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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it will be recognised from my reply to a previous debate that I am sympathetic to the case which the noble Lord has outlined. As I said earlier, LEAs will not cut children adrift. Those who are being educated in the way in which the noble Lord described, for example, awaiting the possibility of a statement and being educated under a parent's decision, do not disqualify themselves or devalue their position in respect of the responsibilities of the local authority.

When a proposed statement is issued or reviewed, or an LEA proposes to change the name, type of school or provision specified in the statement, the LEA must not name a school in Part IV of the proposed statement. Parents have the right to express a preference. It may be that they would wish the local authority to support the student in the placement that the noble Lord outlined, and they may succeed in persuading the local authority that that is the best way in which a child's education should continue. The LEA is obliged to consider that parental position before naming the school. If parents have made their own suitable arrangements, no school will be named.

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If the amendment were accepted, LEAs, knowing that parents wanted to make their own alternative arrangements-- home education, for example--would have to go through the process of naming the school in the statement, including consulting schools, so that the parent could then fail to take up the place, as everyone knew they would. Such parents would have chosen another strategy, and all the while the place that was available via the statement would have been denied to another child.

That is why we vest considerable responsibility in the LEA. Of course, I recognise the circumstances that the noble Lord outlined about parents taking an alternative course of action. I am seeking to reassure him that that does not reduce in any way the significance of the child's case. The local authority must consider it in the same way it would consider any other child with comparable needs. I hope that, given my assurance, the noble Lord may feel that he can withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas: I found the Minister saying everything that I hoped he would, except the final answer. Perhaps we can continue this discussion separately, as there must be some agreement somewhere. If the local authority does not have to name a school, and my child is in an independent school, awaiting the statement, how can I make the transition? There will be no school for my child to go to. How can I take her out of independent schooling? I may be desperately running out of money and waiting and waiting for the local authority to offer a school but it is under no obligation to do so. It does not even have to begin the process of naming a school until I have taken my child out of private education. Therefore, there must be a hiatus of six months, a year, two years, during which my child is not educated, between my money running out and her being found a school by the local education authority. That is not an acceptable way of doing things.

There must be some mechanism whereby I can declare to the local authority that I will accept a statement; whereby it is clear that what I am doing is only a temporary measure until the local authority makes the provision. Therefore, I can avoid my child being dropped into a position of not being properly looked after for a couple of years.

I understand everything that the Minister is saying but I am sure that he must agree that it is very unsatisfactory. The local authority does not escape the rest of its obligations but it does not have to provide a school. There is the statement but there is no school to go to. There is no place. There is nowhere my child can go. I must wait until my money runs out and then keep her at home for a couple of years until the local authority provides a place. That is not satisfactory. There must be a better way. Unless it is possible to resolve the issue, I shall return to it at Third Reading. But for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 not moved.]

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11 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 64:

    After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--

("Amendment of statement of special educational needs
Amendment of statement of special educational needs

. Schedule (Amendment to statement of special educational needs) makes further provision concerning the rights of parents and others where a statement of special educational needs is amended.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendments in this group tabled in my name respond to amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and substantially meet her concerns. They amend Schedule 27 to the Education Act 1996 to give parents the right to a meeting with the LEA to discuss proposed changes to their child's statement following any reassessment or periodic review--typically an annual review; require LEAs to make arrangements for parents to express a preference for a maintained school, including a maintained special school whenever changes are proposed to their child's statements following a reassessment and where changes are proposed in relation to the type of school or named school following a periodic review.

These amendments address the problem that the noble Baroness highlighted of parents of children who were assessed when they were very young having limited opportunities to express a preference for a maintained school. They greatly increase those opportunities. They will also ensure that maintained schools which LEAs are considering naming in a statement receive a copy of the proposed statement or proposed amended statement for that child as part of the consultation process.

We have consulted separately on a proposed change to the Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1994 which would require LEAs to amend the statement for a child transferring schools by 15 February in the school year prior to the transfer. That will give parents time to express their preference for a maintained school and, if necessary, have an appeal heard by the SEN tribunal before their child is due to start at the new school.

Amendments Nos 162, 163 and 164 make minor technical amendments to Schedules 7 and 8 to the Bill as a consequences of the changes brought about by Amendment No. 152. I must make clear that we have overlooked making some consequential amendments necessary as a result of the changes proposed to Schedule 27 and we shall bring those forward at Third Reading.

At this point, since we are considering amendments moved in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, I must point out that we have considered further an amendment moved by the noble Baroness in Committee concerning professional advice sought for statutory assessments. The amendment would have placed a duty on LEAs to seek advice for statutory assessments on the nature of a child's special educational needs and on the type and amount of special educational provision to meet them.

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Having reflected on the points raised during the debate and discussed them further with the noble Baroness, we remain of the view that the current regulations governing LEAs' duties are clear and do not need to be amended. They already require that advice should relate to the educational, medical, psychological or other features relevant to a child's educational needs and the provision that is appropriate in the light of those features. Professionals giving advice can, therefore, already comment on the nature of a child's special educational needs and the amount, as well as the type, of provision that they consider appropriate.

We do not believe that it is right to go further and require every person giving advice for an assessment to state a recommended amount of provision in every case; that must depend upon individual circumstances. None the less, we understand the concerns expressed by noble Lords, and wish to offer reassurance. We shall enhance the guidance on assessments in the revised SEN code of practice by setting out specifically the statutory requirements that LEAs must follow when seeking the advice to which I referred. The revised code of practice will advise that LEAs should make those requirements clear when they seek advice. It will also make clear that those giving advice can comment on the amount of provision that they consider appropriate for a child.

During Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, expressed concern that LEAs were preventing educational psychologists from producing independent and meaningful reports for assessments. We have no evidence to show that that is the case; nor did the research that we completed recently on The Current Role, Good Practice and Future Directions of Educational Psychology Services (England) reveal any concern about the integrity and independence of educational psychologists. To recognise noble Lords' concerns, we shall state in the revised code of practice that LEAs should not have blanket policies that prevent those giving advice for assessments from commenting on the amount of provision that they consider a child requires. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was going to speak to his amendment that seeks to amend the schedule--

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I was going to wait for my amendment to be called.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon.

I should like to give a very big welcome for these government amendments, which, as the noble Baroness said, will greatly strengthen parents' rights to express a preference for the school. I have to say that

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IPSEA (the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice), of which I am a member, says that this will make a great difference to a large number of children with statements, and their parents.

Perhaps I may, prematurely, support Amendment No. 153, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I supported his amendment in Grand Committee, although I believe that it is slightly changed in its present form. I hope that the Minister will look kindly upon it. Nevertheless, I trust that the noble Lord will not press it this evening because I believe that these government amendments are hugely welcome. I would hate to see them put at risk in any way.

I turn to the Minister's statement about professionals' reports, which, as she said, was in response to an amendment that I moved in Grand Committee. I am most grateful for the meeting that we had with Jacqui Smith. I know that the Minister intended to be present. It was an extremely useful meeting. I am very grateful that the Government have reflected, listened and gone a good long way towards meeting my concerns. As the noble Baroness said, professionals will know that they can include in their reports the type and amount of provision required. I understand that the Minister has to be cautious, but I also welcome her statement that it would be wrong for any LEA to prevent a professional from including that advice in a report. I am really delighted with the government amendments, which will make a huge difference to hundreds of children.

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