Previous Section Index Home Page

Although the CYPP is not a detailed operational plan, it will be required to include a strategy for the local work force to deliver the priorities set out in the plan for improving children and young people’s well-being. That will include children and young people with SEN
15 May 2009 : Column 1160
and disabilities. We intend to consult fully with stakeholders and partners on statutory guidance for the children’s trust board and on CYPP regulations in the autumn.

John Bercow: May I ask the Minister two things? First, would she be willing to include interested right hon. and hon. Members in the consultation on those plans? Secondly, although I absolutely accept that there is a limit to how much detail the plans can cover, can she at least assure me that, in talking about people with SEN and disability, they will include a reference not just to what might be called universal or targeted services, but to specialist services?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I can indeed give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Specialist services will be part of what is required, and we are always happy to welcome hon. Members’ input into regulations and guidance. I hope that he will also recognise the existing requirements and the practical steps that we are taking to introduce the new dedicated training resources.

The Bill as drafted proposes amendments to section 117 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, in order to add to the general areas that Ofsted must have regard to in performing its functions an explicit reference both to the needs of children with special educational needs and disabled children and to compliance with relevant statutory requirements. Section 117 of the 2006 Act is a general provision that concerns Ofsted’s functions as a whole, rather than school inspections specifically. It includes a small number of high-level aspects, such as the need to safeguard and promote the rights and the welfare of children and the need for Ofsted to be user-focused, efficient and proportionate.

However, it is worth noting that, as a public authority, Ofsted is already subject to the general duty under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, as amended, to have due regard in exercising its functions to, among other things, the need to eliminate discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and others. That duty applies to all Ofsted’s functions, including its school inspection function. It is absolutely right that school inspection should have a strong focus on the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The general areas that Ofsted is required to report on in the current legislative framework are set out in section 5 of the Education Act 2005. They include aspects such as the quality of education provided in the school, the standards achieved and the quality of leadership in, and management of, the school. In looking at Ofsted’s inspection framework, which is underpinned by the relevant legislative provisions, hon. Members will be aware that the framework is currently being revised in advance of the planned start of a new cycle of school inspections from this autumn. In that context, the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, has made it clear that Ofsted intends the new arrangements to have a strong emphasis on analysing outcomes and provision for learners with different needs. Within that, the intention is for the framework to be strengthened to ensure that the needs of pupils with special educational needs are carefully considered throughout.

I understand that specialist HMIs have been closely involved in these developments. In relation to the assessment of pupil achievement and enjoyment, for example, there will be a discrete judgment in every school inspection
15 May 2009 : Column 1161
report on the quality of learning for pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities and their progress. Where inspectors find this aspect to be inadequate, it will impact directly on the school’s overall assessment, thus limiting that assessment—to be precise, such a school will be placed in a “causing concern” category. A discrete judgment will also be made in every inspection on the effectiveness with which the school promotes equal opportunity and tackles discrimination—again, an inadequate judgment here will translate to an inadequate assessment overall.

It is intended that the needs of pupils with SEN will be picked up across the range of aspects considered by inspectors—for example, in terms of pupils’ safety, attendance, care, guidance and support, and the curriculum. Case studies of vulnerable pupils, looking at the effectiveness of care, guidance and support, are highly likely to include pupils with special educational needs and disability, and the emphasis is to be mirrored in the revised self-evaluation form, or SEF, as it is commonly known, which is being developed as part of the new arrangements.

The picture I have painted is an encouraging one, and it is worth noting that all the proposed aspects of the new school inspection arrangements are consistent with the recommendations to date made by Brian Lamb, the chair of the Special Educational Consortium. The question asked by the Bill, and, indeed, by hon. Members today, is whether we should be doing more. With that in mind, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has requested further advice from Brian Lamb by July on whether any further changes, including to legislation, are necessary.

Although I do not feel it is appropriate to pursue the specific proposals of the hon. Member for Buckingham at this time, the Government’s mind is not closed to the prospect of further change, if it is found to be necessary. If decisive action is needed, I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will take it. We have, I believe, a good record of responding positively to Brian Lamb’s findings in previous reviews.

The SEN framework has been much debated, and the then Education and Skills Select Committee published two reports on it—in 2006 and 2007. As hon. Members will know, we said in response to the first report that we did not think the time was right for a completely fresh look at SEN. We said it was more important to get on with implementing our SEN strategy, which set out a programme for improving mainstream school skills in meeting the needs of a wider range of children with SEN.

It is worth saying that many schools do an excellent job in meeting children’s SEN needs, and they do so to the satisfaction of the majority of parents, but just because most parents are happy, it does not mean that there are not some parents who feel they have a rough deal—and I am sure every hon. Member has some experience of that. We look forward to Ofsted’s review and the final recommendations of Brian Lamb’s review.

Let me move on to the important area of the exclusion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. I absolutely understand the concerns that lie behind the proposals of the hon. Member for Buckingham. Disabled pupils already have protection in law and strong statutory guidance exists to help schools handle these very difficult decisions, but I acknowledge what he and other hon. Members have said about children still slipping through the net.

15 May 2009 : Column 1162

We revised our statutory guidance in September 2008 and set out in more detail the points that head teachers should think about when considering how to respond to disciplinary incidents or sustained misbehaviour. The guidance states that schools should try every practicable means to maintain a pupil with SEN in school and should seek local authority and other professional advice as appropriate. Schools should permanently exclude pupils with SEN statements only in exceptional circumstances. The guidance sets out that schools should make every effort to avoid excluding pupils who are being supported via School Action or School Action Plus, including, where appropriate, by asking a local authority to consider carrying out a statutory assessment.

The guidance further states that, where a pupil with SEN is excluded, the head teacher should work with the local authority to see whether more support can be made available or whether an SEN statement can be changed to name a new school. If either of those options is available, the head should normally withdraw the exclusion. The guidance sets out an expectation that, following a permanent exclusion, local authorities should assess a pupil’s needs, undertaking an assessment, where one has not already been carried out, under the common assessment framework. It also emphasises the importance of ensuring that the parents of excluded SEN children receive advice on the options available for their child’s future education.

Ofsted recently undertook a review of how local authorities were meeting their statutory duty in that regard. The report was published on 13 May and showed that eight out of 28 secondary schools, two out of three special schools and eight out of 18 local authorities did not fully comply with the legal requirements. On the plus side, however, some of the schools at least complied in part. We accept Ofsted’s report and the recommendations, and we will support schools by gathering and disseminating examples of good practice in meeting the “day six” legislation to suit a range of situations.

We expect local authorities to ensure sufficient good-quality provision for schools to access where they choose to use external provision. We have said that we will work with both national strategies and local authorities on identifying good practice among authorities with low rates of exclusion of children with SEN. That has resulted in a series of recently completed visits to local authorities, specifically designed to identify why some authorities have high rates of SEN exclusions while others do not. The information will be used in national strategies’ ongoing work with local authorities to improve the situation. National strategies will also report policy conclusions from the deep-dive work to the Department soon. Those will input into the Ofsted SEN survey and help to inform national developments.

Early intervention and prevention are crucial, and we expect schools working together in behaviour and attendance partnerships to adopt strategies to focus on prevention and early intervention for pupils at risk of exclusion. As has been mentioned, some exclusions might be a result of schools not fully understanding the difficulties, and misinterpreting the behaviour, of children with autism. Our good practice guidance was partly designed to raise awareness of autism, and the DVD and online materials provided under the inclusion
15 May 2009 : Column 1163
development programme will further spread awareness among teachers and early-years providers, and help them to address children’s difficulties.

We have issued clear and strong guidance to schools, designed to ensure that permanent exclusion is a last resort. We have a worry that further legislative provision risks hindering heads in the reasonable exercise of their disciplinary powers when faced with difficult and challenging situations, but we recognise the importance of ensuring that messages are reinforced. We will continue to look for opportunities to emphasise the importance of a reduction in the disproportionate rate of exclusion of pupils with SEN.

We have collected examples of good practice in reducing exclusions of SEN pupils and, as recommended by Sir Alan Steer, national strategies will use that to support and challenge high-excluding authorities and those with high SEN exclusion rates. Under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, behaviour and attendance partnerships will be required to make an annual report to the children’s trust board—a further monitoring mechanism. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has instructed officials to include SEN and exclusion in the guidance on behaviour and attendance partnerships, which is due to be published later this year. That will provide a timely opportunity to highlight the importance of a reduction in the disproportionate rate of exclusion of pupils with SEN. We will look to involve the hon. Member for Buckingham, and would welcome involvement from any other hon. Members and from appropriate SEN interests in drafting the guidance.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has set out to seek the best for people with SEN. That has come through strongly in the debate. I agree with the fundamental principles outlined in the Bill around raising outcomes for children with special educational needs. I hope that I have shown that we are meeting those concerns head-on. Where we have not already addressed such problems, we are making good progress. The message is clear: we cannot allow pupils with SEN to come to school to be met by unfair circumstances. The support they need to succeed should be of paramount importance to every local authority, school and teacher. As we have discussed, there are ways in which provision for pupils with SEN can be improved. We need to do our best to close the gaps and make sure everyone gets a fair chance when it comes to their education.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill, which is testament to his dedication to children and young people with special educational needs. I appreciate the desire to reinforce that with legislation and new duties, but I do not think that that is appropriate at this stage. I hope that I have demonstrated that what we are already doing, and what we intend to do in future, will achieve the outcomes we all want. I am, however, extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing the Bill forward. His persistence in such matters ensures that children with special educational needs and disabilities are always at the forefront of our minds. If he is minded to withdraw his Bill, he has my assurance that the commitments I have made today will be delivered.

15 May 2009 : Column 1164
1.35 pm

John Bercow: I am extraordinarily grateful to the Minister for her detailed, comprehensive and explicit response to the points that I raised my speech and to observations made by other hon. Members. I could not have wished for better.

I think I am right in saying that the emphasis in the inspection framework will be mirrored in the revised self-evaluation form, and that—this may be a point of detail, but it is extremely important—the form will ask schools to provide information on compliance with the duties under the Disability Discrimination Act and those in subordinate legislation and statutory codes of practice. I hope that, perhaps with a nod of the head, the Minister can confirm that my understanding is correct.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry indicated assent.

John Bercow: I hope that the Minister will also confirm that evidence of non-compliance will influence the assessment on equalities.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry indicated assent.

John Bercow: In response to that, I have again received an encouraging nod of the ministerial head.

Let me end by saying something about exclusions guidance. The National Autistic Society and I would welcome an opportunity to participate in the consultation process. We are also keen to be involved in the consultation on the children and young people plans. I was given a pretty clear steer on this by the Minister. The Government have given us an advance indication of important research on exclusions, which I think—although I am not sure—is to be published, and we would welcome sight of that at the time when it would be proper for us to see it.

My engagement with the Minister, with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and with the Department’s officials is proof positive that it is possible to make real progress by engaging in a non-partisan way. I had a little list, to coin a phrase, of no fewer than 25 commitments which I had some reason to hope, and anticipate, that the Government would make today. As the Minister rose to reply to the debate I had the list in front of me, and I am pleased to say that I was able to tick off each and every one of the 25. That is a form of pre-emptive gratification for a Member presenting a private Member’s Bill.

As I said to the Minister yesterday and as I also said in my speech this morning, I am not remotely bothered about or interested in a “Bercow Act”, and I understand why the Government feel that to legislate at this stage is not the best course. What I am trying to do is deliver a step change in performance that will bring about improvements in services and care for children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities. I am thoroughly reassured by what the Minister has said today: I believe that such improvements will come about, that they will be driven, and that parents and students themselves will enjoy the benefits.

Obviously I shall keep a beady eye on developments and we will have many future discussions, but following the Minister’s assurances I am happy to withdraw my Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

15 May 2009 : Column 1165

Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill

Second Reading

1.39 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill’s purpose is straightforward: it is to meet our moral, if not legal, obligations to provide a mechanism for the return to their rightful owners of cultural objects held in national collections that were looted during the Nazi period. I have taken a particular interest in the issue since first being elected, as I think is shown by the number of parliamentary questions I have tabled and meetings I have held with representatives of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I have to say that the Government, and successive Arts Ministers, have been sympathetic throughout. I wish to compliment the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), on the support and assistance that she and her officials have given me so far.

On 17 February 2000, in response to a parliamentary question from me, the then Arts Minister, now Lord Howarth, announced the setting up of the Spoliation Advisory Panel under the chairmanship of a former judge Sir David Hirst. He said the panel would consider and advise on claims from anyone who lost possession of a cultural object during the Nazi era where such an object was now in the possession of a UK national collection or gallery. Of course, there was still a lot of detail to work out, such as formulating and finalising the terms of reference and the membership, but the matter moved fairly quickly from that time.

In April, the membership and terms of reference were announced, and in response to a further question from me Lord Howarth said:

In June 2000, in evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the British Museum agreed with the Committee Chair that if it held objects looted by the Nazis, it would wish to find a way to achieve the return of those objects to the victim’s family.

The first meeting of the panel took place on Thursday 8 June 2000. It was aware of only one claim at that stage, but it received some fame from it: Jan Griffier the Elder’s picture, “A view of Hampton court palace”, which the Tate had acquired in 1961. The panel looked into the claim and recommended to the Minister that an ex gratia payment of £125,000 should be made to the owners, with an explanation on the display panel next to the painting of its ownership history.

Next Section Index Home Page