|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Blatch: I support my noble friend Lord Baker in what he has just said. I believe that Section 3 of the 1993 Act was devoted to special needs. I understand that the department is now updating that provision. Indeed, I have had a constructive meeting with the Minister, Estelle Morris, about it. That earlier provision identified five stages with regard to early intervention. Stages 1, 2 and 3 related not only to children with learning difficulties, but also to children with behavioural problems, which usually manifested themselves in learning difficulties because the one was very often the cause of the other. The intention was that in the first three stages schools should resort to their internal processes for dealing with difficult children. If, at the third stage, the problem was beyond the capabilities of the classroom teacher or the school, outside advice would be sought and the school would move to the fourth and fifth stages, during which help would be received from the LEA special needs department. I am not sure how effective the monitoring of that five-stage plan has been. I do not think that it has been changed in the new proposals.
I understood with feeling my noble friend's point about when a school has come to the end of its tether and the governing body has agreed to an exclusion, not wishing to undermine the head teacher or the teachers, but is then overruled by the LEA. The result is that everybody's authority is undermined. The child with the behavioural difficulties which are deemed to be beyond the control of the school is sent back into the classroom. The knock-on effect and result is that the good education of other children is very much disrupted. That conundrum needs to be addressed.
Perhaps I may refer to the pupil referral unit which I know best, that in my own local authority. It is not used simply to take children out of school and to keep them out of school; it is used so that children can be taken out of school for a period of time during which their problems can be assessed. The unit works with the school so that the pupil can then be readmitted. It has been most effective. However, I understand that the number of pupil referral units, and the number of places in them, are reducing.
This seems an inappropriate time at which to put in place an aggressive process to reduce the number of exclusions. Frankly, if there is a case for exclusion, there is a case for exclusion and help has to be given. The school and the classroom teacher need to be helped. If the number of places at pupil referral units is reducing, where can teachers and head teachers turn if they are asked to keep within targets which I understand are pretty rigorous? I understand that the number of exclusions is to be reduced by two-thirds by the year
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not know whether I need to reply. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that the increase in exclusions has occurred substantially since the adoption of LMS. I was a chairman of governors before LMS, so perhaps I faced fewer and different problems from those facing governors and head teachers now. The noble Lord implied what the Government are saying: there ought to be some reduction in the number of exclusions. However, saying that there should be some reduction does not in any way reduce the need for pupil referral units, so I agree with the noble Baroness also.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: With due respect to my noble friend, perhaps I may add a couple of points. The Minister made a good point about the draft guidelines. They refer to raising standards for various groups of pupils, including those from ethnic minorities and white males, to take just two examples that we have used. However, that does not appear on the face of the Bill, but that is a different point.
Monitoring exclusions and attendances is a little different. With all due respect, I do not think that that appears in the draft guidelines. It is a new subject altogether. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister could consider whether provisions to that effect would make a useful contribution to achieving the purposes of the Bill. If so, perhaps such provisions could be introduced either on the face of the Bill or in some other way. As I understand the draft guidelines--the noble Lord can see that I have them with me; I have, indeed, read them--this is a new subject. The monitoring of attendances and exclusions is important in the context of improving standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was absolutely right when he spoke about the need for early intervention with regard to children who are difficult in school. Something like two out of three pupils who are permanently excluded from school never return to full-time education. They are being deprived of something which the Education Act 1944 said was their right. Indeed, most people who are interested in ordinary human rights would say that education was a right. We, in this country, say clearly that a child has a right to receive a suitable level of education. This is an extremely important point. As has been pointed out, exclusions are linked to levels of offending behaviour. The noble Lord's Government are interested in trying to repair that problem and other problems of exclusion. I am asking the noble Lord to reconsider those two subjects and whether suitable provisions might add something useful to the Bill.
Lord Northbourne: I rise briefly to support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I believe that all noble Lords will agree that early intervention is important. However, so far no one has mentioned the involvement of parents. It is not for me to rewrite the brief of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but the
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is correct in saying that truancy is not the same as exclusion, although they were both dealt with at the same time by the Social Exclusion Unit. I believe that I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Paragraph 15 of the draft guidance does not include a reference to truancy and exclusion, but perhaps I should reread my introductory remarks which the noble Baroness may have missed:
Lord Peston: Before my noble friend concludes, we are in agreement on a great many matters. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, spoke of exclusions. I speak with feeling on this matter since when I was a student I was excluded from seminars on macro-economics on the ground that I talked too much and no one else could get a word in. I am sure that most noble Lords find that very hard to believe.
While I agree with what has been said--I have read the remarks of the Social Exclusion Unit--I have a twofold fear. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was right to remind the Committee about local management. We want to be supportive of teachers. I do not believe that teachers wish to exclude children if they are in any way educable. The problem is that if children are disruptive the cost is not borne by the teachers or indeed by any member of your Lordships' House but by the other children in the class. That is something that we should never forget.
I am aware of the rules under which the Government act. However, I am concerned about the belief that these problems may be solved without resources. I am not of the opinion that this problem can be solved by a free ride, if I may use that expression. Although I am totally supportive of my noble friend--he has struck exactly the right note--when we come to the practicalities of dealing with exclusion in particular it will not be a cheap option but will involve considerable expense. That is an expense that I support on the ground that I believe that in the end virtually everybody can be given a good education as long as the right circumstances are created and the right teachers are there. No one willingly gives up in this field, but we should not simply assume that this problem is caused by a bunch of incompetent teachers. I do not believe that for one moment.
Lord Addington: This debate demonstrates the value of tabling probing amendments. We have managed to get nicely under the skin of this subject. As my noble friend Lady Thomas has demonstrated, we may be able to enhance this Bill by putting something into it. However, that is an argument for another time.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, that the amendment will increase the inclusion in mainstream schools of children with special educational needs. I do not believe that anyone involved in that field at any level is of the view that everybody should be included. I take that back. There are one or two but they are in a decreasing minority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has pointed out, many children with special educational needs who are not dealt with end up with behavioural problems. It is very important that this matter is dealt with early. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, said that it was important that these matters should be taken into account.
These amendments are all about trying to obtain information and demonstrating how it is to be used. I hope that the Committee has benefited from this discussion and that, in light of the information that has been drawn to the attention of the Government, we can return to this subject, if not these amendments, at a later stage with greater knowledge. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.