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8 Nov 2004 : Column 462W—continued

Disabled Students (Access)

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what duties (a) colleges and (b) schools have with respect to access for people with disabilities; and what assessment he has made of the progress of (i) colleges and (ii) schools in complying with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. [195280]

Margaret Hodge: The SEN and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 amended Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 to bring access to education within the remit of the Act. From September 2002 it has been unlawful for schools and institutions providing post-16 education to discriminate against disabled pupils or students for a reason relating to their disability, without justification. Both have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled pupils and students are not put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to those who are not disabled. For schools this does not include the provision of auxiliary aids or services or making changes to physical features.

Schools are under a duty to plan strategically to increase access over time. This duty includes planning to increase access to school premises, to the curriculum and providing written material in alternative formats to ensure accessibility. In the first planning period, 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2006, some £300 million is being made available to local education authorities in England through the Schools Access Initiative for projects to improve the accessibility of mainstream schools to disabled pupils.

Post-16 institutions have been required to make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aids and services, since September 2003; and from September 2005 they will also have a duty to make changes to physical features. Since 2002, £180 million has been allocated to help colleges of further education and local education authority adult education provision in England, become accessible.The duties not to discriminate apply to responsible bodies in England,
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Wales and Scotland. The planning duty applies in England and Wales only. The Scottish Parliament has legislated separately to introduce a similar duty in Scotland.

The Secretary of State asked the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) to report on the progress being made by schools in England in implementing the duties they acquired under SENDA and their report "Special educational needs and disability: towards inclusive schools" was published last month. Ofsted will continue to monitor the disability duties as part of their on-going inspections of schools.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) requires all colleges of further education in England to comply with the requirements of the DDA. The LSC's Annual Equality and Diversity Report for 2002–03 includes an assessment of overall progress towards compliance.

The DDA requires schools and post-16 institutions as employers not to unjustifiably discriminate against current or prospective employees with disabilities, or those who have had disabilities in the past, and as service providers not to unjustifiably discriminate against disabled people, where they provide non-educational services. More details about these duties may be found at the Disability Rights Commission's website:

Education Maintenance Allowances

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the total cost of the education maintenance allowance (a) has been in 2004 and (b) is expected to be in 2004, broken down into (i) total value of allowance awarded, (ii) administration costs and (iii) other costs. [194070]

Mr. Ivan Lewis: The amount already spent on EMA this year is £64 million. The estimated cost this year for EMA is £275 million which is broken down as follows: payments to young people £232.6 million, administration costs £37 million and other costs of £5.2 million.

Foster Carers

Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) if he will review the payment regime for foster carers; [195082]

(2) if he will apply the national minimum wage rules to foster carers. [195083]

Margaret Hodge: The Secretary of State has tabled amendments to the Children Bill which would enable regulations to be made prescribing a national minimum allowance to be paid to foster carers in England and Wales.

We propose to work closely with local authorities over the next couple of years to try and find ways of simplifying and making more transparent the payment structures which they have in place. We shall be monitoring progress very closely and this amendment gives us the power to prescribe a national minimum allowance if that is considered appropriate.
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Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans he has to assist local authorities in recruiting younger couples into the fostering profession. [195085]

Margaret Hodge: The Green Paper, 'Every Child Matters' explicitly encourages more people to consider fostering, including groups such as single people, older people, unmarried couples and lone parents who may not realise they are eligible. In February this year we produced a Fostering Publicity Pack designed to help local authorities to run targeted local campaigns to recruit new foster carers for looked after children. We have also awarded a 3-year grant of £180,000 to the Fostering Network to support Foster Care Fortnight, which has a particular focus on recruitment.

Frontline Technologies Limited

Mr. Forth: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what the purpose was of the action against Frontline Technologies Limited (European patent UK MO 0 664 061); what the cost to the Government was of the case; how much of this was borne by the Department; and what the outcome of the case was. [190292R]

Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 15 October 2004]: My Department issued proceedings against Frontline Technology Limited to challenge the validity of European Patent UK MO 0 664 061 which covers the process of exchanging student data over a wireless network using portable computers and transceivers in an educational environment. The patent encompasses a wide range of school activity including, for example, wireless electronic pupil registration and attendance management systems.

These proceedings were primarily brought because the patent restricted schools' access to a full range of technology. Additionally, my Department assessed the potential additional costs to schools for licence fees, based on Frontline Technology's published terms and scale of charges, to be substantial over the life of the patent to 2013.

The costs of the litigation are subject to negotiation between the parties and in the circumstances it would not be appropriate to cite a figure for those costs. However, the litigation costs incurred to date are a fraction of the potential cost that schools could have incurred by way of licence fees.

The written judgment of the patent court (Deputy Judge David Young) was handed down on 17 June 2004. My Department substantially won its case thus giving greater freedom to schools to buy wireless products and services of their choice, reducing costs for schools and stimulating the wireless technology market through greater competition. Frontline Technology Limited has applied to amend its patent by way of a statutory procedure. My Department is challenging the scope of the proposed amendment.

Integrated Children's System

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans the Government have to abolish the Child Protection Register; and on what time scale. [195337]

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Margaret Hodge: The Government made it clear, in "Keeping Children Safe: The Government's response to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report and Joint Chief Inspectors' Report Safeguarding Children", that in the short to medium term, the training materials commissioned to accompany the booklet "What To Do If You're Worried A Child Is Being Abused" would include a section on child protection registers. In the longer term, as the Integrated Children's System becomes widely used, it will allow staff to identify those children who, for example, have been the subject of inquiries into whether they are at risk of suffering, or have suffered, significant harm, have been the subject of a child protection conference, or are the subject of a child protection plan. The child protection register will therefore no longer be necessary. It can then be discontinued as a separate register at a date to be agreed when the Integrated Children's System has been fully introduced across England and Wales.

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