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Lord Lucas: I entirely support the amendments tabled by my noble Friend. I had intended to address this subject under Clause 9 stand part, but I might as well do it now. These delays can be intolerable. Sometimes it can take two or three years to settle a child's provision properly in the state sector. If you have a child who is suffering like that and you have the ability to pay for a private school, you would have to be extremely hard-hearted not to, except that, so far as I understand it, we are presented with a situation, under Clause 9 in which, if your nerve breaks and you run for the private sector to give your kid a decent education a year or two earlier than he might otherwise, you lose all right to state support and have to go on paying for private education for ever because there is now no right to turn to the state.
While the process of appealing and deciding the statement is under way, parents ought to have the right to make provision for their child as they see fit. At the end of the process, when the tribunal has decided and when the thing is settled, if the parents then decide to go private, that is their decision and they take the consequences. However, I do not see why they and their child should be made to suffer because of the delays in the system.
Baroness Blackstone: Clause 9 seeks to ensure both fairness and clarity in the exercise of a duty placed upon LEAs to specify a school by name in part 4 of a statement of special educational needs. It allows authorities not to name a particular school they consider appropriate in case the child's parents have made suitable alternative arrangements--typically by paying for a place in an independent school. It avoids in these circumstances the LEA having to name a school in the child's statement and then having to keep open a place for him when they know that child will not be attending the school--a place which might otherwise be taken up by another child. The LEA would also no longer have to pay for an empty place, which is, of course, not an efficient use of its resources.
It would be unfair if a place that was unlikely to be taken up by a particular child was denied to another and this clause is designed to prevent that from happening. It is not our intention to allow LEAs to avoid naming a school in a statement in a significant number of cases, but if a parent has made suitable alternative arrangements, it is appropriate that no school should be named. Other than that, LEAs will continue to name schools where appropriate, or a type of school or education otherwise than at a school that has been arranged for a pupil. The clause will therefore enhance the exercise of parental choice by potentially opening up more places for children who need them and whose parents want them to attend. It will remain open to parents who have made alternative arrangements for their children to seek a placement at a maintained school later on if they wish.
Amendment No. 84 would undermine those intentions by requiring the name of a school or institution to be included in the statement in all cases. Amendment No. 85, like the previous one, would also serve to undermine the aims of Clause 9--which I set out clearly for the noble Lord, Lord Lucas--by requiring a school or other institution or arrangement to be named in a statement in cases where the parents have made their own arrangements. Acceptance of this amendment would make authorities liable to meet the cost of the provision arranged by parents, sometimes at independent schools, even though the authority could arrange perfectly suitable alternative provision at a lower cost.
Authorities are not currently liable to contribute towards the cost of educating a child in those circumstances. We think that that is a sensible use of resources which must also be shared with other young people with special educational needs.
Amendment No. 86 seems to us to be unnecessary. The LEA is already required to ensure that the educational provision specified in the statement is being made available at one of its own schools or at one of the parents' choice, unless the child's parents have made suitable alternative arrangements for the child.
If parents arrange their own provision for the child, we see no reason why the LEA should hold open a place at the school currently named in the statement pending the conclusion of the appeal. That could deny a place to another very deserving child. In the meantime, the LEA in any case needs to be satisfied that the educational provision of the parents' choice of school is suitable, including whether it is appropriate for the child's needs as set out in the statement. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will consider these amendments and that the noble Lord can see why Clause 9 needs to be part of the Bill.
I was referring to parents who want a place in mainstream education for their child and who have waited so long that in absolute desperation they have scraped the money together to send them privately; but nevertheless want to get them back into mainstream education. Because they have made provision for their child, the LEA wipes its hands of them. The amendment simply says that the LEA should continue to have an obligation; not that they should meet the fees of the private school.
I heard what the Minister said on Amendment No. 85. Again, the really inoffensive objective on my part was that there should be a record of the parents' preference in the statement. But I shall have to read more carefully what the Minister said on that amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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