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During the Bill’s passage, concerns have been raised as to how the power would be used in practice. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners had a particularly helpful meeting with my hon. Friend the
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Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and the Special Educational Consortium to discuss their concerns. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their helpful comments. My right hon. Friend mentioned to me earlier that we can perhaps consider these measures as the Blackpool amendments.

The amendments allow regulations to be made to determine the maximum length of time that a pupil can be required to attend off-site provision. It has always been our intention that governing bodies would be able to require pupils to attend off-site provision only for as long as is reasonable and necessary for the purpose of improving their behaviour. We intend to ensure that that is the case by making regulations that provide that governing bodies may not require a pupil to attend off-site provision for a period that goes beyond the end of the school year in which it is imposed.

We will also set out in regulations that a review must take place within 30 days of the requirement being imposed, and every 30 days thereafter while the pupil is attending off-site provision. We intend to impose an obligation to have regard to guidance, and to issue guidance that will emphasise the need to pay particular attention to pupils with special educational needs. That guidance will set out expectations that an assessment will be undertaken to examine what can be done to improve their behaviour in schools, and how their needs are being met, before an off-site referral is considered. It will also recommend a pre-placement meeting involving the parents, the head teacher, a governor and a local authority representative.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): I am grateful that my hon. Friend supports the amendments, and I am delighted that the Government have been able to take up the points that were made by a number of organisations. I also express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners, who was particularly helpful and constructive in the discussions that we had. As the Bill passes into law, will these issues continue to be considered, and will the efficacy of the regulations be kept under review? I am sure that the Government will want to continue to address as a priority the large number of exclusions of young people with special educational needs.

6.45 pm

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for the work that he did in Committee, as well as his ongoing work to protect children with special educational needs. We will of course keep the efficacy of the measures under review.

As I was saying, regulations will require that when a child has a statement of special educational needs, the local authority must be invited to review meetings and be informed of the outcome. With those important safeguards, we are confident that the requirement for pupils to attend off-site provision may not be imposed for longer than is reasonably necessary to improve the pupils’ behaviour. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Hayes: As the Minister said, the amendments deal with the power of a governing body to refer a pupil to educational provision to improve their behaviour. The House will know, as the Minister does, that of all
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the kinds of special needs, the problem of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties is the one that has grown most rapidly in the past decade. More of them are statemented than in previous years.

Clause 138 gives the school governing body the power to direct a registered pupil to attend any place outside the school premises for the purpose of receiving educational provision that is intended to improve their behaviour. As the Minister told us, it has always been the Government’s intention that any such direction would be a short-term measure only. Lords amendments Nos. 168 and 169 make that absolutely explicit in the Bill. It appears that the virtuous flexibility that the Minister for Schools and Learners advocated with such vehemence the last time that I asked for something to be put in the Bill persuades him less on this occasion. It seems that the Government are therefore likely to agree with the Lords amendments.

My questions deal with what I believe could be unintended consequences of the amendments, although I acknowledge their advantages, which were well identified and articulated by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) when we debated the matter at an earlier stage. However, the amendments might prevent off-site education that extends beyond the end of a current academic year for those with behavioural problems. We believe that although the measure would not necessarily prevent permanent exclusions, it would prevent a head from sending a pupil to a referral unit or special school under clause 139. It might fetter the discretion of heads and, in so doing, weaken the resolve to tackle poor behaviour in schools. In the end, it could be beneficial to children with behavioural problems to spend more time outside their normal place of education, perhaps in a specialist school staffed by teachers who are experienced in providing the kind of help and support that children in such circumstances need. There is a risk that the amendment will have the unintended or unforeseen consequence of disadvantaging children of that type.

Mr. Marsden: I acknowledge the thoughtfulness with which the hon. Gentleman has presented his case, both in Committee and tonight. Is he concerned that in some cases, referrals of children in the circumstances he described are currently to pupil referral units? In some cases—I am choosing my words very carefully—those units may not be adequate for the purpose of achieving the behavioural changes that the pupils need.

Mr. Hayes: I acknowledge that this is a complex area, and the problem is that when we speak of such matters, by necessity we tend almost to speak in more general terms than the individual cases warrant. Behavioural and emotional difficulties are, by their nature, varied and complex, and the needs of the children concerned often require sensitive and highly skilled handling by the best possible professionals. The hon. Gentleman is right; I do not think that anyone, from any part of the House, could argue with their hand on their heart that such service is always delivered—despite the best intentions. He is therefore also right to say that we must be cautious about those referrals, their length and their character.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with my point, which is that the perverse effect of the measure may be to encourage permanent exclusions. If a head
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teacher feels that the only way in which they can cope with a child, in both their interests and those of the whole school community, is to exclude them permanently, rather than send them to a specialist school or a pupil referral unit for an extended period, that could be an unintended consequence of the amendments, which we broadly support, with the caveat that I know the Under-Secretary will deal with using her customary skill in the next few moments.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I add this point? Earlier, I spoke supportively about the Prince of Wales, who has done such good work with the Prince’s Trust in dealing with some young people in great difficulties, and I described him as the greatest living Briton. Of course, I did not include in that estimation Her Majesty the Queen, who is in her gracious nobility beyond such estimates.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There is a danger here of hon. Members bringing the royal family into these debates, and as hon. Members will know, that is not allowed.

Kelvin Hopkins: I have no intention of talking about the royal family, who behave very well, I am told.

I shall say a few words about behavioural difficulties for some pupils, because there is a range of behavioural difficulty. Some pupils require special education in a special institution, but the great majority require temporary removal from a classroom, so I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to give as much support as possible, not so much to exclusion from the school, but to providing inclusion units within schools. I have seen them operate very successfully in my constituency. When they are run well by the right people, they work extremely well, but we should not force teachers to deal with unruly or difficult pupils, whatever their problem. They may have serious home difficulties or emotional problems, but the teachers should not have to deal with that; the pupils should be sent fairly quickly to a unit in the school. I have seen the inclusion units operate in my constituency to very good effect, but they need permanent, long-term funding; they do not need time-limited funding, which was the case with one such unit.

The techniques are simple: pupils can be referred to such units for a few days or perhaps one or two weeks. In one school in particular, they are required to arrive at school half an hour after all the other pupils, and to leave half an hour after them so that the referred pupils do not get mixed up with other pupils. The pupils have that degree of separation, and their reward, when they return to class, is to be able to mix with their friends and to come and go with them at the usual times. All sorts of techniques can be used on a graded basis, and they can help with pupil behaviour, but overall, we need good leadership in schools, the right ethos and a calm and controlled atmosphere, which has been missing for too long from too many of our schools. I have seen schools operating absolutely brilliantly in my constituency, and I should be happy for any hon. Friend to visit them any time.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: First, I shall put at rest the mind of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) in respect of what he saw as the possible unintended consequences of the legislation. I
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think that I can reassure him on that point. Although the amendment would mean that we could not go beyond the end of one academic year, there would be nothing to prevent the school from starting the process again in the following academic year. We do not want the process to be renewable, and that is why we say that we have to start the process all over again. Reasons would have to be given, as would the same two days’ notice, and we are not saying that the behaviour that occurred in the previous academic year could be a reason for placing a pupil in off-site provision during the following academic year. That is why there must be continual review, and also why I do not believe that the amendment would encourage head teachers to go for permanent exclusion. The matter would have to be kept under permanent review, and we want to give young people, having spent time in off-site provision, the opportunity to go back and prove that they are able to take part in education.

In response to the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) made, let me say that I am sure that there are excellent examples of alternative provision, and that is exactly what we are including in the pilots that we introduced on 23 October. The pilots are looking at innovative ways of securing alternative provision, and I hope that when we evaluate them, we can also consider inclusion units in schools as we work towards the best way to ensure that the rest of the class is not disrupted by bad behaviour by removing for a limited time the pupils who express such behaviour in order to help them reintegrate into mainstream education. With that, I hope that the House will agree to the amendments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 169 agreed to.

After Clause 139

Lords amendment: No. 170.

Jim Knight: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 181, 182, 209 and 210.

The amendments were introduced by the Government in another place in response to the noble Baronesses Walmsley and Howe and supported by all parties. I think that they were based originally on amendments that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) had tabled. The amendments would make a small legislative change following a major change— [ Interruption. ] Sorry, I am referring to a different set of amendments. Madam Deputy Speaker, I do beg your pardon. Let me start again.

The amendments would make a small legislative change following a major change in testing arrangements. They would amend section 88 of the Education Act 2002 to create an exemption for assessment arrangements from the general requirement that schools implement the national curriculum as it stands at the start of the school year. Instead, schools and local authorities would be required to implement the specified assessment arrangements for the time being. That will allow the Secretary of State to remove the obligation on schools and local authorities to administer key stage 3 national
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curriculum tests from 2009 onwards. The Secretary of State set out the rationale for the changes in his announcement to the House on 14 October.

Section 88 of the 2002 Act requires schools to implement the national curriculum, including testing arrangements, as it exists at the start of the school year. The current arrangements are set out in secondary legislation under an order made in 2003. Amendment No. 170 would require schools and local authorities to implement national curriculum assessment arrangements as they currently exist, so that changes to assessment arrangements made after the start of the school year could take effect this summer. It is important to note that the amendments refer only to the assessment arrangements within the national curriculum. The amendments do not seek to change any other part of the national curriculum after the start of the school year, because that would create unnecessary burdens on schools and necessitate changes to the careful planning of teaching and learning that would already have taken place.

Rob Marris: Will my right hon. Friend clarify something? In amendment No. 170, proposed new subsection (2) would introduce to section 88 of the 2002 Act a new sub-paragraph, 1A(a), which uses the phrase, “local education authority”. Will my right hon. Friend remind me, because I thought that that term had been abolished by legislation—in something like the Education and Inspections Act 2006?

Jim Knight: Local authorities are, in effect, the “local education authority”; in some circumstances, we still use that latter term in law. That is how I understand the matter, but I am sure that if I am wrong, I shall quickly get alternative advice.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I understand that key stage 3 tests will still be able to be taken on a voluntary basis. Will that be on a school-by-school basis, rather than on a local authority basis?

7 pm

Jim Knight: Yes, that will be on a school-by-school basis. If head teachers and heads of department find the key stage 3 test useful for tracking progress, as some independent schools do, they can use them for that purpose. Obviously, we will ensure that they are set.

We want the changes to assessment arrangements to come into effect as soon as possible. That is why amendments Nos. 181 and 182 bring the legislative changes into effect on Royal Assent. We will then table an order to change the existing arrangements, because it would be unfair to compel pupils to take tests when there are no good reasons for administering them. The amendments will ensure that, this year, public money and school resources are not spent on arranging key stage 3 tests for which there is no longer a sound justification.

To return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made earlier, I should advise him that the relevant part of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 has not yet been commenced by order. That is why the language in this Bill is as it is.

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Amendment No. 209 is a consequential amendment to ensure that these amendments are carried forward when section 74 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 comes into force. Amendment No. 210 is a technical amendment to ensure that the drafting of the schedule works in relation to these amendments. I hope that the House supports them.

Mr. Hayes: As the Minister said, the Secretary of State announced that from summer 2009 children would not be required to take key stage 3 tests. The amendments were introduced on Report in the Lords to make technical changes resulting from that decision. Lords amendments Nos. 170, 181, 182 and 209 refer to the removal of the obligation on schools and local education authorities to implement the assessment arrangements in schools.

We have consistently argued that there are problems with the content of some of the tests and that as a consequence they have, to some degree, become discredited. Those problems were compounded by the administration fiasco this summer. [Interruption.] The Minister looks surprised, but he knows that on current measurements 84,000 pupils in one year made no progress, or fell backwards, in English between key stage 2 and key stage 3.

Jim Knight: I was surprised because in Westminster Hall on the Thursday prior to our making the changes on the Tuesday, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) said explicitly that the tests should be retained and that they were the most important of the SATs.

Mr. Hayes: It is a pity that the Minister does not spend more time thinking about the children who have fallen back in English and maths than he does thinking about what my hon. Friend has said in Westminster Hall. My hon. Friend has been absolutely consistent in championing the cause of schoolchildren in this country, in his advocacy of higher standards and in his determination that the methodology in schools and the approach taken by teachers should maximise the chances of every child in this country. He deserves the praise of not only the Minister but the whole House for so doing.

As I was saying, there has been a shocking decline in core standards among many young people, 28,000 and 140,000 of whom made no progress or fell backwards in maths and science respectively. These early years are among the most important in education; it is a tragedy that thousands of 14-year-olds have a reading age lower than 11 and that more than 40,000 young people leave school at 16 functionally illiterate and/or innumerate. Many of those young people fall into unemployment and delinquency, and they certainly fall into disengagement.

We should get the figures right; the Minister got them wrong earlier. I do not want to suggest that his ideas on the issue are half-baked, but they are certainly not fully formed. You take these issues seriously, Madam Deputy Speaker, so you will know that the number of people not in education, employment or training—or NEETs—has risen by 132,000 in the past five years.

Jim Knight rose—

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