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Baroness Blackstone: I propose that setting an examination on a particular day of the week to admit a child into a selective school could be defined as a trivial discrimination against a child who happens on that particular day of the week to attend some kind of programme that might be in some other way supporting his or her education and therefore helping the child who has some kind of minor disability. I am thinking off the top of my head but that is the sort of thing whereby we could, if we were to take this phrase out, find people who in a vexatious way decide to make trouble.
Baroness Blatch: I am not sure what to make of that particular example. It seems to me that, if in every other respect the disabled person or the person with disability had all that it took for entry into a school, I suspect it would be reasonable, under the Bill, to find some way of accommodating them in a way that would allow them to take up a proper place at the school, the day of the week being a proper adjustment.
I am sorry that the Minister in her response, which I suspect is a seriously prepared one, did not respond to the kind of negotiating stance that we are all in to find words that are appropriate. As my noble friend said, we are talking about a narrow area of function in the Bill and "substantial" seemed to leap off the page as being the wrong word. I should like to think more about it and perhaps Members of the Committee will
As currently drafted, the Bill specifically states that schools do not have to remove or alter physical features, nor to provide auxiliary aids or services. This amendment deletes that specific statement. It does not mean there would be enforceable rights to auxiliary aids, services and changes of physical features. What it does mean is that these matters would be included in the "reasonable adjustments" duty on schools.
Appropriate auxiliary aids and services would be essential for some children for without them the education of the disabled child could come to a full stop. There is no point in changing physical features, however, if a child cannot follow what goes on. Nor is there any point in providing excellent communication facilities if a child cannot get to the rooms where they are provided. In all such cases, education is denied.
This amendment will, in particular, enhance protection for disabled pupils without statements because they have no legally enforceable rights of redress against the school's failure to provide such extra help.
It may be argued that the SEN system already makes provision in this important area for disabled children. It does not. Only 2 per cent of children with SEN get statements and, even when they do, evidence from the RNIB shows that large numbers do not receive adequate support. One in three children with significant problems do not get school test and examination papers in their preferred format. In other words, they are put at a disadvantage and the handicapping effects of their disabilities are increased, not diminished.
It is accepted that schools cannot be expected to provide all that is required, as some of the child's needs can be the responsibility of the NHS or the local social services department. However, the code of practice could highlight who should provide what and where responsibilities and duties lie.
The object of this amendment is to try to ensure that disabled children of the future do not suffer, as they do now, from huge inequalities and inconsistencies in provision across the country. I beg to move.
In the previous clauses, the obligation has been placed upon local education authorities, and upon schools, to provide facilities and alterations in order to give access to, and to accommodate generally, pupils who have disabilities.
The schools and the authorities have to prepare annual plans as to how they are going to do so, and they have to implement those plans. As I have already said in a previous debate, I fail to see how they can possibly do that without knowing that they have the funds to do it.
However, Clause 15 seems to be suggesting that there is no obligation upon the local authority to adapt the school premises, or to provide auxiliary aids or services for the benefit of children with disabilities. Subsection (3) on page 15 says that these provisions do not require the authority to remove or alter a physical feature, or to provide auxiliary aids or services. Indeed, the noble Baroness said that herself this afternoon on an earlier amendment. My amendment adds a third provision, which I know will be a sensitive one; namely, that it does not require such provision by the authority if to do so would incur unreasonable expenditure.
If, as it seems, Clause 15 modifies the absolute demands upon local authorities and schools imposed by the previous clauses to become demands that have to be reasonable and practicable, that may be a sensible approach. I hope that the Minister can explain this apparent contradiction between Clause 15 and the earlier clauses. I am attempting to square the circle here, by emphasising yet again that, unless additional staff and services are added to mainstream schools, and possibly some physical adaptation as well, there is no way that children with disabilities--and for that matter, children with special educational needs--can be properly accommodated in mainstream schools to fulfil all the aims and objectives of the Bill.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: When considering this legislation, I hope there is an over-arching principle which is that there should be choice between special facilities and integration. If there were to be no compulsion available to procure physical alterations or to provide auxiliary aids and services, then there may be a denial of choice. Exclusion from some schools would ensue, by reason of disability. If schools are to be allowed to fail to provide facilities such as IT, information in alternative formats, specialist teaching, a differentiated curriculum, mobility and independence training, access to specialist support services, then inclusion will often remain a mere pipe dream.
There will be a need for changes to physical features such as loop systems, signage or wheelchair access. Without these changes it is likely that the school will fail to provide for children with disabilities and, to cap
The Bill presumably relies on the availability of another, adapted school. This may work in our five Scottish cities but not in rural and remote Scotland nor in the four island groups. In these areas there is often only one school. The proffered solution will be to live away from home, as usual. The explanatory notes state that the record of needs,
It seems that ENQUIRE, the national advice service for special educational needs in Scotland, in its first year, found that 30 per cent of all enquiries were concerned with records of needs and, of that 30 per cent, a third concerned the level of service provided for a child or young person.
Lord Rix: When I was a member of the Arts Council and Chairman of the Drama Panel--less than 10 years ago--the Arts Council moved from 105 Piccadilly to 22 Great Peter Street. At the time we moved, the architects were aware that I was chairing the Arts Council Monitoring Committee on Arts and Disability. We pressed them most strongly to put into the building the necessary adjustments for members of my committee, all of whom were disabled in one way or another. Unfortunately, the architects failed to take note of our request and we moved in across the road--just off Millbank. Eventually, it cost the Arts Council a further £130,000 to put in the very facilities that should have been provided to begin with. This very probably applies to many schools and other places of education. If all adjustments are not made at the time of such alterations, the costs will be prohibitive.
The argument is constantly being used about theatres: that it is impossible to provide access for disabled people in one form or another because the buildings are either historic or listed. Gradually, however, people are beginning to realise that quite simple adjustments can make life possible for people with disabilities of all kinds. Architects are aware of this. This clause, referring to the removal or alteration of a physical feature is probably a big stumbling block. It could refer to virtually anything--a pillar that did not hold up a roof or some steps that were there--because one was not prepared to alter them. When designed, the Barbican had stairs down to the bar off the concert hall. In the end, they had to put in a ramp,
Just to say that to have to "remove or alter a physical feature" does not require a responsible body to make admission possible seems a very weak excuse, particularly in view of the "reasonable requirements" stipulated by the DDA and the Disability Rights Commission.
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