Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Harris: I was interested to hear what the Minister had to say. I accept her point about the difference between responsibility and the flexibility to delegate it, and on that basis I am happy to withdraw my amendment, which tends to remove some of that flexibility. In response to a point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) she said that the governing body should be obliged to ensure that parents are informed, but the clause as drafted states merely that

    ``the governing body must inform''.

Perhaps it would clarify matters if the clause could be amended at a later stage, so that it states that the governing body must secure that the child's parents are informed. That would satisfy everyone, because although it would make it clear that the duty to secure provision of information lies with the governing body, it is not so bald as to state that

    ``the governing body must inform''.

Such a statement might lead some governing bodies to believe that, on the altar of flexibility, they can wade in.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central and I have made an important point. Governors sometimes need help to know what their responsibilities are and the way in which such matters are delegated in schools. Although I shall withdraw my amendment, I leave that thought with the Minister.

Mr. Boswell: This has been an extremely useful debate and the Minister has done her best to address the Opposition's concerns. I intend not to brandish my amendment but to touch on two or three points that remain, or which have been prompted by the debate. The first concerns cases where there is a temporary special educational need, including temporary disabilities, such as a broken leg. We do not often talk about such cases, but they are worth considering and might be consistent with the Minister's wish to be flexible in the delivery of provision. As far as I know, such cases constitute a special educational need and require some addressing by teachers, although the Minister may tell me otherwise. In my experience, they have almost always been handled well and are relatively easily manageable. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether such cases will be excluded.

My second point concerns provision in amendment No. 16—which, as I said, I do not intend to press—for a proper audit trail. Here, I am thinking much more of long-term or permanent provision than of temporary provision. I wonder whether the matter might be served by establishing an understanding, at least, that confirmation in writing will be secured where requested by the parent. Although we might not be in the business of drafting last-minute amendments, perhaps we should consider providing guidance. I shall leave that thought with the Minister.

That leads me neatly to my third point, which in a sense is a by-product of our now relatively rapid progress. Of course, the clause is concerned with provision and notifying parents of it. If there is provision for a special educational need, ipso facto there is a special educational need to provide for. Where that is so, clause 2—which will oblige LEAs to provide information for the parents of a child with special educational needs—cuts in. Before we move on, it would be helpful if the Minister could satisfy us on two points, the first of which is the nature of the information network involving the school and the LEA. In reality, it is most likely to be concerned with funding from special educational needs budgets and the wish to access funds for the provision in question. We need to tie together the different means by which the same condition, and provision for it, is notified to the LEA. The second point is the question of closing the loop. If that happens, how will the LEA discharge its obligation to provide information to the parent?

Let us envisage a scenario in which a headteacher or special needs co-ordinator, acting with the governors' knowledge and consent, or even at their instruction, discusses with the parents the provision required for a child with challenging behaviour. The matter would go to the LEA, as part of the normal business of trying to access special needs budgets. The LEA could then advise the parents, for example, about their legal rights.

I do not know exactly how that process would work. Does the Minister envisage a standard protocol? I am not sure that there should be one. If a matter is comparatively minor, a heavy mailing out from the LEA might be inappropriate, and poke up concern disproportionate to the case. Nevertheless, we must think through how the obligation to advise the parent about provision fits in with the LEA's obligation to advise in cases of need.

Jacqui Smith: Although I realise that the broken leg to which the hon. Member for Daventry referred was just an example, I do not see that as a special educational need. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that schools should deal with such a situation practically, quickly and without undue fuss, and discuss with the parents what would be appropriate for the child. However, I do not believe that that example comes under the general category of special educational need.

We got slightly bogged down in the second part of the hon. Gentleman's questions, and perhaps that was me—it is Thursday afternoon. The clause requires schools to give parents information about the provision of special educational needs. That links it to clause 2, which gives LEAs a statutory duty to provide information and to make an independent parental supporter available to parents whose children have special educational needs.

The hon. Gentleman moved into the area of funding. LEAs have an important role in monitoring special educational needs and a duty to identify pupils whose special educational needs they should assess. We discussed assessment for a statement, and it is clear that LEAs cannot do that without good communication with schools. Currently, LEAs have responsibilities to assess children's special educational needs, to make statements if appropriate and to ensure that funding is available for the provision required in a statement. That answers some of the hon. Gentleman's questions. If he was concerned about the monitoring of the financial situation, I agree that where resources are delegated to schools, there must be clearer accountability frameworks. The Government are developing those to clarify what LEAs should expect from schools—which must also be communicated to parents—and what they, as LEAs, should provide. I hope that that goes some way towards dealing with the hon. Gentleman's points.

On those bases and because there is general agreement on the objectives of the clause, I should hope that the hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon and for Daventry will withdraw their amendment.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the Minister who is doing her best. If I did not make myself clear, I must explain my concerns, which have largely been answered.

My prime concern was not about funding. My point was that if a school had a pupil with SENs, it would presumably get in touch with the LEA to obtain advice. Given that situation, I am not necessarily discussing a statement; I am discussing other needs. Where a school tried to obtain additional funds for extra provision would come out in the wash. That is a simple statement of fact that was not designed to pave the way for a long debate on funding, which, of course, would not have been allowed.

My concern is that when a parent gets the unpalatable or surprise news that their child has SENs—the example that I gave of challenging behaviour that must be managed within a school is perhaps the most relevant—they will hear it from the governor, the head teacher or by whatever method the governors consider appropriate. By inference, a LEA obligation cuts in at that time to ensure that a parent is involved. Indeed, the LEA has that general obligation under clause 2. That does not create a difficult situation, but it does require greater thought and further consideration of both the code and the kinds of information that are available to the parent. For example, the school tells the parent that there are SENs—I do not intend to pursue the question of whether that should be done in writing—but the parent should have the right to access material from the local authority that explains what SENs are and how they operate, which is a consideration that goes wider than the current narrow provision.

My concern is no more complex than that and I suspect it to be a matter of good practice, which I shall leave to the Minister's good sense to sort out.

Jacqui Smith: We have made some progress. It is worth pointing out that we see a continuing important role for LEAs in relation to the type of advice that the hon. Gentleman was discussing in the area of SENs. He is right, and we now have a clearer idea about the relationship between clause 2 and that situation.

Once a parent has been informed that their child has SENs and is receiving provision from and by the school, the parent may want to avail themselves of the parent partnership services offered by the LEA. It is therefore important—I am unsure whether we touched on this in our debate on clause 2—to remind hon. Members that under clause 2 provision for an independent parental supporter is now available for parents of all children with SENs, as opposed to the current system, where the named person is available only for parents of children with statements. Yes, at that stage the parent partnership scheme may be appropriate to support the parent, and that is clearly an important objective of the scheme, which would be organised under the auspices of the local education authority.

Dr. Harris: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Review or Assessment of Educational Needs at Request of Responsible Body

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

2.45 pm

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