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Lord Rix: May I support the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in this. If a head teacher required guidance on the question of bullying and those words were actually used, that he required guidance, I should have thought that he was a singularly inept head teacher.
Lord Whitty: It is clear that bullying in schools takes place on a fairly widespread basis. Therefore, additional guidance, help and support to schools in ensuring that bullying is minimised is desirable. The department has already provided some substantial help to schools. We would intend to improve that guidance in a number of respects under the guidance required by this Bill.
The legal status of guidance, particularly when it relates to a disciplinary procedure, as it does here, is that the governing bodies--in this case it is the governing bodies--have a statutory duty to have regard to guidance when reaching their decisions. That is the position. It is not prescriptive in terms of it being on the face of the Bill, but they will need to have regard to guidance when carrying out their procedures and reaching their decisions. I hope that clarifies at least the status point from my noble friend's intervention.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: May I intervene simply to say that I noted the comments of my noble friend on his Amendment No. 193A. I am grateful to him for having taken note of the point which I was making. But, as he says, it clearly belongs to a later group of
Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may just come back to the noble Lord on his explanation of guidance. Of course technically that was absolutely right. But the truth is, and in answer to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, there is such a thing as guidelines and guidance. Guidelines are a less formal obligation on the part of local authorities. Guidance they must have regard to, but they can have regard to it and dismiss it. If they are challenged on the decision they come to, it is purely a procedural matter as to whether they took into account in coming to that decision the advice that was set out in the guidance. The guidance does not oblige local authorities to be consistent with the guidance other than to have taken account of it in coming to a decision.
Lord Rix: May I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, says. Going away from personal, long-distance memories, I should like to come to the particular problem we face at the moment; that is in regard to children with special educational needs.
It is a well-known fact that one of the major problems they face is that of bullying. Certainly in mainstream schools children with learning disabilities are, without question, subject to the most appalling bullying in many cases. I cannot believe that there should not be some statutory declaration on the face of the Bill in regard to this bullying. Forget old actors like me, but come back to people like my daughter who at one time have been classed SEN. Unfortunately, that was before people with learning disabilities were educated as a sine qua non. But in current days I know that many of the complaints from parents of children with learning difficulties, with obviously special educational needs, are that of bullying. I believe it should be on the face of the Bill.
Baroness Warnock: May I ask the Minister to supply the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was wanting, against having this on the face of the Bill? We have heard good things about guidance, but we have heard no bad things from the Minister about putting this on the face of the Bill. Partly because of what my noble friend Lord Rix, has said, I feel very strongly that children with special needs are particularly likely to be the subject of bullying. That is a matter which becomes increasingly important as there is increasing pressure for these children to be in mainstream schools.
Lord Swinfen: Would the Minister agree with me that guidance, generally speaking, has no value whatsoever when things are going well? But if something goes wrong, someone can be in considerable difficulty and have some very awkward questions to answer if they have not followed the guidance. That is the time when it is important. When everything is running smoothly guidance is not
Lord Dearing: I should like to support that comment. Guidance descends on schools like leaves descend on the pavement in autumn and, like leaves, it is swept aside because of the sheer volume. It has become counter-productive. If there is an issue of great seriousness, as I believe there is on bullying, it needs to be distinguished from the leaves and given a special status by being included on the face of the Bill.
Baroness Byford: I rise in support of noble Lords who have spoken. I believe firmly that this should be on the face of the Bill. Bullying is the most dreadful experience for many young people. Although my own amendment does not apply in the same way, certainly with regard to those who have special educational needs, I think we should look at it again. I urge the Government to include it on the face of the Bill. We are encouraging children who have special educational needs to take their place in mainstream schools, provided that that is the parents' wish. One thing that will put them off is the knowledge that there is no extra protection for them. That will make families hesitate to take that step which we would all welcome. I support other Members of the Committee in encouraging the Government to take this step.
Lord Addington: If bullying is to be taken seriously, it must be on the face of the Bill. With so many pieces of paper descending on teachers from all over the place, giving them a target would help. We have had a great many debates in this Chamber about integration and SEN. If this matter is dealt with properly, it will allow integration to go forward. If we do not get this right, we will find many pupils with SEN problems developing social problems as a result of being unable to cope with the classroom. That is often because they fail in the classroom. It is a chicken and egg situation. We may be able to break that process if we tackle bullying successfully. Surely something more positive should be done. That would stop many of the secondary problems that arise in the case of SEN pupils.
Lord Whitty: I do not believe that there is anything between us on how we regard the serious issue of bullying, the need for schools to have measures to tackle it, for disciplinary procedures to be effective in tackling it, and for care for the victims of bullying, whether they are SEN pupils or anyone else. The question is whether putting it on the face of the Bill would be the most effective way of dealing with it.
Amendment No. 184 sets out in some prescriptive detail each school's behaviour and discipline policy. Our approach is that each school needs to ensure that its procedures, and the way in which those procedures
It is a complex situation. Different schools face different problems, and different schools will wish to deal with those problems differently. The surveys which the department and the inspectorate have carried out on how bullying is dealt with currently in schools indicate that most schools have a policy in this area. The aim of our policy is to improve the effectiveness of those policies and the protection of those pupils who are the victims of bullying. We do not believe that achieving that result, which is already recognised in virtually all schools, will be improved by having a requirement prescriptive of policy on the face of the Bill. The effective operation of policies which already exist in many cases is what is required.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, it is not true to say that guidance has no role where things are going well. It may well be that it is because a school is following guidance that it has no serious problem. Clearly, where things go wrong a failure to have observed that guidance--that is the point raised by the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Peston--before any appeals body or in any legal case would put the school authorities in a difficult position. That is the strength of guidance. Given that this places the whole question of an anti-bullying policy in a broader context, guidance seems to us to be the best means of dealing with the problem.
I stress that although we do not accept that this requirement should be on the face of the Bill, we are all committed to ensuring that anti-bullying provisions in all schools are improved and strengthened, and that the plague of bullying which some people claim is going on in some schools, should effectively be brought to an end. There is no difference in objective, but we do not believe that this provision would help meet this objective, whereas detailed and effective guidance would.
Lord Rix: Before the Minister sits down, may I say I fear that I cannot understand how a committee, looking at guidance, will affect the life of the bullied child as quickly as is essential. If bullying is taking place it should be stamped out on day one, or on day two at the worst, not after it has been referred to the LEA, or a head masters' conference, whatever may take place. Head teachers must be told that bullying must not take place. It must be on the face of the Bill. Just to offer guidance to some committee to look at the way the head teacher and the staff stamp out bullying in their school is impossible for that poor bullied child. The Minister may say that there may be some bullying, I am 100 per cent. certain that there is bullying, and a great amount of it when it comes to pupils with SEN.
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