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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendments. At this stage we have nothing to add. The points were well covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and by my noble friend Lady David.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I wonder whether as a mere man I may intervene in the debate. I offer my thanks for the welcome from the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). It is jolly nice to know that some people welcome me back even if others do not. I also thank the noble Baroness for agreeing to group together all her amendments on education. It has probably saved the House a considerable amount of time. I apologise in advance for the length of what I have to say but it is important that I say it. I hope that the noble Baroness will read carefully what I say. If she has any points, she can always come back to them by means of correspondence and we can sort things out before and at Third Reading.
In Committee my noble friend Lord Mackay explained in some detail why the Government do not wish to include education in Part III of the Bill. Perhaps I may summarise his arguments as regards Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 which seek to place further education in the Bill. We do not think they are the most effective way of achieving greater access to education for students with disabilities. The practical effects of inclusion would be to undermine the strategic role that the further and higher education funding councils already play, and will increasingly play as a result of government amendments passed in Committee. Each institution would have to consider adaptations without having any regard to the accessibility of provision in other institutions; this would lead to unplanned and piecemeal arrangements causing scarce resources in the
The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), asked at Committee stage whether, with the creation of a separate Part IV of the Bill, education might not be included overall with a new definition of "reasonableness". Although that might seem an attractive option, in practice it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to frame the primary legislation and regulations in a manner consistent with the strategic role of the funding councils. We would have to set out in regulations all the circumstances in which institutions, by striving to target resources strategically, were discriminating in a reasonable fashion. The Government's further and higher education amendments now in the Bill will strengthen provisions in existing education legislation.
In further education, new Clause 25, subsections (1) to (3), places a duty on the further education funding councils to require individual colleges to produce as a condition of grant information on their facilities for education of students with disabilities. The Government wish the statements to be of practical value to students without placing an intolerable burden on institutions. Therefore, they will consult before prescribing in regulations the frequency and content of the statements. The views of Skill, which the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), mentioned and of which she is president, have already been sought. I expect the contents to be sufficient to provide students with disabilities with usefulindeed essentialadvice to aid them in their decision about the suitability of a college. Statements are likely to include not just physical access and the provision of specialist equipment but also the college's admission policies, examination arrangements and counselling and support services. Once accepted by a college, students will be entitled to expect that they will enjoy the access and support necessary to pursue their studies.
As a condition of receiving entry funding units, colleges already produce learning agreements with students after assessing the suitability of the learning programme and the educational support needed during the student's time on the course. The new provisions will build upon that. In cases where colleges identify that students require extra support the FEFCE recurrent funding methodology allows colleges to claim additional support funding units to cover a wide range of extra costs. These costs range from additional teaching support costs through to extra administration costs associated with providing alternative examination arrangements for students with disabilities. These costs can be claimed, in bands, up to a maximum of £8,800 per student. This removes financial disincentives to the recruitment of students with learning difficulties or disabilities who require additional support. Those costs claimed by colleges are audited by the FEFC.
I believe that requiring colleges to produce disability statements will encourage all institutions to strive to achieve best practice in the sector. I hope that the need for students with disabilities to resort to the redress measures I have explained will be rare. Nevertheless, they provide a comprehensive safety net in cases where colleges act wholly unreasonably and complaints cannot be resolved through an institution's own internal procedures.
As regards Amendment No. 84, in Committee, there was a full and, I believe, fruitful discussion of the division of duties between the FEFC and LEAs for providing courses in independent living and communication skills. My noble friend Lord Mackay explained that the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 places the same duty to,
on both the FEFC and LEAs; the FEFC's duty being for part-time students over compulsory school age and full-time students aged 19 and over following courses listed in Schedule 2; the LEAs' duty being for these students following courses not falling within Schedule 2.
This division places an equal duty on the FEFC and LEAs and is a logical division of responsibility: where courses in independent living and communication skills are the start of a ladder leading to vocational or academic courses, it is appropriate for the council to be able to offer an integrated package of provision. Where they are free-standing, it is sensible for LEAs to secure their availability along with other local authority responsibilities in the social services area.
The boundary between the responsibilities of the FEFC and LEAs is clear. The FEFCE's guidance indicates that the primary purpose of courses of independent living and communication skills, if they are to fall within Schedule 2, must be progression to another course in Schedule 2 such as basic numeracy or literacy. In practice, this means that the FEFC funds provisions such as national proficiency testing and modules accredited through the open college network. The emphasis is on progressionno matter how slow or seemingly smalland I believe that this has brought increased rigour to such provision. I recognise, though, that the issue of progression is a complex one. We shall
As regards Amendment No. 85, in Scotland, the Secretary of State already funds further education colleges for the full range of provision they make under the duties and powers conferred on them by the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, including courses in independent living and communication skills. The same division of responsibilities between the funding councils in England and Wales and LEAs therefore does not arise in Scotland. I believe that amending the current legislation would confuse the position but I do recognise that there is the possibility that some LEAs may not fully understand their responsibilities in this area.
The view expressed in Committee about the need to maintain the parity of esteem between the FEFC-funded provision and that funded by LEAs for students with disabilities is one with which I have considerable sympathy. The corollary is that information on both types of provision should be readily available to prospective students. Therefore, the Government will consider whether an amendment can be brought forward at Third Reading to place a duty on LEAs in England and Wales similar to that laid on colleges to produce information about their provision for disabled students.
Lastly, I turn to Amendment No. 57 on transport to further education colleges. During Committee stage my noble friend Lord Mackay agreed to look at the need for guidance on the matter of transport for students with disabilities in further education. To summarise the clear legislative position: LEAs are under a duty to make arrangements for the provision of free transport as they consider necessary to facilitate the attendance of persons at institutions within the further education sector. The arrangements they make for full-time FE sector students must be no less favourable than those made for pupils of the same age at schools maintained by a local education authority. LEAs are also able to pay the whole or any part of the reasonable travelling expenses of FE sector students for whom free transport is available. LEAs are obliged to have regard to (amongst other things) a person's age, and the nature of his or her possible routes to school. In practice this means that an LEA cannot refuse the provision of free transport on policy grounds without considering representations made to it by students or their parents as to why in their particular circumstances that policy should not be followed.
The noble Baroness has indicated that there may be problems with the delivery of this service. Having given her concerns careful consideration, I remain convinced that to separate the provision of home-to-college transport for students with learning difficulties and disability from that for other students has more disadvantages than advantages. Nevertheless, we will be undertaking research to ascertain the current position, identifying good practice and points of difficulty. In the light of the findings of that research, further guidance will be prepared. In cases where students are
I hope that has addressed most of the concerns of the noble Baroness. As I said at the beginning, I think it probably would be useful if she read carefully what I had to say and if there are any further points she wishes to come back to, I of course would be more than happy to engage her in correspondence and come back to certain matters on Third Reading if necessary.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he clarify whether it is possible for the LEA to make more favourable provision for a student with a disability that causes him or her a travel difficulty than for other students under the existing legislation?
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