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Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for his lengthy reply and for his responsiveness on the issue. I am pleased that he will pick it up in guidance, which I hope will be as strong as possible so that we do not have the difficult situation of a local authority not wanting to find the money for a genuine case. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I beg to move amendment 192, in clause 9, page 12, line 1, after ‘if’, insert
‘, following an independent assessment of the physical or mental health of the child,’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 167, in clause 9, page 12, line 2, after ‘child’, insert
‘and after consultation with parents, carers and medical professionals,’.
Amendment 187, in clause 9, page 12, line 3, leave out ‘impracticable or otherwise inappropriate’ and insert ‘detrimental to the child’s well-being’.
Amendment 191, in clause 9, page 12, line 4, at end insert—
‘(3AAA) A decision under subsection (3AA) shall, at the request of the parent of the child concerned be subject to annual review.’.
Amendment 158, in clause 9, page 12, line 10, at end add—
‘(5) After subsection (6) there is inserted—
“(6A) Where a local authority considers that it would be impracticable or otherwise inappropriate for full time education to be provided for a child under this section, a local authority must, within 2 months, draw up plans for such support as is necessary to allow the child to return to full time education as soon as this is appropriate.”’.
Mr. Gibb: Clause 9 requires local authorities to provide full-time education for children who, for whatever reason, are not attending school. Subsection (3) provides an exception to that duty if
“the local authority consider that, for reasons which relate to the physical or mental health of the child, it would be impracticable or otherwise inappropriate for full-time education to be provided for the child.”
Amendment 192 would mean that that requirement would apply only following an independent assessment of the physical or mental health of the child. It reflects concerns raised by the National Autistic Society, which said in a briefing to members of the Committee:
“We recognise that there may be some circumstances where it may be inappropriate for a child to be in full-time education, but have concerns about:
Who would make the assessment about what is appropriate for the child and;
Whether the clause would provide local authorities with a wide ‘get out of jail free’ card not to provide education for children for whom they are unable to find appropriate education locally or whose needs mean that provision would be very expensive”.
It continues:
“Given the wide lack of understanding of autism and the potential for a conflict of interest, we believe that assessments on appropriateness would have to be made independently by someone with experience and expertise in the child’s condition. Autism is a complex condition and without a full understanding of how to communicate with the child and what their needs may be, it is unlikely that a fair and comprehensive assessment would be made.”
We agree with that assessment, which goes on:
“The use of the word ‘impracticable’ in the clause is of particular concern here. We would like to know in what cases it would be ‘impracticable’ for a child to receive full-time education, if this is not related to cost.”
It would be helpful and would reassure the National Autistic Society if the Minister could address that specific concern in his response. The NAS also states:
“An assurance that there will be independent assessments to determine state of the child's physical/mental health”
would be helpful, and that is what the amendment seeks to do.
Amendment 191 reflects concerns raised by Barnardo’s. In its briefing, it said:
“Whilst Barnardo’s accepts that it is pragmatic to allow exceptions, we would like Members to seek assurances that this will be on a time-limited basis and subject to review after a fixed period, agreed with the parents or carers.”
It goes on to explain:
“We know from the experience of our services and the young people they work with that some young people facing temporary barriers to participation—for example, teenage mothers who have recently given birth or young people with mental health difficulties—end up drifting out of education altogether.”
Amendment 191 would insert a new subsection requiring that any decision about not providing full-time education, because of the physical or mental health of the child, be reviewed annually if requested by the parents of the children concerned.
With those few words, I await the Minister’s response.
Annette Brooke: This string of amendments focuses on the words “impracticable or otherwise inappropriate”. As has already been said, they have been viewed as a “get out of jail free” card. There is concern about how that will be interpreted at a local level. Amendment 167, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and me, suggests that there must be consultation with parents, carers and medical professionals. Taken with amendment 192, which seeks a full independent assessment, both amendments make a strong support package and both are important.
We have heard what the National Autistic Society said. Another amendment that we tabled—amendment 187 —was suggested by the Special Educational Consortium. The amendment would delete “impracticable or otherwise inappropriate” and insert
“detrimental to the child’s well-being”.
That is suggested because there is a concern that the local authority is given too much discretion. There need to be checks and balances on that discretion, because we all know how very expensive an out-of-area placement can be, and one has to be clear that the child’s interests have been put first.
I find amendment 191 quite appealing. We have submitted amendment 158, whereby
“a local authority must...draw up plans...to allow the child to return to full time education as soon as this is appropriate.”
That may pick up the teenage pregnancy point that we mentioned earlier. It is a difficult area. Even though we are talking about a relatively severe condition—a very special condition—and they will all individually be very different, we need the checks and balances so that we put the child’s interests first rather than the monetary interests of the local authority. I know that they are a big constraint for a small local authority. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassuring words on all these amendments.
Mr. Coaker: Approximately 70,000 children are affected by the issue each year. Let me reiterate the point because, as I think we all know from our constituencies, it is an important and emotive topic. The clause will for the first time make full-time education available for those who are in alternative provision who have not been excluded from school. I think we all regret that that does not happen at the moment, so the Bill will put that right. However, in putting it right, we do not want to create unintended consequences. Having said that the aspiration is for any young person who is not in school or who is in alternative provision to have full-time education, it may be that in certain circumstances—for example, for medical reasons or the best reasons—it is simply not appropriate or suitable for that to happen.
As hon. Members would expect for a Minister of the Crown, I would not quite call subsection (3AA) a get-out provision, but there could be a great deal more clarity and certainty in the phrasing and in what we mean. As I say, we do not want to have a clause that everyone supports if tucked away in it is something that says we do not expect children to have full-time education if it is simply inappropriate for them. We do not want the measure to be used by some as a way of avoiding their responsibilities under the clause.
I ask the hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole to withdraw their amendments. I will take some legal advice on the matter and come back on Report with a Government amendment to try to deal with the points raised by them and, indeed, many others. I hope that is helpful to them.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): Referring back to a comment made by the hon. Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, will the Minister clarify how the clause will affect pregnant teenagers? Clearly, being pregnant is neither an illness nor a disability. Those girls are not being excluded either. Will he reassure me on that matter—in relation to this clause or elsewhere in the legislation—because where the young woman’s desire is to continue in the secondary school that she has been attending, it might be problematic to provide suitable and appropriate education.
Mr. Coaker: That is a very good, concrete example of the sort of person we mean. It might be someone with a medical condition or it might be someone who for other reasons—for example, a young girl who is pregnant—is in alternative provision. As the law stands, unless such a young person is excluded from school, there is no legal entitlement or necessity for the authority to provide full-time education for them. I think we all consider it to be an anomaly that if someone is ill or is not in school because of particular circumstances and they are in alternative provision, they are not legally entitled to full-time provision, whereas if someone is excluded from school, after six days out of school, the local authority is legally obliged to provide full-time education for them.
In exactly the circumstances that my right hon. Friend referred to of a young girl in such a situation—I am sure we can all think of other examples where somebody is not ill, but for certain reasons they are unable to be in school and they are in alternative provision—if the clause is passed, the legal necessity will be to ensure that full-time provision, where appropriate and necessary, is provided. I want to frame the clause in such a way that although it makes that a legal certainty for young people in that situation, it allows flexibility where appropriate. We want to do so in a way that does not allow anyone to evade their responsibilities. I hope that was helpful to my hon. Friend. With those remarks, and our commitment that we will table a Government amendment on Report to do what I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and Opposition Members want, I hope that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will withdraw his amendment.
4.30 pm
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Areas of learning
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment 54, in clause 10, page 12, line 17, leave out ‘areas of learning’ and insert ‘subjects’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 52, in clause 10, page 12, line 21, leave out ‘areas of learning’ and insert ‘subjects’.
Amendment 238, in clause 10, page 12, leave out lines 22 to 29 and insert—
‘(3) The following are the core subjects for the first and second key stages—
(a) mathematics;
(b) English, and
(c) Science.
(3A) The following is a core subject for the second key stage—
(a) a modern foreign language.
(3B) The following are the other foundation subjects for the first and second key stages—
(a) geography;
(b) history;
(c) art;
(d) music;
(e) physical education and sport;
(f) information and communication technology.’.
Amendment 50, in clause 10, page 12, leave out line 36.
Amendment 182, in clause 10, page 12, line 36, at end insert—
‘( ) The governing body and head teacher of every maintained school or maintained nursery school shall have responsibility for developing areas of learning to meet the needs of children in their schools.’.
Amendment 53, in clause 10, page 13, line 4, leave out ‘area of learning’ and insert ‘subject’.
Amendment 183, in clause 10, page 13, line 5, at end add—
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall from time to time, though not more than once in each parliament, review the effectiveness of arrangements for areas of learning including attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements.’.
For reasons given previously, I am not minded at this stage to allow a stand part debate, as all these matters will be considered as part of the debates on the amendments.
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