Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We take the issue of SEN and disability in professional standards seriously. The noble Baroness asked where we were on the current standards revision. A consultation on the revised standards for qualified teacher status has recently been completed and there are standards which relate to SEN and disability issues in the proposed revisions, which are more stringent than those they replace.

Much depends on how these standards are put into practice. That is why, as part of our response to the Select Committee, we have asked Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of the journey the intending teacher takes through initial teacher training and induction in relation to SEN and disability. That is in addition to the work we are doing with the Teacher Training and Development Agency on a £1.1 million package of practical initiatives to strengthen the training teachers receive in SEN and disability. In our response to the Select Committee, we also announced that we are this year embarking on a national programme of continuing professional development for staff.

Amendment No. 82 seeks to confer a duty on local authorities to secure a range of SEN provision. Section 14 of the Education Act 1996 relates to all schools, including special schools, and lays a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient schools for the provision of primary and secondary education. Section 14(6) says that, in exercising their functions to secure sufficient primary and secondary education, local authorities must have regard to the need for securing special educational provision for pupils with

19 Oct 2006 : Column 962

special educational needs. Those pupils include children with and without statements and with a variety of special educational needs, ranging from moderate to severe and complex. Local authorities must already, therefore, secure a range of provision.

On the publication of information, my department collects information on the range of SEN provision in localities each year, and publishes information on the numbers of different types of the school and different pupils in each type of school in each local authority area. That is available on my department’s website. In addition, the DfES annually publishes data for each authority, showing the number of children with statements of special educational needs and where they are placed. Data is also published on children with statements who are educated other than in school, and on those who are awaiting provision. This data is also available on the DfES website.

Amendment No. 141 is in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Lucas, on the assessments and statements system. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is now setting himself up as one of a two-person think tank on a challenging issue which we recognise needs continued thought. I have given careful consideration to his amendment, which seeks to ensure that assessments are carried out without considerations of finance.

The present arrangements require local authorities first and foremost to focus on carefully establishing a child’s special educational needs so they can make appropriate provision to meet their individual needs. At the point of carrying out a statutory assessment, they must seek advice from the child’s school, their educational psychologist, social services, health professionals and, of course, the child’s parents. Advice is given independently and without consideration of finance. Indeed, paragraph 7.79 of the special educational needs code of practice, to which all local authorities must have regard by law, makes it clear that:

If, having considered the assessment advice, the local authority decides to make a statement, it must specify appropriate provision for each identified need. As guardians of public funds, local authorities have duties not to incur unreasonable public expenditure and to use their resources efficiently in the context of meeting the identified needs of the child in question. This seems to be the right balance. It is difficult to see how the duties set out in the amendment could be reconciled with the duty of local authorities not to incur unreasonable public expenditure unless we were somehow able to provide unlimited resources.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is the last person to seek to encourage us to do things that are impractical and unattainable and subsections (2) and (3) of his new clause therefore seek to cover this point. The issue with those subsections is that by saying that a local authority may,

19 Oct 2006 : Column 963

may simple reconstitute the current system in which the local authority has to decide how to meet the assessment within the resources it has available. It is not clear to me that the amendment is an improvement. Subsection (3) is genuinely ingenious and provides for cost-sharing between local and central government in respect of particularly high-cost placements. He specifies individual cases likely to exceed £50,000 or £100,000 a year. I can see some merit in that proposal, but our concern is that it might have the effect of encouraging local authorities to make perverse decisions in respect of placements that are not necessarily in the best interests of children because they would know that by making more expensive placements, they would be able to pass on a significant proportion of the costs to central government rather than having to meet them entirely through the decisions they make in respect of provision.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, also tabled Amendment No. 142, which concerns parent partnership services. I am glad that he believes that they have an important role to play, and we agree with him. As to funding for parent partnership services, it is for elected local authorities to determine how best to deliver their statutory functions, including parent partnership services, within the overall funding available for school pupils from the department. However, in our response to the Select Committee, we made clear our intention to set clear expectations about how local authorities should meet the national standards for parent partnership services set out in the SEN code of practice, which include ensuring adequate funding. These expectations, which we will set out in due course, will include parent partnership services having their own budget, a management group with independent representation, links to children’s information services and choice advisers, locating parent partnership services away from SEN casework teams, independent training for parent partnership service co-ordinators, access to independent parental support and a voice for parent partnership services in local children’s services policy development. Those requirements being set out more clearly will help the more effective development of parent partnership services, but I take to heart the point the noble Lord made about ensuring earlier notification to parents of the availability of the parent partnership service—and I will see if there is more we can do in that regard—so that parents are aware of the availability of the service from the point at which they need to start engaging with the system regarding the special educational needs of their children.

Amendments Nos. 115A and 116A were moved by my noble friend Lady Thornton and relate to discrimination against disabled pupils. We accept the principles that underlie them, but we believe that they are met by existing law and guidance. In making their statement of principles and determining the measures that constitute a school’s behaviour policy, governing bodies and head teachers must act in accordance with their statutory responsibilities towards pupils with disabilities. In addition, Clause 87 makes it clear that a disciplinary penalty is a penalty imposed on a pupil where his behaviour falls below a standard that could

19 Oct 2006 : Column 964

reasonably be expected of that individual; that is, behaviour that could reasonably be expected of the pupil taking into account any disability that he or she may have. Clause 88 specifies that, in order to be lawful, a disciplinary penalty must satisfy three conditions, one of which—the condition of reasonableness—is determined by taking into account the pupil’s disability.

The same arguments apply to subsection (1) of Amendment No. 117 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. In determining a school’s behaviour policy, head teachers must act in accordance with their statutory responsibilities toward pupils with special educational needs. The safeguards in Clauses 87 and 88 apply to special educational needs in the same way as to disability.

We will be reinforcing these messages and providing practical advice on how to provide for such pupils in our guidance on school behaviour policies. In doing so, we will consult with the Special Educational Consortium and other key stakeholders about its contents.

Subsections (2) and (3) in Amendment No. 117 concern physical restraint. I stress that Clause 90, which deals with the use of force, is not new. It re-enacts provisions that became law eight years ago, and we are not aware of any problems caused by them since. That is not to say that there have not been cases where pupils, parents and school staff have been unhappy about when and how physical restraint has been used. Given the emotive nature of the issue, there are bound to be such cases. The actual guidance and law have not been felt to be inadequate.

The department has supported the provision with guidance, including specific guidance relating to pupils with special educational needs. We will be reviewing our guidance in the light of the parliamentary debates and will consult a wide range of stakeholders as we do so.

I turn to Amendment No. 117A regarding exclusions in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. This amendment would ensure that no disabled pupil or pupil with special educational needs could be excluded permanently unless a review was held, either of the reasonable adjustments being made for a disabled pupil or of the special educational provision being made for a pupil with special educational needs.

My noble friend asked me about the robustness of our protections for such pupils. I entirely agree that we need protections which are as robust as we can make them, balancing of course the duties that schools also have for the welfare of other pupils. The recently issued guidance on exclusions from schools with pupil referral units, which the department has given out, could not be more robust in this respect. Paragraph 45 on pupils with special educational needs states:

19 Oct 2006 : Column 965

a matter also mentioned by my noble friend—

On exclusions paragraph 46 of the guidance states:

I believe that the guidance on this issue being given to schools could not be clearer. More progress needs to be made on the actual practice in schools itself but that is improving.

The statistics on the exclusion of pupils with special educational needs shows a substantial drop. The number of permanent exclusions of pupils with statements of SEN dropped from 2,250 in 1997 to 1,130 in 2002. It is now down to 850 for the last year for which we have statistics, which is 2004-05. I think that the House will accept that a reduction from 2,250 to 850 represents great progress by schools, although of course there is further to go.

A recent in-depth study by the National Foundation for Educational Research into admissions and exclusions of pupils with special educational needs published in January last year—I will make this research more widely available to noble Lords—concluded:

That indicates that the reasonable adjustments that my noble friend rightly seeks and which schools are expected to observe under the Disability Discrimination Act are already being observed by the great majority of schools, as the research stated. However, we accept that more progress needs to be made. That is why, under the Disability Discrimination Act, from this December all schools will have to publish disability equality plans, which will take the implementation of their obligations to a new level.

I therefore hope that my noble friend will be satisfied that we are very much on the case. She asked me a number of specific questions, which I think were put to her by the Special Education Consortium. I have long replies to each of the points that she raised; it may be best if I circulate those to noble Lords in writing. I hope that that will persuade my noble friend to decide that she does not need to bring the matter back at Third Reading.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, this has been a very worthwhile debate and I thank the Minister for his thorough reply and all noble Lords who have spoken. Before I respond to the Minister, perhaps I may apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for forgetting to say how much I support the principle behind her Amendment No. 117 on appropriate training for restraint. I hope that what the Minister said turns out to be enough.

19 Oct 2006 : Column 966

Turning to my amendments, I hope that the equine Lord Adonis, running in the 3.30 at Ludlow, was not an old nag and did not fall at the first fence—

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I regret to say that he lost.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I hope that he has not gone to the knacker’s yard, anyway. I am pleased to say that the human noble Lord, Lord Adonis, managed to negotiate the first, second and third fences. Sadly, he fell at the fourth. Perhaps I should explain what I mean by that. The first fence was Amendment No. 82B and I thank the Minister for being so clear that SENCOs will not only be teachers but part of the leadership scheme of the school and will have a proper programme of continuous professional development. That will move us even further in the right direction.

The second fence was Amendment No. 81, and I welcome what the Minister told us: that Ofsted has been asked to do a thematic review of the training journey that those teachers will have to take. I look forward to seeing that report. On Amendment No. 82, on the duty to secure a range of provision, I thank the Minister for clarifying the situation and telling us where we find the information. I just hope that local authorities will be influenced by looking at the range of provision of some of the best local authorities and tailor their practice towards that.

On the fourth fence, we are at Report. Because of that, unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, cannot reply for himself to the Minister's comments on his amendment, so I hope that he will forgive me for having the temerity to say one or two things about it. The Minister said that the Government cannot accept a blank cheque, but what he did not say is that the Government do not mind passing that blank cheque to local authorities, with liabilities of up to £150,000 a year per pupil. The Minister said that he fears that local authorities might make perverse decisions to place children in more expensive provision because they might get some of the money back from the Government.

I think that that is extremely far-fetched and ignores the fact that the very carefully worded subsection (3) of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, makes quite clear that the costs would be shared. Should the local authority place the child in more expensive provision, it would be paying more. The Minister's objections to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, do not hold any water. Having said that, the glass was three-quarters’ full today, so far as I am concerned. I am happy with what the Minister has had to say about my amendments, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 82 to 82B not moved.]

Clause 56 [Meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 83:

“( ) an Academy, ( ) a city technology college, or ( ) a city college for the technology of the arts”

19 Oct 2006 : Column 967

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 84 and 85.

All the amendments relate to Part 4, which is about local-authority intervention in schools that are causing concern. The Minister will have noticed that we on these Benches have been very reticent, in contrast to our deliberations in Committee, about tabling amendments on academies, city technology colleges and so forth. This is not because he has convinced us that handling everything via the funding agreement for the academies is satisfactory; on the contrary, we remain sceptical about whether exempting this category of school from much of the legislation that applies to other maintained schools is a satisfactory way of proceeding, especially as the number of academies grows. This is particularly so when wide-ranging duties are imposed on local education authorities or local authorities. Yet the ability of the local authority to deliver is limited because many of the key schools in the authority’s area are academies or city technology colleges and will in future be trust schools and outside its control. In Southwark, for example, all secondary schools will shortly be academies. Children may well attend these schools, which are not maintained by the local authorities, but the council is still responsible for their well-being and educational fulfilment. Indeed, the schools are assessed in their APAs on how well they perform, whether or not the council is responsible for them.

The amendments seek to change that situation, and to give local authorities the power to intervene in all schools that are not performing adequately. Councils should have powers to intervene and to assist schools where there is poor delivery against the wider Every Child Matters outcomes outlined in the Children Act, not only against the failure to improve educational attainment. While many academies bed down in the system and increase in number, they will not be immune from failure. The Government should give the councils the powers to intervene to ensure that academies are provided with support if they are failing or coasting, so that the children’s well-being and educational potential are promoted. This is the situation for trust schools, and we feel that this should also be the case for academies and city technology colleges. This would strengthen the duty on schools to have regard to the local children and young people’s plans, and would ensure that the key role of schools in delivering the improved well-being for children under the Every Child Matters agenda is adhered to.

These are important amendments. There is a real dichotomy between the emphasis being placed on local councils to have responsibility for the overall performance of schools and to deliver the general objectives cited at the beginning of the Bill. Some councils will have very little control over the schools that will be delivering those outcomes. I beg to move.

5.30 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I too strongly emphasise the importance of this apparently very minor amendment. It would bring city technology colleges and academies within the broad scope of local-authority responsibility and, in a sense, the Secretary of State’s responsibility. Clauses 15 to

19 Oct 2006 : Column 968

17 and 56 to 70 are all about possible failures and the need for special measures, or about the need for improvement in the case of maintained schools. In Clause 56, maintained schools are defined very precisely as community schools, voluntary schools, voluntary and community special schools and nursery schools. It is clear that the group of schools addressed by my noble friend is excluded. She referred to the responsibility of local authorities for the well-being of children, which is an extremely important point.

I shall not repeat what she said, but I wish to make a different point about the morale of community schools, which is where most children still go and, I suspect, will still go in five or 10 years’ time. Let us consider for a moment the way in which the Bill presents itself: it has a considerable expectation of failure in community schools. It makes almost no mention of academies and CTCs. We are told that they will be dealt with in funding agreements. But, as my noble friend has said, it is not at all clear how funding agreements will operate in the quite condign and powerful way that local authorities and the Secretary of State are empowered to do. Consider how far reaching those powers are; for example, the ability to name extra governors and which governor should be the chairman; the ability to compel devolved budgets to be dropped; and the ability, in certain cases, to close a school. There is a whole range of weapons or powers which would affect schools that are thought to need improvement or to be, effectively, failing schools.

The former Secretary of State, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, said on the first day of Report that a “generosity of spirit” was needed to recognise the remarkable achievements of many community schools. Somehow, the Bill exudes the sense that community schools are lesser, require more intervention, are more likely to fail and have not done a particularly good job. In responding, the Minister said:

Of course, in saying that he was right. But the assumption is that the schools associated with academies and CTCs are unlikely to fail and that there are no special provisions to deal with them if they do.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page