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Lord Bach: My Lords, we were disappointed that the Committee voted to retain the freedom of expression section in relation to the offence of inciting hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. However, it is important, when the Bill returns to the other place for consideration of the amendments made by this House, that it is properly drafted in all respects. We therefore support the amendments in this group, which are consequential on the removal of the former Clause 61. I make it clear that this does not change our position on the need for the freedom of expression section, and I would not be surprised if the House comes to debate this substantive issue again before long.
1 The repeal of the Libel Act 1792 (c. 60), the repeal in section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819 (60 Geo. 3 & 1 Geo. 4 c. 8), the repeal of section 17(2) of the Defamation Act 1952 (c. 66), the repeal of section 20(2) of the Defamation Act 1996 (c. 31) and the repeals in section 10 of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (c. 28) do not extend to Scotland.
"( ) section (abolition of common law libel offences etc);"
"( ) In section 79(3) of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 (c. 17) (power to extend provisions of that Act to Channel Islands, Isle of Man etc) the reference to that Act includes a reference to that Act as amended by section (Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes)."
"( ) section (abolition of common law libel offences etc);"
"( ) Part 3A of Schedule 20 (and section 166 so far as relating to that Part);"
"( ) in Part 2 of Schedule 22, the repeals relating to the following Acts-
(i) Libel Act 1792 (c. 60);
(ii) Criminal Libel Act 1819 (60 Geo. 3 & 1 Geo. 4 c. 8);
(iii) Libel Act 1843 (c. 96);
(iv) Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881 (c. 60);
(v) Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 (c. 64);
(vi) Defamation Act 1952 (c. 66);
(vii) Theatres Act 1968 (c. 54);
(viii) Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42);
(ix) Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (c. 25);
(x) Defamation Act 1996 (c. 31);
(xi) Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (c. 28);
and section 167 so far as relating to those repeals."
That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Education (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/1387) and to replace them with regulations that leave more responsibility with schools and headteachers.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I emphasise from the start that we on these Benches are not opposed to training, especially in the field of special educational needs. However, we feel that this SI has consequences that the Government did not intend. The SI applies only to SENCOs who have been in post for less than a year, but there is an indication that the committee felt that all SENCOs should eventually gain this qualification. I ask the Minister how and when this training will take place. Will time away from their school duties be designated for special educational needs teachers? If so, who will replace them while they are training? If not, when are they expected to complete this qualification?
The average SENCO may have other childcare commitments-lesson development work will be just one of their duties. My understanding of the SI is that it is widely accepted that SEN provision is patchy-but is this qualification the way forward? We must bear in mind the cost, not just in monetary terms but also in time. The figures given by the Government in the impact assessment do not reflect an honest picture of
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We on these Benches understand that this is a specialist field for teachers and that all support that can improve the quality of provision must be given. However, the Government's proposals yet again undermine the ability of head teachers to ensure that appropriate assessments take place and, where they identify a failing, to decide what appropriate training should take place.
Our main concern is that this will become a retrospective necessary qualification for teachers who have been in the profession for a long time. If SENCOs then decide that they would rather retire than continue, this would create a vacuum in the profession. There is already a shortage of people coming into this specialised area of teaching. Will the Minister tell us who has drawn up this qualification, and who was consulted? Has there been a debate about the contents of the qualification, and will the qualification have a review period? If so, when will the review take place, who will conduct it and will the results be made publicly available?
Will the Minister also say on what grounds an impact assessment can be made when the Government do not know how many SENCOs there are? The SI estimates that 8,130 SENCOs will have to be replaced over a period of three years. Will the Minister explain how this figure has been reached?
We all want the best possible provision of education for all our children, in particular for the most vulnerable in our society. They need continuity, as well as expertise that is not always summed up in a qualification. We have, in our teaching profession, some of the most dedicated and committed SENCOs, who would no doubt undergo training to improve their skills; but they must not be put at a disadvantage because they do not have a qualification that the Government have indicated must be a requirement for all SENCOs.
Although the ideals and sentiments behind this policy are good, and improving our educational system, especially for those who need the extra help, is a top concern, I am worried that it is an ill thought-out, broad-brush scheme which will ignore the micro-expertise of our head teachers and teachers. It will incur escalating costs with little real benefit, much like the Government's one-to-one tuition plan which is hurting SEN strategies in many schools by stretching resources and taking some of these pupils away from specialist SEN teachers. We would like the Government to show more trust in our education professionals and allow them to use their expertise and common sense. They should decide what their staff need and provide them with the support mechanisms to carry out regular assessments.
In 2007-08, the Government's bi-weekly e-mail to head teachers, if printed, would have contained as many words as the King James Bible and would have been 40 centimetres thick. Do we really want to add an extra burden on this noble profession? I will listen carefully to the Minister's response.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I want to say a few words on this subject because my wife is a governor at a school in Bedfordshire for children with learning difficulties. We have had some dyslexic children so we have met a lot of this at the sharp end. I want to echo support for the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and to say that we must be careful not to make the best the enemy of the better. We have a lot of dedicated people, some of whom may not be as good as others, but very often the personality matters more than the qualifications. Just having qualifications does not mean that someone is brilliant. Removing flexibility, which we need, and consistency, which is often the most important thing, and taking people away to get a qualification which may not be necessary, could be damaging for children. I do not see why we cannot trust our head teachers and other people in education to try to do their best for the children within the limited resources that we have. They may be financial limitations or the number of people available may be limited. Further to restrict it and limit their options would be foolish. I am concerned that we are trying to overbureaucratise something that is working, even if it is not perfect.
Lord Addington: My Lords, first, I must apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for missing the first couple of minutes of her speech. Pagers that are constantly buzzing and repeating messages occasionally do not get picked up on time.
The idea of SENCOs being properly trained is not one that I have an instinctive reaction against. The idea that we might be getting rid of qualified teachers who are doing the job properly will raise a few alarm bells. The question is how to bring the two together. SENCOs were seen as a great wonder worker when they were brought in, but it became quite apparent that many did not know what they were doing. Some have acquired experience and some will have an amazing range of qualifications and experience from various places which probably will not conform to any new regulation, but may mean that they are qualified enough to do the job. The Minister undoubtedly knows the answers so will she tell us how the Government will make an assessment of whether somebody is properly qualified by experience and perhaps some older qualifications, and how that can be brought into the current training scheme? Let us not waste money by taking people away or giving them an extra load if they know what they are doing. Effectively, is there a certain test of competence that could be built into the current qualifications that would mean that the person does not need further training at the moment? As we discover more about special educational needs, we tend in every piece of legislation to put a slightly greater load on the education system to deal with these problems. There is a greater expectation in the initial impact that something should be done. At the moment, we are a long way from catching everybody or getting the right amount of involvement early enough in the system. We are better than we were, but in my 25 years of experience we have improved this situation steadily by a very irregular series of steps. It is undoubtedly better now than it has ever been but it is still not good enough.
Will the Minister say whether some consideration has been given to those who have acquired a series of core qualifications that are sufficient for the job as it currently exists and that the retraining process can take place when they are there? Because we happen to know how to deal with a dyslexic does not mean that we know how to deal with somebody with autism. To take those two: one is a subject I know best and the other I had to speak on at the beginning of this week. Another department answered that debate, so I understand why the noble Baroness will not have caught the passing shot from that debate.
There is an ongoing process. If there is a way of addressing the fact that competent teachers should be assessed as competent and should not have to go through the training scheme or at least all of it, that would be a good thing. We must not forget that many people were appointed as SENCOs but have not had the right training. However, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. How we square the circle of being where we are now will be interesting to hear and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords who have taken part in this brief debate on an important Motion. I hope that I can answer the questions that have arisen in this brief discussion and I shall review Hansard to ensure that I have picked up all the questions.
I shall start with a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about the burden on the profession. We need to be clear that continuous professional development is very much the tenure of teacher training nowadays. We expect that when teachers finish their training qualifications, they will continue with their professional development. If a teacher becomes a SENCO, continued training and professional development in the area of special educational needs will be extremely important for them. A licence to teach will require a portfolio of skills development in the future and parents will expect teachers and SENCOs to have relevant skills and experience.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked how far the Government are prepared to trust heads to know best. Our entire education system is dependent on the skill, leadership and contribution that head teachers make. We are incredibly indebted to them for the progress that they have made on behalf of our children. We must also listen to what head teachers and specialist teachers have said. It is important that there is more continuity, as the noble Earl said, across schools. That is why these measures have been brought in and why we want to see training and the status of SENCOs raised. This is part of achieving that. It is important that we make the training for SENCOs mandatory. We know that some, as noble Lords have suggested, have received very good training, but we also know that that provision is extremely uneven as others have received little or no preparation for the role that they are asked to take on. We need to tackle that and recognise the importance of the role that SENCOs
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The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was concerned about the credit given to existing teaching professionals who fulfil SEN roles. The awarding institutions which will be running the training will take into account prior learning, and qualifications will properly be taken into account. Those who put themselves forward will have their qualifications properly recognised.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I want to be clear about that. Is it right that those who took qualifications some time ago and who have kept up to date through correspondence and so forth will be encouraged to take an assessment of the level of their skills base?
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I can agree with the noble Lord. I will be happy to write to him in detail on exactly how that will work. However, I want to be clear that the provision is about training for new teachers coming into post. The funding is targeted at the newly appointed SENCOs. Depending on the awarding institution, any masters qualification in any sphere of teaching can take into account prior learning. I will write to noble Lords to ensure that that is clear and I will place a copy of the letter in the Library.
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