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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reassuring words about how the Government view the education of children who are, as it were,

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thrown out of school. I know my honourable friends from the Liberal Democrat Benches raised that issue in another place. They, too, will be pleased to hear what the Minister said today.

I cast my mind back some, perhaps 10, years. I could not help thinking that many authorities dealt rather more effectively with excluded children than we may do today. I found it distressing to note that it may be a couple of years before we return all over the country to some of the best practice that happened in local authorities in the past.

It is not easy, because it is not cheap to deal with the education of excluded children. The terrible mess that we have got into over this can be put down partly to the fact that school budgets have been cut over the years. This is the area that has been cut in the past. Many children have created many problems with a great deal of extra expense for us in other areas of our daily lives. It is a sad reflection on what has happened to education in recent years.

I strongly believe it is because of the cuts that local authorities were forced to make that these types of children did not receive the education and help that they required when they could not be maintained within schools. It is quite clear that some of the practices that operated years ago were very effective, and it would be nice if we could get back to that situation sooner than the year 2001. I urge the Minister to press for these things to be done sooner if that is possible, in which case we should all be very pleased.

Baroness Blatch: I should like to endorse that point and then return to something that the Minister said when speaking to these amendments: namely, that full-time education would be guaranteed for all children who are excluded over a certain period. Of course it would be costly--those are the words of the Minister--and these matters will be considered by the comprehensive spending review. We do not yet know what that review will throw up? We do not know whether it will throw up billions of pounds or something less. Nor do we know the priorities for spending that money when it comes on stream. My question is very specific and I think it is important. The policy is actually fixed in concrete and a date has been set for it. Therefore, can the noble Baroness say that, whatever amount comes out of the comprehensive spending review and whatever may be the share for education, this particular policy will pre-empt any savings? In other words, the money will be found and will be given to LEAs to meet their obligations in order to deliver quite specifically this pledge by the year 2001.

Baroness Blackstone: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her comments. She is absolutely right that 10 or 15 years ago nothing like the number of children were being excluded from schools as is currently the case. This Government are determined to bring these numbers down. I agree that it is rather disappointing that it will take a little while but, frankly, we have to be realistic. She is of course right to say that school budgets were cut in the past and this particular area was not perhaps given the priority that it should have had.

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Of course the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right: I cannot give a guarantee as to what the comprehensive spending review will throw up, and any help that she can give me in this area in negotiating with the Treasury will be welcome. This is of course a very high priority area, because, if we do not solve the problem, there will be a large number of uneducated or semi-educated young people who in the end will not be employable, quite apart from the fact that they may well get into serious trouble with the law.

Baroness Blatch: I am afraid that the noble Baroness has missed my point. I do not think there will be a large number of uneducated people, because in law there will be a very specific obligation on local authorities to deliver. They will not have any choice. There is no flexibility built in here. If 2001 is the year by which every child who has been excluded in the particular circumstances set out in the Bill must be provided with full-time education, and if the money does not come from the comprehensive spending review, it will be pre-empted money from the local authorities.

I am simply saying that if the money is not thrown up by the comprehensive spending review or if the allocation is not made by the Treasury via the Department for Education from the spending review, does that mean that local education authorities will have their own expenditure pre-empted in order to fulfil their legal obligation under the Bill by the year 2001?

Baroness Blackstone: I think that perhaps the noble Baroness should be a bit more confident about what I have said. The Social Exclusion Unit has reported on this. This is an area to which the Government are totally committed, and somehow or other the money will be found. I am absolutely convinced that this is a very high priority and it is an area where the government of which the noble Baroness was a member signally failed. We were left with very large numbers of exclusions, compared with earlier years, and young people were not being adequately supported.

Baroness Blatch: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness because she has given me the answer that I wanted: that the money will be found from somewhere. I thank her.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness David: There have been quite a number of contributions to this group of amendments and I would like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Elton, for the support that they have given. It is very good to hear others with teaching experience speaking about this particular area. I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate, who commented on Amendment No. 235. I certainly agree with him that referral units are necessary and are often extremely good. My worry was that quite often pupils were not sent to them and so those children were not receiving the education they should have been receiving. Whether this is work experience or a place in a referral unit does not really matter. If they are excluded from school, we want them to be somewhere, getting some sort of education.

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I was very cheered by what my noble friend said about Amendment No. 235. I accept that my amendment may be technically incorrect, but it is encouraging to hear that the Government are taking very seriously the point that children should have proper full-time education if they are excluded. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I am sorry that we cannot be sure of it happening until the year 2001, but after all that will be a great improvement on what is happening now. We hope to move towards that provision so that all children receive full-time education if they are excluded--a move that may have to be made by degrees. I should like to have my noble friend's reassurance about that.

I think that my noble friend had a certain sympathy for my other amendments. However, I shall have to read her objections to Amendment No. 186, which I shall do very carefully. I was rather surprised by the response to Amendment No. 187 and also to the amendments put by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that 15 days is too short a time to reintegrate pupils. I should not have thought that was the case, but I suppose I must take it that it is. It seems to me that steps should be taken immediately a child is excluded. Perhaps we could make progress with this situation which, as my noble friend said, really got much worse under the previous government.

The Minister is relying a great deal on guidance. Guidance, as we discussed earlier, is all right but it does not have to be regarded; and that, I think, is the worry about her response to some of the amendments I moved. I will read what she has said and, if need be, I will come back at a later stage. I was particularly pleased with my noble friend's response to Amendment No. 235, which is very important indeed. I am grateful to her for that. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 186.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 187 not moved.]

Clause 62 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Exclusion of pupils: duty to inform parents, etc.]:

Baroness Byford had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 187A:

Page 49, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) Where the exclusion referred to in subsection (1) above is for a period of more than three school days, the head teacher shall, in addition to the matters referred to in that subsection, inform the relevant person--").

The noble Baroness said: I thank the Minister for her response. As I said at the beginning, the whole purpose of this group of amendments is to speed up some of the processes that are laid down in the Bill. I think all those who have spoken are very aware that we do not wish to have children excluded from schools, or to have them excluded for as short a time as possible. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. Perhaps I might also say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that I am a little disappointed that we cannot speed up the appeals committee; the review. I also will read Hansard.

[Amendment No. 187A not moved.]

Clause 63 agreed to.

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[Amendment No. 188 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Functions of governing body in relation to excluded pupils]:

[Amendment No. 189 not moved.]

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