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Baroness Blatch: The Minister referred to children in special referral units. All I can say is that, if children are in a special referral unit, they would already be treated differently; they would already have special provision made for them. I cannot conceive of any situation where a child has been referred to a special referral unit without the parents knowing about it.

If I might speak personally for a moment, I can remember a particular school to which my two older boys went when they were very small where we received a monthly report on how our children were doing. They received two marks in the month; one for achievement and the other for effort. So we knew if we had a bright child who was not working very hard or a child who was not so academically able who was working his socks off. One way or another, we knew how much effort was being made by the children.

In the course of those little reports we received once a month from the school, which was a very good primary school, we were also told if our children were withdrawn from class for special reading, or if they had special numeracy classes, or if they were being checked for behaviour. Those little snippets of information were important for us as parents to know, rather than leaving it until one annual general meeting when all parents attend only to discover that for the whole of the year a child has been receiving special treatment for

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reading, numeracy or whatever it might be. Therefore, one part of the aims and objectives of my amendment is to make sure that, where a child is having learning difficulties, parents know about it. It seems quite wrong for schools, with all the best intentions in the world--they are clearly well-intentioned if they are making special provision for a child within a school--to allow that to be done without the parents' knowledge.

The second part of the amendment causing great anxiety for the Minister is the right of a parent to object. "Object" may be taken too strongly; but it gives the parent the right to challenge why their child is being treated in that way; why their child is being withdrawn for special classes. It allows the school to give an explanation as to why that is and to make a case for it. And it allows the parent to be reassured about what is happening.

All I am saying is that it gives way to a form of informal resolution procedure which allows a dialogue to take place between the parent and the school to ensure in the interests of the child that, whatever provision is being made for the child, it is appropriate to the needs of the child.

I believe I was taken a little out of context by the Minister in the way he responded to these amendments. However, they are important amendments and I shall return to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 69 and 70 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Review or assessment of educational needs at request of responsible body]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 71:

    Clause 8, page 6, line 45, after ("body") insert ("or the parent of the child").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 71 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 72, 73, 74 and 77. Other amendments in this group are in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas--Amendments Nos. 75, 76, 78 and 79.

Amendment No. 71 provides for the responsible body--that is, the head teacher or governors--to ask for an assessment or reassessment of the child. We should also make provision for the parents to be able to ask the local authority for an assessment or a reassessment of their child and my amendment allows the parents to say that they believe their child qualifies for an assessment.

The purpose of Amendment No. 72 is that the subsection allows an interval of six months between the request for an assessment and the assessment being made. I am afraid that is too long. I should like to cut that down to three months, which should be time enough for the local authority to get their act together. Six months, depending on the time of year--certainly if it is six working months--can mean a very long wait indeed for a child's educational needs properly to be assessed, let alone be met.

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Amendment No. 73 is that, as the subsection stands, it remains open to the local education authority to reject the request as being unnecessary. They cannot know whether an assessment or reassessment is necessary until they have assessed the child. Therefore, our amendment would require the LEA to make the assessment if a request had been made. Since such a request is to be made by the responsible body--or under the previous amendment, the parent--it is not likely to be frivolous. It is likely to be in the interests of the school and the parents to ask for an assessment only if, with their knowledge of the child, they deem it to be necessary.

On Amendment No. 74, the Minister needs to explain to me the phrase

    "before deciding whether to comply".

Surely the local education authority must comply and make the reassessment. There is no question of whether to comply. My amendment would require the parents to be informed, as in the rest of the subsection, before the LEA began the assessment, rather than before the LEA considered whether to begin the assessment.

Amendment No. 77 would remove the words "decide whether to", because the local education authority has to comply. The amended subsection (5) would require the LEA to comply, but only after the 29-day period for parental representation had elapsed. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I shall speak to Amendment No. 75. I am somewhat confused because the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is asking for the parents to ask for assessment. I thought that was already specified in Section 329A of the 1996 Act--although I may be quite wrong.

My briefing says that when a parent requests a statutory assessment, the law imposes a six-week time limit on an LEA to answer yes or no. My amendment would impose a time limit on an LEA's response to a request from a responsible body for a statutory assessment. It is essential that there is a time limit for an LEA's response if a request comes from a school or a professional, such as an educational psychologist. Without a time limit, situations such as the one that I shall briefly describe--and which IPSEA says are very common--will continue to arise.

The parent of a child with special needs rang IPSEA for help. A request for assessment had been sent to her LEA by the head of her child's school and the educational psychologist. There had been no response by the LEA, despite the request having been made over nine months previously. IPSEA helped the parent make her own written request, which then imposed a six-week deadline for the LEA to reply. However, the missing nine months could not be retrieved which, in the life of a child, is a hugely long time.

I warmly welcome the Bill's introduction of a right of appeal for a parent when an LEA turns down the request of a school or a professional for a statutory assessment. Before turning down the school's request for assessment, the LEA must send a proposal to the

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parent. The six-week deadline follows the sending of the proposal. However, that will not get the whole thing to kick in at the beginning. There could still be that nine-month delay, because there is no time limit on the period between the LEA receiving the request from the school or professional and it sending the parents the notice of the proposal to assess. There is no early trigger, so delays could still continue without the new deadline proposed in Amendment No. 75.

Lord Lucas: Amendment No. 76 in this group inserts the words

    "10 days nor more than"

before "29". Suppose, under subsection (3), the local authority were to say that the specified period were to be two years, which it certainly could under subsection (4), because the only restriction is that it has to be longer than 29 days. That would seem to be an excellent way for the local authority to delay the procedure until everyone had forgotten about it.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, said, we need some restriction on the ability of the LEA to spin things out. I cannot imagine any circumstances under which parents need more than 29 days to consider their rights under this section, and 10 days should be adequate in most circumstances when things are bubbling along reasonably nicely. Likewise, if the local authority has submitted a notice under subsection (3) and the parent says, "Yes, by all means go ahead", why should the local authority then have to wait 29 days, or however much longer is specified, before it can do anything about it? Everybody is agreed; they are all sitting around waiting; but subsection (5) makes them sit around until this arbitrary time period has elapsed. I do not see why. If the parent agrees, the matter should go ahead straight away.

The last of my amendments would allow the responsible body to appeal under subsection (8)(b). Since those are the people who have raised the matter in the first place under this section, I do not see why they should not be able to appeal.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Addington: One of the points raised relates to the length of time matters can take. Again there was a great deal of supporting anecdotal evidence The length of time involved in getting help has been an issue which has always dogged anyone who did not fit into the main stream.

We must have some better idea about the length of time. I instinctively worry about a provision which allows the time to be extended because such a provision has been abused in the past. A good reason for doing nothing is that it does not fit in with your plan. The general thrust of these amendments is valuable.

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