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Baroness Blackstone: I am not quite sure what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is saying. In the discussion on the previous amendment I understood that he wanted something put on the face of the Bill. After all, that is what most of the amendments were proposing. I said that we would make it absolutely clear in the code of practice that the child's view will be heard. If that gives him the reassurance that he wanted, I am delighted.

Lord Lucas: Yes. What I did not understand was that the right to express a view to the local authority and the local authority's duty to take it into account would act on Clause 1(3). What the noble Baroness is now making clear is that the local authority can refuse a parental request for a child to go to a special school, against all the parents' wishes, and that in that process there is a mechanism for the child's voice to be heard.

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It makes it a more general problem of how the child's voice should be heard rather than one specifically relating to Clause 1(3).

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor and to the Minister for her remarks. I believe I could sum up her remarks by saying that the Bill will not make the position of parents of mentally-handicapped children who wish their child to go to a special school any worse than it is at the moment. The purpose of the amendment was to improve slightly the position of those parents. In what she said about the SEN tribunal working more quickly, she may have gone some way towards that.

I shall study what she has said with care and read it against the words in the Bill. I may need to come back on Report, but in the meantime I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): In calling Amendment No. 13, I should point out that if this were to be agreed to, I should not be able to call Amendment No. 14 owing to pre-emption.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 15 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 1, line 19, at end insert--

("(3A) If subsection (3)(a) or (b) above apply to a child, he shall be educated at a school which is not a mainstream school.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 27. Both are probing amendments to help me and, I hope, the Committee understand better exactly what happens when the provisions of the Bill are triggered. It is not clear to me what happens if subsections (3)(a) or (3)(b) apply. There is no longer a compulsion to go to a maintained school, but it is not clear that there is a fallback arrangement for the child. I do not believe that the drafting of the amendment is right, but I cannot understand how a kid will be caught if they fall into that patch of the Bill.

Likewise I do not understand what is going on in subsection (4) on page 2, which is why I tabled Amendment No. 27 to take it out. That is merely an opportunity for the Minister to tell me what that provision does so that I may better understand whether I agree that it should do it. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne: I shall speak to Amendment No. 20, which is in this group. New Section 316A of the 1996 Act appears to preclude the possibility of an education authority purchasing educational services from a school in the private or voluntary sector. Sometimes a child with a disability may best be helped and educated by attending an independent school--for example, if it had special expertise, facilities or experience with a particular disability, or if the child needed an intimate family atmosphere, smaller classes or perhaps boarding facilities.

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Of course, the cost of such a school would be higher than the cost of educating that child in a maintained mainstream day school. On the other hand, it is likely to be a lot less than the cost of maintaining that same child in a maintained boarding school. Surely, the Bill should leave open the possibility that there may sometimes be circumstances in which a purchase of education from the private or voluntary sector would be in the best interests of the child and, at the same time, cost less to the LEA. The amendment would leave that option open.

Baroness Blatch: I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We need the flexibility to look right across the education sector, covering private and state provision, to allow the greatest possible flexibility for meeting the needs of the child. Some choices ultimately cost very dearly. We know that there are some very good special schools in the independent sector. I do not wish to favour one sector over another; I simply want to increase flexibility and open up the whole breadth of education provision to allow the proper needs of young people to be met.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords for the way in which they have moved their probing amendments, because it gives me the chance to clarify the issue and reassure the Committee about the situation as we see it.

On Amendment No. 16, if a mainstream school that has taken all reasonable steps cannot avoid the conclusion that the presence of a child is incompatible with the efficient education of others, that child should not attend the school. If it is proved that there is no school in the maintained sector in which the child could be educated, provision should be sought elsewhere.

On Amendment No. 20, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the criteria for funding have not changed with regard to proposals here. It is not our intention to prevent LEAs funding children in the independent sector if that is appropriate. We know of cases where that has occurred in the past and it will undoubtedly occur in the future.

The technical problem with the third amendment is that it would prevent children who could benefit from a mainstream place from gaining one. It is expressed in such a form that once the individual school has not proved to be acceptable in providing adequate education, no other option obtains in the maintained sector. Of course, we want to ensure that there was the possibility of all opportunities being explored within the mainstream sector. However, we are committed to inclusion by choice. Where parents want a mainstream place for their child, it is right that we should do everything possible to provide it. Equally, where more specialist provision is necessary, parent's wishes need to be listened to in that context.

Lord Lucas: I follow on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I know a number of independent special schools in which half or more of their pupils come with statements from LEAs. Do I understand from the Minister that they are under no

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threat whatsoever from the Bill? There are some excellent institutions that come under that category. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested, it appears that that may be discouraged in some way. A further reassurance would be welcome.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am happy to give that reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The option of the independent and voluntary sector still exists, and there is no change to the existing position in that respect.

Lord Lucas: I shall read what the Minister has said in Hansard with great interest, but I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 17:

    Page 1, line 19, at end insert--

("( ) Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools shall report to the Secretary of State on the use of subsection (3)(a) and (b) above.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is primarily aimed at getting better information via Ofsted about the use of subsections (3)(a) and (b). We know about tribunals. We know of those who have gone through the system. The amendment is an attempt get some idea of how these powers will be used and how the system is working. As we have heard in this discussion today, there is no great clamour either way. It is to make sure that we get information and know what is going on. Also, if the caveat in subsection (3) (b) is being over-used the amendment would ensure that those in charge who set the standards know about that. It is merely a device for gathering information. I hope that the Minister warms to the idea underlying the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I support the amendment in principle, but it does not go far enough. If the inspectors are to be asked to examine the operation of the Bill when it is enacted, that will go beyond subsections 3)(a) and (b). That is interesting and important in itself. I dare say that the Government will want that to be considered in the natural measure of supervision.

I hope that the inspectors would produce a much fuller assessment of the capability of LEAs and the independent sector to provide special education. I sought to obtain some comparative performance data out of the department. It was difficult to do so. I wrote to the former chief inspector, Mr Woodhead, in June. I wanted to know how good was the school for blind children with which I am involved compared with others in the private and state sectors. One gets so involved with one's own school and thinks that it is marvellous. I wanted to see how good it really was.

In his reply the chief inspector wrote:

    "The Inspectorate has not undertaken any specific work on the provision of education for blind and partially sighted children but all the special schools catering for such children in the state sector have been inspected and reports have been published. Most schools for Visually Impaired children have had very positive

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    inspection reports. We have not undertaken any specific comparisons between maintained and non-maintained VI schools.

    Similarly, we have not investigated the specific impact of visually-impaired units within mainstream provision. Where such units have been commented upon within mainstream school reports, however, the observations have been generally very positive.

    I am sorry that I cannot provide any more detailed information."

For this information on visually impaired you could also substitute the deaf or the physically disabled, or the autistic for that matter. We all need to know more about it. I should like to know how effective special education is in particular areas. Are the special schools doing a particularly good job, or are they narrowing the education so precisely that they are missing out on things? When it comes to mainstream schools, how effective are they at getting their children to take GCSE exams and getting them up the educational ladder? Are they actually fulfilling specific objectives?

This information is not readily available, because of the independent inspections of schools, and what is wanted is comparative information. If I were the parent of a child with any form of disability, I should want to see comparative data. I should want to see not only the facilities that are available either in independent or state maintained special schools, or in the mainstream schools. I should like to see output, effort, and how this compares elsewhere. I should want to inform myself, but I should say that this information is not readily available. It would do great service to the whole area of special educational needs if it were available. I do not believe that anyone other than inspectors could do it. Inspectors are particularly well suited to the task.

I hope that the Minister will take this away and reflect upon it, and consider how it can be done--not so much in the context of this Bill, but I should like to see a more discriminatory, selective system of approach. So much about special educational needs comes down to anecdote. There are particular cases--we have heard some today--which are very interesting, but anecdotes are not very reliable criteria on which to base very important decisions about the education of special educational needs children.

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