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Parliament: Special Educational Needs (Information) Bill

This concerns a debate on the Special Educational Needs (Information) Bill. Relevant bits highlighting deaf issues is included below. You can read the full debate by following the links at the bottom of this post.

Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead East & Washington West, Labour)

.... The Royal National Institute for Deaf People also tells us that many deaf and hard-of-hearing children are not performing as well as they could, but that it has been very hard to obtain the information it needs to tackle areas where there is poor support and underperformance. The Bill would make a crucial difference in ensuring that deaf and hard-of-hearing children's needs are properly identified, and would encourage more teachers to identify hearing loss in the classroom. ....

Annette Brooke (Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Children, Schools and Families; Mid Dorset & North Poole, Liberal Democrat)

.... As the Special Educational Consortium, reinforced by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, says, having more information has the potential to improve our understanding of what works, to provide a better basis for the sharing of good practice, to improve our understanding of training and professional needs and to provide a more secure basis for the development of national policy. The Ofsted report of 2004 found that under-expectation was a significant factor in the underachievement of children with SEN and that too little is known about the attainment of pupils with SEN. We know that the RNID is flagging up the incredible statistic that only 32.9 per cent. of deaf children across the board achieve five GCSEs at grades A to C, whereas the average for all children is 57.1 per cent. We need to know more about that underperformance....

Barbara Keeley (PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC (Minister for Women)), Leader of the House of Commons; Worsley, Labour)

.... My hon. Friend said that special educational needs come in all shapes and sizes. I want to focus on deaf pupils and to consider how existing SEN provision affects them. First, however, following my hon. Friend's speech and interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), I pay tribute to St. George's Roman Catholic high school in my constituency—a mainstream school that excels in provision for pupils with SEN. About 15 per cent. of the pupils have some level of special educational need and it was the first school in Salford to be involved in the dyslexia friendly schools initiative. The measures outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West can but help to improve St. George's—to develop and better the school's already impressive performance. As we have already heard, it is important that schools such as St. George's are willing to tackle SEN and not take the easier path of concentrating on pupils with no extra needs.

I am sure all Members agree that SEN is a complex issue. The range in type and extent of special need is wide; different needs require different provision, which is why I want to focus on the needs of pupils who are deaf. There are about 35,000 deaf children in the UK—90 per cent. are born to hearing parents who have no experience of deafness or knowledge of how to communicate with a deaf child. Until the new-born hearing screening programme was rolled out in 2006, diagnosis in the early years was poor, which meant that deaf children often missed out on crucial opportunities to develop their language and communication skills. The National Deaf Children's Society says that an undiagnosed deaf child aged three will know only about 25 words, compared with 700 words for a hearing child of the same age.

Lack of information and support after diagnosis has been a problem. If hearing parents with deaf children lack adequate support they will be prevented from making informed choices about how to support their child and communicate with them effectively. The combination of those factors means that deaf children are generally a long way behind their hearing peers when they start school, even if they have similar cognitive abilities, which leads to a big gap in educational achievement.

Fortunately for deaf children in my constituency, the Thomasson Memorial school for the deaf in Bolton, which is a regional resource, is available to them. Every year, a number of my young constituents attend the school, where one of the teachers is another of my constituents—Mrs. Eileen Hosie. I have visited the school, which is in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly). The school is making an excellent contribution to the provision of education for deaf pupils in Salford and throughout the north-west. Many areas do not have such resources, however, which compounds the attainment gap for deaf pupils.

In March 2007, when the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) was a Minister in the Department for Education and Skills, he stated in a Westminster Hall debate that only 32.9 per cent. of deaf children in England achieved five or more A to C grades at GCSE, compared with the then national average of 57 per cent. That is an attainment gap of 24 per cent. Given that deafness is not a learning disability there is no reason why deaf children should achieve less than their hearing peers of similar cognitive ability. That gap is not acceptable to me.

Those statistics demonstrate the importance of the Bill, because they were the only statistics my office could find on the educational attainment of deaf children. If we do not know that the gaps exist, how can we take appropriate action to close them? I welcome the duty to collect and publish information about children with SEN that the Bill would place on the Secretary of State. It is important for a variety of reasons.

At present, there is little incentive for local authorities to make the provision needed to reduce the attainment gap between deaf and hearing children. By collecting and monitoring information on provision and on outcomes for deaf pupils we could do many more things. We would know about the attainment gap and understand it, so we could start to see where targeted action is needed in schools. We could identify high-performing areas across the country and find good practice that could be shared with other areas. We could assess which interventions were effective in raising the achievement of deaf children. We could improve our understanding of the training required by teachers so that they can communicate effectively with deaf or hard of hearing children. We could give the parents of deaf children more informed choices and enable the public to hold local authorities to account for their performance in the education of deaf children.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West said, the Bill will make a crucial difference in ensuring that the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children, as well as the needs of those with other special education needs, start to be properly identified and addressed. Importantly, the Bill will complement the recent progress that has been made by the Government in improving the life chances of deaf children.

The report "Aiming high for disabled children: better support for families", which was published in May 2007, set out the vision that every disabled child should have the chance to fulfil their potential. Such a vision requires the collection of information for which my hon. Friend is calling. Of course, it was announced in the children's plan that £18 million would be used to provide better data for schools about the progress of pupils with SEN. That is key.

Furthermore, the roll-out of the newborn hearing screening programme, which I mentioned earlier, will result in the majority of deaf children being identified by the age of six months. That should remove a key barrier to the development of deaf children. There is no reason in principle why the attainment gap for deaf children should not now start to close provided that there is sufficient political commitment supported by a programme of targeted interventions. That is where my hon. Friend's Bill comes in.

My hon. Friend acknowledged that the Bill does not offer a universal solution. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the National Deaf Children's Society have both said that rather than effecting change, the collection and analysis of information on SEN will facilitate change. The data will provide these and other organisations with the leverage to campaign for improved policies and to build progress on progress.

My hon. Friend has shone a spotlight on unnecessary underachievement, and I commend her for it. I support her Bill because its measures will help to ensure that every child has an equal chance of success. We cannot continue with a 24 per cent. attainment gap between deaf children and hearing pupils and the massive waste of potential that goes with it. My hon. Friend's Bill will be an important step towards closing that gap, and I hope that we will support its Second Reading today.

Anne Snelgrove (PPS (Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State), Department for Transport; South Swindon, Labour)

.... I thank the hon. Gentleman for his correction and apologise to Baroness Warnock—I must have inferred from her comments that she was a member of another party.

The Warnock report rightly challenged many assumptions, especially prejudice about the potential of children with special needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) identified very well the gap in attainment for children with hearing difficulties and deaf children. It is 24 per cent. at GCSE level, which is incredible. I suspect that it is the same for other disabilities such as blindness and it is shaming that we have not examined the matter adequately in the House. My hon. Friend is right to focus on that.

Thirty years after the Warnock report, we still need to challenge assumptions. Many of the children whom we are considering need and deserve a properly resourced place in a mainstream school. Many deaf children would be better off being stretched educationally in a mainstream school, but with properly trained secondary school teachers, as other hon. Members have said. They do not need a return to the prejudice and second-rate provision of the 1970s that Warnock identified. The system that I advocate is based on the needs of the child, not the assumption that mainstream provision is always wrong and special needs schools are always right. It clearly depends on collecting and analysing the correct data—that is why the Bill is crucial. It seems like a small point, but it is a huge matter. We should be able to base our actions on the right information. .....

.... The Bill strengthens the Secretary of State's power to collect information and will assist in improving outcomes for children with special educational needs. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley, I am pleased that the National Deaf Children's Society is supporting the Bill. ....

Lynda Waltho (PPS (Rt Hon David Hanson, Minister of State), Ministry of Justice; Stourbridge, Labour)

... As the Royal National Institute for Deaf People states in its briefing, the Bill has the potential to improve our understanding of what works; raise expectations; provide a better base to evaluate projects and progress; provide a secure basis for sharing good practice; improve our understanding of training and development needs; and provide a more secure basis for future national policy. ...

Mark Harper (Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions; Forest of Dean, Conservative)

... Some of us have been lobbied about underachievement among deaf pupils, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley). I have discussed the subject with the RNID, which is pushing for an improvement in information as a catalyst for improvement in services and educational outcomes for children with hearing impairments. ....

Maria Miller (Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families; Basingstoke, Conservative)

.... We have also heard from hon. Members about the human cost of undiagnosed or incorrectly supported special educational needs. The hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) highlighted the significant attainment gap experienced by deaf children and how unacceptable that is given the nature of that special educational need. I was concerned to hear that the gap between deaf children and those with no special educational needs was 24 per cent. Other hon. Members talked about the economic costs of undiagnosed special educational needs. The Minister will leave the debate with a clear message that hon. Members from across the House feel that the situation cannot persist. ...

Kevin Brennan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Cardiff West, Labour)

... My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) spoke passionately as always, in this instance about deaf children. She mentioned the wonderful work done by her constituent Eileen Hosie, who teaches deaf pupils. We share the concern expressed by the RNID and the NDCS about the attainment of deaf children, and the Department is working closely with those organisations to try to understand the issues and establish how data can be used to focus on improving provision. ...

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