Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, our view is that Amendment No. 44 is unnecessary. Good teaching should involve the setting of objectives and monitoring how well a child is progressing against those objectives. That applies to the teaching of children with SEN as much as it does to the teaching of other children. In that regard I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 701

The current code of practice already advises schools that individual education plans (IEPs) for children at stages 2 and 3 of the school-based stages of the code should include,

    "targets to be achieved in a given time",

and "monitoring and assessment arrangements". Even at stage 1 of the current code, which we are proposing should be dropped when the revised version comes into effect, the code advises that in agreeing the aims of the SEN provision, teachers should record the targets which are to be achieved and the monitoring arrangements. The revised code, on which we consulted, also advises that IEPs should include short-term targets for the child. Practical guidance which will accompany the final version of the revised code will give further advice on the writing of IEPs. In addition, the current SEN regulations require statements of SEN to include objectives and monitoring arrangements to check progress on those objectives.

The amendment makes particular reference to monitoring progress on reading. Progress on reading is, of course, important for all children--I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in that regard. But we are already addressing this through the National Literacy Strategy.

Noble Lords will be interested to know that the teaching of reading among pupils with learning difficulties has been commented upon recently by the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, whose report, The National Literacy Strategy in Special Schools, noted that,

    "in all schools [in the survey] pupils had made at least sound progress in the development of their literacy skills".

The report concluded that,

    "teachers reported a marked improvement in the pupils' concentration, behaviour and attitudes to study, especially with regard to reading".

The strategy has had particularly beneficial effects for children with SEN. For example, we know from the National Literacy Project, which preceded the National Literacy Strategy, that children at the first two stages of the SEN code generally make the most gains, suggesting that the strategy may actually prevent some children from developing SEN.

In the light of what I said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: That reply was mostly helpful. I should certainly like to read carefully what the noble Baroness said. In Committee, I quoted from the letter written by David Blunkett to colleagues, which is worth repeating. He said:

    "We will also stress the need for statements to set out broad objectives against which the child's progress, and the provision being made, can be monitored and reviewed".

I link that point with the one made by my noble friend that, however difficult it is, progress should be measured against certain standards. That should not be beyond the wit of those with the professional expertise to accomplish it.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 702

Despite what the noble Baroness said about what has been achieved, we know that because expectations for children with special needs are not always as high as they should be, too many under-achieve. It is for that reason that the provision should be more formally stated somewhere. My amendment refers to the code of practice and, if I heard the noble Baroness correctly, that is exactly where the provision will go. So there will be something explicit in the code of practice.

My final point is a positive one. There are those who think that because children have special needs one should not bother with such aims and objectives for them. I argue the other way. I believe that such a measure can be one of the greatest motivators. My experience of visiting special schools is that working in partnership with schools to achieve some of the aims and objectives motivates families. Many young people with special needs work in partnership with the staff of the schools, parents, families and peer groups.

There is a strong argument for the amendment. I believe that the noble Baroness, if a nod will suffice, has agreed that my amendment will be accepted and will be included in the code of practice. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.45 p.m.

Clause 7 [Duty to inform parent where special educational provision made]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 45:

    Page 6, line 5, at beginning insert--

("( ) The parent of a child for whom no statement is maintained under section 324 shall be informed before special educational provision is made for him.
( ) If the parent objects to such provision being made as being unnecessary or inappropriate, the dispute shall be resolved as provided for in section 3 of this Act, and until it is resolved, the special educational provision shall not be made.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 45, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 46 and 47.

These amendments seek not only to put parents in the picture, but to restore their responsibility for their children. We trust that this House, the Government, local authorities and schools all have the best interests of the child in mind. We should have liked that to be included in the Bill. We even risk being paternalistic in our efforts to help children with special needs. Such compassion, however, must not obscure the fundamental fact, which some may find uncomfortable but which in a free society remains paramount, that the prime responsibility for a child rests not with the school, the local authority, the Government or the House, but with the parents. If there are no parents, the legal guardians are responsible.

We can advise and cajole a parent as to what we think is in the best interests of that child, but we must not take away the legal and the moral authority of a parent to decide what is best for his or her child. Only in certain extreme circumstances of parental abuse or

20 Feb 2001 : Column 703

neglect does the law provide for the state to take away that parental responsibility. It therefore follows that no matter how inconvenient it might be for the school, the child psychologist, or anyone else for that matter, the parent should first be informed of any educational provision that is related to perceived special educational needs before that special education is applied to the child. The parent should be entitled to challenge and, if necessary, object to such provision if, for whatever reason, the parent disapproves. We might all disagree with the parent's judgment, but we are not entitled to substitute our own judgment for that of the parents. As I said, only in extreme circumstances does the law allow us to override parental responsibility.

My first amendment simply seeks to write into the Bill that the parent must be informed before provision is made and must be entitled to object and until the objection is resolved, the provision should not be made.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, made quite a chilling reply and I found it even more chilling when I read it again in Hansard. The noble Lord said:

    "The problem with the amendments is that they appear to give parents the right to object to special educational provision to meet their children's needs".

Later on, the noble Lord said:

    "However, it cannot be right that parents should be given a veto over the SEN provision that schools make for their children".--[Official Report, 29/1/01; col. CWH 124.]

What if that provision turns out to be inappropriate or even downright wrong? Those remarks are almost Stalinist in the way they read in Hansard. The noble Lord's problem seems to be that parents may have the right to object to what they consider to be unnecessary, unhelpful or just plain wrong. But neither I nor the noble Lord has the right to trample on parents' rights which are important. No matter how inconvenient it may be to the professionals in the case and in the light of the noble Lord's reply in Committee, I emphasise all the more strongly that this amendment is necessary to restore parental rights so that they are given back their full responsibilities.

The related amendments in other clauses do the very same thing: they restore parents' rights, first, to be informed and, secondly, to give their approval to such provision.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, these amendments would hamper schools, nursery education providers and pupil referral units from making speedy responses to children's newly identified SEN and would trammel the exercise of teachers' professional judgment.

I repeat what my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham said in Committee. They would give parents a veto over the SEN provision to be made for their child. Were they to be accepted, they would establish arrangements whereby the SEN provision that children need would be at least delayed and could be denied because, for whatever reason, the parents have said that their children should not have it. They assume that in each and every case, parents'

20 Feb 2001 : Column 704

understanding of their children's educational needs is more fully informed and well-founded than that of their children's teachers.

Regrettably, I do not believe that that is always the case. We must look to teachers and schools, working in accordance with the guidance that they receive from the SEN code, to identify children's special educational needs and intervene as soon as possible to ensure that difficulties can be addressed, if possible, before they become deep-seated. If parents object to their children being identified as having SEN because, perhaps, they feel that some stigma is attached to it, we should look to teachers and schools to work constructively with parents to address those concerns and to provide the reassurance that they seek--that the provision being made really is in the best interests of their child.

The noble Baroness is concerned to ensure that parents know that their child has learning difficulties and are able to challenge any special provision that schools propose to make. The point of Clause 7 is precisely to ensure that the current position where a school can be making special provision for a child's SEN without the parents knowing about it will be a thing of the past. I very much accept that that is a desirable step forward.

The code has a fundamental principle that,

    "the knowledge, views and experience of parents are vital",

in ensuring that children's needs are met. It is because we support that principle that we are ensuring that all parents will be informed when their child is identified as having SEN and provision is being made for them.

When schools inform parents, that will give parents the opportunity to comment on the provision that is being made and to raise any concerns that they have with the school. Clause 7 allows for speedy intervention and parental input. We should expect schools and other settings to inform parents as they begin to make special provision, and not some time afterwards.

In Grand Committee, the noble Baroness drew back from saying that parents should be able to object to the provision being proposed for their child by saying that there should be a form of informal resolution procedure. Clause 3 of the Bill already provides for the resolution of disputes between schools and parents over the provision made for children.

However, as I understand it, the noble Baroness is suggesting that resort to these resolution dispute procedures should be made in every case where the parents object to the suggested provision, and that such disputes should be resolved through the procedures before the provision is made. That would introduce an unnecessary level of bureaucracy into the arrangements. In every case, the school would have formally to notify the parents that it intends to make special provision, give the parents time to consider whether they want to challenge the provision and then wait to see whether the parents wish to do so.

Through the passage of the Bill, noble Lords opposite have spoken of the need to avoid unnecessary delay; indeed, that is something that the Government

20 Feb 2001 : Column 705

also wish to avoid. However, I believe that this amendment would introduce delay. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page