Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from Baroness Ashton of Upholland (DFES 09) (continued)


  QCA has submitted its report of incidents of malpractice in this year's National Curriculum Assessment Tests to the Department. QCA's evaluation of the National Curriculum tests each year looks at how the testing regime can be strengthened and improved. Although there is no way of making the tests or their administration completely immune to cheating, QCA continues to look for better ways to monitor possible malpractice. They are running a series of seminars in the autumn for Local Education Authority (LEA) assessment advisers. These will help raise assessment advisers' awareness of what constitutes maladministration or malpractice and will be used to develop common procedures and closer inter-working between LEAs and the QCA.



  In 1999 the DfEE commissioned Regional Broadband Consortia (RBCs), groups of local education authorities, to provide cost-effective and co-ordinated Internet connectivity at 2 Mbs or faster for 20 per cent of all schools in their region, including all secondary schools, by August 2002. Local education authorities that are not part of an RBC are similarly required to meet this target.

  A DfES review of RBCs carried out in June 2001 identified that strong local partnerships had been developed to ensure high quality, high value broadband connectivity, content and service for 20 per cent of schools by August 2002.

  Additional funding has been made available to RBCs and LEAs for 2002-03 to maintain existing levels of broadband connectivity and increase the proportion of schools with a two Mbs or faster Internet connection beyond the current target. The DfES will be negotiating local targets with RBCs and LEAs for 2003. I am confident that in 2003, LEAs in partnership with RBCs can achieve a significant increase in the proportion of schools with a broadband connection of 2 Mbs or faster.

  Beyond 2003, the Department expects to take part in a wider exercise to aggregate procurement of broadband services across a number of sectors eg schools, colleges, libraries, post offices, etc. This will have significant benefits in terms of economies of scale, and improved availability of broadband in rural and hard-to-reach areas.

  Ensuring schools can use the infrastructure properly, have got the right kind of support, and can use it right across the curriculum.

  Between 1998 and 2004, the Government's direct investment in schools ICT will have been some £1.8 billion. Schools themselves are adding many more millions to this investment. In order to ensure that teachers and learners obtain real value for money from this investment, we want to help them procure their ICT efficiently and go on managing it effectively.

  This is why the DfES launched a package of four new services on 13 November 2001:

A technical support website:

  This contains advice for schools on all aspects of technical support, including:

    —  case studies on a range of different approaches showing good practice—whether there is a large reliance on suppliers or whether there is a high degree of reliance on schools' own technical staff;

    —  illustrative job roles (called "skill sets") for those working directly in schools, to help schools identify which jobs can be done by support staff at various levels; and

    —  suggestions about sources of help, including whether NGfL Standards Fund can be used to pay for technical support.

  The website went live on 13 November.

An Independent Procurement Advisory Service

  This is a pilot service that will work with schools in five LEA areas over the next two years. It will offer consultancy services, on-line courses, workshops, a call centre operation and other assistance to help schools in buying their computing systems, networks and support.

  A website will be established to disseminate the lessons learned and good practice, for the benefit of schools not in the pilot areas.

A Customer Satisfaction Survey

  This is a survey to find out the extent to which schools are, or are not, satisfied with their ICT suppliers. It is starting now, and the results will be available in January.

  The survey covers: desktop and portable computers, Internet services and technical support. The exercise will be evaluated to assess whether it should be run on a regular basis.

A Telecommunications Intelligence website (Known as "get connected").

  This will give educational institutions practical help on obtaining their connectivity—on getting started, on licensing, regulatory issues and information on telecommunications issues and on the services offered by the various Internet service providers (ISPs).

  The website went live on 13 November.

  These initiatives are being managed on behalf of the Department by BECTa (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency). BECTa is NDPB funded by the Department, which provides the Department with independent advice and support on ICT related matters.

  Teachers are now expected to use ICT to deliver the National Curriculum where appropriate. ICT is also a National Curriculum subject in its own right. It therefore follows that teachers are expected to be familiar with ICT as a teaching tool, and to be both confident and competent in its uses.

  Under the Initial Teacher Training National Curriculum in the use of ICT in subject teaching, which was introduced in September 1998, newly qualified teachers are required to meet a minimum standard of ICT capability. The purpose of the ICT training programme being implemented by the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) is to give serving teachers in the maintained sector the opportunity to receive comparable training.

  The New Opportunities Fund, in conjunction with the Teacher Training Agency and the Department of Education and Skills, has had the remit in delivering the training, which has been funded at £230 million. Schools are able to choose from a number of approved training providers and much of the training is delivered on school premises. By 31 July 2001, 355,000 serving teachers in the UK had signed up for NOF ICT teacher training and over 190,000 have completed it.


  Twenty-three per cent of maintained schools in England are faith based. This breaks down as 28 per cent of all primary schools and 15 per cent of all secondary schools. The majority of these schools are mainstream Christian. Less than 0.5 per cent of pupils attend minority faith schools.

  Whilst these schools are faith-based, many admit children from outside their faith, notably the Church of England, particularly in rural areas where their schools tend to serve the whole community. Twelve per cent of all pupils are educated in Church of England schools, which equates to 18 per cent of all primary-age pupils and 5 per cent of all secondary-age pupils.


  The needs of the great majority of children who have special educational needs should be met effectively through the three school based stages of identification and support suggested in the SEN Code of Practice ("Stages 1-3" of the Code, soon to be replaced by School Action and School Action Plus under the revised Code of Practice coming into force from January 2002), without the statutory involvement of the local education authority. In a small number of cases, perhaps 2 to 3 per cent of children, the LEA will need to make a statutory assessment of special educational needs. LEAs are under a statutory duty to identify those children in their area with special educational needs for whom they are responsible and for whom they must make provision through a statement of special educational needs.

  A statutory assessment means that the LEA will need to obtain advice from the child's school, parents and other professionals where they have been involved with the child, as to the nature, extent and cause of the child's learning. This process is intended to take a minimum of six weeks and no longer than 10.

  Statutory assessment itself will not always lead to a statement. The information gathered during an assessment may indicate ways in which the child's needs can be met by his or her school without the need for any special educational provision to be determined by the LEA through a statement. It may be, for example, that the provision of a particular piece of equipment would allow the school, guided as appropriate by expert help, to meet the child's needs.


  Having received all the advice obtained from a statutory assessment of a child's special educational needs carried out under the provisions of section 323 of the Education Act 1996, the LEA must decide whether they need to make a statutory statement under section 324 of the Act. Where they decide to do so, they must give notice in writing to the parent of the decision and their reasons for making it.

  Time limits are currently set out in the Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1994 (to be superseded in January 2002 by new Special Educational Needs Regulations 2001) in relation to making statutory assessments and statements of children's special educational needs. There will of course be circumstances in which it is not reasonable to expect the bodies concerned (LEAs, health and social services) to meet the time scales set for the assessment and statementing processes. The regulations therefore prescribe exceptions to the time limits. It is good practice for parents to be told if the exceptions apply, so that they understand the reasons for the delay.

  The whole process should take no longer than 26 weeks and each stage should be completed within the following time scales (subject to allowable exceptions):

    six weeks—for the LEA to consider whether a statutory assessment is necessary. This period is from the issue of a notice to assess by the LEA, or the LEA's receipt of a parent's or school's request to conduct an assessment;

    10 weeks—to make the assessment. This is the period from the LEA's decision to make a statutory assessment of the LEA's decision on whether or not to make a statement; and

    two weeks—to draft the proposed statement or note in lieu. This is the period starting from the LEA's decision on whether or not to make a statement to the issuing of a proposed statement or of a notice of the LEA's decision not to make a statement, giving full reasons, preferably in the form of a note in lieu.

    eight weeks—to finalise the statement. This is the period from the issue of the proposed statement to the issue of the final copy of the statement.

  A flow chart summarising the process in diagrammatical form is attached to the end of this note.

  Reducing bureaucracy:

  As the Code and the SEN legislation is about systems and procedures that protect the rights of the individual child and their parents we could not remove all systems but we have tried to ensure a reduction—in administrative workload and red tape—in the following ways:

    —  the current five stages of identification and assessment will be reduced to three, which will lead to a consequent reduction in paperwork;

    —  we will require schools in future to keep records of children with SEN receiving school-based provision, and those with statements, which are not burdensome for schools. This is in place of the requirement to maintain an SEN Register; and

    —  there will be a reduction in the amount of information required in Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

  We are therefore cutting demands on all teachers' time without diminishing the quality of the teaching response to the individual child. We have deliberately reduced the guidance on IEPs in the Code as we are aware from the responses to the original consultation on the revision of the Code in 1999 and 2000, and the HMI report on the Code and IEPs, that there is a great deal of excellent work done around IEPs but a great deal of variation as schools have developed their own systems, procedures and formats. However, we will be producing guidance on managing IEPs.

  In addition, in relation to statutory assessment:

    —  while early education setting and schools will now have the right to request a statement, this should not mean that schools have to provide more paperwork than LEAs currently require for a referral for assessment;

    —  in fact, the Code recommends that LEAs should not make demands for any other reports or paperwork than that which the school should have anyway. But this does mean that the LEA system will need to process school and (early education) settings requests to the same time scales as parental requests—six weeks for a decision as to whether to asses amendments to the annual review process.

  Instead of the LEA, as now, being required to send a notice to the school and the parents two months before each child's annual review, the LEA will be required to send one list on a termly basis to each school (and to the Health Authority or Trust and the Social Services Department) with the names of all the children needing reviews in that term. The head teacher (who has to anyway) will contact the parents when they organise the review meeting. The head teacher will only be required to send the review papers to those people who have said they will be attending the review meeting rather than everyone who was invited and will only send the review report to the LEA, the parent and those who attended. This will provide reductions in paperwork whilst protecting the rights of parents and enhancing the rights of children. The workload is cut for both schools and LEAs.

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