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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 209:

Page 59, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) The code may include guidelines to show how children who may have special educational needs, and children for whom a statement of special educational needs is maintained under section 324 of the Education Act 1996, shall not be disadvantaged in admissions arrangements.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 209 is linked to Amendments Nos. 213, 215 and 229. They all concern admissions policies and how they affect children with special educational needs. Amendment No. 209 seeks to include in Clause 79 the phrase,

If the amendment were accepted, all the people listed in Clause 79(1) who are involved with admissions policies would be obliged to consider how their policies did not disadvantage children with special educational needs. We seek assurances that children with special educational needs will have their problems addressed in the proposed code of practice. We also seek to ensure that a mechanism for monitoring admissions will be established.

I believe that earlier in the discussion on this Bill it has been mentioned that in the past couple of years since the issue of circular 6/96 there has been much evidence to show that parents of children with special educational needs are being turned away with comments such as, "Why do you not try a school which is better equipped

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to deal with the kind of difficulty your child has?" Those who have special needs but have not yet received statements are told, "Go and get a statement, or an assistant, and we might be able to admit you". In other words, there is unquantified but nevertheless considerable evidence that schools are becoming more reluctant to admit children with special educational needs.

Therefore this amendment to Clause 79 is designed to provide the Minister with an opportunity to assure us that these matters will be addressed in the code of practice on admissions. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I give my wholehearted support to this amendment. It sounds very important and valuable.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining the amendment. Indeed, I am grateful to her for the wording. It is a very probing type of amendment, if I may put it that way. It says that the code "may" include guidelines, rather than insisting that it should include guidelines.

As the noble Baroness will be aware from our debate on the previous amendment, the guidelines, although statutory in the sense that the rationale behind them is set out on the face of the Bill, are extremely local and flexible in many of the ways in which they operate. They are not intended as the be-all and end-all of admissions decisions. There is no such thing. There is no philosopher's stone in this matter. The amendment would allow the code of practice on admissions to give guidance on the admission of pupils with special educational needs, so that they will not be disadvantaged. We fully support the sentiment behind the amendment. However, it is not necessary, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows.

Turning first to those children with statements of special educational needs, in those cases strong safeguards are already provided by existing legislation. Parents have a right to be consulted throughout the process of statutory assessment, and may then specify the school that they wish to see named in the statement. Naming a school in a statement overrides all other admissions criteria: the admission authority is under a duty to admit the child to the school. However, we shall consider carefully with special educational needs groups what might helpfully be said in the code around the admission of children with statements.

For those children who have special educational needs but do not have a statement, we have given a commitment in our Green Paper, Excellence for all children, that the proposed statutory code of practice on admissions will make it clear that children with special educational needs but without statements cannot be treated any less favourably than other applicants.

Those pupils with special educational needs but without statements will be subject to the same admission arrangements as all other pupils attending mainstream schools. Before finalising those arrangements, admission authorities will be required to consult on the arrangements they propose and, where there is

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disagreement over a school's admission arrangements, the matter may be referred to the adjudicator. The code of practice will offer guidance to admission authorities and the adjudicator, among others, in carrying out these functions.

Let me also say that the Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult on the draft of the code of practice and provides for the draft code to be placed before both Houses of Parliament. On that point, perhaps I may respond to a matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her closing remarks on the previous amendment. It is proposed that the code of practice should be presented to Parliament under the negative procedures and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has agreed with that view. On that basis, I hope the noble Baroness will agree that her amendment is unnecessary and will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: On the question of a provision on the face of the Bill in regard to pupils with special educational needs, we await further elucidation on what, if anything, has come out of meetings which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is not in his place, may have had with the Department for Education.

I maintain that there is a need to get that interest firmly on the face of the Bill. I can see that this may not be the right place to do it, and I am sure that this is not the right time to press the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 209A:

Page 59, line 17, after ("(1)") insert--
("(a) make separate provision (by means of separate codes of practice) in relation to different functions under this Chapter of the bodies and persons mentioned in that subsection;

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 209A, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 209B, 211A and 211B. Amendments Nos. 209A and 209B would allow the Secretary of State to make separate provision, by way of separate codes of practice, for different admission functions. We need this flexibility to allow the Secretary of State to issue a separate code of practice on admission appeals. Guidance covering admission appeals might need to be quite detailed and specific, as can be seen from the present informal code on appeals, which is widely valued. Including this degree of detail on one topic would unbalance a single code, particularly for admission authorities and areas where appeals are not such an issue. Amendment No. 209B needs to be included as a consequence of Amendment No. 209A. It provides for references to the "code" or admissions functions to include references to any separate code or the functions to which it relates.

Amendments Nos. 211A and 211B are tidying up amendments, designed to correct and clarify the intentions of the Bill where two or more schools enter into co-ordinated admission arrangements. Amendment

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No. 211A corrects the drafting of the Bill. As presently drafted, the Bill would allow for maintained schools to be involved in co-ordinated admission arrangements only where they make their own admission arrangements. This would preclude community schools--except those which had delegated authority from their LEA to make their own admission arrangements--from joining a co-ordinated scheme, which would clearly be undesirable. The amendment ensures that Clause 81(6) could apply to any maintained school.

Amendment No. 211B ensures that, as now, expressions of parental preference are dealt with in accordance with the co-ordinated admission arrangements. Where schools are in co-ordinated admission arrangements, approved by the Secretary of State, these arrangements may take precedence over the duty on admission authorities to comply with any expressions of parental preference as set out in Clause 81(1) and (2). The present draft of the Bill does not make this clear, as it does not include a direct reference to Clause 81(2) with regard to meeting expressed parental preferences. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: Amendment No. 210 and Clause 79 stand part are grouped with these amendments. I shall await the Government's opinion on Amendment No. 210; I simply wish to find out what they intend to do with regard to that suggestion. My purpose in giving notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 79 stand part of the Bill was simply to allow a decent debate on the clause. I think we have had that debate and I shall therefore not oppose the Question.

Co-ordinated admission arrangements clearly override parental preferences to a certain extent. I should like to know from the noble Baroness what kind of co-ordinated admissions arrangements the Government approve of. What kinds of arrangements will receive the Secretary of State's blessing and what kinds will not? Are we looking at any change of policy here? I should be grateful for a restatement of how the Government see that working and the ways in which schools might look constructively to develop these policies or be aware of the fact that they should not be thinking along those lines because the Government will not let them get away with it.

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