Finally, the Minister said in the annexe to his letter to noble Lords that applying these provisions to young people in custody would cause SEN legislation to come,

“into conflict with existing, comprehensive statutory provisions governing how education and support for children and young people is delivered in custody”.

In slight contradiction to that first point, he added that, in any case, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education are now working closely together for changes in the system to improve the provision in respect of special educational needs. Why have a different set of changes? Would these changes not make more sense? That is not least because, as I say, they would tie in the local authorities and the schools from which young people are coming, and to which they are returning, and not simply leave this as a Prison Service issue.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I very much support all that has been said on this amendment about detained children. I believe that the Government have a number of plans that will be quite valuable as the forward march to a much better system for young people is in progress. Above all, if you just have one single test the moment that a young person comes into custody, to find out whether that child had any problems, and started from that point, you would not waste the time that has been wasted for so many years. I very much support this amendment.

7.15 pm

Lord Nash: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friends Lord Addington, Lord Storey and Lady Walmsley for tabling

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the amendments in this group and giving the Committee the opportunity to discuss this important issue. I also thank other noble Lords who spoke.

We have given Clause 70 considerable thought since it was discussed in the other place and following the informative debate in this House at Second Reading. I understand the concerns raised today, which were prompted by this clause being included in the Bill. I assure noble Lords that there was never any intention for this clause to suggest that the Government are not concerned with supporting this vulnerable group of children and young people. I am very clear that I want to use this Bill to improve the support we provide to children and young people in custody with special educational needs. This is an issue I have been concerned with ever since, 42 years ago, during my university course on criminology and penology, I spent three weeks in what was then called a borstal. It was probably the most eye-opening three weeks of my entire education.

Clause 70 is included to play an important technical function by disapplying duties which would be impractical to deliver while a child or young person is in custody. For example, it would not be possible to allow a young offender to choose where they are educated or to give them a personal budget. We have been considering how we can introduce provisions that will ensure continuity of education and health support while a young offender is detained.

In Amendment 214, my noble friend Lord Storey has set out how Clause 70 could be replaced, and I listened to his thoughtful contribution to the debate today. I hope it reassures my noble friend and others that legislation exists in Section 562C of the Education Act 1996 setting out how education and support for those with special educational needs is delivered in custody. That legislation places clear duties on local authorities to use their best endeavours to deliver the special educational provision that is set out in a statement of special educational need. The consequential amendments in Schedule 3 to the Bill will place the same duties on local authorities for young offenders aged 10 to 17 in custody with education, health and care plans. However, we all agree that more needs to be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, proposed a way forward in his Amendment 213 which seeks to amend existing provisions in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. I thank the noble Lord for this amendment, which I know draws on his considerable experience and expertise in this area. The noble Lord has spoken with knowledge and passion throughout this Committee’s debate on Part 3 of this Bill, and I am particularly grateful for his contributions. As I have discussed with the noble Lord, the intention behind this amendment is in many ways similar to the solutions we have been considering.

Ensuring continuity of support already set out in EHC plans for those children and young people moving into, through and out of custody is exactly what I want to achieve. I am also considering whether we can enable children and young people in youth custody to have the right to ask for an assessment for an EHC plan where special educational needs are identified for the first time.

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However, as I have discussed with the noble Lord, this new clause does not achieve all that we might want. For example, it is important to ensure that duties are on relevant health bodies rather than local authorities. Concerning the point my noble friend Lord Storey raised on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, it is essential that we properly consider what the role of the home local authority should be as well as that of the host local authority. As many in this debate have said, this is a great opportunity to make a difference, and it is important that home local authorities maintain their involvement with children and young people who are in custody so they are aware of progress and can make sure that appropriate provision and support is available when a young offender returns home on release. This is important if we are to reduce further the risk of reoffending.

I thank noble Lords for the debate today. We will carefully read the contributions from noble Lords between now and Report as we reach a decision on how best to amend Clause 70 to achieve the aim of improving provision for children and young people with SEN in custody which we are all agreed on. I recently met the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to discuss how we might do this, and I would like to continue to work with him and others as we develop amendments to be tabled ahead of Report.

I turn to Amendment 212 and the issue of screening those in custody for dyslexia. I agree with my noble friends Lord Addington and Lady Walmsley that we must support young offenders who have hidden disabilities such as dyslexia. I should like to assure my noble friends that assessments to identify such needs already take place in the youth secure estate. Education providers assess all young offenders’ levels of literacy, language and numeracy on entry to custody. They also use a variety of tests such as the hidden disabilities questionnaire developed by Dyslexia Action to screen all young offenders who show signs of having a learning difficulty or disability. These assessments are extremely important because they allow providers to identify a range of learning difficulties, including dyslexia. Once their needs have been assessed, all young offenders in custody receive an individual learning plan that follows them through the course of their sentence. Of course, if we are able to ensure continuity of EHC-plan support, then young offenders with plans will already have had such needs and relevant support identified. Education providers in young offender institutions are also contractually required to have a workforce trained to identify and support a young person’s individual learning needs.

Of course, despite the current legal and contractual protections, we can always do more. The Transforming Youth Custody Green Paper sets out how we want to put education at the centre of youth custody, thereby ensuring young offenders are equipped with the skills, qualifications and self-discipline they need to stop offending and lead productive lives on release. The consultation included a question on how best to support young offenders with special educational needs. The consultation ended on 30 April this year. Since then, the Ministry of Justice has been reviewing the responses received and carefully considering the next steps to transforming youth custody, and plans to publish the

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response to the consultation shortly. We want our amendments to complement the MoJ’s reforms and are working with it to achieve this.

With those reassurances, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw or not move their amendments.

The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, I apologise for asking a quick question. How does the virtual school head that this Bill puts on a statutory basis keep track of a looked-after child who enters the secure estate? Many of them will have special educational needs. There is no need for a response now but perhaps it is a matter that the Minister can think about for us to discuss at some point.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that—shall I say?—reassuring answer. It was not the radical announcement that I was half hoping for, perhaps forlornly. However, it is certainly reassuring to know that people are thinking about this problem. I should also say to my noble friend that there is a lot of cross-party consensus on this. I do not think that anyone has any idea other than to try and improve this Bill, so I encourage him to make sure that we are all engaged in this. The continuation of political support on this issue can, on this occasion, be added to and built on. All of us want to find a sustainable and improving way to reach this incredibly hard-to-reach group. My noble friend Lady Walmsley talked about the problems that someone who cannot read has in accessing help. To take that one step further: try accessing the benefits system without being able to fill in a form, and then have the fear of humiliation in admitting that you cannot read. I encourage my noble friend to encourage the Ministry of Justice to address this. It must do so because everyone is a winner if we get this right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 212 withdrawn.

Clause 69 agreed.

Amendment 213 not moved.

Clause 70: Part does not apply to detained children and young people

Amendment 214 not moved.

Clause 70 agreed.

Clauses 71 and 72 agreed.

Amendment 215

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

215: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—

“Inspection and review of local authorities in England

In section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (inspection of local authorities in England), after subsection (4) insert—

“(5) The Chief Inspector must inspect the performance by an authority in delivering and commissioning specialist support services for children with special educational needs.””

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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, the Government argue that the local offer will improve transparency. However, in one area there is virtually no information available to parents: that is, information on the quality of specialist SEN support services. As drafted, the Bill misses an opportunity to improve outcomes for children with SEN by requiring Ofsted to inspect specialist SEN support services. We believe that this move would improve the overall accountability of the Bill.

This is another area in which the SEN Green Paper recognised the vital role that specialist SEN services have to play. Parents are therefore often surprised that these same SEN educational services are subject to no real formal scrutiny in the same way that schools are. The absence of any reliable data on the number of children with sensory impairments and the outcomes they achieve also means that parents have no way of comparing local offers and SEN provision. Let me illustrate this with an anecdote. A head of a service for deaf children said to the National Deaf Children’s Society:

“I wholeheartedly agree that specialist services should be inspected by Ofsted. All teaching should be inspected to ensure high quality, rigour and recognition of the specialist nature of the work that specialist teachers do as well as raising the profile of deaf education and provision. This would also contribute to narrowing the gap between deaf children and mainstream children attainment”.

As we know, Ofsted has already identified that local authorities are very weak on evaluation of SEN provision. The 2012 Ofsted report on effective practice in services for deaf children said:

“There was limited strategic overview and no systematic approach across all services to evaluate the quality of services and their impact on improving the lives of deaf children”.

In another place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families stated that he was exploring with Ofsted how concerns about SEN provision could be covered under Ofsted’s existing programme for inspecting local authority school improvement functions. This statement was made in spring this year and no update has been provided since. I believe that there needs to be greater certainty on the local offer and accountability before the Bill progresses further.

The amendment would substantially improve the Bill by requiring Ofsted to inspect specialist SEN support services. On day seven of Grand Committee, the Minister—my noble friend Lady Northover—stated that the department has asked Ofsted,

“to study and report on how best to identify best practice in preparing for SEN reforms … and to consider particularly whether there is a need for an inspection framework to drive improvements”.—[

Official Report

, 30/10/13; col. GC 640.]

The Minister indicated that it would be next spring before that report would be published. That commitment was made in response to Amendment 111, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, which would have required Ofsted and the CQC to inspect local offers.

Amendment 215 has a complementary but slightly narrower focus on inspection of specialist support services for children with SEN. The Minister's announcement is to be welcomed. However, it does not go far enough. There is already a strong and clear case for inspection of specialist support services for children with SEN. I believe that the case is especially

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strong for low-incidence SEN, including sensory impairments, because many local authorities and schools are unlikely to be as familiar with the specialist support needed by these children. Surely, the department should require Ofsted to begin inspecting these services now rather than delay any further.

Therefore, I ask the Minister the following questions. First, will he set out in more detail the terms of reference and timescales for Ofsted’s study? Will it also explicitly consider the case for inspection of specialist support services for deaf children? Secondly, although Ofsted’s inspection framework for schools already has an SEN focus, does he accept that Ofsted inspectors are unlikely to pick up on issues on the quality of support being received by a school from specialist support services for children with sensory impairment as there is often only one child with that need in the school?

Thirdly, does the Minister accept that because sensory impairment is a low-incidence need requiring targeted and specialist support, local authorities and schools are more reliant on specialist support services for children with sensory impairment? Does it follow that there is a case for more detailed scrutiny of these services?

Finally, given the scale of underachievement experienced by children with sensory impairments, is there a need for more urgent action to drive improvements? Will any new inspection framework be in place before this Bill comes into force? I beg to move.

7.30 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for moving this amendment on the importance of inspection and review of the new system. Before turning to the specifics of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, it would be helpful to set out some of the details of the inspection and review system.

Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups are already held to account for the services that they provide in a number of ways. Ultimately, local authorities are accountable to local people through the ballot box. Clinical commissioning groups are held accountable by NHS England, which has powers of intervention where a clinical commissioning group has failed, or is at risk of failing, to meet its statutory obligations. The local health and well-being board also provides a local focus for accountability to the local population.

Local authorities must consult on the local offer and publish comments received from children and young people with SEN and the parents of children with SEN, which is another way of encouraging the local population to hold their local authorities to account for implementing the local offer. It is important for noble Lords to note that local authorities and clinical commissioning groups can already be held to account for their actions through individual complaints. The local offer will make the local complaint routes more transparent, so that families will be clearer about how to complain if they need to do so.

However, I understand the case for inspection, given the importance of these reforms. I turn now to Amendment 215, which, as set out by my noble friend,

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requires Ofsted to inspect local authorities on their commissioning and delivery of specialist SEN services. The SEN reforms are new. We therefore need to baseline best practice and use that analysis to identify whether a full inspection regime is necessary. On that basis, as my noble friend Lady Northover said in a previous debate, we asked Ofsted to undertake a study of how local authorities are preparing to implement the SEN reforms, working with the Care Quality Commission as they need. The work will consider how effectively local authorities and clinical commissioning groups will fulfil their responsibilities and how they will monitor improved outcomes for children and young people who have special educational needs. This study will help us to identify whether a new inspection framework would add value, and I or my noble friend would be content to discuss this further with noble Lords, if that would be useful. I think my noble friend Lady Northover has already made that offer. On that basis, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank my noble friend for his reply. Obviously, we all look forward with great anticipation to the study that he referred to, and I think that for the moment, we will just have to be satisfied with that. We will be looking for particular focus on low-incidence needs and how they will be covered. I accept that it is a good idea to get a baseline of best practice and then see how it rolls forward from there, but Ofsted is the expert in this so I look forward to hearing what it has to say about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 215 withdrawn.

Amendment 216

Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote)

216: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty to secure sufficient communication support for parents with children with a hearing loss

(1) An authority must secure that the provision of courses for the purpose of learning how to communicate with a child with a hearing loss, including the provision of sign language courses, (whether or not by them) is sufficient to meet the requirements of parents of children for the hearing loss in their area.

(2) In determining for the purposes of subsection (1) whether the provision of courses is sufficient to meet those requirements, a local authority must have regards to—

(a) the cost of such courses;

(b) the scheduling of such courses; and

(c) the relevance of the contact of such courses to parents with children.”

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this amendment would insert a new clause imposing a duty to secure sufficient communication support for parents of children with hearing loss. The amendment would create a new duty on local authorities to ensure that families with deaf children have access to communication courses on communicating with their children. Some 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, many of whom have little or no prior experience of deafness. As well as the usual emotions that parents face when

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they learn that their child is disabled, parents of deaf children face a battle in learning how best to communicate with that child, particularly if they need to learn sign language.

Of course, sign language will not be appropriate for all families and children, but that option must be there if parents are to be able to play their important role in developing their children’s language and communication skills. I do not need to stress to the Minister how important and fundamental communication within the family is. It is the strongest influence on language development at age two. Money spent here to achieve those skills can be an absolutely invaluable investment. Indeed, failure to support communication within the family is a false economy. It condemns deaf children to a life of frustrated potential. We already know that by the time they start school, four out of five deaf children have failed to achieve a good level of development within the early years foundation stage.

The National Deaf Children’s Society believes that supporting families with deaf children on communication is more than just common sense and should be regarded as a basic human right. We must do more to ensure that families with deaf children can communicate with those children. Sadly, at present, I do not believe that we are doing enough. In a survey in 2011, the NDCS found that more than half—56%—of local authorities did not provide any support to families who needed to learn sign language to communicate with their children. The other half were found to be patchy and uneven in terms of exactly what they provided.

Some families have faced an agonising choice of deciding whether the mother or the father would be able to learn sign language, because local authorities have made funding available for only one person or because there is no childcare funding available. When this matter was raised elsewhere, the Government, alas, left it to the local authorities, saying that it was a matter to them to decide. Is the Minister confident that local authorities understand how important communication support for families is? Is he as concerned as I am, and as many others are, that more local authorities do not already make it available?

I acknowledge that the department has funded a range of projects to improve sign language provision to families, including the I-Sign consortium. That is welcome and certainly much appreciated. I also acknowledge the department’s hope that the Bill will address some of these difficulties, particularly through local offers and personal budgets. However, I would welcome the Minister’s views on whether he thinks this is likely to lead to the step change in provision that deaf children badly need—not in the future but here and now.

Is he confident that sign language courses will be included in local offers? Is he confident that courses would even be available to families should they wish to use their personal budgets for this purpose? Is he confident that local authorities will engage with, and listen to, families with deaf children on this matter? We must remember that deafness, as we have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is a low-incidence disability. Many local authorities are unlikely to be familiar with the needs of deaf children,

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who will always be one of a range of competing needs. Therefore, without a clear duty on local authorities, I and many others are concerned that sign language provision for families will continue to be patchy and progress will continue to be piecemeal. Surely, deaf children and their families deserve better and I hope that the Minister will seriously consider this amendment and its implications. I beg to move.

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I will speak briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. She has made a strong and clear case for action. This issue has been raised elsewhere several times and the fact that it continues to be raised must show the Minister the strength of feeling on it. The current approach of asking voluntary bodies to support improvements in individual local areas is just too piecemeal. The progress being made is far too slow, and deaf children are suffering because of it. Access to communication support for families with deaf children and young people is fundamentally important; the Government must send a clear signal to local authorities that it should be provided where needed. Otherwise, we will be here in 10 years’ time, still having this debate about the lack of sign language provision for families. I beg the Committee to support this amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I, too, rise to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and agree with the points that she has already made. In July 2011, the Prime Minister said in response to a Question from my right honourable friend Sir Malcolm Bruce MP:

“We do a lot to support different languages throughout the UK. Signing is an incredibly valuable language for many people in our country. Those pilot schemes were successful”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/07/2011; col. 308.]

The scheme that the Prime Minister was referring to was the I-Sign consortium, which has piloted family sign language classes in two regions. NDCS, with support from the Department for Education, continues to work to support the development of sign language courses. However, local authorities cannot be compelled to provide sign language support because there is no duty to do so. As has already been outlined, a very high percentage of deaf children are born into hearing families who have no previous first-hand experience of deafness. These families really need support to communicate with their child, particularly where sign language is chosen.

It has been estimated that where deaf children need to communicate in sign language, eight out of 10 parents of deaf children never learn how to communicate with their child through sign language. Without the right support from the start, deaf children and young people are vulnerable to isolation, abuse, bullying, poor self-esteem and low levels of attainment. We have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, how local authorities are very patchy in their provision of sign language services.

The SEN reform in this Bill offers the potential to generate a step change in the provision of sign language courses for families. For example, personal budgets may enable families to pay for this support themselves.

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However, while SEN reform might generate more demand for sign language courses, it really will be useless while local authorities can walk away, which is very damaging to deaf children and their families.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I rise briefly to support this amendment so eloquently moved by my noble friend and to ask two questions. I support it particularly because of the work done by the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith MP and Graham Allen MP, among others, on the importance of early attachment between infants and parents. Clearly, it is crucial that parents can communicate with their young child in order to make a strong bond with them.

I particularly want to emphasise the importance of that. We may have already covered this elsewhere in the Bill, but the two questions are: how is assisting parents to communicate with their blind children dealt with and, on the broader point about all children with some disability or another, how are parents enabled to communicate with them, for instance, those with dyslexia? There may be less of an issue in those particular cases.

The point that I would like some clarity on, and the Minister is welcome to write to me on these points if he thinks that would be appropriate, is that we do not see children on their own; we see them as part of a family and a set of relationships. I imagine that has probably been dealt with elsewhere in the Bill, and I probably have not followed that part closely enough. I hope that that is helpful.

7.45 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for moving this amendment and for continuing to raise this issue. In tabling this amendment, she is highlighting a specific need for local authorities to secure provision to support parents of children with a hearing loss. I think that the noble Baroness spoke in a recent debate in the Chamber when I was supporting my noble friend Lady Jolly. I agree that where there are identified needs, local authorities should provide communication support for parents of children with hearing loss. I recognise the importance of early access to language to help children to learn and to thrive, and it is vital that parents and families get support to communicate in those early months.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the importance of early bonding between the child and the parents. I am not trained in social work, but even I understand that that is extremely important to the development of the child. If that does not take place, the development of the child will be permanently set back.

As noble Lords will note, the Bill already places duties on local authorities to identify, assess and secure special educational provision for all children and young people with SEN. This could include sign language support for those who need it. During the recent debate that I referred to, one of the issues raised was sign language training for parents, of which more later. Your Lordships may find it useful to refer to the Hansard of that debate, because I found the response of my noble friend Lady Jolly very interesting.

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The Bill also requires local authorities to set out a local offer of the support that is available so that parents are aware of what is available to them. Clause 32 requires local authorities to provide parents of children and young people with advice and information about matters relating to special educational needs, which will include parents of deaf children. However, it is for local authorities to decide the appropriate way to structure that support. I can see that the noble Baroness is not entirely content with that statement.

There is already support available to assist parents of deaf children. Through teachers of the deaf and sensory support services, local authorities are providing support to parents of deaf children on communicating with their child, which can include sign language training. The Department for Education is working with the voluntary and community sector to enable local areas to benchmark the support that they provide to deaf children and to access tools and information on the most effective approaches. In particular, we are funding the National Sensory Impairment Partnership, NatSIP, to carry out a benchmarking exercise and develop an outcome framework for local authorities to assess how well they are supporting deaf pupils. They will work with sensory support services across the country in the development of a local offer for deaf, blind and multi-sensory impaired children and their parents. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about multiple sensory impairment.

We funded the development of an early support guide for parents of deaf children and the I-Sign project to develop a family sign language programme. We are funding the I-Sign consortium to build on the learning from this project and improve the availability of sign language support for parents and families. As part of this, I-Sign is testing the use of personal budgets to fund sign language.

As I have already explained, there is already support available for parents of deaf children in addition to the duties in the Bill. It will not be appropriate to have specific duties relating to specific types of need and

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support as this would lead to confusion and gives precedence to particular types of need over other, equally pressing types of need. With this reassurance I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered reply. I am not entirely happy with what he said, although I was not expecting to hear a great deal of detail. He gave some moments of hope with the I-Sign consortium being funded but, as we all know, that will go only some way. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilkins and Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lord Listowel for their brief contributions. I cannot say that I am not going to bring the amendment back because I and others will want to think about whether there is a better way of getting rather more out of this section. This is such an important group, and their basic human rights are at least as important as everybody else’s. We need to ensure that they have the proper proportion of whatever resources are available. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 216 withdrawn.

Amendment 217 not moved.

Schedule 3 agreed.

Clause 73: Interpretation of Part 3

Amendments 218 and 218A not moved.

Clause 73 agreed.

Amendments 219 to 223 not moved.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I think this may be a convenient time to adjourn the Committee.

Committee adjourned at 7.53 pm.