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TX: 06.07.06 - SEN/Minority Report

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
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TX: 06.07.06 - SEN Minority Report

PRESENTER: CAROLYN ATKINSON

ATKINSON
Now the best way to teach children with special educational needs is always highly contentious and divides opinion.

VOX POPS
My experience is that a lot of teachers try really hard but for a lot of children they're being failed very badly in schools simply because the structures are not suitable for what they need.

In the borough where I work the provision of statements for all children has been reduced to a maximum of an hour a week. I've got two children in Year 10, dyslexic children whose reading is eight who are expected to do GCSEs and to do very much with them in one hour a week, it's just virtually impossible.

The statementing process is a closed process. The local authority really is prosecuting council, judge and jury. All the parents can do is make a written statement and then the decisions are made behind closed doors.

ATKINSON
Those are just some of you whose evidence on Call You and Yours back in February was forwarded to the Education and Schools Select Committee as they investigated the teaching of children with special educational needs or SEN. Well as you've been hearing all morning in the news their report about SEN has just been published but for only the third time in six years some members have split from the majority and published their own minority report. More from them in a moment.

Well the main select committee report is critical of the provision of special educational needs in this country, saying there's a postcode lottery, a lack of guidance for local education authorities and huge variations over providing statements about what children need.

Well the chairman Barry Sheerman though says it's not all bad news.

SHEERMAN
There's a high level of satisfaction out there, about 90%, with what parents get. But for the 10%, and a smaller number, who have to fight for statement, they feel they have to pay a lot of money to be represented when they appeal on a statement, it's a tough, tough world and that's wrong and we want the government to sort that out. To say look here we have a new kind of policy, every child in this country should have the right kind of education for them, for some of them it's going to be special school, some of it's mainstream, sometimes it's good provision based on the same campus as a mainstream school. We do need a national system with minimum standards and flexibility locally.

ATKINSON
That was Barry Sheerman talking on the Today programme earlier.

Well two Conservative members of the committee say it missed a trick and that the report doesn't go far enough. And Nadine Dorries and Douglas Carswell join me now.

Nadine, first of all, Conservative MP for mid-Bedfordshire, you have personal experience of a child with special needs, how did the system work for you?

DORRIES
Well it didn't work, that's the point actually. And it doesn't work for the majority of parents who have children with special education needs. And that's because the local authorities have a get out of jail free card, which is the wording within the law, that says there must be presumption towards mainstream. And how it doesn't work, so many parents will understand this, you recognise that your child has a problem, the teachers recognise the problem and then the local authority are slow to assess, refuse to statement, refuse to supply the adequate educational provision for your child's particular needs. And that's how it works for just about everybody in the UK.

ATKINSON
And that's pretty much what the report says. It says local education authorities aren't getting good direction, statementing isn't done properly, time scales are slow and people are not getting what they need. So why did you not back their report?

DORRIES
Because the recommendations - some of the recommendations in the report made are quite good but they're nice to haves and they're nice add ons. The problem is this: unless the wording of the law is changed, unless legislation is changed and local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide adequate educational provision for all children then nothing will change. And that's because local education authorities are following what they believe to be the government's direction in terms of inclusion, which is laid down quite specifically in the SEN Strategy of 2004.

ATKINSON
But the report - I've got it in front of me - says there should be a statutory requirement for a local authority, they should provide this.

DORRIES
I don't think the wording is strong enough. What it doesn't do is it doesn't identify where it's coming from, which is the centre 2001 act and it doesn't actually give any examples of how local authorities are using this act to refuse to provide children with adequate education.

ATKINSON
Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for Harwich, is in our Westminster studio. Douglas, you also produced a minority report, you broke rank, why - is this just political?

CARSWELL
No, in my version of the report I came up with a very different set of solutions. I think there's a broad degree of consensus amongst the committee and indeed between Nadine and myself over what the problems of inclusion are. But I come up with a very different remedy. I think that the lesson to be learnt about the failure of inclusion as a national policy is that we shouldn't have a national policy. That rather than solve the problem with more centralism and national minimum standards we should be actually pushing power down to parents because it's parental power backed up by financial entitlement that is going to drive up standards, not handing more remote bureaucrats even greater power.

ATKINSON
You had experience of a special school being shut in your area, in your opinion what happened to those children?

CARSWELL
The school that was closed, and we fought very hard to keep it open, a lot of the children we campaigned and forced the local authority in effect to allow them into a very similar school some 30 minute drive away, so they're having the same standard of education but at considerable extra cost and inconvenience to their parents. Those who went into mainstream school - very sad, some of them are de facto excluded, one of them has an ASBO. The system has badly let those children down.

ATKINSON
Nadine, statementing is another area that a lot of parents get extremely upset about, they would argue - some parents would argue that the money is sort of allocated but it never ends up with the child, it might go and fix the school roof for example, it's not ring fenced.

DORRIES
Exactly and with the existing system we have at the moment we need the funding velcroing to the child within the existing system. But the problem is that the existing system is broken and we can't - what we can't do is ignore the fact that we have so many children who have this appalling condition - various conditions - we have dyspraxics, dyslexics, children on the Asperger's contains children who are high functioning, autistic children - all being excluded from school on a daily basis. We have to alter the system and the system won't alter until the law changes to provide that and puts a statutory obligation on the local authorities.

ATKINSON
Douglas Carswell, you and Nadine have sort of put your head above the parapet, have you actually helped the cause here, is anything any further down the road than it would have been?

CARSWELL
I think this is about putting down future markers for an incoming Conservative government to look at seriously. We know that we have a postcode lottery created by the current system. I argue that it's created by having a top down system.

ATKINSON
But how will this help those parents who are worried every day about how their children with special needs are being educated?

CARSWELL
The here and now it helps because the report acknowledges Nadine's, mine and the main report that they're absolutely right to be concerned and they're absolutely right to regard the current system as failing them. I hope that the Department for Education and Skills will take up bits of the report. I think the fact that it's a Labour dominated committee and a Labour chairman that is being quite so critical will help.

ATKINSON
We're going to have to leave it there. Douglas Carswell and Nadine Dorries, thank you both very much indeed.



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