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6.15 pm

Mr. Hayes: The point that needs to be emphasised is that the target setting process--the development of measurables and deliverables--is intrinsically linked to a particular LEA's view of the number of special needs schools it provides, its school places policy and its strategic approach to SEN. Target setting in individual schools cannot be separated from the overall strategic approach to SEN because the overall approach is bound to impact on it. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) because the point that we are making is that, by trying to separate the two areas--although I acknowledge what the draft guidance suggests--we are not emphasising the interrelationship strongly enough.

Ms Morris: Local authorities need to bring together the different plans that they are required to make. The hon. Gentleman did not serve on the Committee, but he may know that we debated how local authorities and others provide sufficient places for children in their areas. I am sure that he will be reassured to know that we have stated clearly that local authorities must take account of the special educational needs of the children in their area and plan accordingly.

Education development plans are essentially about target setting to raise standards. The key element is that children with special needs are explicitly included. If they

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were not, I would be unhappy. We are consulting on the guidelines and listening carefully to ensure that we get it right for SEN children. We shall obviously reflect on the comments as we receive them.

I have tremendous respect for the work that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has done with his school. He is an evangelist in both his commitment and his trail blazing, which shows where the rest of us can go. John Smeaton school, of which the hon. Gentleman was head, is an example of good practice to which we should all be looking.

New clause 20 would remove the provision that we should consider the efficient education of other children. People have talked about sending messages. I have tried to send messages of inclusion and of valuing special needs children. I do not think that we would be doing special needs children any favours if we sent out the message in this debate that their inclusion should be considered without regard to the efficient education of other children. The greatest asset of inclusion is that it benefits both groups of children. We must accept that schools must be equipped and ready in attitude and facilities to meet the needs of SEN children. It can be done; it will be done more, but we must move sensitively and have regard for some of the concerns expressed by hon. Members and in consultation.

One thing amused and interested me in our consultation on the Green Paper. One member of my advisory committee attended two consultation meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday of the same week. Both were very well attended. At the first, he was hauled over the coals about why we had not gone for total inclusion. At the second, he faced a group of angry parents who wanted to know why we were threatening the closure of special schools. Those are the two fears; we must do everything we can to make progress without alienating any of those people. Both groups have rights, fears and expressions of interest.

I hope that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough will accept that I am committed, as he is, to ensuring that the Government, with the co-operation of others, deliver our pledge to offer children who can benefit--and parents who want it--an opportunity to take their place in mainstream schools as they will in mainstream society. That is the bottom line.

This has been a useful debate. I hope that the hon. Members for Tiverton and Honiton and for Harrogate and Knaresborough feel that I have answered sympathetically and that they will accept my assurances that the issues that they have raised ought better to be met in different areas of Government education policy.

Mrs. Browning: I am naturally disappointed that the Under-Secretary feels that she cannot accept new clauses 14 and 20, and I must seek some reassurances on various points that she has raised.

The Minister said that local education authorities will be required to provide a snapshot of their special needs provision. Perhaps that would be more appropriate for conclusions to the consultation. I hope that the Minister

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will look carefully at disaggregating special needs statistics. I see the Minister wrinkling her nose as she does not like that idea--and I understand why. The problem is that, even now, some LEAs do not recognise specific learning disabilities--they refuse even to recognise the terminology. Unless the guidelines require LEAs to demonstrate clearly how many children with specific disabilities they are making special needs provision for--whether statemented or not--they will continue their current bad practice.

Ms Morris: I have noted the hon. Lady's initial comments. I wrinkled my nose because, following previous exchanges in the House, I talked to the advisory group about disaggregating the statistics. It seemed ridiculous that no one could tell me how many autistic children were in mainstream schools, but nothing is as easy as it sounds. The answer that I received from academics--some of whom were mentioned by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and one of whom serves on the advisory group--is that it is not as easy to define groups as we might imagine. It is very difficult to distinguish children with emotional and behavioural difficulties from those who are naughty, disturbed or mentally ill. I shall continue to reflect on that matter, but the task is not as easy as I first thought.

Mrs. Browning: I fully accept that, but I urge the Minister not to let go. For years, some LEAs have deliberately flown in the face of medical diagnoses. Parents may have pieces of paper from qualified doctors or clinical psychologists stating that their child has been diagnosed with a particular illness, yet that terminology is not recognised by the LEA from which that child seeks education provision. We must address that problem. I urge the hon. Lady to keep at it--I assure her that I shall support her to the hilt.

The Minister also said that, when she concludes the consultation process, there may be a need for primary legislation and that her Department would have to wait its turn. Today's national press carry details of the Government's agenda for the next parliamentary year--although I do not know how accurate it is. When education legislation is before the House, the Minister should use that opportunity to introduce primary legislation on special educational needs; otherwise, she may have a long wait. I urge her not to let any opportunities slip: if she feels that primary legislation is necessary, she should do her best to bring it to the Floor of the House at the earliest possible opportunity. We do not want long delays.

I am disappointed by the Minister's decision, but she has promised further time for debate on the Floor of the House before any major decisions are made about changing SEN significantly. The Minister will report in June and I hope that, if there are significant changes, she will bring them to the House when it returns after the summer recess. Those changes should not go through during the recess as hon. Members must have an opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute to the proposals. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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New clause 15

Additional provision with respect to targets


'.--In section 19 of the Education Act 1997 (School performance targets), in subsection (1), after 'set' there shall be inserted "after consultation with the local education authority.".'.--[Mr. Don Foster.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Don Foster: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 15 raises the question of target setting and the relationship between individual schools and their local education authorities. The new clause would require governing bodies to consult their local education authorities before setting performance targets. That will be achieved by amending the Education Act 1997. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary will respond to the debate on the new clause. If she checks her records, she will see that, during debate on that earlier legislation, she was a sponsor of amendment No. 208. As new clause 15 is almost identical to the amendment that she proposed approximately one year ago, I look forward to her support when we discuss the issue further.

The new clause is about target setting and the relationship between local education authorities and schools. It is now accepted by all hon. Members that target setting can play an important role in helping to raise standards. That is why the Liberal Democrats are prepared to support the Government's initiatives in that regard. However, we are conscious of the fact that target setting alone will not raise standards; other processes must be in place. After all, there is little point in setting a high hurdle unless we help people get over it.

A more important issue is the nature of the relationship between local education authorities and individual schools. There was considerable debate about that in Committee. I think it fair to say that Opposition Members were somewhat confused about the nature of the Government's understanding of the relationship between schools and LEAs. That was particularly true in relation to target setting. There was considerable confusion about who would be responsible for agreeing or setting targets. For example, I refer to the contribution by the Minister for School Standards in Committee on 29 January, when he said:


The Government clearly believe that the LEA will set the targets and that the schools must accept them. However, the Minister went on:


    "It will always be for the school to agree to the targets proposed by the LEA, but it will be for the LEA to challenge the school to do better and to get it to sign up to those improved standards."--[Official Report A, Standing Committee, 29 January 1998; c. 178.]

It is clear that the LEA will set the targets and that the school must agree to them. Later in our deliberations on the same day, the Under-Secretary said at column 191 that the schools would be responsible for setting targets. She went on to say that she believed that it was important that the targets were owned by individual schools. She argued persuasively that, if the target-setting agenda was to be successful, schools had to set and own their targets.

The Committee also agreed--I hope the House will accept this also--that, if schools and local education authorities are to have an effective relationship, it is vital

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to involve local authorities in the target-setting process. If we refer to page 26 of the White Paper "Excellence in schools"--which preceded the Bill--we see that the Government had a clear view of the nature of that relationship. The White Paper states:


    "The Government sets national targets and publishes national performance and benchmark data.


    Each LEA provides benchmarking data and guidance to all its schools to help them set targets.


    Each school sets draft targets, taking account of the comparative data and their own previous best performance, for discussion with its LEA."

Finally, the White Paper states:


    "Schools and LEAs agree targets, covering a 3-year period and subject to annual review."

The crucial phrase is "for discussion" with its LEA. The new clause would ensure that an assurance was written into the Bill that the governing body of a school will consult its LEA before targets for the school, which the body will continue to own, are agreed.

Given that the new clause is almost identical toan amendment that the Under-Secretary proposed approximately 12 months ago, I very much hope that it will have her support.


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