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Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, before the Minister concludes, I should like to thank her for what she has just said and for giving us such helpful information. I require some further information, but perhaps the noble Baroness could respond to me in writing. We are talking about important people. I should like further information as to who appoints them, who will employ them, and so on.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness was helpful with that response. Again, it was slightly more unequivocal this time than it was previously. The noble Baroness picked up a point from what I said during the last stage of the Bill. I refer to the issue of partiality. You can have someone who is independent but you can also have someone who is partial. The example that I should like to put forward is that you could have someone who is publicly known as a fiercely strong supporter of integration at all costs. I have certainly received at least one missive from a part of the special needs sector saying, "Please support the eventual abolition of independence of specialist schools". Therefore, someone could be on record as holding that view: conversely, you could have someone who holds entirely the opposite view and who believes that all children should be in special schools and not in mainstream schools.

The idea is to ensure that the independence goes a little further than someone who has the material contact, or a conflict of interest, with the local authority and/or a child. It is a matter of making sure that the partiality--the philosophical view that that person holds--is a case in point. I should point out to the Minister that some people who have been appointed by the Government over the past three years have very publicly known philosophical views about education and are in positions of judgment on local authorities. That creates an atmosphere of mistrust among people receiving those services. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Unopposed appeals]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 8:

( ) If an appeal is treated as determined in favour of the appellant as a result of subsection (2), the Tribunal is not required to make any order.").

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 6, line 5, at beginning insert--

(""Special educational provision: dispute resolution.
317ZA.--(1) 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.
(2) 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, the amendment now before us deals with something about which I feel most strongly. In fact, after re-reading what was said during the last stage of the Bill, I believe that my point has been overlooked. The main thrust of the Government's argument was that it would cause delay and, therefore, provision for a child would be delayed.

I believe that it would be very much a minority of parents who find themselves in this position. However, I have in mind a situation where the actual drafting of a statement has taken so long, or is taking so long, that the parent scrapes together enough resources and manages to find a third party who will make special provision for the child in an independent school in the interim. However, the parents have, all along, wanted a mainstream place for the child. Finally, when the decision is made, the mainstream place has not been kept open because the authority wishes to fill it and because provision has been made in the independent sector, albeit that the parents can barely afford it or are making enormous sacrifices in order to sustain it. But nevertheless they would still like a place in a mainstream school. The LEA may disregard that. I am speaking to the wrong amendments. I am speaking to my next group of amendments.

I shall now address Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 which concern giving information to parents of children for whom no statement is made. We all know--many of us have had children in this position--of cases where a school identifies that a child has special educational needs which fall short of needing a statement. A typical example is a child who is having real difficulties learning to read. The school may decide that, given the difficulties that the child is experiencing, the child will be withdrawn from mainstream classes on a regular basis. Help is brought in from outside to help that child in special classes and the child is later fed back into the mainstream class.

If special provision is to be made by a school for a child for whom no statement is maintained, the parent has a right to be told that that provision will be made. Often children who have difficulties learning to read are sensitive. It is important to discuss the fact that a child is to be withdrawn for special provision. I should have thought it goes without saying that the parent should be informed of that. If the parent has an objection to that, it is right that that objection should be heard. That process does not have to take a long time. A school can inform a parent that it is worried about a child and plans to make special provision for

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that child and would like to discuss the matter. If a parent disagrees with that, at least the informal resolution procedures can be used to establish what is in the best interests of the child. It is important to have that information. I should like to see that measure on the face of the Bill. I do not believe--as the noble Lord claimed at the previous stage of the Bill--that such a process would cause unnecessary delays for the child. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I said on Report, we would expect schools to inform parents at the time they begin making SEN provision so that if parents have concerns they can make them known early in that process. In that respect we are at one with the noble Baroness. I recall that on Report the phrase "Stalinist" was used with regard to our approach to these issues. I sought to rebut that remark on that occasion. I emphasise again today that, of course, we take seriously the interest of parents in the education of their children. The whole purpose of Clause 7 is to ensure that parents are aware that special provision is being made for their children so that they can contribute to that process and raise any concerns that they may have. However, our approach differs from that of the noble Baroness in that we believe that there has to be a sensible balance between parents' rights to express a view on their children's education and the obligations of schools to meet children's special educational needs.

Parents of course have an important role to play in the education of all children, not just those with special educational needs. But except in particular circumstances--for example, in relation to sex education--parents do not have a statutory right to exempt their children from provision. Teachers do not have to agree their lesson plans with parents before taking classes. Were this group of amendments to be accepted, parents of children with SEN but without statements would be given exceptional responsibility in deciding the provision made for their children.

To point that out is not to be dismissive of the role parents can and should play in the education of their children. However, I cannot agree with the way in which the noble Baroness emphasised--as she did on Report--that the parent

    "should be entitled to challenge and, if necessary, object to such provision if, for whatever reason, the parent disapproves".

That is not a balanced approach. The noble Baroness referred to abusing or neglectful parents who would be debarred from objecting to such provision. However, the amendments make no provision for that. Nevertheless, she suggests that all other parents affected by the provisions of Clause 7 should be able to object to the SEN provision for their children if they consider that provision--as she said--

    "to be unnecessary, unhelpful or just plain wrong".

The amendments would not only allow parents to object but would also allow them to prevent the provision being made until their objections are resolved. Unfortunately it is not just abusing or neglectful parents who can misjudge their children's best interests. What would a school be expected to do

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in such a circumstance, sit on its hands and leave a child's special needs unaddressed because "for whatever reason" a parent disapproves of the special provision that the school proposes? Of course, where parents have special concerns--

Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is exactly what the Government are doing in new Section 316(3). They are saying that if the parent does not want the special provision to be made it shall not be made. If the Government think that that is how the matter should be dealt with, why not be consistent?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, contrary to what the noble Lord asserts, I maintain that the Government are being consistent. We are considering the identification of special needs and the way in which a school responds to that. The group of amendments that we are discussing concern that early phase of the process. I merely contend that at that stage it is important that a school should be able to consider the interests and views of parents. However, the decision to be taken on the provision of special educational needs should not be delayed unnecessarily, if only because--as I think the noble Lord would recognise--some special educational needs may require substantial provision. We also seek to ensure that there is adequate provision in schools for those whose special educational needs are fairly minor. Yet these amendments would establish a substantial degree of bureaucracy in cases where a school was taking relatively minor decisions on a child's educational needs.

We are discussing the provision of education within a school. The noble Lord discussed the type of school, not the provision being made within a school. We are now discussing the education being provided within a school. We contend that the amendments, if accepted, would introduce an imbalance into a situation where one has to balance the needs of parents with the proper provision of education. A school, of course, also has considerable obligations in that regard.

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