessarily solve the problem of learning difficulties. Merely providing extra classroom help does not necessarily improve the educational outcomes of children. On the contrary, many parents testify that very often the support provided to a child is totally inappropriate. Many children find themselves being taught almost exclusively, and sometimes on their own, by classroom assistants who have not been trained as teachers, still less as teachers with the proper skills to teach children who for one reason or another—there are very many different reasons—are finding it difficult to learn. The latter case tends to be worse than the first. In the past, Ministers have sometimes spoken as if one-to-one teaching is the best form of support for a child with learning difficulties and as if that sort of idea should be aspired to, but I very much doubt the truth of that. There is nothing in the ideal world so good as good classroom teaching, where children learn from one another as well as from their teachers. They are competitive and appreciate one another’s efforts. My belief is that the class is the place where children should be taught, if possible.
What makes it worse is that inexperienced teachers, when they have either a child on their own or just two or three children together, very often tend to intervene too soon. Amateur teachers are nearly always guilty of this, and even parents trying to help their children with their homework are guilty of intervening too soon. In the end they do the child’s work for them and do not wait to find out whether the child has really understood. If the assignment has been completed, that is okay. They do not know enough to know how to help people understand what the work has involved.
Some years ago—I think it was in 2005 or thereabouts —the Audit Commission published a report in which complaints that a number of children who had special needs were being taught almost entirely by untrained amateur assistants were very clear. The then Government disregarded it, just as they disregarded the Sheerman report in 2007. At the time, of course, no reason was given. I blame no particular Government for this; it is just Ministers’ habit of saying, “We do not think it is a good time to do this”, or “We do not think it is necessary”, without giving the faintest answer to the criticism or explanation of the point.
I have some questions for the Minister. First, do the Government have any solution to this overassessing? Secondly, there is a great difficulty for some children whose school time ends at 16 if they are disabled or have learning difficulties. There is no automatic transition from that stage to college, where they do not have a guaranteed place. Can the Government look very seriously at the need that everybody has to continue with their education from 16 to 19, as that should be as of right? It is an age when children with learning difficulties often make huge steps, as long as they are not kept hanging about.
My third question is rather more complicated. Can the Minister possibly contrive a way to persuade his colleagues that mixing up the terminology of disability discrimination with special educational needs has been a disaster? That happened in 2002. I believe simply that those two concepts are completely different—the concept of trying, lovingly and caringly, to help a child overcome or at least make the best of his educational difficulties, and the concept of making it illegal to discriminate unfairly against disabled people in the workplace or in society. Those concepts need to be separated out, and the Ofsted report calls attention to the extremely confusing nature of the terminology used to discuss these problems. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on initiating this very timely debate, coming as it does a week after the deadline for submissions of evidence to the Government’s SEN Green Paper. I chair the Local Government Group’s children and young people’s board; my remarks therefore reflect the views of local councils, for whom the needs of the child and the young person are of paramount importance.
I shall concentrate briefly on two important issues: the need for a single system for assessing and supporting children and young people with special educational need; and the important role that schools play in meeting the needs of those with less complex special educational needs. Everyone shares the concern that the current SEN arrangements are too complex and bureaucratic. The Ofsted review said that parents felt that they had to,
“fight for the rights of their children”.
This cannot be right when parents already have to deal with a number of stressful situations. Equally, when there are delays and bureaucracy the people who suffer the most are the young people themselves.
A key part of the problem is that, in reality, there are two different assessment and funding arrangements for children with special educational needs: the SEN system, which applies to children up to the age of 19 who remain in school or in a special school, and then another system for those with a learning difficulty or disability who study outside school settings—for example, at a further education college. The reason for having these two systems goes back to a series of legislative changes that took responsibility for funding further education away from councils and gave it to a series of national quangos: first, the Further Education Council, then the learning and skills councils and now the Young People’s Learning Agency.
The responsibility for commissioning education for young people with learning disabilities aged 16 to 25 has recently been passed back to councils, however, although for now the funding remains with the YPLA. This seems to be an unhelpful and overly complex split. Instead, we need to think of the children and young people whom we want to help. We need a single system for assessing and supporting those with special educational needs up to the age of 25. This would allow us to bring together the contributions of all the agencies involved in a seamless way that would benefit both parents and children. That would be in line with the Ofsted recommendation that future changes should simplify arrangements and make them more consistent across different age groups and levels of need.
Councils can take the lead in this area. They already have a wealth of experience and expertise in leading on SEN assessment and support. Equally, as children grow up, it is councils that take on the responsibility for those who continue to need support as adults. They have also developed local partnerships with other agencies involved in SEN support, such as schools and the health service and with the voluntary sector. I argue that national quangos such as the YPLA, with no local connections and little involvement in local partnerships, are not best placed to have a role in the assessment, support or funding of young people with a learning disability.
This is not about extending the role of local councils, but rather about recognising their democratic mandate and local accountability which can make this process quicker, fairer, less bureaucratic and, above all, improve choice for parents and their children. Recently local authorities have been making decisions about 16 to 25 year-olds with special educational needs. The early evidence is that they are working successfully with providers, increasing the range of local provision, which many young people prefer, and often at a lower cost.
I turn to the important role which schools play in supporting children and young people with less complex SEN. This is particularly topical in the light of the coalition Government’s intention to give schools more freedom and autonomy. Schools already receive funding to support pupils with less complex special needs but, although the majority of school funding—around 90 per cent—is passported directly to schools on the basis of pupil numbers, the funding for SEN services comes from the 10 per cent that is allocated locally, following discussion in their schools forum. This is what is commonly but mistakenly called the “10 per cent centrally retained by councils”. The fact is that this money is spent on schools, or on services provided to schools, following local discussion about whether it can be more cost-effectively spent on services procured by the council. Chief among the services bought in this way is SEN support, with councils buying in specialist services such as educational psychologists or speech therapists on behalf of schools, which then really meet the needs of the individual children.
Schools that are keen to become academies or free schools and which take control of the 10 per cent of the so-called “centrally retained money” need to recognise that the funding is there to support, among other things, children with special needs. If they have this funding, they will have responsibility for making sure that the provision needed is available. Schools have a vital role in supporting children with lower-end special educational needs, and councils should provide the extra support to children with formal statements and assessments. In a system where we have more autonomous schools, we will need to find a way to make sure that they can continue to provide this support and that the children and young people who need it have fair and, above all, speedy access to help and support.
My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to address your Lordships’ House for the first time, in this important debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, whose long and distinguished contribution to public life includes, of course, the seminal Warnock Report on Special Education of 1978. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about what a pleasure it was to hear her give us both an insight into the thinking during the initial discussions on that report—somewhat regretful, I gather—and an update on her thinking on where things have got to since 1978.
My contribution to this debate will be about schools for children who have a SEN statement which identifies behavioural, emotional and social difficulties as their primary need. As is traditional with a maiden speech, however, I start by thanking the many people who have facilitated my arrival in this House. In particular, I acknowledge the staff, not only for putting on a very effective and informative induction programme but, at every level, for being so informative and helpful in the early days and weeks of my time here. I have already benefited from the work of the Library staff, which is simply superb, and I also thank my sponsors, my noble friend Lord Evans and my noble friend Lord Haskel, who has also acted as my mentor.
One thing new Members are not short of is advice, which is offered on a regular basis. It is warm and friendly, not threatening. One of the key decisions for new Members is of course the point at which they give their maiden speech: when to do it, on what topic and how it should be pitched. On this issue, advice to the new Member is divided. Many people recommend getting your maiden speech over with as soon as possible, but just as many say, “Hold on. Wait for the right topic”. I decided to hold on but I confess that, as the days passed, my mentor, my noble friend Lord Haskel, has been getting more and more agitated. Recently, he started making suggestions about what I should speak on. The first—which I did not object to, but turned out not to work—was that I should initiate, which I thought was a big step for somebody so new, a debate on the threats to our honey bees from pesticides and disease. I keep bees, so I have a little to say on that. The Library confirmed for me that this House has not debated the issue since May 2009. That is two whole seasons of honey making. What a joy it would have been to regale noble Lords with my success in honey making, out at my house in Buckinghamshire. I had even begun to develop a rather complicated metaphor involving Parliament as a successful hive. You may imagine how I anticipated describing the queen being superseded by another only a few months ago, and interesting roles as drones and worker bees for the various parts of your Lordships’ House. Another time, perhaps.
My noble friend Lord Haskel’s second suggestion was that I should wait for some of the constitutional reforms due to arrive in this House shortly. This is an interest of mine because when I worked in a think tank we did a number of pieces of work on constitutional reform, which I think have been helpful. When I was working in the policy unit at 10 Downing Street just before the election, it was part of my brief. As Members may have noticed, with so much of that material having been picked up and espoused by the coalition Government, I would probably have something interesting to say as we went forward to discuss it.
However, luckily, I became interested in special education, and I declare an interest as a governor of the Chiltern Way Federation, a special school in Bucks. This debate caught my attention. To my noble friend Lord Haskel's great relief, I resolved to speak today and got him off the hook; so much so that I am afraid that the excitement may have been too much for him and he is unable to be present to hear the results of all his coaching and support.
The Chiltern Way Federation is currently composed of two highly regarded special schools for boys aged 11 to 16, and each school has 65 students on roll. All of these boys have a statement of special educational needs which identifies behavioural, emotional and social difficulties—BESD, in the jargon—as the primary need. Both schools are permanently oversubscribed, forcing Buckinghamshire County Council to seek out-of-county placements for a considerable number of children, at great expense to the ratepayer. As Buckinghamshire currently makes no provision at all for BESD girls, some 20 out-of-county placements have to be found for them, at a cost which I estimate must be about £1 million a year.
Traditionally, a school's distinctive contribution was to be found in excellent learning, provided through excellent teaching. The task of BESD schools, therefore, should be said to be providing all that excellence, with the added dimension of trying to manage and improve very challenging behaviour. However, if we are to be successful in getting the best outcomes for our children, the simplistic notion that BESD schools can deal with bad behaviour within the school day, as a sort of add-on in splendid isolation, needs to change. As the Warnock report was not allowed to point out all those years ago, there is a link between deprivation and educational failure that is pervasive and remains central to the issue today.
It may seem strange to find extreme deprivation in lush and leafy Buckinghamshire but it certainly exists. I have been struck by the fact that a disproportionately high number of our students come from poor homes, where in many cases there is or has been a history of alcohol or drug dependency and/or mental health problems, and where there may also be a history of criminal activity within the family. In this context, the work done on early intervention over the last few years by my friends in another place, Iain Duncan Smith and Graham Allen, has many valuable lessons for what we face in the BESD sector.
In my brief involvement with the Buckinghamshire BESD schools, I have been hugely impressed by the work done by the staff day in and day out. I also acknowledge the excellent support offered by the local authority, both in funding and through its specialist advisory staff. The previous Government’s report, Every Child Matters, has provided a common and widely supported policy framework for their work. I hope it will continue to be the touchstone for the Government going forward. I confess that I knew virtually nothing about the BESD sector, or indeed special education, before I became a governor. My motivation for accepting the position, which will be shared by many noble Lords, was simply to give something back. Seeing these schools develop and flourish in the last few years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I close by asking the Minister to take on board three points that will be helpful as he responds to the debate. First, I echo some of the points that have already been made about the need for one proper definition of BESD, since all the services involved—health, social care and education—have slightly different ones at present, which simply causes confusion. Secondly, could the Minister do as much as he can to ensure that BESD schools are treated as a distinct sector by his department, and that the work they are doing to ensure that every child matters is properly supported for what it has achieved and can achieve? Finally, I have explained the steps that we have taken in the Chiltern Way Federation to work with parents and students in school, and that we work with a range of other service providers, including health, social services and the police. It occurs to me that the Minister might enjoy visiting our schools to see this approach in practice and the partnership that works around it. If so, I would be happy to facilitate such a visit.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. The noble Lord hails from the north-west of Scotland and read natural sciences and chemistry at Oxford. He was a senior policy adviser to the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. For 11 years he had a most distinguished career as director of the Smith Institute, which, as noble Lords will know, is a centre-left think tank, established in the name of the late, great John Smith, former leader of the Labour Party. The institute describes its purpose as pursuing,
“policies for a fairer society”,
and aims to build on John Smith’s passion for social justice—a passion many of us in this Chamber share. The noble Lord has a hinterland and I am delighted to welcome a fellow gardener to your Lordships’ House. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, will be pleased that the noble Lord is also very keen on cinema and was the director of the British Film Institute. However, the noble Lord will be pleased to learn that he is not alone in your Lordships’ House in having an interest in beekeeping. Here he will find plenty of workers and not a few queens. He will also find a tremendous cross-pollination of ideas in this Chamber, to which he has already begun to make a valuable contribution. I think we can assure him that we will keep him very busy. I look forward to many more excellent speeches from the noble Lord.
I turn now to my own thoughts about the Government’s policy on special educational needs, following the Ofsted report. I will concentrate on speech and language needs and teacher training. The previous Government found that children with speech and language needs were not being well served and set up the Bercow review, led by the now Speaker of the House of Commons. Its report has served as a useful basis to allow us to move on. Your Lordships will be aware that my honourable friend Sarah Teather, the Minister of State for Children, has now sent out a call for views about the experience of children with SEN and their parents, with a view to making further improvements. Ministers are considering options on how to give parents a choice of educational settings to meet their children’s needs; transform funding for children with SEN and disabilities; make the system more transparent and cost-effective while maintaining quality; involve parents in any decisions about the future of special schools; support young people with SEN and disabilities post-16; and improve diagnosis and assessment to identify children with additional needs early. All these objectives are important to children with speech and language impairment.
Following the publication of the Ofsted report, a great deal was made of the suggestion that there may have been a large amount of misdiagnosis of children with special needs. I am convinced that this was something of a distortion of what the report actually said. However, it is true to say that if teachers were better trained about special needs, and if leadership teams were more focused on them, there might be less necessity to attach a label to some children and their needs could be fulfilled by more flexible interventions in the classroom. This would avoid the need for parents to have to battle for additional services. While I am all in favour of improving the qualifications of teachers and turning the profession into a Masters level one, it is important to emphasise the value of teachers learning about SEN and child development during their initial teacher training. This will underpin their practice for the rest of their careers and allow them to make sounder professional judgments. We must not lose that in initial teacher training as we move to more classroom-based training. As we free up the curriculum and rely more on the expertise of teachers, we have to move from training teachers to deliver the national curriculum to training them in pedagogy and child development. Then perhaps we will have teachers who understand how to use the tools already available to them for recognising and diagnosing special needs, and who have real ambition and aspiration for all children with special needs.
It is true that most children with speech and language impairment and hearing impairment are just as able as the rest of the population to get good GCSEs and A-levels and to go to university, given the right interventions. However, sadly, some children are labelled as having learning difficulties just because of speech impairment. It is sad to hear a parent say, “They think my child is stupid”, when all he needs is speech therapy. However, as with many things, early intervention is important. I welcome my Government’s announcement that all children will be screened at five. However, I urge the Minister that we need screening in the early years, and perhaps yesterday’s announcement about two year-olds will give us more opportunity to do that. This is already Liberal Democrat policy. We need to screen children soon after they move to secondary school, perhaps after the transition year when they have settled down, and always if a young person enters the criminal justice system. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is not able to be here today, let me be the one to remind the Minister about the large number of young offenders with speech and language impairment. Will he therefore say how the focus on avoiding custody and having community penalties for young people will affect the drive to identify and deal with this sort of special need among young offenders?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for this debate. I also express my personal gratitude to her as, without the Warnock report, my life as a disabled person would have been very different.
My experience of education was in a mainstream, inclusive environment, before anyone knew those words. I went to a local primary school and was paralysed at the age of seven. My head teacher was, luckily, too busy to let the local education authority know of my change in circumstances, as this would have resulted in my being immediately removed from the school. The head teacher of my local high school, on finding out that I was a wheelchair user, wrote to my parents and informed them that I was not welcome—they did not take pupils like me. I still have the letter.
There were options: going to a special school; being assessed for a year and hoping that I would get through; or, as my parents did, fight. It was 1980; my parents found the Warnock report and had a discussion with the local education authority. My parents were persistent. Parents of children with special needs should not face the same battles today that my parents did.
The school I eventually attended was 10 miles away from my home and was the only mainstream school in South Glamorgan at that time allowed to accept wheelchair users—and there were 30 of us. The number was capped. There were few ramps and the local education authority employed six women to carry the wheelchair users up and down the stairs at break-time—a lift was considered too expensive. It was great for my education but not holistic in terms of socialising with students my age because of access issues. I was repeatedly tested by psychologists, who asked me mostly if I knew what day of the week it was. Later on, specialist careers advisers told me that I was wasting my time going to university because the best job I could ever get would be answering phones. What shocked us at the time was the lack of expectation from some people in authority of what disabled people could achieve—and labelling was not the answer.
How much has changed? In the 30 years since, there have been many positive changes, but if you have a child with special educational needs it can feel like a constant battle. Rightly or wrongly, a statement is the only way that parents can feel that their child’s rights are protected and cannot be ignored. What parent would not want to be in a position to do this?
What I do see, however, is that there is a challenging system that is hard to regulate and change effectively. There is a lot of complexity, and this is highlighted by such things as a link between disadvantage and special educational need. At secondary-school level, pupils with special educational needs are more than twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals. The figure is 25.9 per cent for those with SEN but without statements, and 24.9 per cent for those with statements. This compares with just 11 per cent of those who have no special educational need.
It is not enough for a child with special educational needs just to be part of an education system; they must leave school with an education of body and mind, and with an experience that is as close as possible to someone who is not labelled SEN. Children with SEN are not one homogenous group; there have to be many solutions to this issue, and individual needs should be put at the centre and protected. Statementing should not be a tick-box exercise to show parents what they can get and what the minimum provision is. Where we are now is an evolution of relationships between government, education providers and the voluntary sector, but we cannot lower our expectations. Children with special educational needs must be encouraged and motivated, as must their parents and teachers, and provision needs continually to be improved.
I welcome the Ofsted report because it shows us where we are but, more importantly, what we still need to do. We still need to look at the more deeply held views of what our society thinks about disability, impairment or special needs. We should also listen to children’s aspirations when we have the opportunity to positively influence. If children with special needs feel that they are excluded, how can they learn to contribute? When I told my parents that I was going to be an athlete at the age of 13, there were no professional disabled athletes in the UK. No one knew the Paralympics, but my parents did not hold me back.
There also needs to be strategic and integrated provision which does not end at GCSEs or at 19. It needs to line up with realistic educational and work opportunities, employers who are open, a society that is accessible in all forms, and a transport system that enables people to travel. We have continually to challenge assumptions of what people can and cannot do, and this starts with an education for those with and without special educational needs. I have been very interested to hear proposals for personal budgets for children with SEN and what that might mean. Training and education is, again, key. I look forward to seeing more details on the positive impact that this could have.
If I have one disappointment in all the years since the Warnock report, it is that we have not moved further in including the provision of physical activity in this process. I would like to see this change. This is not a fluffy add-on; it is about the right of children to be included in play, physical activity or indeed a sporting environment where they are not excluded for reasons of health and safety, or because it is too hard. The benefits are extensive—and for the whole of their lives. This can easily be changed by looking at teacher-training practices across the board.
The question is: what do we want from children with special educational needs? If we want them to work, to contribute, to be healthy and to be the best they can, we have to get their education right.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for initiating this debate. She is a towering figure in the world of SEN since her seminal report in 1978, followed by her pamphlet in 2005 reappraising SEN provision and practice and showing where things ought to change. Hers is a voice of sweet reason and we all owe her a great deal.
I declare an interest as the founder and first chairman 18 years ago of a small, specialist school for children with SEN in Scotland. I was inspired by the experience of our daughter, who was borderline for a statement in England. She endured four miserable years in mainstream schools in England and Scotland and failed to learn or thrive in that experience. That changed for her and all those who have since come to the New School, Butterstone, which is my school. By the time they leave us, these children are resilient—having had a full, appropriate curriculum—ready to go on to college or work and, most importantly, visibly more confident and happy human beings who know what it is like to have friends, to be valued and to have a life to look forward to. That is not the fate of many children in this field.
The Ofsted review, A Statement is not Enough, resonates all too strongly. The truth is that large numbers of children identified with SEN are being failed by the system—1.7 million children in England alone. In the school population, 2.7 per cent of children have a statement of need, and school action or school action plus applies to a further 18.2 per cent. Of course, there is a huge variation in standards and Ofsted was quick to show that provision was good or outstanding in 41 per cent of visited providers and 36 per cent of their case studies.
The key messages from the Ofsted review are that there must be a shift to a proper focus on outcomes for children rather than on process; that the standards of assessment must be improved in quality and consistency; and that statements are not used as a panacea for inadequate teaching or indeed straight laziness, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has said. That last comment is particularly damaging. As has already been said, the system has become confusing and complex in its legislation and language. Identification should come much earlier for most children. In turn, that demonstrates the urgent need for better training of teachers in SEN generally, a greater understanding of needs and an ability to deliver. With appropriately trained teachers and good assessments, children’s outcomes are vastly improved in terms of academic achievement and, so importantly, of their life chances.
There is powerful evidence in the review of the battles that families go through in getting assessments, appropriate help and provision for their needs. It is a miserable, frustrating and lonely experience, which often reflects the child’s experiences in school. Parents and siblings pay a price and much more account should be taken of their needs and wishes too. Inclusion in mainstream is the key challenge and it is where most with SEN will spend their whole life. Just being avoided, let alone bullied, can mean that you are as excluded as if you were on a desert island. Hardly a child comes to my school who has not experienced significant teasing and bullying, where their crime is being vulnerable and different. It can make learning impossible. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, describes inclusion as a feeling of belonging, which underpins well-being and successful learning, too. When unconditional acceptance is truly felt, it is wonderful to see how self-esteem grows, starting with eye contact, changed body language, and so on, followed by achievements in the classroom which exceed all expectations. Without true inclusion, the long-term price to be paid by these children, their families, the adult services, the criminal justice system and others is high indeed, as I know both from my social work and from prison life.
The specialist school TreeHouse’s findings for autistic children’s life chances, of which we shall hear more shortly from my noble friend, show that, after school, 15 per cent can look forward to a full-time job and 90 per cent will be living at home with carers or in residential homes. The latest and only relevant figures I could find for 2009-10 show that, of the adults in the general population with broader learning disabilities, aged 18 to 64 and known to the adult social services, only 6.4 per cent were in employment of some kind. We must do better by this group, whose life chances depend so much on their early life opportunities. That is not a future a child with SEN should have to aspire to.
The Minister, Sarah Teather, is producing a Green Paper and has outlined her priorities as: the improvement of parental choice and a less adversarial system; preventing the unnecessary closure of special schools; a transformation of funding to a more transparent, cost-effective and high-quality process; better support post-16; and better early diagnosis. She has definitely got the message, and I look forward to seeing her deliver.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, whom I first met during a slightly fractious discussion—as such discussions are apt to be—of a report on special education by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Like all other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on bringing forward this subject for debate this afternoon. She speaks with unique authority on these issues, and we all listen to what she has to say with the greatest respect, although I think that Ofsted points to solutions to the problems that it has identified which are slightly more humdrum and workaday than she suggests.
I take as my starting point the sentence in the coalition's programme for government which reads:
“We will improve diagnostic assessment for school children, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools and remove the bias towards inclusion”.
Throughout most of its history, the field of special education has been bedevilled by dogma. For a long time, this asserted that disabled children could thrive only in special schools. For the past 20 or 30 years, however, the field has been blessedly free from such dogma. A settlement has been arrived at based on a mixed economy of provision, which acknowledges a decisive shift towards inclusion, with progressive re-engineering of the system to support inclusion as the goal, but with a place reserved for specialist provision for those whose needs cannot be met in the mainstream, either now or in future. This seems to me to get it about right, and is the position for which I have argued all of my adult life.
In other words, I think that there should be a bias towards inclusion, provided that the needs of the child can be met within a mainstream placement. Special schools can have a segregating effect and help to foster the perception that disabled children are different. Conversely, mainstream schools can help to normalise disability. Separate socialisation restricts the full development of disabled and non-disabled people alike. The education system can do much to remove the barriers of ignorance, prejudice, intolerance and misunderstanding that ultimately lead to discrimination and a refusal to accept disabled people as full members of the community.
There is a threat to that enlightened consensus posed by those who believe in what one might call total inclusion, with all disabled children being educated in mainstream schools and all special schools being closed. It is a substantial threat. Its thinking largely informs the education provisions in Article 24 of the recently adopted UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was negotiated by the disabled elite, who are best able to cope with inclusion. Organisations representing blind, deaf and deaf-blind children—I declare my interest as being associated with several such organisations—had their work cut out to retain the option of specialist provision to meet their particular needs.
So where once opposition to an enlightened approach to the inclusion of disabled children came from the right, today it comes from the left. People sometimes ask me whether my views about inclusion have changed over the years, to which I reply, “No, but the emphasis may have needed to change”. Where once the advocates of moderate inclusion policies had to argue for the creation of inclusive options, today they may need to defend the retention of some specialist provision. Notwithstanding the challenge from those who believe in total inclusion, I believe that the enlightened consensus around moderate inclusion policies and a mixed economy of provision remains largely intact and that there is not a bias towards inclusion which goes beyond what is warranted and which needs to be removed.
I was once inclined to think that a bias towards inclusion which went too far might have been developing in education legislation when Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 was amended to remove consideration of the needs of the child as a safeguard against inappropriate inclusion, but I am now clear that the duty to educate children with special educational needs in mainstream schools does not apply if that is against the wishes of the parent. I therefore do not think that the legal framework needs to be altered, although it would probably be wise to retain the interpretive declaration entered by the previous Government, on ratifying the UN convention, to make clear that the UK general education system includes both mainstream and special schools, as well as the reservation to allow for circumstances where disabled children's needs may best be met through specialist provision some way from their home, meaning that they would need to be educated outside their local community, which is against the model of provision enjoined by the UN convention. The effect of these is to maintain the present policy and legislative framework regarding inclusion—what I have termed the enlightened consensus around moderate inclusion.
What of the Ofsted review? One of its conclusions—that schools should not identify pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching—chimes in rather well with the thinking of those who espouse a strongly inclusive approach. They focus attention on improving the learning experience for all children in such a way that those traditionally conceived of as having SEN are benefited, albeit indirectly rather than directly, by whole-school approaches.
For the rest, despite florid misinterpretations of Ofsted—to the effect that as many as half of children with SEN might be wrongly diagnosed as such—the review’s main conclusions seem eminently sensible. They reflect a growing consensus emerging from recent reports that the emphasis should be on working more smartly and in a better-targeted way to improve school practice, focusing on outcomes, quality of assessment and the effectiveness of additional support rather than on a major redesign of the system. There may be some overidentification at the school action stage—there almost certainly is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, demonstrated—but that is not to say that there should not be a school action stage at all at which children are identified as needing additional support, ideally mobilised as early as possible. There may also be a need, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, suggested, to simplify the legislation, which has rather growed like Topsy, with some rationalisation of its SEN and disability discrimination components.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on initiating this debate. She always speaks with huge authority and lucidity and, over the years, she has been tenacious in her focus on SEN provision. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on an excellent maiden speech.
It is impossible to tackle all the issues that are set out in the review and I dare say that noble Lords are taking slices of the report as we go along. I speak from the perspective of a former chair of TreeHouse, the autism education charity, and a former vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Autism, so I shall concentrate on that area. It is clear that outcomes for children and young people with autism are currently very poor. Recent research suggests that only 15 per cent of adults with autism are in paid employment, while 90 per cent are living either with their parents or other family carers or in residential care.
Today, I want briefly to concentrate on the assessment and statementing process, particularly as we know that the Government will be producing—later this year, I hope—a Green Paper on SEN that will encompass statementing and assessment. Progress has been made in a number of significant ways since the All-Party Group on Autism published its manifesto in 2003, and I appreciate the previous Government’s efforts in that respect. However, in its manifesto, the all-party group set a modest target of all children with autism being diagnosed by the age of five, which certainly has not yet been achieved. We need to do more, and I hope that this Government—my Government—will.
Assessment and statementing are emotionally difficult; in my experience, this is a difficult time for parents, particularly in relation to the profoundly autistic. The paradox is that, although the condition may be more obvious, local authorities often drag their heels because of the sheer costs involved in sending children on the autistic spectrum to special schools. As has been noted, Ofsted was critical in its report of the ponderous mechanism for assessments and issuing statements. It said that in some areas it was well done and that that led to better outcomes, but that in general assessments were inconsistent, which led to confusion and a sense of unfairness among parents. Sometimes children were prevented from accessing specialist education provision unless they had a medical diagnosis. It said that the quality of assessment should be improved. I hope that in the Green Paper, the Government will take that on board.
We know that early intervention is vital to enable children with autism to fulfil their potential. In practical terms, this means getting an assessment of need as soon as difficulties arise and then providing support without delay to help children overcome or manage some of the core challenges associated with autism. Too many children with autism are not getting diagnosed early enough. TreeHouse research has found that the average age of diagnosis is six years and seven months, when diagnosis should be possible at 18 months. Ofsted recommended that any further changes to improve the system of assessment should focus on quality and improving outcomes. It also recommended that a common system of assessment should be used across different services, and I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, had to say. In 2007, the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee recommended that different service models should be piloted to test the separation between assessment and funding so that a full and frank assessment of the child’s needs could be made independently of budgetary decisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to this. It should lead to earlier and more accurate assessments of need and a support package quickly following the assessment. This was then recommended by the Lamb inquiry.
What happens now? Do we wait for the Green Paper before proceeding with that implementation or will an implementation strategy for the Lamb inquiry recommendations proceed apace? Ofsted also suggested that incentivising local authorities to provide appropriate support as soon as a child’s needs have been identified, rather than allowing costs to escalate through exclusion to more expensive provision, would create better outcomes for children and families and would be a more cost-effective solution for local authorities.
At the end of the day on this topic, parents whom I have talked to have said that the worst experience is having to go through the special needs tribunals—the SENDIST process. I hope the Green Paper will address the procedures used in those tribunals and the way they operate.
Finally, we also have to reflect the concerns of organisations in the autism community at the higher end of the spectrum, particularly about school reforms and SEN. The Academies Act 2010 represents a major change in state education, and it is important that children with autism and other SEN conditions do not lose out. The Act makes it easier for schools to gain academy status and allows the setting up of free schools. Schools with academy status enjoy less regulation in areas such as exclusions and admissions. They will also receive a central-spend equivalent grant in lieu of services, including for children with SEN, that are no longer provided by the local authority. We need to be very clear about where responsibilities and budgets lie. Is it the Secretary of State who is now accountable to Parliament for ensuring that academies fully meet the needs of children with SEN? In academies set up under the previous Government, exclusion levels were twice as high as in other state secondary schools. We must ensure that exclusion levels for children with SEN do not increase through the new academies programme.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply and to the Green Paper to come.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Warnock for this debate, which will certainly give the Minister the opportunity to spell out in more detail the degree of priority that will be given to SEN and disabled children within the education system. It was good news to hear that the education budget will rise and that there will be a £2.5 billion pupil premium to support the education of disadvantaged children, but we know that there will be many demands on that budget.
Ofsted has done a thorough job visiting and taking evidence from schools in different parts of the country and from a wide range of those involved, including the pupils themselves and their parents, who, as we have already heard, are a fairly unsatisfied group. If one remembers, too, that the 1978 report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, estimated that as many as 20 per cent of all children had SEN, it is clear that the group which we are concerned with is certainly a significant one. If one adds to that the figures emphasised as important by the Special Educational Consortium—that 87 per cent of exclusions from primary and 60 per cent from secondary schools are SEN pupils, and that at secondary school those with SEN are more than twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals—it is clear that a high proportion of these children do indeed come from the most deprived backgrounds and therefore are doubly in need of support if they are to be enabled to reach their potential.
Ofsted's conclusions are important. Clearly, statemented children need the maximum help that the state can provide. However, as other noble Lords have said, it is disturbing to read that as many as half of the pupils identified for school action and school action plus would apparently not need to be so labelled if the school concerned had focused on improving teaching and learning for all pupils.
Three things stand out for me after reading the report, and on which I hope the Minister will comment. The first is the clear need to simplify the procedures by which pupils are assessed for SEN or disability help, ensuring that the system is clearer for parents, schools and other education and training providers, and, equally important, that the same assessment procedures are wherever possible used by all the services involved.
Secondly, the diagnosis procedures should begin as early in the child's life as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has already quoted the evidence given by TreeHouse that the average age for diagnosing autism is six years and seven months, and so on. We know—again, as we have heard—that such diagnosis can begin to be made for a child at 18 months. That clearly illustrates that today's children with SEN will already be unnecessarily falling behind the rate of progress of some of their classmates. In an earlier education Bill some of your Lordships, headed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, tried to include a provision ensuring that all children were tested for potential complications of this kind before they started school, but, alas, that amendment was lost in a previous wash-up. I hope from what I have heard today that there is an indication that—even if it is not early enough, but at least before five—the coalition Government will give a commitment to make the tests necessary.
The third point seems basic to achieving better results in future. It is to include in all teacher-training courses a basic element of SEN. There will of course be a need for more specific training for those teachers who will specialise, but the main need will be enough training for all teachers to enable them to realise when a child should be referred for more expert assessment.
My Lords, when it comes to a debate on special educational needs, I am afraid that I start to reminisce. It is about 24 years ago that I made my maiden speech in this House on the problems of dyslexia. If memory serves, I was standing almost diagonally across the Chamber from where I am standing now. The consistencies of the arguments are very much apparent to me: we have a much better system, and everyone is much better informed. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, I can thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for the fact that I was allowed to get through and complete an education process. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that I think the worry was more about what one might say than about what one actually had said.
However, many of the issues raised initially remain. We have heard from various speakers about the problems of inclusion versus specialist education. I remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, almost had a fatwa declared against her by various people who had decided that she had changed her mind and said that we did not need mass inclusion any more. “How dare you change your mind?”, was their attitude. Other people said that no special school should ever be shut. The fact is that your experience will depend on the disability group with which you are most associated, and on your experience or, more usually, on that of your child. That will depend very much on the time you are living in and where you are living. That is the consistency. When the noble Lord responds, I am afraid that he has got this historical problem.
We have a complicated system, which I have been talking about for so long. The summary of the report points out, on page 8, that it is a very complicated system that we have added to over the years. I and others in this Chamber have helped to make it complicated. There are no two ways about it: many of the biggest offenders are in this Chamber, even if they are not all here today. We have added to it because we are always frightened that we will be ignored or not taken seriously because the measures are difficult or expensive.
The previous Government tried to get rid of statementing. I was one of the people who said no, because, although it was imperfect, it was the only show in town. This means that if you have special educational needs and want to get the best out of our state education system, you should select your parents well. I reckon that the best combination is a lawyer and a journalist. Then you have a hold on the system, because no teacher or education authority likes being hauled up in front of a court or exposed in a paper. That is the most efficient club that you can have—and we need clubs. This Government, of whom I am a supporter, have given an undertaking that they will do initial assessments. Also, it is clear that we need assessment processes for all the different disability groups that are represented within about four metres of me now—and there are many more noble Lords who know about them. A different assessment process is required for each one. Dyslexia is a disability that you will not be able to spot at two. You may well spot it at five now: we used to say at about seven.
The report also says that many people who are said to have SEN might respond to better teaching. I raise one big caveat. I know dyslexia well, and moderate dyslexia does not come from a background where education or the use of literature is in any way regarded as abnormal in the household. You may well say, “They could do with a little bit of extra teaching” when actually they are dyslexic. I am afraid that if you want to check this out, the experiment has been done and you will find the results in the prison system, alongside many sufferers from Asperger's. We have a reverse battlefield medicine idea about this—an expression that I have used too often in this House. On the battlefield, you patch up the easy ones first. Here, the most obvious problems are dealt with first and attract funding, so we miss the large group.
If you come from a working-class background and perhaps your parents have literacy problems, your chances of getting the best out of the system at the moment are very slim. If you come from a middle-class background and have a good accent and plenty of money, you will take them on and get the best out of the system—if we have a series of assessments and better teacher training for identifying problems. I am not asking for everybody to be an expert. The British Dyslexia Association, of which I am a vice-president, reckons that it can run a scheme that takes three hours for identification—no more than identification, but if you at least identify the problem and do not compound it by doing the wrong thing and labelling the child as stupid, you have taken an incredibly important first step. If you can do that with dyslexia, similar programmes can be provided for other groups. If we can work this in, back up any assessment programme—because whichever way you do it, you will miss people—and accept that we do not have one easy answer, we stand a chance of getting this right. Any progress that I hear about today will make me very glad.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have a grandson with a statement of special educational needs in the state education system. I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for initiating this debate and I acknowledge her great experience and contribution. I also admired the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.
My focus is the needs of, and the response to, children who have a statement of special educational needs. The Lamb report on special educational needs published last year, followed by the Ofsted report this year, clearly set out what needs to be done, and there is no mystery about what needs to be done. In his letter to the then Secretary of State for Education, dated April 2009, Brian Lamb wrote that too many parents,
“reported that the system was not on their side and said they had to ‘fight’ or ‘do battle’ with the system to get what they needed for their child”.
Two brief quotes from the Ofsted report also summarise the current situation. Ofsted states:
“The review found both widespread weaknesses in the quality of what was provided for children with special educational needs and evidence that the way the system is currently designed contributes to these problems. Too often, the agencies focused simply on whether a service was or was not being provided rather than whether it was effective”.
Lamb, Ofsted, parents and professionals all know what needs to be done. The challenge is to make it happen.
Since 2003, while the proportion of pupils with less intensive needs has increased from 14 per cent to 18.2 per cent, the proportion of pupils with a statement decreased from 3 per cent to 2.7 per cent. Because of the resource implications of statementing for local authorities and schools, parents encounter an application process which is complex, intimidating and adversarial, and which tests them to breaking point and beyond. When parents are at their most vulnerable and physically and emotionally drained, they can be made to feel inadequate at best and, at worst, conspiratorial cheats. Well educated parents in supportive relationships with extended family networks can almost be broken by the process. What must it be like for parents with no support, multiple problems or limited verbal or written skills?
My concern, my challenge, is not about the good and dedicated professionals in schools, local authorities or health and specialist services. It is, as others have described today, with the system and with the outcomes. Let us assume that a child with genuine needs receives a statement. The next challenge for the parents is to ensure that the statement is translated into meaningful action and education. Mainstream schools struggle to deliver the requirements of the statement and we do not have sufficient special schools to provide facilities or outreach programmes to support the mainstream schools. I believe that there is a real danger that under the current system statemented children in mainstream schools, despite all the love and care given to them so freely, are most likely to be maintained and contained at a lower plateau of educational achievement than their potential deserves.
The statement review process tends to focus on inputs rather than outputs and achievements. There is often a total disconnect between the plan and what parents experience and know happens. Speech, language and occupational therapy can be specified, but parents know that well meaning and untrained support staff in the classroom rarely have the skill or expertise to make a difference. Parents know that if they challenge the endless box-ticking approach relating to inputs, they risk being labelled as difficult or trouble-makers. Despite the warmth, friendship and care which many professionals give so freely to parents and children, parents are too often left with a sense that they are in an adversarial struggle with a system whose default position will constantly fail their children unless they constantly push back against it.
The Lamb report and the Ofsted report have clearly benchmarked the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. No one in your Lordships’ House can be satisfied with the status quo. In addition to fulfilling our legal and moral obligations and demonstrating that as a civilised society we care about, and care for, these children and their families, there is a compelling business case for us to improve. Because the system fails so many children and young people, they remain overly dependent on state support throughout their lives. If developed to their full potential, many children and young people could live more independent, fulfilling and dignified lives with substantially less reliance on the state.
The parents and families of these children are too often ground down and exhausted by the system. However, they are also blessed by the discovery of reservoirs of love and inspiration by being at the centre of their wonderful children’s lives. Let us find ways, even in these difficult financial times, to support their ambitions and not confound them. I hope that the Minister will commit the Government to action and progress.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that the Academies Bill, which I believe was his baptism, was one of the first Bills of the coalition Government to go through this House. There was concern that it did not make specific provision for special educational needs pupils in the new academies. The Government rightly responded to that omission during the passage of the Bill, but that demonstrated that this House is watchful of special educational needs, and today it is good to have this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for initiating it following the very full report from Ofsted that was published last month. Like the noble Baroness, I stress that, although there have been criticisms of the report, the sample taken was a large one and that must be taken fully into account.
The report evaluates as best it can how well the legislative framework and the arrangements serve children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities. In my view, the report points clearly to areas where we can do better. I will refer to those areas, but I do not do so in a critical way because I recognise that the problems confronting children, parents, teachers, schools and local authorities are difficult, diverse and therefore often not easy to solve simply by setting out a structure for action. However, I will highlight some points to which the report draws attention and which underlie, in some cases, more than one of their recommendations. In particular—I know there has been criticism of this—is the identification of pupils with SEN, currently 1.7 million of school age, appropriate? In short, is the division between school action, in the form of additional support within the school or school action plus in the form of additional support bolstered by outside help and those with a statement of SEN who clearly need intensive support, working well? The report makes specific criticisms of the workings of the system. I have to say that I do not object to the definitions and the action which ought to be taken because the vital question is how schools and other authorities respond to those needs. We know from a number of sources how unhappy parents are with the way that the arrangements operate on the ground. We know that we should take account of it.
What the report is really about is the working of the system, and we ought to concentrate on that. I shall now pick up on the points made in the report about the system to which I attach most importance, and I hope that the Minister will comment on them. First, the report shows that some schools have thrown the net of school action very wide and have attributed SEN to some pupils very broadly. It states that half the schools used low attainment and relatively slow progress as the principal indicator of special education needs, while in other schools SEN pupils had needs that were no different from many other pupils in that they were not being taught well enough and, perhaps even more important, their expectations were allowed to be too low. On page 8, the Ofsted report states quite forcefully that any change in the system should focus inter alia on—here I give the only quote that I shall make from the report—
“ensuring that schools do not identify pupils as having special educational needs when they simply need better teaching”.
Secondly, I am concerned that the quality of effective identification and good-quality provision was not common. In particular, where a child was identified as having SEN requiring school action plus or even at statement level, further resources were provided from outside the school but this was often—I repeat, often—not of good quality and did not lead to a better outcome for the child or young person. That is certainly a disappointing conclusion and we ought to take account of it.
Thirdly, monitoring and evaluation were, in some cases examined by the inspectors, insufficient or almost non-existent. I am sure that some excellent work is being done, but when the inspectors use the word “often” in relation to provision not of good quality, it is again a cause for concern. It seems that some agencies concentrate on ensuring that a service is being provided, which is a good thing, but less on whether it is effectively meeting the need. On the contrary, where there was close evaluation of the outcomes, the additional support was valuable. So the potential is there. I conclude on this point that that is not basically a fault of the system but more a call for greater emphasis on the effectiveness of what is provided.
In some other areas of legislation and guidance it seems that the cumulative effect of minor changes has made things difficult for all of us, particularly for the parents and the children with SEN, who are the ones who run up against all the problems in interpreting and navigating the system. This is also an important point and we ought to do our best to remove this difficulty because it is depressing to hear that the parents of these children take that view in many cases.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister will reflect on all these questions: the too broad a use of the term SEN; the quality of additional provision for school action plus and statemented children and young persons with SEN; better evaluation of that provision; and, possibly, the simplification of legislation and guidance.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on securing the debate, and I add to the many remarks that have already been made about the wisdom she brings to it, especially given her seminal report in 1978. I was still at school and, as someone who had a special interest in it, I can remember the Warnock report being published at the time. I also found my noble friend’s maiden speech very enjoyable. I remember that when I came into the House we had a debate about jam; I therefore do not see why we cannot have a debate about honey. I very much enjoyed my noble friend’s maiden speech.
In preparing for the debate I read an article by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that was recently published in the Daily Telegraph. In it she describes the changing attitudes in society to children with special educational needs and disabilities. She also referred to the fact that when her report was published there was the shadow of the 1980s education cuts still to come. I thought that was an interesting context in her first seminal work, and today’s debate is timely because of what we can all see coming down the track for education.
I agree with the noble Baroness that the Ofsted report is an important contribution to the debate and to how we go forward. I agree also that when we were in government we considered the recommendations of the Lamb report an extremely important contribution as to how we should take forward provision for children with special educational needs. I feel strongly that we must have the highest expectations for children with special educational needs and disabled children. I believe, as do others on my Benches, that these children should have every opportunity to fulfil their potential and pursue their talents. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, access to support for achieving their aspirations should not be a battle for parents. I think that we agree across the House on that.
The education and children’s social care system, particularly schools, should be held to account for how well it meets the needs of children with special educational needs. As others have generously said, the previous Government worked in close partnership with the voluntary sector and providers to attempt to develop a system capable of meeting those needs. Our contribution has been recognised in comments from around the Chamber and by the Government. At the election, we made a clear commitment to expanding the number of specialist dyslexia teachers, to improving teacher training for children with autism, to improving the statementing process to give more support to parents and to increasing the supply of teachers with specialist skills, particularly those working with children with severe learning disabilities in special schools. We on these Benches took the concerns very seriously. However, we were never complacent and we are under no illusion about the challenge facing the Government now. That is why we commissioned the Lamb and Ofsted reports and why this debate is so timely and so important.
However, we face the coming clouds of education funding challenges. I have a number of questions for the Minister, which I hope he will be able to help me with today. If he does not have the notes to hand, I would be very happy to receive a letter from him. Yesterday was a very dark day for children’s services. It is now clear that in order to write the great fiction of protected education spending into the story of the spending review, children and family services will bear the lion’s share of the 12 per cent cut to the budget of the Department for Education. We can now perhaps see why it was so important to change its name from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and to write out children and families from the title. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, eloquently explained, schools rely on local authorities for significant funding. As we see the national indicator set and the ring-fenced funding disappear, I fear that children’s services will suffer a very quiet and invisible demise. I look forward to reassurance from the Minister. Children with SEN and disabled children rely on those services. Given that the Chancellor was prepared to be very clear about the provision of social care for adults, could the Minister be very clear for us about the importance of the provision of social care for children. Can he provide reassurance about specialist services for children with SEN?
We have heard much about the pupil premium, which I hope, but have yet to be convinced, is more than a rebranding exercise. We were promised in the coalition agreement that the premium would be drawn from outside the schools budget and would provide additional funding for disadvantaged children, many of whom have SEN. However, the spending review document states clearly that the premium will “sit within” the settlement for schools. We are given to understand that the premium will simply lump together existing budgets, which may result—I look forward to being reassured otherwise—in borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, with the regrettable effect that Peter's school will face cuts.
Will the Minister please explain for the benefit of the House how his Government can justify calling the pupil premium additional when it is simply a rebranding exercise? These are important questions for the support of children with special educational needs. There will be winners and losers following this reorganisation of the schools budgets, so will the Minister give us assurances that there will be proper support for schools as they go through transition? Will he ensure that there will not be a repeat of the fiasco with the Building Schools for the Future announcements?
The Department for Education has yet to publish its business plan, so will the Minister tell the House whether the Government intend to fund the pupil premium through the abolition of the implicit free school meals premium that already exists? The IFS has already described that implicit premium as having a value of £2,460 for primary schools and £3,370 for secondary schools, so the concern is that the premium will be funded by reallocating the same pot of money in a different way. If that were to be the case, it would represent a flat line in funding; if it were the worst case, it could be extremely bad news for disabled children and children with special educational needs.
I turn briefly to the academies programme. We have already heard that during the passage of the Academies Act, the Government accepted a number of amendments to retain funding for specialist support services within local authorities and that a working group would be set up to consider long-term solutions to that issue. Will the Minister confirm that progress has been made with establishing the working group and say whether disability organisations such as SEC, RNIB and Sense are to be represented? It would be important to hear about that.
The Government also committed to monitoring the impact of the Act on services for children with low-incidence specialist support needs. What monitoring and assessment has taken place to date, or are there plans to take this forward? What is the Government’s plan for ensuring the sustainability of services in low-incidence specialist support needs? Local authorities—or some authorities, at least—need to plan for providing specialist support services. The low-incidence needs of children with SEN or a disability such as visual or hearing impairment mean that the market available for the private sector to enter is highly restricted and may not be financially viable. There is strong concern about the stability of these services, given the impact that academies and free schools will have as they take money away from local authorities and are free to commission services, either from the private sector or from a local authority. There is the additional complexity that free schools and academies may not have the relevant expertise to commission the support required by a child with special educational needs or a disability.
That situation could well be made worse—I am sure that the noble Lord will reassure me to the contrary—by yesterday’s announcement of cuts to the tune of 28.4 per cent in local authority funding over the course of the Parliament. There is so much more to discuss about special educational needs, but I know that the noble Lord has limited time to respond to the debate, so I will ask no more questions—except to say that I look forward very much to hearing his response.
My Lords, I knew that this would be an extremely good debate and the House has not disappointed. Like many other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on securing this debate and for giving us the chance to discuss this important issue. Given her long experience and her pivotal role in the first SEN legislation, nearly 30 years ago, her words carry particular weight and the whole House will have listened, as I did, to what she had to say with special care. On one of her first points, wanting reassurance on whether the Government will take the Ofsted review into account in connection with the Green Paper, I absolutely give her that reassurance. I spoke to my honourable friend the Minister of State for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, about the noble Baroness’s debate, and it is the case that the points that all noble Lords have raised today, which are extremely timely, will feed in to that process. I hope that that provides some reassurance.
Like others, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, on his excellent maiden speech. I look forward to the contributions that he will make in this area and on education more generally. I know that he is a governor of a special school. To me, governors are often the unsung heroes and heroines of our school system, and I would appreciate it if he would spare the time to talk about his experience as a governor at that school; I would like to hear more.
I also see that he edited a number of speeches by the former Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown. As someone who was involved myself in speechwriting for another former Prime Minister, this tells me a number of things about the noble Lord: that he is patient, that he has great stamina and that he must be a man of great tact. These are all qualities which will stand him in very good stead in the deliberations of this House, and I know that we all welcome him to our debates.
I learnt early on how much Members of this House take children with special educational needs and disabilities to their hearts; the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, kindly reminded me of the passage of the Academies Act. We have seen that again today in the quality of the debate and the thoughtful way in which the argument has been made by noble Lords in all parts of the House.
I thought that I would start with a couple of statistics to set the issue in contrast, and these have already been alluded to. First, it is clearly still the case that too many young people are not achieving what they are capable of; there is broad agreement on that. Ofsted found that achievement was “good or outstanding” in 41 per cent of the education providers that it visited, which means that 59 per cent were merely satisfactory or below. In fact, it rated 14 per cent as inadequate.
We know from our own data that children with SEN account for 63 per cent of fixed-period exclusions and over 70 per cent of all permanent exclusions. Like other noble Lords who have spoken today, the Government are keen to try to break the link between a child’s background and circumstances and their achievement.
Listening to the debate, it also struck me that there was a large degree of agreement and unanimity around the Chamber, and there were a number of principles on which we would all agree: we are keen to raise the quality of education for all our children; we want parents to have as much choice as possible and as much involvement as possible in decisions that affect their child; we want to give professionals—teachers and social workers—as much freedom as possible to do the best job they can; and, perhaps above all in the harder economic times to which the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, referred, we will do all we can to think about and look after the interests of the most disadvantaged children in the country.
It may be better, in terms of the debate about SEN, if I pick up on some of the noble Baroness’s specific points outside this Chamber, but I know that she has concerns overall about the budget that has been secured for the Department for Education. There will be difficult decisions. On specific funding, my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families will be setting out in fairly short order the next level of spending commitments, how they work through and what funding will be available for them. Overall, though, we take some comfort at the department, when we have to think about these allocations, that the settlement that the department got means that we will be able to deal as well as we can with the pressures that we face. I hope that I will be able to convince the noble Baroness that some of her concerns about the pupil premium and the other issues that she raised are unnecessary.
On rereading the Ofsted report again last night, five main points struck me, reflecting many of the observations that have been made this afternoon. First, there are clearly issues around identification of need, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, at the outset; I will come back to that. Secondly, there is clearly a problem with consistency of identification. The report refers to the fact that different children in both the same and different parts of the country are getting very different treatment out of the system. That does not seem acceptable in principle.
Thirdly, legislation in these areas has become very complex. As my noble friend Lord Addington was honest enough to admit, he and others have, perhaps, added to that complexity. That complexity is clearly a barrier to comprehension. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to the use of language that obscures meaning and makes the whole process more difficult. Fourthly, a point made eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lord, Lord Condon, was that parents feel that the system is so adversarial that they must “fight for their rights”, the phrase used in the Ofsted report.
Fifthly—a point which has not come up this afternoon thus far—the Ofsted report seemed clearly to say that no one model of provision seems to work better than any other, but rigorous monitoring and early intervention are key. So is early assessment, a point made by noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I take that to heart. The final point brought to my attention in the course of the debate, by my noble friend Lady Linklater, is the need for a shift from process to outcomes.
Those were, for me, the main conclusions of the report, and I feel they have been borne out by the nature of the debate we have had this afternoon. Overall, therefore, the report tells us that we need to have a thorough look at the system of SEN provision. Although our children’s services professionals are generally working hard, and there is evidence of excellent practice, the system as whole does not seem to be accessible. It is difficult to navigate and does not seem to be delivering equal opportunities.
These are all important points on which we need to reflect, and which I know from my conversation this morning are very much in the mind of my honourable friend Sarah Teather, the Minister for Children and Families. As noble Lords will know, the Government intend to publish a Green Paper on SEN and disability. To update noble Lords on the timing, the aim is to get that published by the end of this year. That will provide the opportunity to take those points into account.
Identification is one of the core issues, and one of the issues about which there was most coverage in the media. I accept the point that there was a fair amount of misreporting about some of the detail in the report. The report seemed to say that, although identification of children with very severe or complex needs is generally consistent and well managed, there is a problem. There are disparities in the identification of less severe needs at both local and national level. That seems to highlight a need to consider the definition, or how that definition is applied in schools. With one in five children now identified as having a special educational need, we must consider how broadly we apply that definition.
The figures tell a clear story. The first part of this point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. For pupils with statements, the figures have been consistent over time; the most recent figures are 2.9 per cent in 2006, 2.8 per cent in 2007, 2.8 per cent in 2008, 2.7 per cent in 2009 and 2.7 in 2010, so there is a great deal of consistency. Over the same period, however, when overall pupil rolls were falling, the number of children on school action rose from 843,000 to nearly 916,000, and on school action plus by nearly 100,000.
I also looked at some international comparisons to see whether they told us anything. Those are not straightforward but it seems to be the case, yet again, that the percentage of children with statements is broadly comparable with other countries. However, there seems to be less consistency and comparability, from looking at a range of other countries, when it comes to children with SEN who are not statemented. I know there has been speculation as to why this might be. There has been some speculation about value added. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, talked about laziness and greed. I am not sure it is clear to us that that is the reason; we should not rush to judgment. However, we clearly have to look at what is going on as part of the Green Paper process. Ofsted has done a helpful job in highlighting these disparities and getting us to look at these questions.
Of the education providers it visited, Ofsted found that around half are principally using low attainment and slow progress as indicators of a special educational need. It saw this as self-perpetuating, as continued lack of progress was put down to special educational need. It is right and important to emphasise that teachers work extremely hard to develop their pupils and support those children with additional needs as they do so. However, if a child’s needs were more clearly defined, a better assessment could be made of a child’s capability and educational potential. I will reflect on the points made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and others about the importance of teacher training and making sure that special educational needs training is considered part of that.
I will touch briefly on inclusion, which was initially raised by my noble friend Lady Linklater. I will also respond to some powerful points made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on what he described as the enlightened consensus. My noble friend Lord Addington also raised points around this. I think we are broadly in agreement. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Low, is saying that he is afraid that the Government have an agenda to force children with SEN into special schools. We absolutely do not want to do that; nor do we want to force them into mainstream schools or, indeed, any particular type of provision. Our aim, which is shared across this House on both sides, is to create real choice for parents so far as we can, so that they are able to make those decisions for their children, as is their natural right.
We are committed in the coalition agreement to ending the unnecessary closure of special schools, which serve so many children and their parents well. That does not imply that we believe all children should be shoehorned into special schools. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Low, and others that many children with special educational needs certainly benefit from mainstream education. The Ofsted report itself stated that enabling children to be as independent as possible often supported good achievement. However, we think that judgment should be made by parents, with the support and advice of children’s services professionals. There was an interesting report by the National Autistic Society in 2006, which found that, given a theoretical choice, parents were fairly evenly split between those who wanted mainstream schools, those who wanted special schools and those who wanted resource bases in mainstream schools as the best option for their child. What we must try to do is ensure that we can make the choice not theoretical but real. Overall, our aim is to focus on raising standards in all schools so that, whatever option parents choose, they can be assured that their child is receiving the highest quality of education.
I will say a little about academies and exclusions, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. Academies get a slightly bad press on this. The overall level of exclusions from academies has fallen and has done so for every year. In 2002-03 the percentage was 0.96; in 2008-09 it fell to 0.31 per cent. It is also the case that as many academies have exclusion rates below the national average as have exclusion rates above the national average. I was very conscious of the concerns that were raised about SEN during the passage of the Academies Bill and will continue to keep a close eye on that as the Minister responsible for academies. However, I have not been able to discern any pattern at all. Overall, there is a higher proportion of pupils with special needs without statements in academies than there is in maintained secondary schools.
A specific point was raised about the separation of assessment and funding—I think originally by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. The separation of assessment and funding is an option that the Government ought to consider and it is one that I know my honourable friend Sarah Teather will consider as part of the Green Paper discussions. We had an interesting debate about language and definition. I certainly take the point made by a number of noble Lords about complexity of language, especially the potential overlap of definitions, about which the noble Baroness was particularly concerned. We have to try to produce a simpler and more comprehensible SEN and disability system. We will certainly consider whether there need to be any changes to statutory definitions as they apply to children.
I wish to say a few words on the SEN Green Paper. Last month, the Minister of State outlined the plans for a Green Paper. It will cover a whole range of issues from school choice to early identification and assessment, funding and support for families. It is crucial that parents and children feel confident in the services that they are receiving from all children’s services professionals, that where assessments and onward referrals are needed they happen quickly, clearly and effectively, and that services are fair and always in the child’s best interests.
We are therefore considering a range of options to look at how to give parents real choice in the educational settings which can meet their child’s needs, make the system more transparent, cost-effective and high quality, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, improve diagnosis and assessment to identify children with additional needs earlier—that echoes the point made by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones on the importance of early assessment of autism—and to support young people with SEN and disabilities post-16, beyond their compulsory schooling. That picks up on a point made by my noble friend Lady Ritchie. We have already run an initial consultation process. We had 1,600 responses and we will be running a further consultation on the Green Paper itself.
This has been an excellent debate, and one in which there has been much consensus, both on our ambitions for young people with special educational needs and on our appreciation of the problems caused by the current system. I have certainly listened carefully to the concerns raised and I will pass them on to my honourable friend the Minister of State for Children and Families. I spoke to her this morning. She is very keen to hear from Members of this House. If it is convenient for noble Lords, I will suggest that we organise a meeting with my honourable friend to discuss these issues and take the matter further.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been extremely enlightening, enjoyable and very good. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for his maiden speech. I loved it. He comes from the most difficult and recalcitrant of all areas of special educational need. I therefore congratulate him on that as well.
I especially thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, because what came through to me from her admirable speech was the need for optimism, which informed our report all those years ago. We felt that there was hope for children with special needs, whatever they were. She spoke of the low expectations that in her early days would have inhibited her progress if she had not had such admirable expectations of herself. She made a marvellous and inspiring speech which reminded us of the attitudes towards special educational needs that informed the late 1970s, before the horrors of the cuts came.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for taking the whole issue so seriously—she always has—for what she said, and for providing the hope for more discussions. I finally thank very much the Minister, who was extremely interested and in learning mode before this debate. He is obviously interested and well informed. I thank him for his reply and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
House adjourned at 5.11 pm.