The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

Extracts from Hansard 22 June 2005

Special schools debate calling for a moratorium on closures

There was confusion about the low incidence audit which some MPs are describing as an audit of special school provision.

Some comments about the audit:

  • a specific audit for the relatively small number of children who have high and complicated needs
  • the audit covers only those schools that deal with the most severe needs, yet it is schools for those with moderate learning difficulties that are closing
David Cameron (Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Conservative)

  • The inclusion agenda has gone too far
  • The statementing system now has serious problems
  • The whole sector needs to be fundamentally reviewed
  • Policy is biased against special schools; “closure of these centres of excellence”
  • Trying to meet (special needs) all in the same way in the same class in the same school can be, and all too often, has been, a cruel deception for many children
  • Second Warnock report is a stunning recantation of the first; MW has seen the light and admitted that she got it wrong
  • In many cases parents are not told about the existence of special schools
  • An alliance is being formed between those who favour inclusion on ideological grounds and those who want to achieve it on financial grounds

Jacqui Smith (Minister for Schools, Labour)

  • Parents have a right to express a preference for either
  • The Government do not have a policy of closing special schools
  • SEN and Disability Act 2001 removed barriers that were placed in the way of parents who wanted their children to attend mainstream schools but were denied the opportunity
  • Schools Access initiative - £300 million over the next three years
  • Placement criteria: child’s needs, the needs of other children and the issue of resources
  • Recently committed the TTA to produce a £1.1 million package of work to improve quality and choice in SEN training for teachers. Working to provide a more effective continuing professional development and career path for teachers and SENCOs, and for heads
  • 135 ASTs who specialise in SEN to advise and support less experienced colleagues, 50 of whom are based in special schools
  • Increase of nearly 35% SALTS since 1997
  • Special schools continue to have a vital role in catering for children with the most complex needs and in working closely with mainstream schools to share their expertise
  • Under our building schools for the future programmes to provide 21st century buildings and facilities for all secondary aged pupils, we will provide an additional £66 million this year for special schools alone

Edward Davey (Shadow Education spokesman, Lib Dem)

  • The debate concerning special schools versus inclusion is something of a false debate. We need both, and we need to reach a consensus on this point
  • It is becoming a widely held view that SEN tribunals have been got at and that the Department is increasingly reluctant to put pressure on local authorities to investigate complaints against LEAs that are not performing their legal duties
  • … should not the assessment process be managed by an independent organisation
  • … could it (the Government) not consider the idea that the costs of the very needy and expensive case be transferred from the local authority’s budget to the department’s budget … local authorities could concentrate on the needs of the less severe special needs children
  • We Liberal Democrats have shown our commitment to special schools, as our policy is to build them up as resource centres to support local schools in their specialist provision

Barry Sheerman (Former Chairman Education Select Committee, Labour)

  • Ofsted report … SEN provision and inclusive schools: The proportion of SEN students in mainstream schools has not been affected by the inclusion framework

David Evennett (Conservative MP)

  • The current audit should cover all special schools; not just schools dealing with severe learning difficulties, but those dealing with moderate learning difficulties

Sammy Wilson (DUP MP)

  • Sometimes, for youngsters’ own protection, it is important to remove them from the rough and tumble of mainstream schools and give them the opportunity to be taught in a different environment
Judy Mallaber (Labour MP)

  • spoke about seeing children from the RSD Derby and had also met with staff from Aldercar Infants School when they received a training award for their work with deaf children who are integrated into their school

Richard Benyon (Conservative MP)

  • spoke about Mary Hare School highlighting that the head spends 40% of his time on tribunals
  • said there is a prejudice in the education establishment against special schools and it means that children suffer
  • complained too about the school being charged VAT on its new performing arts centre when a mainstream school wouldn’t be
  • said that he believed that inclusion, when done properly and limited, is right for children for whom it is appropriate. In those circumstances, co-location is a way forward. We cannot hermetically seal children with special needs away from those in the mainstream.
Angela Smith (Labour MP)

  • complained that some LEAs would give information to MPs about a statementing process which they withhold from parents

Anne Milton (Conservative MP)

  • I have seen teachers in tears because they are desperate. They say ”I went into mainstream education because that is what I feel I can do. I do not feel that I have the skills to meet the requirements of children with special needs.”

Philip Davies (Conservative MP)

  • Bradford Council has some innovative and ambitious plans to improve special needs education and to increase the number of special schools in the district, but it needs Government’s help

Mark Hoban (Conservative shadow Education Minister)

  • Many parents … doubt the reliability with which LEAs go about the statementing process…
  • I have seen the excellent work that the Elizabeth Foundation does with young children born with a hearing impairment. It tries to support children at an early age so that they can continue in full-time mainstream schools rather than have to go to a school for the deaf or a unit for children with hearing impairment
  • I visited the MHGS in Newbury … I met a young man there who had been written off as a failure by his mainstream school. He was stuck at the back of the class and could not participate in lessons, but he is now heading off to university because of the expertise and skills of the Mary Hare School
  • In the brief for this debate the Special Education consortium pointed out that the mainstream does not offer a ready welcome to a child or understand a child’s impairments and education needs. It says that parents have difficulty in securing appropriate provision in mainstream schools, and that there are problems with getting appropriate support from other sources.

Maria Eagle (Under-Sec of State)

  • Between 2000 and 2003 the proportion of children with SEN judged to be making good progress grew from 54 to 73% in primary schools and from 43 to 71% in secondary schools
  • It is categorically not the Government’s policy to close special schools and enforce inclusion whether or not it is right for the individual child
  • She referred to “the national audit of low incidence SEN support services and provision”

The full debate can be read on the Hansard website

Paul Simpson, Secretary, July 2005