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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): The Minister is talking about inclusion, but does he recognise that many parents who have children with special educational needs feel that a mainstream school is not the right environment for their children? Many in my constituency have talked to me about the particular problems that their children face. They feel that their education is being held back by their presence in mainstream schools. Indeed, I have been the governor of a first school where an entire class suffered because of the problems faced by one child, who should not have been in a mainstream school. Does he therefore recognise that, although in some senses
Mr. Timms: The key thing is that the needs of the child be met in the best way for that child. That is the principle that underpins the measure. That is what we are taking forward with the new draft code of practice.
When we consulted on changes to the current code of practice, teachers and local education authorities said that it was too bureaucratic and did not focus enough on teaching and learning. We have addressed those concerns in the draft code. We consulted extensively. We sent out more than 30,000 copies of the consultation draft of the revised code between July and October 2000, and received more than 1,000 responses from a wide range of organisations and individuals. Officials took part in many conferences and meetings to listen to people's views. Most favoured the main changes that we proposed. They liked the focus on identifying special educational needs early, and the focus on stronger school-based provision to meet those needs. They liked the reductions in paperwork for teachers, and the emphasis on involving children with SEN in decisions about their education.
A number of other issues were raised during consultation. We listened to people's views very carefully, and have made changes to the draft in response. In chapter 1 we have brought together the strategic planning functions of school governing bodies and LEAs in regard to SEN, to make it easier for parents and others to know who is responsible for doing what.
We have provided fuller guidance for LEAs on the services that they are expected to provide for parents through parent partnerships, and on resolving disagreements with schools and parents. We have strengthened the guidance on seeking and taking account of the views of children. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the draft code give stronger support to the role of the SEN co-ordinator in helping school governing bodies and head teachers to raise standards of achievement for children with SEN, and recognise their need for support in schools.
The guidance on assessments in chapter 7 has been strengthened by clarification of the terms on which LEAs should seek advice, and making it clear that they should seek the views of the child. We have enhanced the guidance on specifying provision for individual pupils in their statements, and highlighted the accountability that schools and LEAs share for children with statements when funds are delegated. That is in chapter 8. We have been able to address issues raised during the consultation, and have improved the existing code of practice in the process.
Many people expressed particular concerns about the section on specifying special educational provision in children's statements in the consultation draft. They feared that it could be read as weakening the position of children with statements. It has been suggested that the draft code is unlawful in what it says about specifying provision in statements. I do not believe that it is. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), formerly Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), formerly Under-Secretary of State, described the changes that we planned to make to the consultation draft. Let me explain how we want them to work.
The draft code makes it clear that a statement should describe all a child's special educational needs clearly and in full, set out the main objectives that the special educational provision aims to meet, specify clearly and in detail the provision required to meet each of the child's needs, and describe arrangements for setting shorter-term objectives for the child and any special arrangements for the annual review of the statement.
The code stresses the importance of the school monitoring and evaluating the child's progress during the year, and places a new emphasis on the importance of the child's progress towards identified outcomes being monitored by the LEA with the school.
The draft code is consistent with the law and does not deny help to children who need it. Provision in children's statements must relate to their individual needs and the context in which they may be taught, as that will be part of the provision. We want statements to be clear about what is to be provided, how it is to be provided and for what purpose. That is why we have emphasised in the draft code that statements should set out the arrangements for monitoring the child's progress towards identified outcomes, to check the effectiveness of the provision over time.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Do Ministers intend to issue to schools further detailed guidance, with examples if necessary, on quantifying the support that has been identified as necessary to meet the child's specified needs?
Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): Will the guidance notes include references to mechanical aids and other teaching aids that may be considered necessary but might be expensive? Computer programmes, for example, can be extremely helpful to children suffering from dyslexia.
Mr. Timms: I am sure that it will contain references to those matters. However, my hon. Friend will have to wait to see the actual document to see how that will happen. I shall make a couple of points on that in just a moment.
Mr. Timms: I need to make a little more headway, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, but I will then gladly give way to him. This is a very important subject about which many questions have been asked and I should like to explain the Government's thinking on it.
The Government believe, and I think that hon. Members will agree, that the quality of provision and its effectiveness are of prime importance. When a child's special educational needs and circumstances are such that provision must be quantified to meet those needs, we expect that to happen. That is the basis of the guidance in the draft code of practice. It may help if I give some examples to illustrate our thinking.
Let us, however, take another possible example, involving a visually impaired child in a mainstream school. That child or his school may require advice or help from a specialist teacher of the visually impaired, which is specified in the statement, but it may make no sense to specify the number of hours in the statement, or a minimum number may suffice as the time required may fluctuate with the changing needs of the child or his teachers for support.
The child may also need the type of aids described by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best), such as low vision aids or computing equipment. As the child matures or curriculum requirements change, such aids become out of date and the specialist teacher at the school will identify more appropriate ones. It therefore makes sense to be flexible about how they are specified in the statement. The new code seeks to avoid undue rigidity, which was a risk when interpreting the wording of the old code.