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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, would the Minister say a little more about the range of expertise that may be available for non-executive directorships? I speak as one who has held no more than three at any one time. That is presumably within the remit of the Higgs report. It was commented that there would be a serious dearth of suitable candidates. Not even thinking of the vast number of suitably qualified women who could do the job, what about the range of academics, lawyers and heads of Civil Service departments? Surely a huge range of suitably qualified people could help to make up the 50 per cent suggested by Derek Higgs.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I refer to what the Secretary of State said in the Statement, which was that Professor Laura Tyson of the London Business School would look at ways to bring candidates from the non-commercial sector to greater prominence, including women, and would report in May. That is on the basis that the Secretary of State and I have considerable confidence that an enormous pool of talent is waiting to be drawn on.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I declare an interest as an audit client for 18 years, as a tax client for 40 years with Arthur Andersen and as a continuing tax client of its successor, Deloitte & Touche Private Clients. The first tax partner who looked after my affairs, who is now sadly dead, always prefaced complicated ideas by saying that I would

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have already considered and rejected the suggestion that he was about to make but he thought it was worth a second look. Leaving aside the over-kindness of the preface that I have mentioned, can the Minister enlarge on the answer that he gave to my noble friend Lady Noakes about how the understanding of these matters among the amateur investing public can be improved, so that after recent events they do not unnecessarily shun the Stock Exchange?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that is an extremely difficult question. To convey to the average investor the range of regulations that already exist and the further action that we are taking would be a considerable task. I hope that as these measures are put into place, the average investor will increasingly become aware of the action that is being taken and will realise that we are in no way complacent about the situation, despite the fact that in comparison with the United States, we have had comparatively few incidents of serious mis-statements of company accounts.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, I asked the Minister three questions, the third of which was: what was the definition of a large charity? That was mentioned in the Statement that he repeated. Is there such a definition?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not believe that there is such a definition. We were simply pointing out that large charities—without specifying what they were—would come into that same category.

Special Education

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Warnock rose to call attention to the case for rethinking the provision of special education; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I must declare two interests: I was chairman of the government committee of inquiry many years ago into the education of children with special needs, which reported in 1978 and which was followed by the Education Act 1981; and I am currently president of the British Dyslexia Association.

There are several reasons why I wish to raise this question now. The main reason is the publication last year of two Audit Commission reports. The first, which was published in June, was entitled, Statutory assessment and statements of SEN: In need of review?. The second, which was published in November, was entitled, Special educational needs: A mainstream issue. In the second appendix to the latter report (on page 60) the commission refers to the public response to a recommendation in the June report that the Government should,

    "establish a high-level independent review to consider options for future reform".

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Eighty per cent of those consulted were apparently in favour of the proposal and 60 per cent were strongly in favour. Those who were most supportive were local education authorities, health and social services departments and teachers. Those groups feel that the present framework of provision gives rise to the greatest lack of clarity and variation in standards of provision up and down the country. I want to point to a few of the areas in which that lack of clarity is damaging.

The last such general inquiry took place in 1974–78; after that, as I said, the framework was laid down in legislation in 1981 within which provision is still made, although there have been numerous changes in detail. The framework is as follows. Special educational needs may be identified either at birth or soon thereafter by medical or social services. In principle, education can begin at two years of age, although that is not very common. However, the increase in nursery provision under the present Government has made earlier identification of needs much more likely. That is a matter of great satisfaction. Thereafter, assessment may follow at various stages, leading to extra support for individual children in mainstream schools wherever possible. In the case of a proportion of children so assessed, a statement of needs will be issued by the local authority laying down what the local authority is bound by statute to provide to meet the child's needs.

It is largely in the matter of these statements that things have gone wrong in my view and a disastrous lack of clarity has increasingly emerged. In its briefing for this debate, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People said that,

    "it would be folly to alter the framework around statementing".

In so far as I understand that, I profoundly disagree with it.

Among the difficulties with statements are these: there is an enormous difference between local authorities as to how many children are issued with statements; as the local authority has a mandatory duty only to "statemented" children to provide what they need, parents have come to feel that only if a child has a statement will any extra provision be forthcoming; and some local authorities even wait for parents to demand a statement before they consider assessing the child to establish whether he needs one. The result is that parents are increasingly demanding that a child be assessed and a statement issued.

For example, in Birmingham, parents are in conflict with the council on the grounds that their children are not automatically assessed or reassessed when they move on to secondary school. Appeals by parents of children with special educational needs are now increasing faster than at any time since 1997. The appeals are because the local education authority has refused to issue a statement; because what is mentioned in it as needed by the child is not being provided; or because parents—very reasonably, I believe—suspect that the only provision that is identified in the statement is that which the local education authority believes it can afford. It has more to do with what is affordable than with what is needed.

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More than 3,000 parents lodged appeals during 2001–02, which was an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year; the figures continue to rise. This appears to me to be a frightful waste of resources. Such resources should properly be spent perhaps most importantly on the training of teachers to recognise, take account of and seek help for children in mainstream schools who have special needs; they could also be used for the provision of more classroom assistants. Those assistants are absolutely essential if differentiation within the classroom to take account of children's special needs is going to be widespread. Moreover, an atmosphere of conflict and anger is not a good background for the provision of what is best for the child.

Long ago—in the 1970s—we hoped that there would be a partnership between parents and local authorities. In those days, of course, local authorities had far more powers, they knew their children far better than they do now and the situation was radically different. Confrontational litigation and appeals tribunals, which are the opposite of partnership, are proliferating.

Another problem is that there is enormous confusion within schools and among parents about how the provision of special educational needs is to be resourced—whether for children with statements or those identified as having special needs but without statements. This is made more difficult by the number of resources allocated to schools to dispose of at their judgment. There is little incentive for schools to spend money out of their regular resources on children with special educational needs. Worst of all, there is little incentive for mainstream schools to admit children identified with special educational needs. That is another great source of conflict with parents, who cannot get their children into their first choice school.

The help that schools are supposed to receive from social services and the National Health Service—especially for speech therapy, which is one of the most important areas of help for children with special needs—is often not forthcoming. There is confusion here: although a local education authority may place on the statement that a child needs a certain number of hours of speech therapy per year, it is subject to how much the National Health Service in that area can afford. So there is no reason to suppose in the present circumstances that a child will receive the speech therapy he or she needs.

I strongly believe that the interests of the most severely disabled children must be safeguarded. They must be offered the possibility of education in special schools, if such schools are most able to cope with their multiple and complicated disabilities. Some in particular should be allowed the chance to be educated at boarding schools, which are often the best, most secure, supportive and effective means of educating, providing 24-hour education.

Having said that, the unclear and increasingly controversial division between those with and without statements no longer acts as a proper safeguard. Some other safeguard for these most vulnerable children

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needs to be devised. It leaves those who do not have statements liable to receive little help. A large number of children identified as having special needs have hardly an hour per day's help from a classroom assistant in a mainstream class.

Although the framework within which needs are assessed and met has remained the same for more than 20 years, our concept of educational needs has radically changed, especially since 1997. In the 1970s it was only recently that the most severely disabled children had been brought under the wing of the Department of Education. Hitherto, they were considered uneducable. We on the committee all those years ago decided to change people's view of educational needs and to make them recognise the continuum of needs, at one end of which were children in mainstream schools with needs that could readily be met with a little more help; and at the other of which were children with multiple, severe and permanent disabilities. It was for those children that we invented the concept—I now think it was a mistaken concept—of the statement.

We envisaged that those children needed help and an assurance that they would not be overlooked again. We envisaged them as 2 per cent of all children of school age. Now it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics of the relation between the number of children with statements and the number assessed as having special needs who do not have statements. It is almost impossible to discover how such children are doing at school. We need a method of monitoring the progress of children who either do not take the key stage tests, or, if they do, automatically fail.

I want to explain what I meant when I said the concept of educational needs had radically changed. When the committee was set up, we were given two warnings: first, that we were not to deem that a child had a special educational need on the grounds that his first language was not English—technically at the time the Home Office was supposed to finance the teaching of English as a second language. Secondly, we were told that we must not deem a child to have special educational needs on account of poverty or other deprivation.

I am happy to say that such limitations on the concept of needs now seem ridiculous. We know that by far the largest number of children with special needs and those who most urgently need help to communicate, to enjoy work and play and to progress are those living in poverty; those with abusive or dysfunctional families; and those in care. We know that by nearly any criterion of need there are whole schools within which almost every child has a special need.

That is why I have begun to wonder whether the framework of the 1981 Act has outlived its usefulness. Since 1981, there has been a considerable body of legislation regarding children and their rights. I am not certain that the way in which children with special needs are treated in mainstream schools is always in conformity with this legislation. It will be interesting to hear what becomes of the Bill proposed in Scotland,

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which was published last Friday, which seeks to remove the duty of recording—which is equivalent to our statement.

I believe it is more appropriate to start again with what I know is the Government's interest, which is to educate all children, however unhopeful their beginning, and to concentrate on resourcing the schools where many of those children are and not to think of them as a race apart. I beg to move for Papers.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for introducing the important subject of special education. I will focus on the special educational needs of children with autism, and in doing so declare an interest as the father of an autistic daughter.

The Government are driving the push towards "inclusion". However, the emerging picture nationally is that for many vulnerable children that does not work. Indeed, autistic children and their needs are identified by most mainstream schools as the single issue for which they have the greatest difficulty catering.

Mainstream education failed my daughter totally. We battled it out for four years, the last two amounting to nothing more than childcare. The education provided, and the totally inadequate support, were quite unable to meet her needs. Unfortunately, my daughter's case as a mainstream failure is typical.

The National Autistic Society's recent survey of schools found that one in 86 children has special educational needs related to an autism spectrum disorder. The schools also reported that one in every 152 children had a formal diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Ongoing research in 366 schools in England and Wales suggests that 17 per cent of all statements mention autism or Asperger syndrome. Through its Advocacy for Education service, the NAS hears from thousands of parents who are deeply dissatisfied with the educational provision that their child is receiving. Across all age ranges, and in every type of provision, parents run into conflicts with schools and LEAs in their attempts to identify and meet the needs of their child with autism. This struggle to access appropriate education provision is reflected in the number of cases related to autism registered with the SEN tribunal. Last year there was an increase of 22 per cent of cases registered. It is unacceptable that parents should have to battle for what is every child's fundamental right. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that this is a complete and utter waste of resources.

As the noble Baroness mentioned, last year the Audit Commission published Special educational needs: A mainstream issue, which looks at how well our system is serving children with SEN. I welcome this review as the current system is failing many children with autism who have SEN. However, my understanding of the problems posed by the current system and potential avenues for improvement, differs from the blueprint set out in the Audit Commission

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report. I would welcome improvements to the current assessment and statementing procedures, but reject the Audit Commission's conclusions that statements add little value, provide little assurance to parents, lead to an inequitable distribution of resources and are inconsistent with inclusion. Without statements, parents, who are not satisfied with their child's SEN provision, would have no practical legal redress.

My concern over the current statementing and assessment process is that there is no statutory body to regulate local education authorities. At the moment, parental vigilance is the only means of monitoring the implementation of a statement of special educational needs. This is compounded by the fact that local education authorities act as gatekeepers to the actual assessment process in the first place. Often parents do not know their rights and are, unsurprisingly, unable to cope with the complexities of the process without support.

I ask the noble Baroness what mechanisms can be put in place to give parents access to quick and easy forms of redress when statutory bodies fail to deliver on their SEN duties. How can the current variations in assessment and statementing practice be removed to end the postcode lottery of SEN provision? Although the statementing system is not working as it should, many parents of children with SEN are desperate to get a statement for their child as it is the only means of ensuring that they receive support in mainstream.

There are three fundamental problems with the current statutory assessment and statementing process. First, there is a gap between identified levels of need and current human and financial resource availability. Secondly, there is the failure of LEAs to act according to current law and guidance. Thirdly, there is the lack of any mechanism to ensure that LEAs implement statements. Those three points must be addressed to ensure that children with SEN access the education they need and deserve.

I do not agree with the Audit Commission's view that reducing the number of statements issued by LEAs would improve the current situation. The sole purpose of the current statutory assessment and statementing process is to determine the appropriate provision to meet the needs of all children with SEN. I believe that the motivation for parents to fight for an assessment comes from a deep dissatisfaction with the level of provision available from a school's SEN budget. As many LEAs are already delegating much of their SEN funding to schools, it seems unlikely that further delegation will lead to provision that will satisfy parents and will be appropriate for children with high-level and complex needs. Instead, assessment and statementing should be modified with the intention of putting into practice the current law and guidance designed to ensure appropriate provision for all children with SEN.

At no point does the Audit Commission ask whether we are spending enough on SEN nationally. There are several indications that we are not. The average lifetime cost resulting from autism and associated learning disabilities is estimated to be 3 million. That

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is a staggering figure. Only 7 per cent of that sum is spent on education. Evidence suggests that even slight increases in educational provision could result in major savings in later living costs. In my own county, Kent, with a funding gap of 3.7 million as a result of the Government switching resources to Labour core areas, the education budget will have to be cut dramatically.

Whether they are in mainstream or special schools, children with autism and Asperger syndrome need to be taught in an environment that is autism-aware and responsive to the needs of individual children. Regardless of whether the underlying rate is increasing, there are more children with autism in English and Welsh schools than ever previously reported. Resources must be found to meet the needs of those children if the policy of inclusion is to work.

What can be done to improve the recruitment and retention rates of specialist SEN professionals, particularly speech and language therapists, to increase the likelihood that assessed provision will actually be delivered? The noble Baroness rightly pointed out the vital role of speech therapists. Many teachers do not feel that they know enough about autism. Therefore LEAs should plan to train all teachers, assistants and specialist professionals in awareness and understanding of autism as part of the accessibility planning duty introduced by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. The Teacher Training Agency should include modules in basic teacher training on how to meet the needs of children with autism spectrum disorders. The excellent document, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Good Practice Guidance, issued jointly by the DfES and the DoH, provides practical advice on teaching children with autism. I urge the Government to send a copy to every school in the UK.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for opening the debate, and for having the courage to prick the bubble of defence that has built up around the idea of statements. Virtually everyone who has been involved in these matters for any length of time see statements as a shield and support. Should we get rid of them because there is something better, or are they still the only show in town? That is the question that comes out of this debate. Whether they should or should not be the only option is another question. I believe that we should have an alternative, but at present there is not another way forward—at least not from here. I am reminded of the story about asking directions in Ireland and being told, "Well, I wouldn't start from here if I were you".

The awareness of autism and autism spectrum disorder reminds me of dyslexia 20 years ago. People are suddenly discovering it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, will not take this badly when I say that it is the sexy disability of the moment in education. It is a disorder that we are just discovering. Many of the cases that people are discovering and going through may be fairly mild, but I am not sure whether there are stories about autism spectrum disorders with people

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saying, "Oh, I knew someone who used to be autistic but he got over it", as I hear about dyslexia. Such people fail to comprehend what a disability is. They do not understand what is involved in the coping strategies, in learning and in getting through the problems. But I am sure that it will happen eventually. It is a little like, in fashion terms, the second run of flares: they have a slightly different cut but basically the same process is going on. People are discovering something new.

Against that background and against the expansion that took place, the statementing process, which finally gave people a way to say, "We need something to protect our educational needs and requirements", was vitally important. I do not believe that we have gone far enough into the process to be able to drop statementing yet, if we ever do.

The words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will be listened to with even greater interest than normal on this occasion as the statementing process was so much part of her drive. I believe that we should think long and hard before we drop statementing as it provides protection for the individual.

Reading the Audit Commission report reminded me of everything that I had ever heard was wrong with the education system in relation to special educational needs over many years. We are told: there is more awareness of the problems; there is not sufficient initial teacher training; there is not sufficient in-service training; it is better than it was; or, it is nowhere near good enough; and so on. That was the impression that I gained from the report.

Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, has already pointed out, the Audit Commission does not address the fact that we may not have sufficient resources. The issue might be put into context if I break with habit and read what the Audit Commission says about itself:

    "The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local and national services for the public. Our work covers local government, health and criminal justice services".

It does not say how big the cake is and whether it is big enough to feed all the people; it simply says that it should be done efficiently.

I am convinced that the Audit Commission will say that statements, which absorb money because they allocate needs effectively, are inefficient. More importantly, groups such as the National Autistic Society, the British Dyslexia Association and the RNID, to name a few, are very good at ensuring that people now receive statements.

Another problem pointed out in the report was that it is the middle-class child with the articulate parent who obtains a statement. I am reminded of dyslexia, which was known as the "middle-class disease". Problems do exist but, until we get something better, we shall be in trouble if we try to get rid of the statement. We should not do so until we are able to produce a better framework with teachers who know not only that dyslexia is a Greek derivative word

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meaning that one's spelling is bad, but who know fundamentally more about the variations that exist, how people are affected in later life and how there are different learning strategies.

I do not even dare to embark on the subject of autistic spectrum disorder. There are dozens of other groups concerned with hearing and sight problems—that is, sensory problems. Until the problems that can occur are known—at least, in theory, in the classroom—people will always be playing catch-up.

I believe that the Audit Commission was absolutely right to point out that we are not giving the teachers a fair start. If we are talking about integrating 10 or 20 per cent of children with a disability-based, special educational needs problem into the classroom, then it is inconceivable that a teacher would be able to meet the problems that he would face without starting with a better basis of factual knowledge. I believe that some people are receiving only two or three hours' initial training. A technical factual base is vital in getting this matter right. We must provide such a start.

The Government are always telling us that more will be done in this area. But perhaps we may finally have a Statement at some point saying that league tables are a problem. Such a high proportion of the school population will have difficulty in passing examinations or there will be so many holes in the exam-passing mechanisms that it will not add up. There cannot be simple league tables; they must be adjusted in some way. If they are adjusted often enough, surely league tables will become so complicated that they will become useless. If we are to be fair to special educational needs, we must tackle that problem. At present, teachers are having to defend their positions.

I do not know what more can be said on the subject. I shall simply say that if 20 per cent of the school population can potentially lower the status of a professional institution, that is not a great way forward. I hope that we shall hear more about that. But I suggest that the ultimate answer is, at the very least, to get rid of these crude league tables and to consider their entire status.

I hope that the answer that we reach in considering our whole approach to this matter is that in future it might be possible to get rid of the statement. I believe that we can do so if we institute better training and better resourcing in special educational needs. But that should not happen now or in the immediate future because, at present, it is the only show in town and we do need something.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Warnock for providing another opportunity to discuss such an important issue. As president of Mencap, as the father of a daughter with Down's Syndrome and as the grandfather of a grandson with a like syndrome, it is an issue close to my heart, as it is to the hearts of many other noble Lords present. In one sense, it has all been said before, but I do not apologise for saying it again. Each child

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with special educational needs who gets less than the best we can offer is an affront to both our society and our educational system.

With not a little help from this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and her colleagues have done a good job on education and disability. They deserve credit for that. Nevertheless, I need to sound a note of caution. Legislation is important—we would not all be sitting here if we believed otherwise. However, even more important is the implementation of that legislation locally—in each local education authority and in each school. The findings from the two recent Audit Commission reports do not leave me with great optimism about the extent to which we have already secured full-blooded implementation.

In my view, special education means tailoring to the individual needs of the child the curriculum, the teaching skills, the teaching materials and the measures of achievement. With that tailored support, every child can enjoy his or her childhood and fulfil his potential. Having seen what children labelled as "ineducable" have achieved, I am not willing to settle for anything less than the best that we can offer. That means that mainstream schools and pre-school groups must try much harder.

In the light of the two Audit Commission reports and their tale of what has yet to be attempted and achieved, I want to focus on two areas that particularly affect children with a learning disability: early years provision in inclusive groups and meeting health needs in mainstream and special schools.

One of the recent Audit Commission reports made a very strong case for a substantial increase in early years investment. Children with severe learning and other disabilities are too readily sidelined into specialist settings—bypassing the experience and losing the benefits of mainstream nurseries or pre-school playgroups. Separation can mean isolation: missing out on early educational experiences and on early social experiences as being members of their local community. The children are separated from their brothers and sisters and from their potential friends. At the same time, their parents are separated from important contacts with other parents.

Inclusion is a real possibility for virtually all children, particularly in the early years, and it should be explored, not ignored. Indeed, there are many examples of children with the most complex needs being successfully included to their benefit and to the benefit of other children. As I said, the Audit Commission calls for more investment in early years provision for disabled children. Quality is not cheap; and I am pleased to hear about the new special educational needs and disability development fund. Can the Minister confirm that that will be extra money and that some of it will be used to support the inclusion of children with complex needs during the vital early years?

To pursue my central theme of including those who are most readily excluded, I jump from early years education to the subject of meeting the health needs of pupils with special educational needs. If that seems a

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jump too far, I trust your Lordships will remember that Eddie the Eagle was once a national hero. Since my noble friend Lady Warnock wrote her historic report some 25 years ago, there have been significant changes in the child population. Many more profoundly disabled babies are surviving. That steady rise in a very special population is thought to be due to improvements in healthcare, including enhanced prospects of survival for premature babies. By no means all, but a significant proportion of those children have multiple disabilities and complex health needs. Unless the Minister can tell me otherwise—we do not have precise numbers but we are talking about some thousands of children who may need to be tube-fed, are on complex medication or need specialist support of some other kind.

Mencap's report, Don't Count Me Out, revealed the exclusion from school life experienced by children with substantial health support needs. This very day Mencap has held a seminar to bring experts in the field together to help to plan the changes that are needed to include all children with health needs in education. Progress in that area is patchy. Some schools have been able to include children with major health needs with a minimum of fuss. Sadly, in other areas schools have made it clear to parents that their child was being refused admission on health grounds. Some claim that insurance is the problem, while others claim that they do not have a school nurse. Whatever the excuse, exclusion on health grounds is clearly discriminatory and the Disability Rights Commission, with the support of Mencap and many other organisations, is keen to do battle to stop such discrimination.

Severe disability comes as a challenge to some head teachers and school governors; it does not come easily to the parents or indeed to the child either. However, those who have risen to the challenge have shown that even the most complex health needs can be met successfully with the help of health colleagues. My generation of parents fought to get any kind of education for their disabled children. My wife and I, together with other parents, raised thousands of pounds to build a school many years before the 1970 disability legislation came into force. Today's parents still struggle to acquire the best education for their disabled children. Many want mainstream education, but all want really good appropriate education. None has a child who is ineducable, but there have been some blatant cases of discrimination against children and young people with learning disabilities, of whom society's expectations and priorities are often appallingly low, especially when it comes to educational needs.

Often discrimination is not premeditated; it arises out of a lack of imagination and planning, and sometimes a lack of resources to develop the right infrastructure in which disabled children can flourish. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act has removed many barriers of exclusion and blatant discrimination for disabled children but, as with the weeds in my garden, new barriers seem to spring up

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when old ones are removed and unless those barriers are swept away, we shall be unable to follow Plato's prophetic dictum:

    "The direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life".

7.14 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate special education provision following the Audit Commission's report. I thank my noble friend Lady Warnock for initiating the debate and for her report that gave birth to the 1981 Act which together with the codes of practice in the 1993 and the 1996 Acts forms the pillars that prop up special education law.

Only six months ago at Third Reading of the Education Act 2002, which introduced powers to free schools from the national curriculum and so on, many noble Lords who are present today were involved in tabling an amendment to secure for the future the legal safety net for children with special educational needs created by those pillars: the duty to identify, to assess and to statement when necessary. My noble friend Lady Warnock was swift and stalwart in her support. At cols. 226 to 227 of the Official Report on 3rd July 2002—I paraphrase—she said that the so-called 18 per cent of children without statements were those at risk of being swallowed in the excitement of innovation—which was greatly welcomed—and that the preservation of the duty to identify children with special educational needs was the most important part of the amendment.

Your Lordships will remember that the Minister, while unable to agree to the amendment, gave firm assurances at cols. 230 to 235 that the protection would remain, but that innovation, if judged in the best interest of children with special education needs, would be permitted. I am sorry to go over old ground, but I believe that, welcome as the noble Lord's view may be, we need to keep the concept of the safety net firmly in mind. I hope that the Minister will reiterate that assurance today.

The first report argued for a high level review of statements. Eighty per cent of responses supported that recommendation. It is interesting to note that the least supportive of it were SENCOs, parents of children with statements and voluntary organisations, the people nearest to delivery or receipt of special education provision. They worried that the review may be focused unduly on the erosion or the removal of statements in a world where there is no other framework for assuring parents of the provision to be made for the child. Several said that they would welcome strengthening the law around statements, rather than scrapping them and argued for some practical solutions.

IPSEA, of which I am a patron, said that at present, the law which gives disabled children legal rights to appropriate provision can only be enforced by individual parents in respect of individual children. That is manifestly very hard especially for those children whose parents, for whatever reason, lack the

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ability or the resources to challenge the actions of their LEA. That was a problem that was also highlighted by the National Autistic Society.

For many years IPSEA has argued for the establishment of an independent enforcement agency that could ensure that LEAs fulfil their legal duties towards disabled children. That could be achieved through an extension of the ombudsman's role or that of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. That is a practical suggestion that would remove from parents the burden of having to police local education authorities. It would bring immediate benefit to many children.

The second report highlighted difficulties with SEN as a mainstream issue. Many of those points—weak accountability for SEN provision or a patchy approach to early intervention and so on—underlined the importance of the safety net. As the SEC puts it, precisely because of the difficulties identified in the second report, it is crucial that we have the statutory framework in place. The SEC welcomes the second report and the 10 point agenda for action, and has been pressing for many of those points for a long time. The Government have done much to promote some of them and the report will be a spur to putting the more neglected elements back at the top of the agenda. The new duties on schools and LEAs to increase access to schools for disabled pupils should be a great help and with the new initiatives involving a multi-agency approach for pupils at a very young age it is hoped that children will no longer experience failure before they receive additional help. The National Autistic Society and the RNID made that point.

However, the SEC stressed that even if statements are being very little used, it is important that they are not abolished. They still provide the safety net, should schools or LEAs be unwilling or unable to provide for the individual child's special education. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said about cost. A small increase in what is spent would produce a spectacular result.

Why do I sound such a fuddy-duddy when I used to go on about integration and then inclusion? I should be the last to meddle in Scottish affairs, certainly since devolution. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, was in her place; unfortunately, she is no longer present.

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