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Baroness Blackstone: Amendments Nos. 126 and 128A, which I shall take together, would place specific duties on Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools to report to the Secretary of State on the accessibility plans for children with disabilities and the policies and provisions for SEN drawn up by schools and LEAs, and require the Secretary of State to monitor the performance of LEAs against specified indicators. So it is the Government's view that these amendments are necessary and I hope that I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the reassurance that she seeks. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools already has the power to advise the Secretary of State at any time on any matter related to the provision of education and a duty to provide advice and support on such matters as the Secretary of State specifies in a request to him. Ofsted inspectors evaluate and report on the quality and range of opportunities for learning provided by a school for all its pupils, including those with SEN and disabilities. They also consider a school's policies and plans, including its SEN policy, which will include information on how resources are allocated among pupils with special educational needs.
The Secretary of State can use his powers under Section 2 of the Schools Inspections Act 1996 and Section 38 of the Education Act 1997 to require a report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools on any school or LEA functions relating to education. Noble Lords will remember that I gave a commitment last Tuesday that, once the Bill is enacted, the Government will ask him to look at the impact on inclusion of the provisions of new Section 316(3), to be inserted in the 1996 Act by Clause 1. We will expect Ofsted to take account of how schools are implementing the guidance contained in the revised SEN code of practice in future inspections.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector already has the power to inspect LEAs. SEN is one of the core activities of an Ofsted LEA inspection. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has said that it may not currently be one of their strongest areas. We hope that this Bill will rectify this and lead to improvements.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has already said, Government Amendments Nos. 116 and 121, which have just been agreed, will provide for the normal inspection framework for schools to cover functions that relate to accessibility plans. That includes their preparation, their quality and their implementation. Amendment No. 115 would secure a similar effect for inspections of LEAs. I hope that having heard my reassurances, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendments.
Amendment No. 127 would impose a specific duty on LEAs, when carrying out their duties under Section 127(6) of the School Standards and Framework Act, to take into account the same range of factors as in Amendments Nos. 126 and 128A. Again, the amendment seems to be unnecessary.
The duty imposed on LEAs by the School Standards and Framework Act to promote high standards of education for all pupils covers children with special educational needs and disabilities. LEAs already take the factors set out in Amendment No. 127 into account when carrying out those duties. They will be able to do the same in relation to the new duties under Clause 13, when they come into effect. On request, a school must provide any information required by the LEA to discharge its functions. LEAs have the right to inspect any of their maintained schools to enable them to exercise any of those functions, although they would generally be able to obtain the information they needed without using that power.
Maintained schools are accountable through their governing bodies to their maintaining authority and to parents. The noble Baroness was concerned about the allocation of resources in schools for special educational needs. However, school governing bodies have to use their best endeavours to ensure that children with SEN get the help called for by their learning difficulties. They must report to parents on how they do that and publish comprehensive information about their SEN policies, including how resources are allocated for children with SEN, as well as how they evaluate the success of the education that they provide for those children.
LEAs have statutory duties to identify, assess and provide for children with SEN and to keep their arrangements under review. They, too, are required to publish a range of information about their SEN provision. We propose that it should be enhanced by information on their SEN policies and plans for providing SEN support and the arrangements of what schools might be expected to provide from their budgets for SEN.
We propose to enhance the guidance in the final version of the revised SEN code of practice, to which the noble Baroness also referred, to bring together, highlight and provide guidance on the strategic roles and responsibilities of both schools and LEAs for children with SEN, including their responsibilities in relation to funding.
We will cross refer to the separate duties they will have for increasing the physical accessibility to school premises and the curriculum to people with disabilities, and highlight the role played by other partners. This should provide a better understanding, particularly among parents, of who is responsible for what, as well as helping to secure greater monitoring and accountability for SEN.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for her full reply. She spelt out a good deal more of the Government's thinking underlying monitoring and inspection of the special educational needs and disability provisions. I am also glad to have her reassurance that with the revision of the special educational needs code of practice we shall have cross-reference between the two codes. That will be extremely useful.
I do not think that the Minister mentioned the Government thinking on special educational needs information regulations. I wondered whether anything could be added to that. The noble Baroness may like to write to me about that issue. We shall look carefully at what she said and thank her very much. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 128B is a paving amendment. However, I wish to take advantage of the reference to maintained schools by asking the noble Baroness one question. Would it not be more efficient in the maintained sector for an LEA, with a group of schools in one area to allow some schools to specialise? Some schools might be allowed to specialise in children with mobility problems or others in children with audio or visual problems. That seems a less expensive and
Amendment No. 129ZA relates to independent schools. The Independent Schools Council is not entirely happy about the aspects of this Bill which relate to accessibility. I set down several amendments in that context last Tuesday.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a number of questions. This is a probing amendment. First, may independent schools charge for extra services which are supplied? The independent school with which I am familiar has a considerable reputation for dealing with children with dyslexia and Asperger's syndrome. The school could not cope with 30 per cent of that kind of pupil unless the parents could pay for the extra teachers for dyslexia whom the school employs.
My second question is this: who will pay? Most independent schools are non-profit making organisations. Therefore the reality is that, however one looks at it, if the parents of children who have the problem are not paying, the other parents will have to pay. While it is reasonable that other parents should be asked to make a donation or a voluntary contribution, I am not sure what is the position in relation to human rights if other parents are forced to pay the cost of what might be expensive alterations and so on, or extra staff.
Does any of the £220 million to which the noble Lord referred for the schools access initiative go to independent schools? Finally, what sanction is there against independent schools if they fall behind in carrying out their access policy? Who would that hit? Would it hit the governors, the parents or the children? Who goes to prison? That is the ultimate bottom line. That is a question to which I do not know the answer. I beg to move.
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