Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years.
Relevant documents: 6th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument), 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, the draft code of practice gives guidance on Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014. The code has been approved by the other place and I welcome the opportunity to introduce the debate in Committee today. First, I want to acknowledge the extensive time that many noble Lords have given to discussion of the Act and the emerging code. Together we created an excellent Act, one that will transform the way in which support is provided for children and young people and their families. The code of practice will bring added impetus to achieving that aim.
Our vision for children with special educational needs and disabilities is the same as for all children and young people—that they achieve well in their early years, at school and in college, and lead happy and fulfilled lives. The new code will play a vital role in underpinning our special educational needs and disability reforms. The reforms will bring a new approach, one that places the views of children, young people and parents at the heart of the system and joins up education, health and care services for children and young people. These important principles run right through the code. For children and young people this means that their experience will be of a less confrontational and more efficient system. Their needs will be identified early with support put in place quickly, and parents will know what services they can reasonably expect. Children and young people and their parents or carers will be fully involved in decisions about their support and what they want to achieve, with an increased focus on life outcomes, including employment and greater independence.
The Department for Education and the Department of Health have worked to ensure that local authorities and local health partners work together to plan and commission services for these children and young people. The code is the result of more than a year of extensive consultation, and we took great care to listen to those who must have regard to the code to make it truly accessible. Additionally, we offered stakeholders the opportunity to comment on revisions of the code before running a final consultation in Spring 2014. I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for their consideration of the draft code. Each raised one particular, and different, issue.
The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments reported a concern in relation to local authority decisions on personal budgets. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, on the same issue following our debate on the personal budgets regulations. I can now confirm, in response to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments’ report, that we will be amending the regulations to give greater clarity to the decision-making process, meeting the point raised by the Committee. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee expressed concern that the code may be too long and complex to be of use to families. I should point out that parents are not the code’s key audience. The chief audience is the range of bodies with statutory duties to fulfil and which must have regard to it. The changes that we have made to the code, including ones that have added to its length, respond to specific feedback on promoting clarity from those who need to have regard to it. The code covers most of the statutory provisions of the current system as well as significant new duties. It replaces three separate sets of guidance and contains a stronger emphasis on and links to the Equality Act 2010. It was absolutely clear that interested parties did not see shortening as a priority. Having a code that gave a clear explanation of the law and guidance that would speak to the wide range of statutory audiences was what mattered.
However, supporting parents in understanding the new system is of course key. The legislation ensures access to information, advice and support. We have provided £30 million over two years to recruit and train independent supporters, and we are co-producing with parents’ organisations a separate guide to the code specifically for parents, and separate materials for young people, both for publication as the reforms come into force.
The reforms have been tested in a number of local pathfinders since 2012 and local authorities have been preparing to put them into practice from September this year. Support is being provided to local authorities, including advice from regional champions and a range of delivery partners with specialist expertise. Some £45.2 million is being provided to local authorities in 2014-15 to help meet the additional costs of implementing the reforms, with a further £32 million indicative funding in 2015-16. This is in addition to the £70 million SEN reform grant in 2014-15 to help local authorities plan for the reforms. Surveys of local authority readiness and visits show that local areas are prepared to put the reforms into practice from September. We have been clear that we expect the change from the current to the new system to take place gradually and have been consulting on transitional arrangements to achieve this.
From September this year, all requests for assessments of special educational needs for those who do not have a statement or an LDA will be considered under the new education, health and care assessment arrangements. We intend that by 1 September 2016 young people in further education who currently receive support as the result of an LDA will transfer to an EHC plan where one is needed. Children and young people with statements will be transferred by 1 April 2018. All local authorities will be required to ensure that certain groups of children are transferred to the new system by particular points during the transition period. This will ensure an ordered transition and maintain protections for children and young people. Draft guidance was recently made available to local authorities.
I am confident that the new code will play a key role in helping to put our reforms into practice, equipping those who work with children and young people to help secure the better outcomes they deserve. The provisions in the Children and Families Act on support for those in youth custody do not come into force until April 2015. Regulations will be made setting out the detail. Noble Lords will be heartened to know that Katy Weeks, a key member of the Bill team for this legislation, has been seconded to the Council for Disabled Children, which is working with the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice on this. We intend to issue draft regulations for consultation later this year. We will then revise the guidance in the code to reflect the final regulations and place it before Parliament for approval under the negative procedure early in the New Year.
More generally, we will be keeping the guidance in the code of practice under review, allowing proper time for the reforms to bed down, particularly as they are being implemented gradually from September. Noble Lords will recall that we made provision in the Children and Families Act for subsequent versions of the code to be approved under the negative procedure to enable the code to be kept up to date more easily. Now is the time to move forward. As there is such broad support for the reforms and a high state of local authority readiness, I urge noble Lords to support the code of practice.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s detailing of his and the Government’s commitment to a more integrated service. Before I address the inconsistencies and ellipses in the draft code of practice, I wish to make the general point that one cannot elaborate and clarify enough when it comes to ensuring the rights of disabled people. Families facing a constant battle navigating the bureaucratic minefield to access the support of institutions need all the assistance that we as legislators can provide to arm them for their discussions with education providers and local authorities.
In this country we have made huge strides on disabled rights. Despite that I have been told of innumerable sufferings of parents who continue to experience significant struggles in safeguarding equitable educational provision for their children—specifically in accessing mainstream education. The current draft lacks principles to guide education providers and commissioners in delivering inclusive education that gives disabled learners access to mainstream courses. I will focus on two particular aspects of the draft special educational needs code of practice that warrant clarification: first, the consistency with which the inclusive education principle is explicitly applied and promoted; and, secondly, the specific provisions in relation to those aged over 16.
Turning to the first, more general, point, it is essential that the code of practice achieves the purpose of the Act to expand inclusive education, but the present draft lacks guiding principles and a clear set of activities that local authorities and education providers should carry out to achieve this. The code of practice needs to, and must, offer guidance about the inclusion of disabled learners in all activities, including access to the mainstream curriculum, and make explicit the strategic role of local authorities and education providers in supporting the practice, as well as how they should carry out this function. Only then can we ensure that disabled learners’ aspirations are not lowered, de facto, through early segregation where it does not suit learners—for instance, by having courses in a mainstream institution but in a secluded unit. Many who are familiar with providing special educational needs will be very familiar with these sorts of units.
Secondly, the current draft contains conflicting advice about disabled learners’ access to FE courses. The guidance states that colleges should make their courses inclusive in all subject areas at all levels, but the SEN code of practice also states that disabled students should enrol in discrete preparation for employment and educational courses. An interpretation by education providers that placed more weight on the latter would risk unfairly denying aspiration and access to the disabled. Can the Department for Education clarify the inclusion principle in the code of practice to ensure that post-16 providers fulfil their obligation to support the inclusion of disabled learners in all activities, including accessing mainstream courses?
Furthermore, the code of practice should make clear that the Equality Act and Children and Families Act duties, which extend inclusive educational practice, are applied across all age groups—including early years, school and post-16. Particularly egregious is the present wording at paragraph 1.28:
“Students will need to meet the entry requirements for courses as set out by the college”.
This runs counter to the Equality Act, which does not require students to meet admission criteria before they enrol in mainstream courses. For example, a disabled learner may lack the expected English or maths GCSEs but be well suited to a particular BTEC or apprenticeship course. Post-16 institutions are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students and this should be reflected in the SEN code of practice through the removal of the provision at paragraph 1.28. Having spoken to a number of parents and other individuals over recent months, I know that the disparities and differences in the experiences of parents across various local authorities, particularly for parents from minority communities, mean that the situation remains extremely unequal and extremely unfair. I therefore welcome the noble Lord’s comments that the code is linked to the Equality Act. I look forward to seeing its impact and what parents say about that.
Above all, the guidance must ensure that the rights of young disabled people to access mainstream education with the support they need is firmly embedded. In order to assure this, the inconsistencies that I have listed should be removed and the obligations on local authorities and education providers clarified. Only then can we help disabled learners with the aptitude to work in adulthood meet their goals and can we create conditions for people with special educational needs to reach their full potential.
My Lords, there is a great deal to welcome in this document except its length; 270 pages is a vast amount. Perhaps I may point out one typographical error in paragraph 8.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum. According to that, the first consultation is not yet over because it lasts until 9 December 2014.
I have five short questions that I should like to put to the Minister. I am sure that they can all be answered fairly quickly. First, is the Minister satisfied that schools and education settings will be capable of identifying speech, language and communication needs from 1 September this year? That is only a month away and normally schools are given at least a term in order to prepare for new guidance they receive. I suppose that the answer will be that this draft, which is still a draft, has been around with some people for a long time, but it will not necessarily have been in every school. There is quite a lot of detail in this document, and I would be surprised if every school has mastered it by 1 September and able to put it into practice.
My second two questions relate to the children who are not mentioned as much here—those who are without EHC plans, about whom there was a great deal of questioning during the passage of the Children and Families Bill. First, is the Minister satisfied that appropriate support is in place for those children with speech, language and communication needs but without plans? Secondly, are the staff in schools adequately trained to provide support for those children without plans? We did not get a clear answer when the Bill was being passed and I still do not get it out of this vast document.
The document is still called a draft. I know that the Minister told us that it had been passed by the other place, but this short session here, when we do not have time to scrutinise the document, could not really be called the House of Lords “passing” the draft and approving it because we simply have not had time to go through all the detail in this 270-page document. Do the department intend to conduct a review of the code once it has been in action for a short time? When might that review be held and will it also be brought before the House so that we have an opportunity to see what the practitioners understand about it when it is being practised?
My fourth point refers to the welcome addition in relation to children in custody. During the passage of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill last week, I asked the Minister what exactly was happening as far as the Ministry of Justice was concerned to amplify the statement made at Third Reading in the other place by the then Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, who said that,
“a great deal of … thought will be given to how those needs can be met”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/14; col. 538.]
He was referring to special educational needs. Thought is okay but the Minister in the Lords did not answer my question as to what that meant, particularly given the two months that have passed since the Third Reading in the other place. I would be grateful if the Minister here can ensure that when I ask the question again on Report in October, when the Bill comes back, there will have been a discussion between the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice so that the Minister is able to answer me and all the other Members of the House who have an interest in the special educational needs of those in custody. We were referring particularly to the proposed development of the secure college in the middle of Leicestershire, which allegedly will have 320 children aged between 12 and 17, boys and girls. Among them there will certainly be a very large number with speech, language and communication needs.
The last question refers to the word “must”, which appears time and time again in bold in the report. Who is the “must”? Who is going to do the “must” and who is going to oversee that the “must” has been done because there must be oversight; otherwise, the “must” will not happen? I would be very grateful if the Minister could enlighten me on that.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. As usual, he has picked on an aspect—the “must”, as it were—and it will be very important to see how that is put into effect. I am grateful to the Minister for putting his case, and what has been achieved so far, albeit that there is still some way to go.
I ask the Minister to provide assurance on three important matters relating to the changes to the special educational needs framework and the code of practice. First, what progress has been made by Ofsted in its review of the need for an inspection framework to drive improvements in local SEN provision and the local offer? That was announced earlier this year by the Minister when we were considering the Children and Families Bill, which is now an Act. We were told that a report would be published this summer. Can the Minister confirm that that is still the intention and, if not, when the report is expected? A number of charities, including the National Deaf Children’s Society, question the wisdom of passing a new code of practice without taking meaningful steps to ensure that local authorities follow it. The absence of a proper accountability framework surrounding the SEN framework remains a fundamental concern to many.
Secondly, while the code refers to “0 to 25” on the cover, as we all recall, it does not apply to disabled students in higher education. When this issue was raised in our debates on the Children and Families Bill, we were told that the SEN framework did not need to apply to higher education because a separate scheme of Disabled Students’ Allowance already ensures that the necessary support is provided. However, in April, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced a “rebalancing” of support from DSA to universities. Although the details are still sketchy, I understand that some support will no longer be provided by DSA and that universities will be expected to provide it instead. It remains unclear what rights a disabled student at university will have if the university fails to provide the support that would previously have been given under DSA.
I recognise that universities are required to follow the Equality Act—we have heard from the Minister that they will do so—and to make reasonable adjustments. However, should universities fail to make reasonable adjustments, the main means of redress here would seem to be a judicial review. Had the same disabled student aged 19 attended college instead and had an education, health and care plan, they would have the option to appeal to a SEN and disability tribunal over their support. It seems perverse that a student at a university has to take a more difficult route to securing the support they need. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide a view on whether disabled students in higher education should have the same or similar statutory rights as a student at a college with special educational needs aged 19 to 25. Will the Minister confirm whether his department will look again at the question of whether disabled students in higher education should be brought under the scope of the code and the SEN framework?
Thirdly, and finally, there is a strong focus on outcomes in the new code. This is certainly to be welcomed. Will the Minister confirm whether families or young people will have a right to appeal if the local authority fails to set stretching or appropriate outcomes for their child? The National Deaf Children’s Society and others are concerned that there is an omission here in both the code and the accompanying regulations. If so, what is the rationale for this?
I hope that the Minister will be able to provide reassurances on the above matters or indicate that these issues are being looked at elsewhere. It is important that we have the best SEN code and framework possible—I am sure that he is committed to that—and, where improvements are needed, I very much hope that the Minister will look at how those can be achieved.
My Lords, perhaps I may put a few more points. First, the size of the document was commented upon in another place. On going through the sections, they should of course be broken down to smaller units, for ease of use. I ask my noble friend, has he encouraged the various charitable bodies outside to print their own guides to the relevant bits for their user groups? I can see that they would be very good at making it understandable, because it is in their interests and those of their client base to ensure that it is done; and they have a better starting point from knowing exactly what language could be used. That is a general point.
Not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, got to the nub of what I was going to say, first. That is, that we have come from a very confrontational system, as the noble Lord said, in which we knew what we had to do and where the points in the sand were that we had to get to. We knew that we had to achieve these and needed certain points to do so. It was incredibly confrontational and probably wasted huge amounts of effort. It probably was needed when it was first brought in, to get people to take the problem seriously. We should be capable of moving on from the graduated approach commenced in school action and school action plus, as the noble Lord described. However, if we had taken into account that the schools and the providers of support are also going to have to move away from a confrontational situation, what is that monitoring? What is that “must”, and how are they going to do it? Those are very valid questions. If there is not the will to move forward, who ultimately will make sure that they do it? That is something we should know about. It is something that we should not have to do but almost certainly will do, if only in a certain number of cases. It is just the historical weight that we carry in this situation.
I have a couple of slightly more specific points. The biggest and bravest change in this was the fact of the duty to identify within the Act—not merely as a response to those who had been presented. However, I cannot help but ask: if we are putting a great deal of effort into the SEN codes here and the SEN codes are organised, has my noble friend given any more thought to improving at least a recognition course for the more commonly occurring disabilities or educational problems? He mentions in this document those with specific learning difficulties. Apparently dyslexics are out in front, closely followed by dyscalculics and dyspractics. I am not sure about the figures, but we reckon that it is roughly 10% in the British version for dyslexics. Just over 3% have dyscalculia; I have not seen the figure for dyspraxia. Probably up to 15% of our school population is covered in that group. We must make sure that we can identify the signs, or at least the danger of people falling into those groups, the specific learning patterns those people have, the support structures they will need and, indeed, getting them through not only for educational purposes and teaching them how to cope. It would be very helpful to know how to establish all that for individuals; how to bring in their parents and tell them how to cope.
I remember the discussions we had about the SEN codes. Let us face it, none of us is coming in on this cold. I think that the term used was “whole-school strategy”: making sure that work structures are in place throughout the school. In early recognition, having lots of eyes with a degree of knowledge will be better than having an expert who gives commands, because at least that way we will know to refer on to the expert. This is something that is not too much to expect, and it certainly has to be a better way forward in the earlier stages of the educational process. What steps are being taken towards this? If we do not put mandatory steps in now, how do we ensure that the SENCOs have enough scouts, troops and boots on the ground to ensure they do their job properly?
This is a change of approach and a bold step, but the transition is going to be difficult. Almost by guarantee there are going to be problems with transition to the new culture. Unless more people are brought in and provided it is not pushed off to one side, which tended to happen in the past in the worst cases, we are going to have extra problems. I look forward to my noble friend’s answers.
My Lords, the SEN disability code of practice, which we are considering today, is a substantial piece of work, as has been remarked. The department is to be congratulated on it, particularly on the extent of the consultation which has taken place. It has been improved considerably in many respects since it was first issued in outline. I particularly express appreciation for the time and trouble officials have taken to meet with me and respond to the concerns I have expressed.
Within the restrictions imposed by the debates on the Children and Families Bill, the approach to inclusion has been improved. There are references to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; there is a statement on the presumption of mainstream education; and, as has been said, there is a greater reference to the Equality Act, although the inter- relationship between that Act and education legislation could have been better spelt out and highlighted more prominently. So far as encouraging a strategic approach to the development of mainstream provision is concerned, the statement that local authorities should be proactive in seeking to improve the accessibility of mainstream provision is most important, particularly if they do that with respect to the provision in their area taken as a whole.
That said, the Government will know that members of the Special Educational Consortium are far from giving the code their unequivocal support. They are calling for an early review of the guidance once we have seen how it is working in practice. The sector exhibits a range of views about the code. Some organisations believe it should be withdrawn and relaid at a later date. A case in point is the National Deaf Children’s Society, which has already been referred to. This is not a head-banging or unreasonable organisation; it very much has its feet on the ground. That an organisation such as this should ask for the code to be withdrawn should give grounds for concern. The society makes a number of points. I will allude to them briefly, because the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has already referred to them.
On Report, the Minister announced the Government had asked Ofsted to review the need for an inspection framework to drive improvements in local SEN provision and the local offer. The NDCS believes it should be a higher priority to ensure the support that deaf children receive from services is inspected. As the noble Baroness said, concerns have also been expressed about the wider accountability framework around SEN provision. The Minister indicated that Ofsted would publish its findings in summer 2014 but to date we have heard very little about Ofsted’s progress. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I would be very glad if the Minister could give us an update on how that work is going. We need a clear understanding of how the local authorities will be held to account for their local SEN provision.
Secondly, the code is equivocal about provision of specialist services for deaf children. Paragraph 9.144 states,
“local authorities should consider commissioning … peripatetic services”
for very young children with “hearing or vision impairment”. But elsewhere it states that where an EHC plan is being considered, deaf children must be assessed by a qualified teacher of the deaf. This cannot happen unless the service employing such teachers has been commissioned, so I would welcome the Minister’s reassurance that the necessary services for giving deaf children the support that they need will be commissioned.
Thirdly, we need reassurance about the support that disabled students in higher education receive following changes to DSA recently announced without any public consultation whereby universities will be required to take more of the strain. What means of redress will disabled students have if universities fail to make reasonable adjustments or if the adjustments they make are inadequate? It can be argued that there is now a strong case for universities to be brought within the scope of the SEN code of practice so that disabled students have statutory rights of appeal if the support they need to achieve their potential is not provided.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, it would be anomalous if disabled students aged 19 to 25 in other forms of education or training could exercise such rights but disabled students in higher education could not do so. Parliament may also want to consider whether the local offer should now include information about the support available from individual educational institutions.
Finally, concerns have been raised about the absence of any rights within the code that would allow parents and young people to appeal against the content of what the EHC plan says about outcomes. This means that tribunals cannot direct the local authority to amend the content of the plan as regards outcomes. This contrasts sharply with what has been the case under the previous regime, where much of the argument at tribunal has been about the content of statements—I can vouch for that personally having served on the SEN tribunal for some dozen years.
Many other SEC members believe that the code should be approved but with regret. They have a number of concerns with both the content and the timing of the code. While there is a broad recognition that the code has been significantly improved since it was consulted on earlier in the year, there equally remain concerns that the code is not as robust a document as might have been hoped. For example, a lot of concern remains around the removal of the school action and school action plus stages and their replacement with SEN support. There are worries that this new single stage will not be as discriminating as its predecessor and that it will be more difficult to respond to children’s needs in as individualised a way as before.
In general, however, the Special Educational Consortium’s members believe that the code should be approved and that the focus should be on making the most of it for the sake of a successful implementation of the reforms in September 2014. They believe that a failure to approve the code now would create more confusion than going ahead with the code currently before Parliament—I would agree with that. On timing, there is much concern that, given that implementation of the reforms is taking place in September, those who are legally required to have regard to the code are being put in a very difficult position and being given an unreasonably short time to become familiar with its provisions. There is normally an expectation that schools will receive new guidance at least a term in advance. There is a common concern across the SEC membership that the timing of the code risks jeopardising some of the many positive features of the legislation. The academic year has now finished, and educational institutions have broken up for the summer. There is a concern that this leaves no time whatever to begin to build the new culture which we will need if the reforms are to be implemented successfully. That being so, I am glad that the Minister devoted so much of his speech to the questions of preparation and transition, but I am not sure that they will have entirely alleviated all concerns.
Finally, although I have said that with implementation scheduled for September a failure to approve now would risk chaos, I believe that the Government should commit to an early review of the code following the academic year 2014-15, given the concerns that have been expressed. The Minister indicated that there may be an opportunity to pick up concerns raised at this stage—by which I mean now—when regulations are published later on, but a more definitive commitment to a full review after a year would be helpful and very much welcomed.
My Lords, I want to be very positive about this code of practice because I think that this is an historic moment for special educational needs and disability. I start by paying tribute to everyone involved because we are light years away from where we were before. Two years ago I was a teacher who had to look at colleagues who were not prepared to offer a duty of care to children with medical conditions. Now that will change, and it is to do so straightaway. Two years ago, schools did not have to have a qualified teacher as a SENCO, but now they do. I would reflect on the fact that after three years in post, those SENCOs must have the national qualification. To my mind, in terms of mainstream schools, we are light years away from where we were before. As I say, I pay tribute to all those who have been involved in putting together this code of practice. The 270-odd pages that make up the code are actually very clear and readable. I would guess that if this document was handed over to the plain English society, it would probably get a high score. Ministers, the Government and all those involved have listened and consulted, which means that changes have been made.
I have a number of particular questions, some of which have been raised already. Perhaps I may go over them. I should like to know what the process will be when changes occur. What is the procedure for adding something to this document? I have already mentioned to my noble friend the Minister that I am particularly concerned about the issue of young people sustaining concussion as a medical condition in school. At some stage we will need clear guidance on that. However, it is only one of a number of things. How, in the months and years to come, do we go about looking at those areas where we have real concerns?
I should have thought that 12 months was too short a period for a review, but an appraisal needs to be made at some stage of how this document is actually working in practice in schools. I would also be interested to know, perhaps through Ofsted visits and through general feedback, how the clear responsibilities for SENCOs in schools work in practice. A noble Lord asked who the responsible people are to be. For the first time, for mainstream schools, what SENCOs have to do and are responsible for doing is clearly set out and there is no hiding from that. They are responsible to the head teacher and the head teacher is responsible to the governing body of the school.
Mention has been made of local authorities. Again, we know that practices vary widely across different parts of the country. This code of practice means that local authorities will have much greater clarity about what they are responsible for and what they should do. Again, that is light years away from where we are.
A hugely important issue is that of continuing professional development. The schools have now broken up and this document will land on desks in September—it will be a soft landing, I hope—but we need to make sure that over the coming terms, all staff in schools have access to professional development so as to be able to understand their responsibilities, the importance of the code, and what should now happen.
Again, issue has been made about those young people who are not on an education, health and care plan. I am used to a system of school action and school action plus which is replaced by a graduated approach. As the debate has taken place, I have had reservations about the graduated approach because it is not absolutely clear how children will progress. I do not expect the Minister to answer—we have had that debate before—but at some stage we need to come back to that issue and be satisfied that that graduated approach is working.
I am going to end as I started by congratulating everyone involved. I am sure that in years to come this time will be regarded as, if you like, not the end of the matter—of course that will not be the case because the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, will happen, but over time—but as the starting point to allow those changes to take place.
My Lords, I echo what other Peers have said about the welcome strengthening of the code, if not its length. I know many in the sector are appreciative of the changes. Having been a member of the recent post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Mental Capacity Act, I would like to comment on the sections of the code that interpret how the law will apply to young people who may lack capacity.
The Bill, quite rightly, gives new rights to young people over the age of 16 to make decisions about their support, subject to their capacity to do so. However, it is unclear in the code who decides whether a young person lacks mental capacity. Is it the young person, their parents, the school or the local authority? The voices of the young person and the parents should, of course, be heard throughout this and I would welcome clarification from the Minister on this point.
Building on this, it is critical to ensure that decisions that young people make are not overly shaped by the desires and agendas of others, including local authorities and other professionals. Mencap has discussed its point of view with me. It would like to see emphasis placed on ensuring that young people get the support they need to understand properly the decisions they are making and to be helped to make an informed choice, both about their support and what they might wish to do after school.
I refer to Annex 1, which sets out the five key principles in decision-making when someone may lack capacity, but clarification is needed about the process to follow regarding a young person who is judged to lack capacity. The code states that in such a situation decisions will be made by a representative who is,
“a deputy appointed by the Court of Protection”.
Currently, under the Mental Capacity Act, a formal process is not always needed and a formal deputy does not always need to be appointed. Can the Minister clarify this and say whether the code is implying that a new type of education deputy will be introduced rather than following the best-interests process currently used for adults? It is not clear from the code how a decision on whether a young person has capacity can be challenged and I would welcome the Minister’s response.
We must remember that the Children and Families Act 2014 brings in new decision-making rights for young people aged 16 to 18 in terms of education. This is a very new area for the Mental Capacity Act to be applied in. I agree with my noble friends that it would be sensible to review how the code is working at an appropriate point and to focus specifically on this area of implementation of decision-making capacity judgments within such a review.
My Lords, a number of the points I was going to raise have already been raised so I am going to be brief. There are just a few points I would like to rehearse. First, I welcome the code of practice. It is long and complex but I have great sympathy with the people who have tried to put it together. Its language is certainly a big improvement. It is written in plain language, even if some issues about implementation still need to be a bit clearer. The Minister said rightly that this document is mainly for practitioners and managers. It has been the practice, certainly in the Department for Education and its predecessor, to produce slimmer, accessible versions for parents and young people and I wondered whether the department would consider doing this or at least commissioning someone else to do it.
Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that the document is still a bit unclear as to what children without an EHC plan can expect. Worryingly, I found the following sentence on page 48 in relation to the local offer:
“In setting out what they ‘expect to be available’ local authorities should include provision which they believe will actually be available”.
By implication, that might include some provision that in fact will not be available. There is a lack of clarity there about what parents who have to rely on a local offer rather than an EHC plan can expect in reality. I wish the document had been stronger in its emphasis on the local authority making sure that what is in the local offer will be available to people.
Thirdly, on accountability, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, we are still waiting for the inspection framework that Ofsted was going to review and publish. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Nash, indicated to my noble friend Lady Wilkins that an initial report would be out in late May. We have still not seen that from Ofsted, which makes it difficult to make an assessment about the accountability framework that Ofsted is going to apply.
Fourthly, I welcome the section on nought to two year-olds, and the fact that it is there, but I wonder whether the Minister could clarify something. It is written only for service providers, saying that they must do this and must do that, and does not say anything about the role of local authorities in relation to nought to two year-olds. Would he be prepared to put on record that local authorities are accountable for nought to two year-olds in terms of identifying and ensuring provision there, in the same way that they are for other age groups?
I also wanted to ask something about further education. It has come to my attention—this may be wrong, so I want to check it out—that the person designated as a SENCO in a further education college does not have to have special educational needs qualifications. Is this the case and, if it is, would the Government consider requiring those people to have those qualifications? My second point about FE is about inclusive provision. Having gone round a number of further education colleges and talked to young people, it is quite depressing, to some extent, to see what some FE colleges are providing for children with special educational needs: lots of preparation for living courses, but no identifying and enabling of those young people who could go on a mainstream vocational course. It is an option not often available to young people with special educational needs and disabilities. FE colleges should not be able simply to provide the kind of courses that they think are suitable and shoehorn people into them but should try to include disabled young people on mainstream courses for other students, where they can be included with support.
My last point is about the need for a review of the code and how it is being implemented. The Minister said that the Government would keep the code under review. The problem with that is that, if the department keeps it under review, the rest of us will really not know much about implementation. There needs to be a specific review at a point in time, the results of which are then published for us all to see.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their comments and questions. I will try to address the points raised but I doubt whether I will manage to cover them all. Where I do not, I will write to noble Lords.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked about inclusive education, particularly higher and further education. The code reflects the current position, which includes the general presumption that children with SEN should be taught in mainstream settings. That principle is extended to young people in further education through the Children and Families Act 2014. The code also highlights that schools and colleges have important duties under the Equality Act 2010 to prevent discrimination against disabled people, to promote equality of opportunity, to plan to increase access over time and to make reasonable adjustments to their policy and practice, which, since September 2012, has included providing auxiliary aid and services such as specialist computer programs et cetera. However, I note the point made by both the noble Baroness and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and I would be interested to discuss further at the end the point she made to ensure that these colleges are taking their duties seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is to be commended for reading all 270 pages. He must have done so in order to pick up the typographical error. The publication of the final code will not be determined in advance—he is right about that. However, in communicating with schools, colleges and local authorities on the implementation of the reforms, we have always made it clear that the version of the code issued for consultation on 16 April this year was sufficiently near to the final code for implementation-planning purposes. Key duties remain as they are currently for schools and early year providers. They will start to put in place from September the new approach to identifying and supporting children with SEN set out in the code and record those with SEN under SEN support in the January 2015 census. FE colleges will have a duty to use their best endeavours to ensure that young people with SEN get the help they need as they have always done, and will have regard to the approved code of practice.
We believe that the guidance provides a robust framework for supporting those without EHC plans which focuses on the impact of the support rather than how children access support according to the category they fit into. It will also challenge schools to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all pupils rather than inappropriately labelling some pupils as having SEN. The guidance makes clear that schools should involve parents in shaping the support that is provided, be more transparent about what support is available at the school, monitor the progress of all pupils and respond quickly where children are making inadequate progress. School leaders will be expected to include the quality of SEN support within their approach to school improvement, professional development and performance management arrangements.
More generally, we will keep the guidance and the code of practice under review, allowing proper time for the reforms to bed down, particularly as they are being implemented gradually from September. We made provision in the Children and Families Act for subsequent versions of the code to be approved under the negative procedure precisely to enable the code to be kept up to date more easily.
As regards the point about the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the Ministry of Justice has indicated that it will consult later this year on its approach to secure college rules. This will provide a further opportunity to contribute to the development of secure colleges and ensure that the needs of young people, in particular as regards their welfare and safety, are met. However, I will pass on the noble Lord’s remarks to try to ensure that when the Bill comes back later in the year he gets a better answer than the one he got last time.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also talked about enforceability and accountability. For the first year we will ask local authorities and parent carer forums to complete implementation surveys on a termly basis. These will focus on whether the key elements of the new statutory framework are working. We will take action, including appropriate support and intervention, where it is clear that a local authority is struggling to implement the reforms. For the longer term, we are developing an accountability framework for monitoring delivery of the reforms. We expect this to be in place from September next year. It will include an agreed approach for challenging poorly performing local authorities and taking more formal intervention action where necessary. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Low, and other noble Lords asked about Ofsted. Ofsted is now completing its survey of how local areas are working on the reforms and will make recommendations soon about the possible role of inspection in monitoring and accountability.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, also asked about the disabled students’ allowance. The noble Baroness will recognise that higher education institutions must meet their duties under the Equality Act. Students can challenge their institution under internal procedures if they do not get the support they should and can ultimately go to court. Currently, they would have to use the Student Loans Company procedures and, as I say, ultimately the courts. As far as appeals are concerned, the outcomes in the EHC plan are much broader than the objectives in the statement as they cover health and social care as well as education and training. Local authorities need to be able to take an integrated approach in describing outcomes in the EHC plan which reflect how a number of services may need to work together to deliver a particular outcome. Making the education and training outcomes themselves appealable could prevent local authorities taking an integrated approach in describing outcomes, but, of course, it remains the case that the special educational provision in an EHC plan is appealable through the tribunal.
My noble friend Lord Addington talked about encouraging charities to make their own version of the code in relation to their particular issues. We know that some organisations are already doing this, an example of which is the Communications Trust. I agree that such organisations are particularly well placed to do this. We are also working with the voluntary sector and other organisations to develop guides to the code of practice, particularly for parents, schools and NHS bodies. My noble friend also talked about training. In order to gain qualified teacher status, trainee teachers must meet national standards which require them to vary their approach to meet the different needs of children, including those with SEN. In 2012, some 76% of newly qualified primary school teachers and 89% of secondary NQTs rated their SEN training as “very good”. It is up to schools to decide what professional development their staff require, and it is true that the code sets out a range of sources of training materials.
For their part, the Government have supported improvements through the teaching schools programme, through their funding for the National Association for Special Educational Needs and its SEN and disability gateway, an online portal that provides access to a range of training resources, including on dyslexia, autism, speech, language and communication needs. We have also funded the training of more than 10,000 new SENCOs and are supporting Achievement for All 3As to provide leadership to help 1,200 schools in developing their provision for children with SEN. The code of practice makes it clear that school leaders should ensure that staff receive appropriate professional development, and the national training of new SENCOs includes an understanding of the main types of SEN, including dyslexia, speech, language and communication needs and autism.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to special services for deaf children. The code recognises that it is up to the local authority to decide, with local children, young people and parents, what services to commission and to include in their local offer. That will include services for deaf children and those with other types of SEN. He asked whether the system will be ready in time for September. We have always been clear that the reforms will be implemented from this coming September. The key elements of the reforms were set out in a Green Paper in 2011. We have regularly been asking all local authorities in England how well they have been preparing, and local authorities are ready to go. Over 90% have reported that they are ready and the department is working closely with the others. Implementation will be gradual, and we have put in place a range of support, including the £70 million SEN reform grant in 2014-15 to help with plans for the reforms, along with £45 million in 2014-15 and £32 million in 2015-16 for the recruitment and training of independent supporters. We also have the regional SEN champions, drawn from the local pathfinders who have been testing the reforms in practice and from a range of delivery partners with specialist expertise in key areas such as person-centred planning.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Storey for his supportive remarks. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, mentioned the guidance on mental capacity. We think that the guidance in the code on mental capacity is about right. It sets out how cases where young people and parents lack the mental capacity to take certain decisions under the Children and Families Act should be dealt with. We have provided a link to further advice on the Mental Capacity Act and have listed all the sections under Part 3 of the Children and Families Act in the regulations where mental capacity considerations come into play. However, I have listened to the points made by the noble Baroness and I will reflect on them. We will be able to consider this issue in a further review of the code.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, for welcoming the code. We are coproducing with parents’ organisations a separate guide to the code for parents and separate materials for young people, both for publication as the reforms come into force.
We believe that the code of practice is clear about the importance of early identification for children in the early years. Chapter 5 of the code provides specific guidance on early identification for children from birth to two and outlines the forms of support that can be considered. It also sets out the measures in place to identify needs early on, including the duty on health bodies to inform the child’s parents and tell the local authority where they are of the opinion that a child under compulsory school age has, or probably has, a special educational need or disability. That enables the local authority to put support in place at an early stage. I can confirm that local authorities are as responsible for the provision for nought to two year-olds as they are for older children and young people.
It is true, as the noble Baroness says, that the SENCO in an FE college does not have to have a formal SENCO qualification. That is probably part of the point I would like to pick up with her about FE colleges, which I mentioned in opening. It is the Government’s policy to free colleges from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens. We therefore sought to keep the new burdens the Act places on colleges that are independent education providers to a minimum. However, it is, of course, important for there to be oversight of SEN co-ordination and for curriculum and support staff to have access to support in identifying a student’s needs. If they are concerned about progress or if they need further advice, many colleges already have posts that fulfil this role in a similar way to that of SENCOs in schools. While we do not believe, therefore, that it is necessary to extend the specific legal duty to have a SENCO to colleges, we have set out in the draft code of practice that colleges should ensure that there is a named person in the college with oversight of SEN provision to ensure co-ordination of support.
Of course, the code is not perfect and, of course, we will review it over time. I believe that we have come a long way, as my noble friend Lord Storey said, through the passage of this Act and through the code. Our reforms are much needed and have broad support across this House and beyond. Local authorities are ready to take these reforms forward in September, and our other partners who work with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities are working to support that process. We will keep the code under review as the reforms bed down. The code is fundamental in helping us to improve support for children and young people who have special educational needs or are disabled, and their families, and I urge noble Lords to support it.
May I, too, ask a question of the Minister? May I take him back to the question of disabled students in higher education and their ability to challenge the provision that is being made? I think that the Minister said that they would need to go to court. I assume that that would be by way of judicial review; and, of course, that is going to be much more difficult now that the scope of judicial review is being so much curtailed and the availability of legal aid for judicial review is so much reduced. That is going to significantly undermine the ability of disabled students to use the courts to resolve these problems. I wonder therefore if the Minister would be willing to give further consideration to a more substantial right of redress for disabled students in higher education.
My Lords, it might be helpful if I tell noble Lords that there is no need for them to say “Before the noble Lord sits down” in Grand Committee. The only time that one uses it is at Report stage.