Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley: We will defend Hertfordshire?s special needs schools
    Conservatives pledge moratorium on school closures and choice for parents

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has backed a series of new Conservative policies to protect Hertfordshire?s special educational needs schools. Across the country, special schools are closing because of laws introduced by Labour in 2001. Under the new Conservative proposals, there will be a moratorium on any future closures and parents will be given more choice to send their children to mainstream schools or special schools.

    Under the current system, many children are being let down and are inappropriately placed in mainstream schools because:
    ? the current law lacks balance, favouring mainstream schools,
    ? the number of places at special schools has fallen as some special schools have closed,
    ? the assessment process is highly complex and not trusted by parents, and
    ? parents and teachers are not given the information and guidance that they need.
    Over the years I have met many local parents of children with special needs who have felt pressured to send their children to main stream schools even thought they wanted a special school. Of course, others very much welcomed the chance to send their children to a mainstream school provided that there were proper resources to care for them. These families often face very great pressures ? they deserve a proper choice of schooling for their children.

    To address these problems, a future Conservative Government will:
    1. End the presumption in favour of mainstream education by changing the law. We want parents to choose the right school for their child.
    2. Impose a moratorium on the closure of special schools. It is in the interests of all pupils that we do not lose the skills and expertise in our special schools.
    3. Provide better information and guidance for parents and teachers, to ensure that all children?s needs will be assessed and met to a common standard.
    4. Improve the choice for parents. No child is the same, so parents need to have a choice of approaches.

    Peter Lilley explained: “I value the work of Hertfordshire?s special schools ? such as St Luke?s in Redbourn, Watling View in St Albans and The Collett in Hemel. If anything we need more provision, for example for children with autistic spectrum conditions.

    “Hertfordshire County Council are being pressured to follow Labour?s agenda for inclusion at all costs, making it difficult for them to support the right balance between special schools and mainstream provision.

    “Parents support these schools because they understand how good they can be for some children. Parents value the expertise and experience of the teachers. Whilst mainstream schools may be right for some pupils, they are not right for all. Parents must have the choice of specialist provision where that is in their child?s best interest.

    “A Conservative Government will provide parents in Hertfordshire with a real choice for their children. We will remove the presumption in favour of mainstream education, give parents and teachers guidance and information on the support that is right for children, and introduce a moratorium on the closure of special schools.

    “People have a clear choice: good quality special needs education with the Conservatives or a system that continues to fail many of our most vulnerable children under four more years of Mr Blair.?

    Notes to editors

    Special schools under threat

    The number of places at special schools has fallen as some special schools are closing. Despite the demand from parents for special schools, since 1997, 90 special schools have closed with a loss of 6,000 places. More are under threat.

    Special schools play a key role in educating children with special educational needs. In the past they were the only option for children with special needs, but today their options are wider, and rightly so. Parents with children with special needs should be able to choose mainstream education or specialist provision.

    There still remains a very real desire from parents for special schools, as Jennifer Evans from the Institute of Education has said: ?While many parents fight for the right of their child to be educated in a mainstream school, others feel that their child?s needs are so special that they require a separate education, away from mainstream.?

    Labour?s new laws
    Labour?s Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 introduced a presumption for educating children with special needs in mainstream schools. This has placed pressure on LEAs to close special schools.