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Lord Rix: My Lords, as president of Mencap I am delighted—although, I am glad to say, not speechless—by the generous amendments that the Minister has just offered to the House, especially Amendment No. 6. Indeed, all that Mencap requested is contained in that amendment, coupled with the statement that the Minister made afterwards about the need for taking explicit account of the interests of children with special educational needs. The list that the noble Baroness was able to give is most welcome.

I am sure that noble Lords will be happy to hear that Mencap has asked me to move no further amendments on the Bill. I am sure that that means that your Lordships will be able to get to bed a little earlier than usual, and that I shall be able to switch off the light tonight, before I have my milk and honey, with an absolutely clear conscience. I am most grateful to the Government for listening so closely to our needs and desires.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend Lord Rix in commending the Government for the way in which they have gone about the consultation process in this part of the Bill. Indeed, as has already been said, the Minister's actions have been quite commendable: she has engaged with

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people from different parts of your Lordships' House in trying to find constructive ways forward. I believe that to be a good model for others to consider when they deal with legislation in the future.

I welcome both Amendments Nos. 2 and 6, and especially what the Minister said on the issue of monitoring. I raised that issue previously in Committee. Before we leave the question, can the Minister tell us a little more about how the monitoring will be conducted? For example, who will undertake that process; and, subsequently, after the information about the way in which people make provision in their schools for children with SEN has been collated, how will such information be made available at a public level?

From the earlier group of amendments that we debated, the Minister will know that the one issue that caused more concern than any other in this House was any question of the diluting, through innovation, of provision for children with special educational needs. These two amendments answer that problem adequately, and should leave no one in any fear about the implications of innovation.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I, too, should like to welcome Amendments Nos. 2 and 6, but I wish also to speak in favour of Amendment No. 4. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, indicated that some of us would not be totally happy with the situation. I am hugely grateful to the Minister for the efforts that she has made; for the assurance that she gave today as regards guidance; and for the meeting that was arranged. At that meeting, I was more or less convinced that we had what we needed. However, I believe that I indicated through her office the fact that I would not be totally happy.

I am patron of IPSEA, which is a member of the Special Educational Consortium. It has volunteers on the ground who appear at tribunals, and who understand the whole statementing process. The panel would be very worried if any of the links in this chain—for example, the duty to identify children, to assess children, to make statements for children, to specify SEN provision, and to maintain the statement—were to be broken. IPSEA's volunteers, and the overwhelming majority of children's disability organisations, know from first-hand contact with parents and carers of children with SEN that a clearly written statement saying how much help is to be provided is fundamental to children's needs being met.

Although the Special Educational Consortium very much welcomes the Minister's amendments—and this applies particularly to the RNID and the National Autistic Society, which have advice lines, and so on—it believes that SEN legislation should be exempted from any power to vary legislation. If the Government are not willing to exempt such legislation, can we have a clear recognition that the variation of the duties on

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LEAs to identify, assess, and make provision for SEN would be detrimental to the education of disabled children, and those with special educational needs?

We also need a clear recognition that a variation of the duties on governing bodies to use their "best endeavours" as regards children with special educational needs would be detrimental to the education of disabled children, and those with SEN. Can the Minister assure the House that the Secretary of State would not believe that it was a good thing to get rid of the duty to assess in the innovative process? We need guarantees that all those links in the chain are not matters that could be disapplied when one is innovating.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps under the rules of the House I can ask a question as I am slightly unnerved by what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, has just said. My question is an extension of the same point. Having read the government amendments, I made the assumption that it was almost inconceivable that a piece of legislation that related to special educational needs would be set aside for any single project. It would be helpful to have a guaranteed statement on the record that the intention would not be to set aside any legislation that afforded protection to children with special educational needs.

In my book, the consequence of that would be that some children somewhere would not enjoy the protection and, therefore, there would be an impact upon children with special educational needs. If I am reading too much into the statement of the noble Baroness it would be helpful to have that on the record. If that is not the case, I believe that we would want to plug that loophole at a later stage of the Bill.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments made by noble Lords. On the first question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, there is a requirement to consult all parents and we shall put in the guidance a requirement to ensure that parents of children with special educational needs are specifically included in that. Therefore, any proposal that did not do so, could not get through the process. I hope that that is clear.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in talking about our amendments and Amendment No. 4, is right. I shall deal with the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Blatch, in a moment. This matter concerns the opportunity within special educational needs to consider what can be done to further the education of children with special educational needs as part of the process. Therefore, does one rule it out or in? I want innovation on special educational needs to improve matters for such children for the reasons that I gave earlier. I do not believe that any noble Lord would say that the legislation could not be better and that there may not be things that we could do. I do not believe that we have got everything right in terms of support for children with special educational needs and I want schools to consider that.

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I shall miss the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I shall not miss his amendments, but I shall miss him if he is not to speak in your Lordships' House in the next few days of this Bill. I am extremely grateful to him for meeting with me and for discussing the issues in detail. I hope that we have addressed his concerns.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke of the monitoring issue. We shall require schools to set out their plans for monitoring and evaluation as part of the proposals that they put forward. We shall ensure that that information is taken into consideration when we consider the project and its extension. We shall ensure that the initiative as a whole is evaluated and the results made widely available. This matter is partly about ensuring that other schools can learn.

I turn specifically to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I understand her concern. IPSEA is an organisation that stands full square on wanting to ensure, as she puts it, that there is no apparent break in the chain. It is practically inconceivable—I say "practically" because there may be one in a million—that one could envisage a situation in which not assessing children could possibly raise standards for them or anybody else. We could not envisage that.

I shall give an example—I am often accused of not giving examples. I have been conducting work with special schools on how we can work more closely with them and how we can ensure that they are supported by local education authorities. Noble Lords have said in the House and elsewhere that we should have the right kind of provision in the right kind of areas. There are issues about low incident special educational needs and the provision that we can supply within a local education area or a national area.

One issue that I want to discuss on special schools—we have just begun a piece of work on this—is the idea of regional provision. Local education authorities could come together to provide regional provision that could be better for parents, particularly if support has to be residential. That would require us to consider the power to innovate with a group of local education authorities. Technically we could not do that now. I do not propose such a provision in this Bill as in relation to Wales there are differences in provision and I am not sure that we would want to do that. However, that is a specific example.

I hope I can allay the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. This is not about saying that we should not assess children; and this is not about providing support for children with special educational needs in school. It is about including all legislation and ensuring that if something creative could support our children with special educational needs it should come forward. But we shall not be interested in anything that is to their detriment. These children are far too important and far too special.

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They require the kind of support and concern that noble Lords have expressed, and which I share. I believe that this is the way forward.

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