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Lord Addington: My Lords, that was an answer which said, "Yes, it is good practice" and "Yes, in previous amendments we have decided that certain schools should let people specialise in subjects", which must mean they must know they are the right people to specialise in them. It is good practice. It should happen. To sensible people it will happen. But I cannot help but feel that there will be cases, particularly in adult education and probably in further education colleges when there are not interviews, that this will not take place. Perhaps one fills in a form which does not have the question on it. Although the answer that the noble Lord has given, and presumably is in Hansard, saying that this would be good practice has gone some way to answering this concern, I am not altogether happy. I shall have to consider the matter further. At the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, when I moved the amendment in Committee I made clear that I accepted the need for the qualification "substantial" to apply to disadvantage to a disabled person once admitted to a school, or, in a parallel amendment, to a college.
Much as we try to ameliorate disadvantage to a disabled person, there will always be some disadvantage. It may be that doors open the wrong way, fire doors are too heavy, corridors are difficult to negotiate or ramps are too steep. One hopes that all those issues will be reduced over time. While there
On admission to the school or college, the position is quite different. Yet the Bill uses the words "substantial disadvantage" for both admissions as well as participation in the school once admitted. Admissions means the procedure for being accepted into the school. Discrimination on the grounds of academic ability or other such specialism is permitted, so that everyone who does not have the required ability or aptitude is at a disadvantage. Discrimination on the grounds of age, single sex provision or religious denomination are all legitimate admissions criteria which schools can apply and which affect all applicants, disabled or not. There are no disadvantages in applying for and being accepted into the school which can or should apply to disabled applicants and not to all others; no disadvantages, not even minor or trivial examples.
It follows, therefore, that if in this clause we persist in qualifying the disadvantaged by referring to no "substantial disadvantage", that inevitably permits of less substantial disadvantage to the disabled when in fact there should not be any.
In searching for an example where a disabled applicant would have some disadvantage, when pressed in Committee by my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, suggested that where the entrance examination to a selective school was set for a particular day of the week and where the disabled applicant already had a commitment for that day of the week to attend somewhere else in connection with their disability, then that would be a disadvantage, but not a substantial disadvantage. That was a poor example. Indeed, it was not an example at all because instances arise where an applicant who is not disabled may contract flu and cannot attend. Arrangements are then made for the applicant to sit the test on another day. The same would apply to the disabled applicant. The applicants are on all fours in that respect.
There should be no situation so far as concerns admissions criteria where any difficulty or disadvantage is greater for the disabled applicant than for an applicant with no disability. Both should be treated the same and both should be treated equally on application for admission. I should say that this amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 125. I beg to move.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, as I explained in Committee, "substantial disadvantage" is the trigger for the duty on schools and post-16 institutions to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils or students.
This amendment would remove "substantial" from the trigger in respect of reasonable adjustments to admission arrangements only. It would create a two-tier reasonable adjustment duty. The trigger for adjustments to the provision of associated services would be "substantial disadvantage" while the trigger
The Disability Rights Task Force recommended that "substantial disadvantage" be the trigger for the reasonable adjustment duty. We accepted that recommendation and we do not wish to consider a new trigger, not even for the admissions part of the duty. Substantial disadvantage is already a relatively low level test. In the context of the Disability Discrimination Act, it means "more than minor or trivial". It is a trigger for the reasonable adjustment duty on employers and it is well understood and effective in that context. Admission to a school, college or university has similar characteristics to securing entry into employment such as selection tests, interviews and so forth. There is no reason to believe that "substantial disadvantage" would not work as well as in the admission arrangements in education just as it does in entry into employment.
In suggesting the removal of "substantial" in the trigger, the noble Baroness would create a situation where schools, FE and HE institutions would have to make reasonable adjustments to their admission arrangements, however slight or trivial was the disadvantage.
We are not legislating mere inconveniences. We are legislating to ensure that schools, colleges and universities help disabled pupils and students where there are real barriers to their participation in education; real difficulties beyond what any of us might be expected to put up with. Otherwise there would be no end to the potential for dispute and challenge. Schools and colleges would be dissipating their resources to deal with a myriad of minor difficulties instead of focusing on the bigger problems that really do need to be addressed.
I know that I have disappointed the noble Baroness on this issue. But we feel strongly about accepting the Disability Rights Task Force's recommendation that "substantial disadvantage" is the trigger for all of the reasonable adjustment duty. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not feel able to go down the road of making life as equal as possible in terms of discrimination as regards gaining access to colleges and educational establishments.
The noble Baroness said that this could give way to "minor or trivial" disadvantages. But if they are minor or trivial, the adjustments required to overcome them must also be fairly minor or trivial. Therefore, it seems to me that it is possible to address the smaller matters, and to go as far as possible to make sure that people with or without disabilities are not subject to discrimination in terms of access. It is a very different kettle of fish once a pupil is in an establishment; one is talking about something more substantial.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee, my amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, because I was unwell. My noble friend kindly read my speech to the Committee. The amendment received a great deal of support from Members of the Committee, but not from my noble friend the Minister. In rejecting the amendment, she said:
In replying, my noble friend the Minister said that she saw no need for the amendment. I think that she is badly mistaken. First, statements do not necessarily lead to satisfactory provision; and secondly, by no means all disabled children get statements. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has found that nearly 30 per cent of children with significant visual impairments progress through school without statements. Overall, one in three blind or partially sighted pupils do not receive test papers in their preferred format. Imagine that, my Lords--the wrong format, with children having to stand the test of examinations. That is the extent of the current failure to make proper provision. The objective of the amendment is to help non-statemented disabled children.
The amendment does not say that schools must provide aids and services for such children. But deleting the lines in question would change the atmosphere in a subtle but profound way. It would bring the provision back under the important, vital umbrella of "reasonable duty".
My noble friend said that she preferred a strategic arrangement with local educational authorities working in partnership with schools rather than seeking to require all 25,000 to make reasonable physical adjustments. No one said that we wanted to place this requirement on all 25,000 schools. I certainly did not say that and the amendment does not do so. So my noble friend is knocking down an Aunt Sally; something which in fact is not there and is a figment of her imagination. The amendment says no such thing. I have no theoretical objections to an LEA strategic approach so long as it is reasonable and gives disabled children an effective choice between schools that are not too far apart.
I hope my noble friend will recognise that in practice her approach will lead to inconsistencies and inequalities throughout the country. If one school caters for deafness and another for blindness, we will have segregation by yet another name. Amendment No. 74 provides better prospects for disabled children needing auxiliary aids. They need them and are entitled to them. My proposal will make it even better because it will be accompanied by a code of practice. I commend the amendment to the House and especially to my noble friend the Minister. I beg to move.
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