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Session 2009 - 10
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Children, Schools and Families



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, Janet Anderson
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)
Flint, Caroline (Don Valley) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Johnson, Ms Diana R. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Timpson, Mr. Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Sarah Davies, Sara Howe, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Witnesses

Brian Lamb, Chair, Special Educational Consortium and author of “Lamb Inquiry: Special educational needs and parental confidence”
John Friel, Barrister at Law
Graham Badman, author of a report to the Secretary of State on the “Review of Elective Home Education in England”
Fiona Nicholson, Trustee, Education Otherwise
Chloe Watson, Chair, Home Educated Youth Council
Sir Paul Ennals, Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau
Beth Reid, Policy Manager, National Autistic Society

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 19 January 2010

(Afternoon)

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Written evidence reported to the House
CS01 National Children’s Bureau
CS02 Mr. Imran Shah
CS03 Family Planning Association
CS04 Mr. Imran Shah and Ms Betsy Anderson
CS05 Mrs. Roxanne Featherstone
CS06 Family Education Trust
CS07 Mr. Imran Shah and Ms Cintha Anderson
CS08 Mr. James Chilton
CS09 Edge Foundation
CS10 National Union of Teachers
CS11 Education Otherwise
CS12 National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers
4 pm
The Committee deliberated in private.
4.5 pm
On resuming—
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,
That the programme order agreed by the Committee this morning be amended, to add the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy to the list of witnesses for the second evidence session on Thursday afternoon.
In light of what Mr. Gibb asked this morning, we have agreed to amend the programme motion to allow a change of witness on Thursday afternoon. It is my intention to run the Committee in as conciliatory and reasonable a way as possible. It is a reasonable request, so we have amended the programme motion accordingly.
Question put and agreed to.
4.6 pm
The Chairman: I welcome our two witnesses. Kindly introduce yourselves, and perhaps you would comment briefly on the Bill.
Brian Lamb: I am Brian Lamb, chair of the Special Educational Consortium. I also chair the Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in special educational needs. Although the Committee will obviously want to go into some detail, both the SEC and I, in my role as chairman of the inquiry, welcome the Bill.
What is particularly heartening from the inquiry’s point of view is that the Bill legislates in two key areas in which we were keen to see the Government take action. The first is the right of appeal against a local authority’s determination of a statement. Currently, when the local authority’s statement is reviewed, if the parent is not happy with something in it or wants to make amendments to it, they cannot. The Bill will change that. Secondly, the Bill will ensure that Ofsted does inspections specifically for the content of special educational needs provision within schools, whereas that was not part of the 2005 Act. On those two points, we particularly welcome the Bill.
More broadly, we are interested in the concept of parent guarantees and how that might interface with the SEN framework. We have questions that we would like to discuss about how home agreements will work, especially in relation to behaviour. We also have some concerns about home education, but we broadly welcome the Bill.
John Friel: Good afternoon. I suppose that I am one of the two main people behind the idea of the 1993 reforms, which were presented by Lord Campbell of Alloway and me on behalf of a large group of education charities, producing the current system and reforming the 1981 Act. As you have probably read, I have a long association with the field. I myself have a learning difficulty, as do all my children to one degree or another. Some have statements, some do not. I can claim that my eldest daughter is one of the few dyslexic educational psychologists in the field. I practise in the field and am still a trustee or governor of a number of charities.
I, equally, think that the Bill is a good idea. It could be far more extensive, but reality must be considered. The proposals are good, but they have substantial defects. They could result in a fiat for litigation, so I would like to address some sensible suggestions—I hope that they are sensible; that is your decision, not mine—as to how they could be improved and tightened. The proposals were long needed. A number of reforms are probably just as needed, but they are not capable of being put through in a Bill such as this—one must be sensible. However, the proposals ought to work sensibly and effectively, and I would like to talk about that.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Q 5252Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The proposals in the Bill are quite modest and cover just two clauses. They have generally been met with a wide welcome, but given Brian Lamb’s very worthwhile study in your inquiry, and that we are limiting the proposals in the Bill to seeing how well schools take account of special educational needs and statements, are your comments about what is not here, Mr. Friel, rather way down the line? What may be required is better attention to how we provide statements of special educational needs, how appropriate they are and how well they are monitored by the parents and councils of the children involved. Will the proposals, in your view, stand alone in bringing reasonable improvement, or are they only scratching the surface? What specific things could be added, notwithstanding your comments about how that might take a Bill all on its own, Mr. Friel? What could enhance the proposals we are considering in the Bill?
You have talked about statements. I remind the Committee about the majority of children with special needs—there is great debate over the percentage, but there are far more of them than the 2 per cent. identified in the code of practice—and I particularly agree with Mr. Lamb, who produced slight, written bullet points on the subject, that the home-school agreement provisions should include reference to special educational needs and provision, and that the omission of such a reference is a great defect in the system. However, if you are going to do that, you need to think in my view—purely personal—about the small Bill proposed in Mr. Lamb’s inquiry. That is a separate Bill, which includes reconsideration of the exclusion of young persons with special educational needs if they are about to be excluded.
My concern is that section 317 of the current legislation, which is unamended, requires the identification by the local authority of the governing body of a school. After identification, there is a “let’s hope we do something” provision and then a complete gap. If we are going to provide that we review the situation on exclusion, my view is that the additional special needs Bill creates one statutory provision that is out of step with the rest, and does not link with identification, assessment and provision. There is a large gap in the legislation dealing with those without a statement, which is precisely on the issue of identification, assessment and provision. While I welcome Mr. Lamb’s proposal, because far too many children with special needs are being excluded, we need to stop getting to that point. Therefore, I suggest that the home-school agreement provisions should require, under, I think, section 4, a parental home-school agreement. I forget what it is called under statute, but we want the provision to refer to the school’s intention to identify and deliver provision for a child with special needs. In addition, after it has provided for the identification, section 317 would need an amendment to review the reasonable adjustments under the proposals based on Mr. Lamb’s inquiry and the making of provision for those with special needs. There is a lamentable gap in the legislation in that area for those who do not have a statement. There may be room for covering some of the defects by looking at those provisions.
Q 53Tim Loughton: Would Mr. Lamb like to say something on his own account?
It seemed to me that if we could get much better focus on how statements were written and their specificity, it would go a long way to addressing some of people’s concerns about what parents do not get from statements. Having acknowledged that, I also recommended evaluation, which there will be, of local authorities that have put assessment at arm’s length from their provision of services. During the inquiry, we identified a number of authorities that to different extents have started to separate assessment from provision.
The other accusation has always been that some authorities actually skew or fetter the statement in some way to match it to the available provision. We found only anecdotal evidence of that, but it is very difficult to get at because who would admit it if they were doing it? We found what we called a settled culture of sometimes assessing against what they knew the local authority already provided. There was not enough evidence to legislate for some overturning of the framework at that point, but we were very interested and recommended evaluating whether splitting the two could actually lead to greater improvement. Again, there is activity on that and if the evidence actually supported it, there is certainly a lot of consensus that we should move more in that direction, but until we have the evidence, it needs to be tested.
Lastly, Mr. Friel alluded to the other legislation that is going through. The Government have accepted our recommendations that through the Equality Bill we will move the exemption on auxiliary aids. That is fundamentally significant in bringing together the SEN framework with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 framework, as was, and filling a very big gap in the area that Mr. Friel was talking about, which is auxiliary aids and early intervention in schools.
My other key point, which was drummed home to us again and again in the inquiry, is that parents do not want to avail themselves of the framework unless they have to. They want as much provision delivered as early on in the process as possible, so that less and less they have to go up the system looking for the support they need.
 
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