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Lord Davies of Oldham: The position must be taken in the context of the general obligations of the local authority and school in terms of providing education for the child. Although a request in those terms may be made, the local authority already has an obligation to ensure that that child's interests are being advanced as far as possible in their education. So it is not a question of them turning their back on any basis for assessment. Far from it: the child is involved in the educational system and the authority is in a position where it can begin to reach some judgment on the effectiveness of the education presented to the child. That is the context in which I was making the suggestion. I recognise that it is in the context of the subsequent amendments; part of a package. I am possibly being somewhat over precious in addressing those particular remarks to the amendment when it is part of a general package. However, I have explained to the noble Baroness why we are seeking, quite properly, to reserve to the education authority and to practising professionals proper rights with regard to educational judgments in respect of children in circumstances where parents might not be in total agreement with the decisions being advanced.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: It would not be unusual for there to be instances where parents are in disagreement about the provision made for their child. However, parents may think that their child has special needs but there is no obligation on the authority even to explain why it is not going to do an assessment. It has the right to say, "We do not believe that your child needs an assessment".

There needs to be something somewhere either on the face of the Bill or certainly in the code of practice to state that a parent should receive serious consideration where he is sufficiently concerned--perhaps unnecessarily--that a child has special educational needs which are not being met within the system. If there cannot be a compulsory assessment, there ought to be an obligation on the local education authority to explain why that is. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 72 to 79 not moved.]

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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 80:

    Clause 8, page 8, line 9, at end insert--

("( ) an independent school.").

The noble Baroness said: This measure allows those responsible for a school at which a child is already a pupil to request of the local education authority an assessment or reassessment to see if that child has special educational needs. Under our earlier amendment, which allows the parent also to make such a request, it should be open for any child at any school to be given such an assessment if those responsible for that child deem it to be necessary. The relevant provision excludes those at independent schools. My amendment adds independent schools. The Government as a whole are responsible for all children, whether they go into or out of the private sector. If parents believe that a child has special educational needs, they ought to have the right as taxpayers and local council taxpayers to approach their local education authority for an assessment. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I largely agree with the case that has been put forward by the noble Baroness and will be pleased to consider this issue further.

Baroness Blatch: I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 82:

    After Clause 8, insert the following new clause--

(" . In section 323(3) of the 1996 Act (assessment of educational needs), after "an" insert "independent".").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 82 I wish to speak to Amendment No. 83. Amendment No. 82 touches on a matter which we raised earlier concerning educational psychologists and the way in which their independence has been compromised. This is merely a suggested way in which we might start to move back towards the assessments being made in an independent way, not one which is too influenced by the requirement to conserve cash, which may be afflicting a local authority.

Amendment No. 83 picks up what seems to me to be a loophole in that, if a review had concluded that an amendment should be made, the local authority at present has very little obligation to make that amendment. It can just sit on its hands and wait for the tribunal process to take place, whereas, if it was concluded in a review that an amendment should be made, it seems sensible that the authority should be under an obligation to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I fear that I must disagree with the noble Lord with regard to Amendment No. 82. It looks to me as if this is premised on the assumption that assessments conducted by LEAs are biased and unprofessional. I do not believe that to be

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the case. After all, we look to the staff and professional associates of LEAs and other authorities, such as health and social services, who assist LEAs with assessments, to use their professional skills and judgment to complete full assessments of children's needs and make appropriate recommendations.

It is difficult to know what "independent" means in this context. Surely an LEA's own educational psychologist is more likely than anyone from outside the locality to have knowledge of local special educational needs provision, which would help LEAs and parents to settle on the appropriate placement. They are also likely to have good links with staff in the schools, which can work to the advantage of the child. We are not saying that the same will never be true of independent educational psychologists--I do not in any way want to cast aspersions on their role--but I hope that it is recognised that we can trust professionals in local employ to do a proper job. If parents do not agree with the statement, they have the right of appeal to the tribunal.

The same considerations apply to Amendment No. 83. Reviews of statements can be seen in the same light as the advice that goes to LEAs when they are drawing up statements. LEAs have to apply their professional judgment to any recommendation they receive following annual reviews. They should not have that judgment fettered by the amendment. Should LEAs decide not to amend statements in the way that these recommendations suggest, parents have the right to require a reassessment of their child's needs and to appeal to the tribunal.

Well intentioned though I know the amendments to be, they are unnecessary against the background of our experience of the way in which local authorities professionally address themselves to these tasks.

Lord Lucas: I see that we will not get any further this evening. The noble Lord is being a little "rose-tinted" in imagining that local authorities can be put under extreme financial pressure and still expected to make totally independent judgments on how much money to spend on special educational needs. There has to be a trade-off between one and the other. Over the past years we have seen increasing pressure put on local authorities, resulting in a shortfall on statements being made. However, I do not need to extend that discussion this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Duty to specify named school]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 84:

    Clause 9, page 8, line 19, leave out ("not").

The noble Baroness said: I do not know whether I am alone in this, but I find this the most depressing room to work in. I am extremely cold. On the first day I ended up with a blinding headache and I have another today. I find the lighting oppressive and I find it distasteful to work here. If health and safety rules

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applied, I think we might have a justifiable complaint. It would be helpful to know when this Committee Stage will end tonight.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I understand the privations we are all suffering and we are certainly due to finish shortly. I wondered whether the next group of amendments could be moved and dealt with and then we could adjourn.

Baroness Blatch: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 85 and 86.

I sympathise with local education authorities that hold open special educational places for pupils only to see those places remain empty. The local authority is financially committed and, at the same time, another child is prevented from benefiting from that place.

The Bill goes too far, in that it may encourage local education authorities not to make enough special needs places available in the first place. All too often in the past, we have heard of parents having to resort to the private sector in their desperation to find the right educational provision for their child. There is, of course, some wonderful provision in the private sector and it is frequently from the private sector that many successful specialist innovations are first introduced and highlighted. Some of the private educational establishments in this country are well known around the world for their high standards of achievement. But the private sector is not always the first choice for parents. For many parents their acceptance of fees is felt necessary only because of the absence of local authority provision. All too often the slowness of the bureaucratic machinery of local government forces parents to find suitable educational provision in the private sector.

Should the Bill become law as it is drafted, local education authorities will have no incentive to speed up their decision making or to make additional special needs provision. That will result in a Catch-22 situation whereby a concerned parent, while waiting for his child to be statemented or placed in a local authority school, finds a privately-funded place for his or her child and then discovers that the local education authority will make no provision in the public education sector because the child is already placed in the independent sector.

The amendment seeks to ensure that local authority places are available for those children who need them--my caveat, as always, is if that is appropriate--but at the same time, local authorities need not hold open those places indefinitely.

In moving Amendment No. 84, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 85. Clause 9 exempts the LEA from naming the school or other institution which it recommends for the child's needs if the parents themselves have made suitable arrangements. That is fair enough, as far as it goes, but that parental choice should have to be recorded in the statement as an assurance to all concerned that the special educational needs of the child will be met and where they are to be met. The amendment therefore requires that parental

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choice be recorded in the statement, and that matter of record is important, especially if the situation has to be revisited. I beg to move Amendment No. 84.

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