Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 16:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this brief amendment is a further attempt to clarify the meaning of part of the wording of the Bill.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said:

    "It is not our intention to prevent LEAs funding children in the independent sector if that is appropriate".--[Official Report, 23/1/01; col. CWH 48.]

I declare an interest as a trustee of the Caldecott Community, a residential therapeutic community for about 60 children, who are paid for in general by local authorities--and a great deal they pay too, about 75,000 a year, which shows what a difficult job it is to help those children.

I cannot see how that statement by the noble Lord can be reconciled with the words in the clause,

    "if the cost is met otherwise than by a local education authority".

The purpose of my amendment is to probe how those two statements can be reconciled. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, this amendment achieves almost exactly the same object as my Amendment 10. I warmly support it.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I, too, strongly support the substance of the amendment and the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. In Committee, the Minister said:

    "If parents decide to educate their children in an independent or non-maintained special school, that is a matter for them. If a school is named on a child's statement, or an LEA is satisfied that a child with special educational needs should attend a particular non-maintained school, then under Section 348 of the 1996 Act, the LEA is required to meet the fees".

That is fairly straightforward: it applies to a child with a statement. Why should a child with special educational needs without a statement, where it is appropriate to educate that child in a non-maintained school, be treated so differently? The Minister went on to say:

    "LEAs are also given the power to meet the fees of children attending specialised institutions outside England and Wales".

Does that mean Scotland, or Timbuktu? What exactly does it mean? The Minister continued:

    "In other cases, the financial burdens of that child's private education should not rest either in whole or in part with the taxpayer".

Presumably that means that no fee at all can fall on the taxpayer. There is no other way of interpreting that sentence.

    "LEAs should be required to fund places in non-maintained schools only where it is appropriate for a child's statement to name such a school, or the child's interests require that special educational provision be made for him at a non-maintained school, and the particular school is appropriate".

20 Feb 2001 : Column 634

I am reinforcing the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. In addition to a child with a statement, the Minister says that,

    "only where it is appropriate for a child's statement to name such a school, or"--

an alternative is given--

    "the child's interests"--

she does not say the child with or without a statement--

    "require that special educational provision be made for him at a non-maintained school, and the particular school is appropriate. Members of the Committee will agree that that preserves the efficient use of resources, and that has been the system up to now".--[Official Report, 23/1/01; CWH 54.]

If it says on the face of the Bill that a child can be placed in a non-maintained school but that the child is not prevented from being educated in an independent school or,

    "a school approved under Section 342, if the cost is met otherwise than by a local education authority",

that means that for a non-statemented child a local education authority will not be allowed in law to pay for a child, in whole or in part, in a non-maintained school.

If the noble Lord replies yet again that another part of a statute somewhere else will allow the LEA the freedom to pay, in whole or in part, for the non-maintained provision for a child without a statement, this provision is in conflict with that and it ought not to be on the face of the Bill. If the words on the face of the Bill mean that a child cannot be given a place, in part or in whole, in a non-maintained school, that is very regrettable.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it would be regrettable if that were the intent or the effect of the proposals before the House. I want to emphasise, and to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as I sought to do in Committee, that the reference point for proposed new Section 316A(3) provides that the whole of the new section will have no effect on the operation of Section 348 of the 1996 Act. That is the base upon which decisions are to be made. That Act was piloted through this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It contains provision for statemented and non-statemented children to have access to public support for attendance at non-maintained schools.

Proposed new Section 316A(3) makes sure that proposed new Section 316 will have no effect whatever on the operation of Section 348 of the 1996 Act. On that basis, I am able to give the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the assurances that he seeks. There is neither the intent nor the realisation of discrimination against the use of public funds to support a student in a non-maintained school where that is defined as appropriate.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 635

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I shall need to read in Hansard what he said. Clearly he is right, but the matter is deeply confusing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment. by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 17:

    Page 2, leave out line 17.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 17, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 to 21. This has to be a repetition of what happened in Committee, but we continue to be as confused now as we were then about so many of the amendments.

New Section 316A(2) says:

    "Section 316(2) does not require a child to be educated in a mainstream school during any period in which--

    (a) he is admitted to a special school for the purposes of an assessment under section 323 of his educational needs and his admission to that school is with the agreement of--

    (i) the local education authority,

    (ii) the head teacher of the school or, if the school is in Wales, its governing body".

Why should that be so? And why should it be with the agreement of,

    "any person whose advice is to be sought in accordance with regulations made under paragraph 2 of Schedule 26"?

I could go on. Those same people are invoked in paragraph (c) of that new subsection.

Why do all those people have such an influence over and above the one influence that matters--that of the parents--and the one consideration that matters; that is, what is appropriate and what is in the best interests of the child? All those named in that section should not have the right of veto.

If the child has been admitted to a special school, as the paragraph states, then the agreement of all concerned has already been sought and given, otherwise the child would not have been admitted to the special school. It is wrong to allow, as these subsections do, the local education authorities and the mainstream school head teachers to object. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the amendments in this group concern provisions for children who have special educational needs but who do not have a statement; in other words, the majority of pupils who have SEN.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 20 would mean that only parental permission would be needed in order to place a child without a statement in a special school, either during a statutory assessment or because of a change in their circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is repeating what she said in Committee; that is, that her purpose in tabling the amendment is in part to reduce bureaucracy and to ensure that time is not wasted. However, she also felt that all concerned with the child would already have been in agreement.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 636

I am sorry to say that there is not always the consensus that the noble Baroness assumes. She asked why other parties needed to be considered and to be at the centre of any agreement made. The reason is that parents' wishes are not necessarily always a reliable measure of the best interests of the child. We feel it is crucial that the step of placing a child without a statement outside the mainstream should be taken with the agreement of all parties--parents, LEAs, the head or governing body and other professionals; it should not be left solely to parental wishes.

Where a child has SEN, it can be traumatic for him and his parents. The SEN system may seem complex and parents sometimes need support and advice. We have no reason to believe that the existing arrangements are unnecessarily bureaucratic or timewasting. We set them out on the face of the Bill for clarity. Either unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally, the amendments relax the exceptional circumstances set out at new Section 316A(2). That could inhibit inclusion for children who would and should benefit from mainstream schooling, and that would be wrong.

Amendment No. 21 seeks to accommodate the wishes of the child before he is placed in a special school. As my noble friend Lord Davies said in Committee, the wishes of the child is a recurring theme and an important one that has implications for pupils beyond the scope of this Bill.

I can assure the House that the revised SEN code of practice, which will in due course be placed before Parliament for approval, will make absolutely clear that the views of the child should be taken into account wherever possible. Of course, that includes the statutory processes for making assessment and statements. Local education authorities and others will, by law, have to have regard to the guidance. We believe that to be the most appropriate way forward. I hope, in the light of my remarks, that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page