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Lord Lucas: Before my noble friend speaks, I would be fascinated if the noble Baroness could let me have whatever information she has on how good Lincolnshire is. I know this is a problem which troubles a number of local authorities. They are faced with a target of 85 per cent delegation and many rural local authorities will be spending close to 6 per cent now on transport, which they are not allowed to delegate. The SEN budget is 5 per cent and rising and, in good local authorities, it can rise quite quickly because the understanding of needs, and the provisions that need to be made, is rising. and they find themselves in a great deal of difficulty. Blindness affects 22,000 children--an average of one per school. That means that a lot of schools do not have a blind child from one year to the next and then suddenly two will come. How can a local authority delegate funds to deal with such sporadic occurrences? There are times when it is more efficient to keep the resources in the centre and allocate them as particular needs arise in schools.

That is a difficult issue for local authorities. I have heard many of them saying that they do not know which way to turn. Since the noble Baroness does know which way to turn, I would be delighted if she would inform me so that I can pass on the good news.

Baroness Blatch: The Government predict that there will be a substantial shift of young people into mainstream schooling. None of us will be in a position to challenge that presumption until we see what happens.

I have looked a number of times at the financial appraisal in the Explanatory Notes. It does not tally with the idea that there is going to be a shift of young people with special educational needs from special into mainstream schools. Paragraph 130 says:

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    "The Bill will require LEAs and schools ... to plan to increase the accessibility of schools to children with disabilities, and to implement their plans".

The estimate for that is 4 per school. There are 25,000 schools in this country, and the budget is 100,000 per year. I can barely pay for the time to write a letter that would cost 4; it is a very strange sum of money.

Paragraph 129 says:

    "The Bill will require schools in England, Wales and Scotland to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled children are not placed at a substantial disadvantage".

It goes on to say:

    "We estimate the costs of these duties to be within the range of 1.5m-3m per year".

The Minister may rightly say that not every school needs adjustments, but many schools will if they are to take partially sighted young people. Noble Lords will remember that I referred to orientation classes as well as bricks and mortar.

The Explanatory Notes also say:

    "the cost of funding LEA projects to make schools more accessible will be supported by the Schools Access Initiative."

Some 220 million will be made available over the three years. That works out at 9 per school--again a modest sum. I am deeply suspicious about trying to reconcile the Government's prediction that a substantial number of children will move from special into mainstream education with their expectation of the resources that will be required.

It will be difficult to predict what will be needed with any accuracy. For example, the staffing costs are said to be worth nothing. No amount is allocated for them. Presumably, the Government think that there will be no staffing implication. If those young people are to have support staff in school who transfer with them, there will be a staffing implication. Paragraph 141 says:

    "The SEN provisions will have very few manpower implications".

The Government do not even see fit to put a figure on it.

I find it difficult to reconcile the Government's robust prediction that many more young people will move into mainstream with the most modest costs that I have ever seen in a Bill. We need some means by which national government can assist LEAs and schools, with funding streaming from one through to the other, so that they meet their obligations without creating serious adverse effects on other parts of the service. We have had sensitive debates about impact on other young people, in particular, children who do not have special educational needs. The impact would be quite substantial if there was not some flexible arrangement for the Government, who are the proposers and sponsors of this legislation, to ensure that the resources are in place. Otherwise we will have a building up of expectations and a dashing of them once the Bill is enacted.

4.15 pm

Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may try to respond to some of those points. First, I should be delighted to send information on north Lincolnshire to the noble

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Lord, Lord Lucas, and explain why that council seems to be a role model for other authorities. Perhaps I may say also that the Government have always been quite clear that they are not delegating to schools responsibility for special educational needs provision. That is something that we have felt very strongly should be held back. Indeed, there are members of the noble Lord's party who believe we should have 100 per cent delegation to schools. But how could we if we are going to have local educational authorities providing for adequate term provision which needs to be done by the authority?

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that I indicated earlier in Committee that substantial additional amounts of money are being allocated for the inclusion parts of the Bill. There is some confusion in that what the noble Baroness read out was not about the inclusion parts of the Bill, but about the disability part of the Bill where the costs are much lower. The Government recognise that, and I said at Second Reading that there are extra costs in moving towards mainstreaming. Indeed, that cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, said at one point, is well worth providing for. We are doing just that.

I hope that explanation will clarify the position. The 1.5 million to 3 million is for reasonable adjustments under the disability part of the Bill. It is difficult to predict what they will be, but many of them will not in fact be very expensive on top of all the extra funding that is going in to promote inclusion.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is absolutely right when she says that a low incidence disability, such as visual impairment, will not be something for which many schools will have to provide. I imagine that in some cases those children who are blind or visually impaired will be in units attached to part of a school where there will be several such children rather than being distributed across a wide range of schools.

I hope that what I have said on funding helps to explain the position.

Baroness Blatch: I stand chastened for reading the financial paper, but it is the only financial paper there is in the Explanatory Notes; there is no other. It is headed up, "Effects of the Bill"--I take that to mean the Bill before us--"on Public Sector Finances". I read out a number of references, to schools, post-16, rights of redress, advice and conciliation services and SEN provisions.

My understanding is that a financial paper at the end of any Explanatory Note refers to the whole Bill. It is not just as the Minister said; that is, that it only refers to part of the Bill. If it only refers to part of the Bill, there ought to be a cost appraisal of what the full measures of the Bill include.

The Minister has spoken on good practice and referred to Lincolnshire. I happen to know Lincolnshire very well; it is my neighbouring county. A good friend of mine, Mr James Speechley, is the leader of the Lincolnshire Conservative Group. I know that the council's reputation goes before it in

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many spheres, including provision for special needs. So good practice is one thing but ultimately there is a tension in all our minds about the rhetoric and the expectations that are being raised by the Bill among many groups concerned about provision for children with special educational needs and the likely reality on the ground; namely, that local authorities are extremely hard pressed at present. They will face real difficulties. The noble Baroness said that we were not placing on schools the responsibility for delivering special educational needs. That is not true. Schools will have responsibility for delivering special educational needs. There seems to be no plan. If we refer to children with special educational needs rather than just those with severe learning difficulties, up to stage 3 it is very much a school-based provision. Schools have that part of their budget delegated. The amendment should ensure that LEAs and schools are able to meet fully the obligation with regard to this new tranche of young people coming into mainstream schools who will have the higher end of learning disabilities to be managed within mainstream schools. The Government are placing that obligation upon schools and LEAs through this legislation. The Government's responsibility is to ensure that they are held to account for that.

My noble friend will want to read carefully what has been said during the course of this debate and I have no doubt that he will refer to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 91ZA not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 91ZB:

    After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--

(" . In the 1996 Act insert--
"343A. The Secretary of State shall approve and fund formal training and qualifications for support staff operating to meet special educational needs within the maintained sector."").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I want to address training. It is a probing amendment. One of my concerns with the Government's proposals in the Bill is that they will lead to the early closure of special needs schools. Indeed, there is already evidence that special schools are closing across the country, many of them on financial grounds. The children normally served by those schools could be at a disadvantage if the support in mainstream schools is not adequate. This particular amendment refers to the effectiveness of the people--the actual staff--who will be supporting those children.

I am concerned about the standards of training and qualifications of support staff in mainstream education. At present, special schools are apparently providing much of the informal training "on the job". With special schools admitting a broad range of children with special needs--anything from Down's syndrome or deafness to behavioural or emotional problems--there has been less pressure from formal qualifications in the mainstream sector. It has almost

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been a question of learning by osmosis. I have met many non-professional staff who are working with children with disabilities in the special schools' sector of special needs who have performed quite brilliantly. Therefore, one would say that if there were any test of their competence, they would pass with flying colours.

Although in many parts of the mainstream sector there are currently higher thresholds for recruitment, in many cases there remains very little additional formal training. The closure or reduction of the specialist establishments, where most of the existing training takes place, will lead to a loss of training environment for support staff. Those will need to be replaced by the introduction of, for example, an NVQ in special educational support or some other recognised qualification. I feel strongly that it must remain the case that schools should retain the right to employ whoever they consider suitable for the post. To this extent, therefore, I am not proposing that such an NVQ should be a compulsory pre-requisite for employment as a special support assistant. I repeat: we can all think of staff employed as special assistants who do an absolutely wonderful and near-professional job. I believe that formal training provision should be made available, especially since the opportunities for informal training in special schools will almost certainly be reduced by the Bill. I beg to move.

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