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I understand the concerns that the Special Educational Consortium and others have about Clause 15ZA(4)(e), which requires local authorities to make best use of their resources and avoid provision that gives rise to disproportionate expenditure. We will debate that in more detail in a future group. For now, I will concentrate on Amendment 100. It is an important principle that public bodies must make best use of their resources. Local authorities must commission provision in a way that provides value for money, as the LSC is currently required to do. Section 2 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 contains a similar provision.

I reassure the Committee that the clause is not about excluding young people-particularly the most vulnerable-from access. The duty of local authorities to secure education and training for all young people, including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, is set out clearly in new Clause 15ZA. For the avoidance of doubt, subsection (5) makes it clear that provision is not to be considered disproportionate just because it is more expensive than comparable provision. Amendment 100 would emphasise that this safeguard should apply particularly where it concerns provision for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. However,

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this safeguard is intended to apply not just to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, but to all young people, such as teenage mothers or young people with behavioural problems who may require additional support. For that reason, we would prefer not to single out one group, however important, in the Bill.

I agree with the sentiment behind Amendment 97, which would require local authorities when commissioning provision under Section 15ZA of the 1996 Act, to take account of recommendations which arise from their internal audit processes and from any assessment and inspection by Ofsted. But these are essentially operational matters that relate to how local authorities fulfil the four tests in subsection (3) of new Section 15ZA. I am not persuaded that they should feature in the Bill.

However, it may be helpful to set out how, in practice, we will ensure that local authorities take account of these important issues. All local authorities will have to abide by statutory guidance issued by the YPLA through the national commissioning framework. On the quality test, local authorities will be expected in making their commissioning decisions to take account of a range of data on the quality of providers, including performance indicators within the Framework for Excellence, Ofsted inspection findings and providers' own self assessments. They should use this information to set out clear expectations of the standards of performance expected, and support and challenge good schools and colleges to become excellent, as well as provide a focus on underperformance. Local authorities' own performance of their duty to ensure best value in commissioning will also be informed by internal audit reports, as well as best practice reviews by the Audit Commission.

I understand the intention behind Amendment 92, whichwould require local authorities when securing provision under Section 15ZA, to act with a view to encouraginginclusion, as well as the diversity of provision.Requiring local authorities to promote diversity of provision does not mean that we are turning our back on our long and successful policy of ensuring that mainstream schools and colleges are inclusive and accessible to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. We want to ensure that learner choice is respected and that appropriate provision is made available to all young people. It is the learner who should be at the centre of the system and their needs that should drive commissioning decisions, as I endeavoured to make clear in the previous debate. There are many examples of mainstream further education colleges making arrangements to ensure that their mainstream courses are accessible for learners with learning difficulties.

However, as we have discussed before, there will be some young people for whom this type of provision is not appropriate and who will require specialist provision, perhaps delivered by a specialist college. Later, in relation to Clause 45, we will debate amendments also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which I believe stem from a concern that this specialist provision should be maintained.

It is important that we strike a balance here and I am reluctant to accept the addition suggested in

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Amendment 92 as it risks sending the message to local authorities that inclusion is always the correct approach and that specialist provision should not be made available when appropriate. However, I hope what I have said will reassure the Chamber that we are committed to provision that is high quality and accessible to all learners, that there is much good work being undertaken in this area and that, by putting the learners' needs and choices at the centre, Clause 40 as currently drafted will support this.

Amendment 99 deals with a number of important matters concerning the local authority's role, particularly in respect of learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. While in my view we already have the legislative bases covered, I certainly agree with the sentiment behind the amendments that we must ensure that the duties imposed through legislation are delivered on the ground.

It may be helpful if I set out the sort of service that young people with learning difficulties and disabilities should expect to receive and I will deal with each of the five elements of the amendment in turn. On information, young people with learning difficulties and disabilities will be able to go to their local Connexions service, or have it come to their school, for advice and guidance between the ages of 13 and 19, or up to the age of 25 if they have an assessment of learning difficulties. In line with the quality standards, they can expect to receive additional guidance and support, including a transition plan from year 9 of school and a Section 139A assessment at year 11, or later if needed, to ensure that they are able to progress and achieve in the route of learning they choose.

On transparency and integration of the assessment process, as a result of the Bill, young people with learning difficulties or disabilities can expect that the same local authorities responsible for assessing their needs will also be responsible for ensuring that their needs are met up to the age of 16, as they are now, and beyond. That will ensure greater continuity of support.

9.45 pm

On child and parental involvement, young people and their parents can expect to have a key role in the development of their transition plan and to review it annually with their Connexions adviser or other lead professional. The learning difficulty assessment under Section 139A will build on this process. The draft statutory guidance, which is currently out for consultation, will mean that parents and carers can expect to have an important role to play in the assessment process. That is surely something that we all want. Every effort should be made to ensure that the young person understands the purpose and process for carrying out the assessment. If implemented, the guidance will mean that the assessment report should identify the provision, the provider and the programme of learning that young people need to progress. It should also include the support that they need to access learning provision. For example, if it is felt that the most appropriate placement is with a mainstream college, specialist provider or an apprenticeship, this should be stated in the report. The outcomes of all these assessments will feed into local, regional and national planning

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processes. The national commissioning framework will require local authorities to take account of the outcome of young people's assessment reports.

On complaints, where young people or their parents feel that an assessment has not been carried out appropriately, or where it is felt that the provision made available does not meet the requirements set out in the assessment report, they may already complain to their local authority and then to the Local Government Ombudsman. Rather than constructing a new bureaucratic structure to deal with complaints, we think that it is better to use these established mechanisms. We will ensure that young people and their parents are aware of their rights to complain and of where they can access advice and support in exercising that right.

I will give as an example of inclusion Kensington and Chelsea College. It has made adjustments to the standard curriculum to deliver a photography course that is accessible to deaf learners. This has proved particularly successful and is being accessed by a number of learners. The college also holds information, advice and guidance sessions aimed particularly at young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. The sessions provide access to interpreters and support workers and enable learners to consider the full range of courses available at the college and to talk to teachers about what they involve. The college sees this type of consultation and conversation as key, as it enables young people, alongside college staff, to think about their own limitations and how they get around them with support, so that they can get the most out of their time in college.

In conclusion, at local authority level, the duty in Clause 40 will also be part of the existing local authority performance management system. In addition, the YPLA holds the final agreement to fund local commissioning plans. Plans endorsed by the regional planning groups will be considered by the YPLA to

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ensure, at a national level and across each of the regions, that the best balance of provision has been achieved to meet young people's needs. I hope that, on the basis of these assurances, noble Lords will be persuaded not to press their amendments.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: To a degree, I am reassured by what the Minister has said and I thank him very much for the full answer that he has given on these various amendments. His point-that the learner needs to be at the centre of the system-is the key issue here. I questioned him about participation in mainstream activities and he quite rightly pointed out that the key issue is choice on the part of the learner. There are some, however, who, rather than being sent off to special classes because they have learning difficulties, actually want to be included. We all know that, in that sense, the concept of inclusion is very important, both in terms of building one's own self-confidence and in terms of one's feeling of one's own stature within society. So this is important.

I am grateful to the Minister for spelling out the ways in which he sees these different services panning out. In terms of the year 9 and transition assessments, the record of local authorities on those with learning difficulties is not a good one and we have yet to see how far this system, which under Clause 40 extends the old system of assessments through to young people from 16 to 19, will go. We live in hope that the new assessments will translate into something meaningful for these young people. However, as I say, I am grateful to the Minister for his full reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 92 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.50 pm.

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