|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I should like to press the Minister on the point I put to her about there being a possible lack of human resources in the system to deal with the extra special educational needs of children who may go into mainstream education. Is the Minister confident that the system actually contains the necessary extra teachers, LSAs and so on, of sufficient quality to handle this problem? I know the Government can throw almost any amount of money they like at it, but I am putting the point that it is not just a question of money. My experience would
Baroness Blackstone: Yes, I am confident, and perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The noble Lord is right to say that it is human resources that count, perhaps more than any other. Sometimes a great deal of emphasis is put on capital improvements but, in the end, what really counts is that the quality of the teachers and that extra support is provided. We are making practical arrangements to ensure that the teachers involved will receive additional training. Indeed, even at the initial teacher training phase, in order to attain qualified teacher status, all student teachers must demonstrate now that they can identify pupils with SEN; know where to go in order to give positive and targeted support; and are familiar with the requirements of the code of practice. That will be an intrinsic part of all teachers' training. Those requirements will be reinforced by induction arrangements too, which specifically require new teachers to demonstrate that they can plan to meet the needs of pupils with SEN and make a contribution to individual education plans. In addition, there need to be extra resources for additional helpers, which is what the extra funding that we are providing will, at least in part, be spent on.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My objection was to the final caveat, which was a enormous loophole exploited by many local education authorities. That is not really comparable to this provision so I do not see any great inconsistency between what I said earlier, and what I said in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Baker.
Baroness Blatch: Simultaneously with the production of the Bill there was a helpful letter from the Secretary of State, who changed his view about whether the provisions of the statement should be set out or whether they should be specific. Apparently that change was made and was very welcome to all concerned. However, there is a whisper in the background that when the code of practice is written, "specify" will be qualified, perhaps to "specify as appropriate". It should be unequivocal. The statement should specify.
Another point that came up again in informal meetings that we have held about the Bill is that statements often refer to what we all understand to be educational needs--reading, writing, computation and so on--but there are particular needs that relate to the education of people with specific difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, referred to the issue of mobility and orientation for someone who has a sight impairment. That is as important an aspect of the education of a child with special needs as the issue of who teaches them to read, to write and to cope with all the other subjects in the curriculum. There should be a specific reference to the needs of the child in the statement to encompass that. Something will have to change in the code of practice, but it would be helpful to have a reassurance that the requirement will be to "specify", not to "specify as appropriate" the educational needs of the child.
Baroness Blackstone: It would be wrong for me to try to draft the code of practice here in the Committee. However, everything the Secretary of State said in his letter will naturally be followed up. I will take note of what the noble Baroness has said but the key issue is that the statements will set out the specific support that an individual child needs. We will make sure that that is clear in the code of practice.
Baroness Blatch: Although it will not be done through a statement, it is important that children with special needs who are not statemented should also have those individual needs met within the system.
Lord Baker of Dorking: I thank all those who have spoken to the amendment. I assure them that it is not a loophole or a caveat. I am trying to establish a right. Procedurally, I have to withdraw the amendment, and I shall do so, but I shall revert to them at a later stage in the Bill. I hope that when push comes to shove, I shall have the all-party support that we have had at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 7 deals with two issues, one of which we have already discussed at length. I do not propose to return to the issue of the best interests of the child. I wish on this occasion to speak in favour of the voice of the child being heard. That is at the heart of what we are discussing today.
The question of whether the child's voice should be heard is well set out in the current SEN code. First, there is the principle that we should consult those about whom we are making decisions. Secondly, there is the pragmatic point that we know that whatever decision we make, there will be a greater commitment to the outcome if the child or young person concerned has been consulted. That does not necessarily mean that we do what the child wants, but that the child has been involved in the process and that their views have been taken into account.
As the Bill stands it is only the parents' views that are taken into account in the process of making a decision about whether a child is in a mainstream or a special school, which is Clause 1, and also during the statutory assessment process, which is the amendment to Section 232 in the 1996 Act, and again in drawing up that statement in relation to Section 324 of the 1996 Act.
I recognise, and from these Benches we recognise, that education legislation has not traditionally taken account of the child's views and recognises the parent, and not the child, as the client or consumer of education. However, the decisions being taken under this legislation affect the child in a very similar way to decisions taken under the Children Act. There is a very direct parallel here between the point at which the child's wishes have to be taken into account under the Children Act and the points at which these amendments seek to bring the child's views into the education decision-making process.
The term "ascertaining wishes" of the child is borrowed from the Children Act 1989. Under the Children Act, when particular decisions are being made about a child's future, agencies are required to take into account the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, considered in the light of his age and understanding. The vast majority of children are able to communicate their wishes directly. The Children Act wording recognises that some creative and imaginative approaches may be needed, for example with the wishes of the very young children being discerned by observing their behaviour.
Some children, at the discretion of some of the special educational needs tribunals, have spoken up during those tribunal hearings. Disabled children do not have an absolute right to participate in and attend
Another point that is important is that some disabled children are not so fortunate as to have parents who support them in exercising their right to attend a mainstream school. Government have not made any provision for the situation where disabled children and parents disagree on the type of schooling and support needed. There is currently a legal duty in the Children Act for children to air their disagreements with parents through the family court proceedings, so why can that not happen where there are disagreements as regards education?
The draft code of practice makes it clear that the Government's intention is that greater account should be taken of the wishes of the child, and indeed, in speaking to an earlier amendment the noble Lord, Lord Davies, did make it quite clear that it was to be enshrined in the code of practice. From these Benches we feel that that is not good enough. We should like to see it on the face of the Bill. It is an important issue and it should be written on to the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page