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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It is my understanding that, as with all qualifications, in particular the WJEC ones, they would be approved. If I am proved to be wrong on that, I shall write to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord said: There is considerable interest in educational circles in Wales about regional provision for children with special educational needs. We already have some such schools, which draw pupils from outside the local LEA boundary, and their services are highly regarded. It is unclear how the parents of SEN children fare in that arrangement. They obviously incur costs if they transport their children long distances to attend special schools. My concern is that such costs should be recognised and, if possible, met. There is no mention of parental costs in the proposals. The purpose of the amendment is to draw attention to them.
If those regional special education schools are established to cater for children in two or more authority areas, to what extent will the parents' costs be met, especially the costs of those who live at the extremities of the region? I need not remind the Minister that there are some very large regions in WalesPowys, for example, is 150 miles from one end to the other. We must ensure that those parents are not disadvantaged.
Amendment No. 344 relates to Clause 189, which deals with the provision of information that may assist parents to choose schools for their children. Increased public awareness of the quality of education provided at a school assists in assessing the efficiency of a school's management. The clause takes a very guarded
The likelihood is that if one is a parent choosing a school, one's ability to compare school performances will be confined to schools in one's local authority area. Bearing in mind that Wales has 22 LEAs covering 3 million people, the areas are quite small and schools within a particular LEA are, frankly, much of a muchness, with some notable exceptions among secondary schools.
The amendment would counter what I shall call the guarded approach to the provision of information about schools. The public generally, as well as parents, have a right to know about the schools in their area, especially if they are council tax payers and potential employers. It would also be salutary if some knowledge was available about how local schools stand in comparison with similar schools elsewhere. Some schools might be encouraged by such comparisons to improve themselves and to raise their standards. A little competition between schools is not at all bad; it exists in any case, especially at the local level, and might be turned to good purpose. I beg to move.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I shall speak first to Amendment No. 343. Under Clause 185, the National Assembly for Wales may direct the LEA or governing body of a school to exercise its existing statutory powers to bring forward proposals for the establishment, alteration or discontinuance of schools in order to secure that regional provision is made for children with special educational needs.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, emphasised that he was concerned about any costs that may fall on parents. The aim of this clause is to ensure that all costs of any proposals made in pursuance of a direction under the clause fall to the relevant LEA with regard to the establishment and funding of such regional centres, irrespective of the category of school. The intention is to avoid an individual governing body having to bear the costs of implementing proposals which relate to the reorganisation of regional facilities.
Therefore, I suggest that the noble Lord's amendment is misconceived. Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act is concerned with the cost of implementing statutory proposals as between LEAs and governing bodies. None of those costs falls to be borne by parents.
However, the noble Lord referred specifically to transport costs. As he is well aware, I knowoccasionally to my cost late at nightthe length of the county of Powys. We anticipate that all children who are likely to require placement in a regional facility will have severe and complex special educational needs. Such children and young people would be in possession of a statement of special educational needs. As such, the vast majority of costs associated with
Under the 1977 Scholarships and Benefits Regulations, as revised under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Payment of School Expenses Regulations 1999, local authorities have the discretionary power to grant assistance to parents who are unable to meet school uniform costs.
With regard to Amendment No. 344, I understand the reason that the noble Lord tabled that amendment. I believe that there is very little difference between what we and the noble Lord are seeking to achieve with Clause 189. The origin of the clause is in the Welsh Assembly's desire to ensure that qualifying materialthat is, informationpublished by LEAs and the governing bodies of maintained schools in Wales includes comparative and contextual information and that it is available to the public. The clause, as drafted, enables that to happen.
Following consultation and compliance with the Welsh Assembly's procedures for approving subordinate legislation, all LEAs and schools in Wales will be required to publish qualifying material on the same basis. The material will encompass the assessment and examination results of each school and a range of value-added indicators placing each school's results in context.
Parents will be able to obtain the results of all schools for which their children are prospective pupils, and further afield if they wish, and make fair and direct comparisons of the standards attained in each school. Other members of the public will be able to do the same.
Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, need have no fear: there is no intention of withholding the information from the public. In fact, the opposite applies. All LEAs and schools will publish meaningful and useful material on the same basis. That will help parents to choose a school for the children, increase public awareness of the quality and standards of education and assist in assessing how well schools manage resources. With those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on these two amendments. I am particularly reassured that parental costs will be met if the parents have children who attend these proposed regional centres.
The noble Baroness said that if the children were statementedif I may use that descriptionthen, of course, such costs would be covered by the statement. Children in Walesan all-party group involving both Housesrecently reported that not all children received statements and much work had yet to be done on encouraging LEAs to ensure that parents were aware of their right to have children statemented.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I will certainly look into the matter more deeply but the all-party group reported that LEAs in Wales do not always provide statements where they are required and that progress needs to be made in that sphere. I am grateful for the Minister's comments about the qualifying material and her assurances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Clause 191 deals with the transition of children from primary to secondary school and gives power to the National Assembly to require the governors of secondary schools and their feeder primary schools to draw up plans to ease the transition. Regard has to be paid to guidance given by the National Assembly.
The amendments highlight the need to take parental wishes into account and make the choice of school by parents a reality. There is no mention of parental wishes in the clause, which is entirely devoted to the administrative convenience of the education system. I thought that we had moved beyond the straitjacket of fixed catchment areas and similar rigidities towards greater flexibility and parental choice. Here we are moving back in time, under the guise of easing the transition from one type of school to another. Is there more to the easement provided than administrative convenience?
Subsection (5) makes it clear that governing bodies and head teachers must have regard to plans when discharging their functions. Clause 191 is a further tightening of the screw. Plans seem to matter more than the well being of the individual child. I beg to move.
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