Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

However, major closures have taken place and the enthusiasm for new forms of dealing with problems tends to get a bit out of control, the momentum goes on and on, and suddenly you perhaps realise that

19 Oct 2006 : Column 898

there was some point to the old system and that you need to think again about it. The two amendments would provide just what is needed in that respect and provide time for a hard look at what is happening.

In reference to the Question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, the gathering together of the human rights of people with disabilities applies at least as much to the whole subject of education as it does to the specific area that he referred to. Please—I hope that this issue will be taken seriously. I would like the Government to accept the amendments, because we need to take an urgent look at the whole situation. The Secretary of State would still be allowed to make exceptions, although I am a bit nervous about the inclusion of that provision.

1.15 pm

Lord Condon: My Lords, I support in principle the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and declare an interest as grandfather of a grandson with special educational needs who is currently going through a statementing process. I am in the privileged position of having the time, resources and networking to try to understand that complex process, but I worry about those families who do not have such time or resources to try to find a route through this often confusing maze of statementing in trying to find the best for their children. I have found it difficult to help to find a route map for my grandson in considering schools and special schools. It remains a confusing area, even for those who are best placed to find a way through it. I encourage the Minister to consider these amendments and, at least, to think about a review of statementing, the provision of special schools and so on.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I, too, support these amendments on the ground that they are timely. There is no doubt that there have been benefits for many children from the switch of direction and the focus on moving into mainstream schools, but the momentum of the changes is now significant and it is timely to review the system. I have visited a number of schools and have seen that some perverse incentives are now being built into the system, so that schools perhaps start to do what is their interests rather than what is in the interest of the individual.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I have been a governor of a special EBD school and I have done much work with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. When the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, as Secretary of State, put through the Education Bill that gave rise to the big reduction in special schools, I fought it, because I believed that the Government were doing that to save money. I honestly think that it is difficult to treat this problem objectively, because there is a lot of money involved.

I think that I shall support the Opposition’s amendment, because there is a need for an independent look at this problem free from political bias. The opposition Benches are bold in bringing forward their proposal; they may be hoisted by their own petard if they were to take over the government

19 Oct 2006 : Column 899

of the country. The sort of processes that such an inquiry might introduce could lead to substantial increases in the amount of money that needs to be spent on special needs children—because it is needed.

That is a different issue from the statementing process, which was a disaster when I was involved with it. Local authorities were delaying it because they knew that once children were statemented they would have to spend the money on looking after those children.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support the principle of the amendment in the light of my experience of such cases at the Bar and the fact that I managed to put, by amendment, special educational needs provisions into the Act, with the aid of Lady Blatch. The amendment would enable something to happen in practice about a practical defect that needs to be addressed. I apologise to the House for speaking without having been present earlier.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the amendments focus on the role of special schools. As the Minister responsible for special schools and special educational needs, I should say at the outset that there is no category of schools in our educational system that performs a more valuable or important role than special schools. Special schools often offer the only opportunity that pupils with moderate or severe learning difficulties will ever have for a decent start in life. They have exceptionally good specialist resources that they are able to make available. The Government have no policy whatever of favouring the closure of special schools. Our policy is that the interests of local children must come first, and local authorities, which have a duty to make decisions in this regard, must, as they are required to do under the Education Act 1996, take full account of the needs of pupils in their area in arranging the pattern of provision between schools.

Perhaps I may back that up, because in my experience there is no better testament to whether the Government take something seriously than whether they are prepared to put money behind it. It is wrong to say that we are not putting resources into either special educational needs at large, on which there has been an almost 50 per cent increase in resources over the past five years, or special schools in particular. Perhaps I may give the House the statistics for special schools. Spending on special schools that are maintained by local authorities has increased since 2000 from £890 million to £1.3 billion. That is a huge increase to enable the quality of provision in those schools to improve. In addition to that £1.3 billion, we spend £506 million on fees for pupils at independent special schools. That figure is up from £287 million in 2000. So there has been considerable public investment in sustaining and improving special schools in recent years, and we stand by them.

Another material factor is the fact that the proportion of pupils with statements who attend special schools has risen over the past three years, and the raw figures on the closure of special schools, of which the noble Baroness has made much, are very misleading. At the local level, we are seeing a good deal of reconfiguration of special educational needs provision in order to

19 Oct 2006 : Column 900

improve it. That often includes the amalgamation of special schools that are on totally unsatisfactory sites because there has not been the required investment over recent years, or the establishment of units attached to mainstream schools, of which a significant number have opened in recent years. In addition to the 80,000 pupils who attend special schools, 20,000 are located in units that have the same quality of special needs provision but are attached to mainstream schools. That has been a big area of development in recent years.

There is also resourced provision, by which I mean specialist provision in respect of particular special educational needs provided in mainstream schools. Resourced provision in mainstream schools has increased significantly in both quality and quantity in recent years. Perhaps I may quote Ofsted's judgment in its report, which was published only in July, on the different forms of special educational needs provision. Its conclusions are very pertinent to the discussion that we are having today. It said that there was,

that is, mainstream schools with funding specifically to develop specialist special needs provision—

We are supporting the capacity of local authorities, taking account of the interests of their localities, to develop their provision, whether in units, in special schools, which may be reconfigured or brought together, or within mainstream schools. We do not believe that a moratorium on the closure of special schools at present or an inquiry of the kind envisaged by the noble Baroness, which would have the effect of throwing in flux our whole policy on special educational needs, would be desirable.

I shall finish dealing with Amendment No. 32 by turning to the question of an inquiry. When I became a Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, a former Secretary of State, gave me very good advice. He said that my starting action when considering any issue relating to education policy should be to read the relevant Ofsted report. I have taken that advice to heart, and I always follow it when considering any issue. We have just gone through an exhaustive inquiry with the House of Commons Select Committee on special educational needs, and, as the noble Baroness said, we responded to it in full last week. Ofsted's strong advice to us was not to conduct a fundamental review at present, only two years after the publication of our major policy statement, Removing Barriers to Achievement, which includes an important continuing role for special schools. I shall quote Ofsted's advice to the Select Committee:

That was the judgment of Ofsted. Brian Lamb, the highly respected chair of the Special Educational Consortium, said the same to us. After we had published our response to the Select Committee, he

19 Oct 2006 : Column 901

said that the SEC was very pleased that the DfES had renewed its commitment to its 10-year strategy in Removing Barriers to Achievement. He said:

Finally, if I may, I shall quote the judgment of Treehouse, which, as noble Lords will know, is the national charity for autism education and whose president is, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It runs the outstanding school in north London for children on the autistic spectrum. When we published our response to the Select Committee, it issued a press release saying that it agreed with the conclusion of the Government, Ofsted and the Special Educational Consortium that the existing evidence does not support a wholesale review of the SEN system or structural reorganisation of local authority commissioning.

So I believe that we have a substantial body of inspectorate and respected professional opinion behind us in developing our policies in the way that we are, including substantial additional investments. However, I am constantly mindful of the need to keep the existing system under review and to improve it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked me particularly about the statementing process. We considered very carefully whether there was a case for the wholesale replacement of the process, but we decided that that would not be appropriate at present as no proposals have come forward, and none has come forward in our intensive internal consideration that offer a better prospect than the statementing process at large as a way of allocating resources for those with high levels of special educational needs.

However, our advisers are working constantly with local authorities to promote best practice in statementing. We want to see much more joint working between local authorities, for example, in the commissioning of provision and in the way in which they manage the statementing process to ensure that outcomes are improved. As the noble Baroness will know, we recently commissioned an audit of low-incidence special educational needs—an area of particular pressure within the special needs community. Our report on that has led to a substantial body of work in joint commissioning between local authorities and to approaches that will improve outcomes of pupils who are statemented and the operation of the statementing process.

We are very mindful of the need constantly to improve the statementing process and to accelerate the speed with which local authorities deal with statements. There has now been a significant improvement in that but, in response to the Select Committee, we set out new performance indicators that we wish to agree with the Local Government Association to accelerate the issuing of statements and the proper consideration of professional reports, which are essential to the production of statements. So we are constantly seeking to improve the system and we will look at all reasonable proposals to do so.

However, we do not believe that a fundamental review at present, contrary to the advice of Ofsted and the other professional bodies that I have cited, would be in the best interests of children with special educational

19 Oct 2006 : Column 902

needs. Elected local authorities take their responsibilities very seriously in this area, and we think that removing their discretion to improve the arrangements for special educational needs by changing the pattern of local provision, in the way envisaged by Amendment No. 33, would work against, and not in favour of, the interests of children with special educational needs.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I also thank all noble Lords who have supported these amendments, including a former Chief Inspector of schools. I feel strongly about these amendments. Perhaps I can quote from the Select Committee report, in which one of the Minister’s DfES officials said:

The committee said that there must be access to a wide range of mainstream and specialist provision and that,

The Government’s response was that the best way of improving outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities is through sustained action to build the capacity of the system. We need a thorough review in order to build that system.

I have not at any stage suggested that the Government are not taking this seriously and are not committing resources and, therefore, public investment to the SEN system, but the system has serious faults. Parents feel that they are ignored when local special schools are closed. I feel that a thorough review of the system is essential to achieve our aim. All I am asking for is a brief period in which to take stock and to consider carefully how we develop a sustainable system to meet the growing need for SEN provision. Surely the whole system of statementing goes to the heart of that. I hope that noble Lords agree. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

1.30 pm

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 32) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 107; Not-Contents, 133.

Division No. 3


Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Ashcroft, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Bell, L.
Blaker, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Bruce-Lockhart, L.
Buscombe, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Chadlington, L.
Chester, Bp.
Chorley, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Colwyn, L.
Condon, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Dahrendorf, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
De Mauley, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dearing, L.
Denham, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
D'Souza, B.

19 Oct 2006 : Column 903

Eccles, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Feldman, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Glenarthur, L.
Glentoran, L.
Hanham, B.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L.
Hogg, B.
Hooper, B.
Howard of Rising, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lang of Monkton, L.
Lucas, L.
Luce, L.
Lyell, L.
Lyell of Markyate, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Marland, L.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Moynihan, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Northbourne, L.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Patten, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Plumb, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Quirk, L.
Reay, L.
Rees-Mogg, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Rix, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Sandwich, E.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selborne, E.
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Skelmersdale, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Thatcher, B.
Trenchard, V.
Trumpington, B.
Verma, B.
Vinson, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Wolfson, L.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B. [Lord President.]
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Barker, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bhattacharyya, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradley, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Chidgey, L.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cotter, L.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Desai, L.
Donoughue, L.
Drayson, L.
Dubs, L.
Dykes, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
Ford, B.
Gale, B.
Garden, L.
Gavron, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Richmond, B.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskel, L.
Haworth, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Joffe, L.
Judd, L.

19 Oct 2006 : Column 904

King of West Bromwich, L.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Laird, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Lipsey, L.
Listowel, E.
McDonagh, B.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Maxton, L.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Newby, L.
Newcastle, Bp.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Pendry, L.
Peterborough, Bp.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prosser, B.
Quin, B.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rogan, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Russell-Johnston, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sewel, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Soley, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Taverne, L.
Temple-Morris, L.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Thornton, B.
Triesman, L.
Truscott, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Warner, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Worcester, Bp.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 2.43 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.


1.43 pm

Lord Blaker rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current situation in Zimbabwe.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have not debated Zimbabwe for a considerable time. I am grateful to have the opportunity to put that right today.

The Government of Zimbabwe get more brutally violent day by day. The courageous opponents of Mugabe’s regime have been demonstrating their opposition more vigorously than ever. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main part of the MDC, has been touring the country and steadily getting more support. The campaign against Mugabe is backed by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the South African trade union organisation COSATU, Zimbabwe’s National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, a statement by the ILO, Women of Zimbabwe Arise—a brave and active group—and the Churches, apart from the Bishop of Harare who has been busy collecting farms.

19 Oct 2006 : Column 905

It is also backed by the combined Harare residents association, local organisations and a group of black trade unionists in the United States.

That is a great increase in active and vocal support. In this country, the TUC is planning a meeting in London on 4 November, at which the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will be present. He has recently been imprisoned and savagely beaten, suffering broken bones.

The struggle is now more violent and has turned more to governance than the economy. On the economy, however, incredibly, it gets steadily worse. Zimbabwe, which used to be one of the most developed countries in Africa, has now been designated a “least developed country” by the World Bank. Life expectancy has fallen to 34 years for women and 37 for men—the lowest in the world. There has been a drop of 50 per cent in GDP. Farms are being seized by the army, even from black farmers, because soldiers are not being paid. The brain drain of highly qualified people continues.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page