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Lord Davies of Oldham: I must admit that that is a question to which I do not know the direct answer. Indeed, I am unlikely to receive immediate help from the Box on such indirect questions. Obviously, the
As I understand the position under the law, it is the parents who take responsibilitywith certain particular exceptionsfor any actions that a child carries out when he or she is outside the school gates or on public transport
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: At this hour of the morning I should just thank the Minister for his response. I am sorry that Amendments Nos. 379A and 379B would be quite so sweeping in their effect. I had not appreciated that they were not quite appropriate. However, the present situation is unsatisfactory, and that applies also to Schedule 19 and the attendant clause in the Bill. It is not clear whose responsibility it is to provide such transport.
Colleges have been shelling out substantial funds, which are all too scarce, to meet this need. Young people will not be encouraged to stay on in education after the compulsory leaving age in such circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke about rural areas. I should point out that the cost of public transport these days, even within relatively urban areas, is substantial. For example, if one travels from one side of Guildford to the other in order to attend a college, it can easily cost £3 each way. That soon piles up each week to become a great deal of money.
At present, such costs are met in a very higgledy-piggledy way; but they are undoubtedly a disincentive to young people to attend courses. This is a very real problem, and one that needs to be considered more seriously than is the case with the Government at the moment. However, at this time of the morning I shall not pursue the matter further.
Lord Carter: Before the noble Lord decides what to do with his amendment, I should tell him that I was struck by his opening remarks as regards his difficulty in drafting the amendment. I remember experiencing similar problems during my 10 years on the Opposition Benches. I am reliably informed that if the noble Lord visits the Library of the House and consults Butterworths "Law Direct", he will find that most helpful. Alternatively, the noble Lord could speak to the ever-helpful staff in the Public Bill Office
Lord Lucas: Yes, that is a possibility. Unfortunately, I cannot bring such material with me into the Chamber to enable me to react appropriately to what the Minister may say in response to the amendment.
The Minister was given an extremely obtuse and unhelpful brief; indeed, it is by far the worst that I have listened to this evening. It almost deliberately set out not to address the questions addressed by the amendments. On those rare moments when the noble Lord allowed himself to ad lib, he talked the purest of sense. In his last answer to my noble friend Lady Blatch, it was clear that he understands what school transport means in Amendment No. 348: it means transport under the terms of Section 509 of the 1996 Act which is provided by the local authoritythe school bus. The Minister's reply to me on that amendment was entirely concerned with what would happen on public transport, which is nothing to do with the amendment. It requires the most extraordinary twist of meaning to occupy the whole of the noble Lord's reply.
I am most disappointed with the Minister's brief. I shall not pursue Amendment No. 348. In his response to my noble friend Lady Blatch, the noble Lord almost implied that he understood that behaviour on school buses was the responsibility of the school. If that is the case, I am happy with the position. Indeed, he could have given me a very short answer just to say, "Yes, it is already there in the statute book". I should have been very happy with that. Having received two opposite answers from the noble Lord this evening, I shall resist the chance to pursue the matter. However, if the noble Lord can decide which of the two is the truth, I shall be delighted.
The Minister failed to answer my questions on Amendment No. 347. My principal question was whether the powers under Clause 2 would allow such an amendment to this part of the Education Act 1996; in other words, can a local authority come to the Department for Education and Skills and discuss how this part of the 1996 Act might be adapted to allow it to produce an innovative scheme on local transport? I would be grateful for an answer before I withdraw the amendment.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I regret that the noble Lord does not find my answers on his amendments sufficient. Those are the answers I am able to give him this evening. If he wishes to be in correspondence with me before Report, I shall seek to give him further answers.
The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 351, 353, 355 and 357, all of which would extend the new improved transport provision in Schedule 19 for people of sixth form age to disabled people up to the age of 25 and preferably beyond.
Schedule 19 is most welcome for its increased transport provision and for the new requirement on LEAs to produce transparent and full policy statements on their transport provision, including arrangements for persons of sixth form age and disabled persons. I understand that guidance notes for the Act are to state that cost and availability will not be valid reasons to deny transport. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that.
I should declare that I am president of SKILLthe National Bureau for Students with Disabilities. It warmly welcomes the measures but feels that the clauses do not go far enough. It is continually hearing of disabled people of 19 and overthose beyond sixth form agewho are denied access to further education because of the lack of appropriate transport or funding for transport.
That is an issue for all disabled adults, but above all for young disabled adults up to the age of 25 whose education has been slower for one reason or another. For example, many young people with severe and complex learning difficulties stay at school until they are 19. Some of them are then unable to access further education because they are too old to receive LEA-funded transport.
I have findings from two three-year research projects managed by SKILL. The first, in conjunction with Cambridge University, is looking at needs of adults with profound and complex learning difficulties. The second, funded by the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, is looking at the needs of young people from a south Asian background with learning difficulties. Both projects show the urgent need for appropriate transport provision for both those groups of learners.
Adults with profound and complex learning difficulties are completely unable to access public transport. Those from a south Asian background have expressed over and over again that the main barrier to their going to classes is a fear of travelling independently. Their parents have reiterated those fears. That is particularly true for young Asian females with learning difficulties. Both groups of learners are significantly under-represented in further education. SKILL's research has shown that representation will not increase unless transport for people with learning difficulties is substantially improved. Delivery needs to be flexible, imaginative and centred on the needs of learners.
In a sense this is a probing amendment because I have a nasty feeling it is in the wrong place, but it is serious in its intent. Therefore, I hope the Minister will give an encouraging response on how the Government may be able to make FE a reality for those groups of people. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for sharing her keen interest in the area and raising these important issues in relation to disabled people and people with learning difficulties. We share her concerns but we do not see the current legislation as the appropriate vehicle for addressing it. Clause 192 and Schedule 19 are designed specifically for improving transport arrangements for students of 16 to 19 and students continuing courses started at these ages. The clause and schedule make provision for students with disabilities and learning difficulties.
The reasons for not extending the coverage to adult students are that learning opportunities for students of 19 or over, and the support that learners need to enable them to access and complete their learning, are normally provided by colleges and other further education providers who are more likely to receive their funding from the Learning and Skills Council for England or the National Council for Education and Training for Wales, rather than from LEAs.
Existing legal requirements through Section 13 of the Learning and Skills Act, provide that the LSC must have regard to the needs of people with learning difficulties, which includes people with disabilities which hinders the use of the education or training facilities generally provided. Similar provisions apply in Wales. We have formally asked the LSE to review its guidance and to ensure that it continues to work with providers and all other relevant agenciesincluding LEAs, LAs, the Department of Health and social services departmentsso that effective support is available to students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.
In addition, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 requires that responsible bodiesthat is, educational establishmentsmust not treat a disabled person less favourably than others for reasons related to his or her disability. Responsible bodies will be required by law to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that a disabled student is not placed at a substantial disadvantage.
The department provides the LSC with learner support funding and requires that this is made available to students, and in particular those with disabilities and learning difficulties, so that they can access and complete their learning. Over the past five years, the funds have risen from £6 million per annum for students of all ages to £51 million for students of 16 to 19 years and £67 million for students who are over 19. Even allowing for transfers of discretionary support from the LEAs to colleges, that amounts to an eight-fold increase in support.
The guidance for priorities for funding under these arrangements makes students with disabilities and learning difficulties a priority for support. We know that the funds are effective in practice as the on-going evaluation of the funds by the Institute of Employment Studies finds that they have a disproportionate impact on these students.
The combination of the SEND Act and the provision of learner support funding should therefore ensure that all learning providers make adequate and effective support for these students, regardless of their age.
Arrangements for supporting adults in further education, including transport arrangements for students with disabilities and learning difficulties of all ages are currently under review. The review will consider, among other things, the need for financial resources to support adult students with disabilities and in particular their transport needs. We are looking forward to the findings and recommendations of the review and we will consider the need for any further improvements in the light of findings, recommendations and budget constraints. We will ensure that those representing sector interests are included in the consultations for this.
I hope that I have explained why we do not believe that this legislation, and therefore the amendment, is the appropriate vehicle for enhancing the opportunities of the group of students about whom the noble Baroness has spoken so enthusiastically and effectively today. However, I assure her that we are keeping the situation under review with the intention of producing proposals for more effective support for the students, which I know she holds dear to her heart.
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