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Session 2009 - 10
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Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, Janet Anderson, †Mr. Clive Betts
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

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 2 February 2010


[Mr. Clive Betts in the Chair]

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Clause 8

Right of appeal against determination by local authority not to amend statement
Amendment proposed (this day): 75, in clause 8, page 11, line 12, at end insert
‘and inform the parent of their right to appeal to the Tribunal.’.—(Tim Loughton.)
4 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 157, in clause 8, page 11, line 13, after ‘parent’, insert
‘or the head teacher of the school which the pupil attends’.
Amendment 233, in clause 8, page 11, line 14, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) The school at which the pupil is registered may appeal to the Tribunal.’.
Amendment 165, in clause 8, page 11, line 18, at end insert—
‘(5A) On receipt of an appeal a determination must be made within 8 weeks.’.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Good afternoon, Mr. Betts. I welcome the Committee back to its deliberations.
I apologise for somewhat interrupting the flow of our proceedings, but in the short break, I found some statistics that might be of interest to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, although I will see whether there are more that might be of use. Ofsted is currently reviewing its pool of specialist special educational needs inspectors, as recommended by the Lamb inquiry. Of the 386 Her Majesty’s inspectors who inspect for Ofsted, a quarter specialise in inspecting one or more area of SEN. Ofsted has not yet provided me with figures for additional inspectors, but they will be included in the response to the hon. Gentleman’s recent parliamentary question. I hope that information helps him and other Committee members.
On amendment 165, we share the desire that parents not be left waiting for a long period following an annual review meeting before they receive the authority decision on whether amendments are made. The annual review cycle already has statutory time limits. Section 324 of the Education Act 1996 requires the review to be completed within 12 months of the statement being made or of the previous review. The deadline set by the amendment could go beyond that 12-month period. If the review started at the beginning of December and there was an eight-week period, the deadline under the amendment would be the end of January, whereas the statutory deadline would be the end of December. I know that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, but that would be the effect of her amendment.
As always, I will try to help the Committee. Perhaps there is some confusion over this issue. I am perfectly satisfied with the existing statutory limit for the review period of 12 months after a statement is made. An issue arises if somebody appeals the result of the review—perhaps the hon. Lady means that there is an issue with the appeal time. I will give an example. If a statement is made at the end of December and a parent appeals the review, the appeal to the first-tier SEN tribunal could take six months. If the parent does not agree with the first-tier SEN tribunal, they can take the matter to the second tier, which could take another two or three months. Clearly, that raises issues.
That process is the responsibility of not the Department for Children, Schools and Families, but the Ministry of Justice. A lot of work has been done to streamline that appeal process, but I know it causes issues. I say to the hon. Lady that I will speak to the Ministry of Justice about the appeal time to see whether anything can be done. The Ministry of Justice has worked exceptionally hard to ensure that the appeal time is kept to a minimum. As always, I can talk to my colleagues to see what can be done as a consequence of this important issue—another Minister is in the room to hear me say that.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I thank the Minister. I had an overriding concern that the whole thing was getting dragged out at different stages, so I tabled the amendment to probe the situation. I will be grateful if he has further discussions with the Ministry of Justice.
Mr. Coaker: Of course, and we can discuss what can be done. I know that everyone is working hard on that. Following my brief comments, I hope that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will withdraw the amendment.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The Minister got those statistics rapidly, so it would be churlish of me not acknowledge the helpfulness with which he has approached our amendments. The clincher before lunch was his assurance that a video will be available for people who need assistance to use the tribunal system. As I said, these are probing amendments, and our good debate has clarified some points. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: Before we come to clause 9, I would like to make two brief comments. First, while we made some progress this morning, it would probably not be described as rapid. I know that there is enthusiasm in the Committee for a later sitting this evening to try to make further progress, but nevertheless I have a responsibility to the House to try to ensure that we make good progress. While I can keep hon. Members in order, I encourage everyone to be as succinct as possible, because ultimately the one thing that we cannot change is the 5 pm deadline on Thursday when proceedings have to conclude.
Secondly, it is my view that the next two groups of amendments will allow sufficient debate to mean that we shall not need a stand part debate on clause 9.

Clause 9

Exceptional provision of education in short stay schools or elsewhere
Annette Brooke: I beg to move amendment 166, in clause 9, page 11, line 29, leave out ‘compulsory school’ and insert ‘participation’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 168, in clause 9, page 11, line 34, at end insert—
‘(1B) In relation to England, each local education authority shall make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for 16-19 students pursuing such examination courses as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State who, by reason of illness, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.’.
Annette Brooke: I will keep my comments succinct.
The amendments are focused on the first aspect of clause 9, which I generally welcome. I have long been interested in the education provision for children with long-term illnesses, probably because I spent seven months in hospital as a teenager. I have also carried out quite a lot of constituency work relating to the issue, so I have been thinking about what could be improved. Clearly, the requirement for full-time education up to 16, as it stands, is a great improvement. However, I am concerned about the statutory guidance, which will have to be revised because, as I am aware from case work, parents are not always told about their rights when they apply for home tuition and perhaps have no knowledge about the choice of alternative education. I know of children with long-term illnesses who have been placed in pupil referral units that were not what I would say was suitable education. The statutory guidance will be important.
I am grateful to the Minister for enabling me to talk to some of his officials because that clarified what was troubling me about the clause. It became apparent that the compulsory school age was one matter, but that we would change the participation age in the near future. By the time it is raised to 18, my second concern will have been addressed. However, I feel that the Bill should say “participation” rather than “compulsory school” age, because people should have the right to participate in school along with their peers and be supported in alternative forms of education, should that be appropriate.
Amendment 168 is more direct than amendment 166. I do not want to make legislation on the basis of one case, but I would like to refer briefly to a constituency case that relates to the background of the amendment. The daughter of one of my constituents has ME. She eventually had home tuition and got five good GCSEs. She wished to do some time at home and some time at school in the sixth form to pursue her A-levels, but that turned out to be a nightmare. At the time there was the triangle of the Learning and Skills Council, Connexions and the local authority, and we could not obtain a promise of funding for home tuition. She has gone back to school but, with ME, is finding it difficult to cope with full-time study in the sixth form.
The clause retains the position whereby it is effectively up to the local authority’s discretion to provide post-16 education, but that is wrong. When we have young people who wish to pursue A-levels or other courses of their choice, there should still be a duty on the local authority. I realise that the Minister might want to add conditions to such a policy to ensure that students follow appropriate courses, so with great help from the Bill team, I have tabled amendment 168, which states:
“In relation to England, each local education authority shall make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for 16-19 students pursuing such examination courses as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State”.
I hope that the provision is expressed in a way that the Minister considers acceptable.
When parents have a very sick child, they are so busy sorting out their health needs that a battle with the education authority is just one too many things to cope with. My constituent has had a difficult time. We know that quite a lot of young people have ME, and I am sure that we can think of other health conditions that make it difficult for young people to attend school full time, yet from which they might well recover. I hope that my constituent’s daughter will attend university in due course. I will be very grateful if the Minister will consider the amendments. I tabled them not to oppose the Government, but to close the loophole.
Mr. Coaker: The clause is extremely important. It will ensure that full-time education is available in alternative provision not only, as the law states at present, for those excluded from school, but for those who might not be at school for medical or other reasons. As such, it is one of those clauses that sometimes pass a Committee by, despite their significance, and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole is right to draw the measure to our attention.
We want to ensure that the provision is enacted as soon as possible. As the hon. Lady said, the compulsory school age of up to 16 is obviously easily defined under law. As for post-16 education, raising the participation age will not happen until 2013 for 17-year-olds, and not until 2015 for 18-year-olds, and her concerns are about the provision of full-time education for those people in the interim. Through guidance laid out alongside the Bill, we intend to explain what is expected to happen. The raising of the participation age is good legislation, and we must ensure that what everyone regards as a good way forward does not create a difficulty, albeit even in the short term. We intend to address that through guidance.
4.15 pm
Amendment 168 would create a new duty for local authorities to arrange suitable education for 16 to 19-year-olds who are
“pursuing such examination courses as may be specified in an order...who by reason of illness, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.”.
I assure the hon. Lady that in our view, this amendment is also unnecessary. The Education and Skills Act 2008 created a new legal duty for local authorities which, once in force, will require them to exercise their functions so as to promote effective participation in education or training for all 16 to 18-year-olds, including those who suffer from illness. In addition, local authorities will be required to exercise their new functions in the ASCL Act, to secure the provision of education or training for 16 to 18-year-olds, with a view to enabling those persons to fulfil the duty to participate. As I have said to the hon. Lady, alongside that we intend to put into guidance the need for local authorities to provide education or training opportunities for the young people covered by the clause. The hon. Lady has highlighted a slight gap, which we intend to fill through guidance, and with that assurance, I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.
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