In section 324 of the 1996 Act at the end of subsection (2) insert—
"and shall have regard to—
The noble Baroness saids: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 44. These two amendments take us back to our discussion at the beginning of this afternoon on the first group of amendments. They also take us back to the discussion we had last week about what principles should underlie statements of special educational need. The amendments would incorporate two important points in Section 324 of the 1996 Act, which deals with statements of special educational needs.
First, the amendments would insert a set of principles that should govern special educational needs statements. That has never been done before, but in many senses it is fundamental. Many parents have very little idea of the basis on which special educational needs statements are made.
At Second Reading, I quoted the case of a local education authority official dealing with special educational needs and a vociferous middle class parent who knew precisely what his rights were and was fighting the local education authority for his child to be sent to a particular special school to meet his needs. The official admitted that the LEA had three sets of priorities: the first priority lay with those parents who were taking the authority to court; the second priority lay with those parents who were threatening to take the authority to the tribunal; and the third priority lay with the majority of parents, who had no idea of their rights. That is not satisfactory. Parents should know what their rights are.
Later in the Bill we shall deal with the conciliation service and the importance of informing parents what their rights are under that service. We very much hope that the friendlier procedures will give parents a better idea of their rights. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate to incorporate some broad statements of principle in Section 324.
The amendment is straightforward—probably much too straightforward. I recognise that the drafting is brutish, but it says what I want it to say. First, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount concern in any statement. Secondly, the wishes of the parents and, where ascertainable, the wishes of the child shall be taken into account. Thirdly—this takes us back to the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, talked about earlier—financial resources shall not be the paramount consideration, as, I regret, they frequently are. That is hardly surprising, because local education authorities have to find the money to meet some very expensive special educational needs. As the Audit Commission concluded in 1992, while there are enforceable rights to the provision of specified needs in the statement,
"there is an incentive for LEAs not to specify what is to be provided because they thereby avoid a long-term financial commitment".
That is why the amendment specifies that the best interests of the child, not the available financial resources, shall be the dominant factor in determining what provision is made.
Amendment No. 44 says specifically that,
"Any such specification of special educational provision under subsection (3) shall be invalid unless it shall sufficiently state the duration and frequency thereof".
For example, the specification states that they shall have speech therapy, but it does not say how much speech therapy; how often they should receive it; nor that it should be monitored to decide when it should cease. There is, thus, a remedy here in terms of an amendment to the 1996 Act. I beg to move.
I apologise to the Committee for not having been here the first day when the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, very ably moved my amendments for me. I was struck low, I regret to say, by an infected duck's egg and was totally unable to attend the Committee. This is, however, a very important amendment and should go on the face of the Bill, particularly—and my party takes a strong view on this—the inclusion of the consideration with regard to the wishes of the child. Moreover, Amendment No. 44, with the specification to state officially the help that is to be given, is absolutely vital. These matters ought to be pursued to the very end and I hope that the Government accept them both.
I strongly support these amendments and Amendment No. 44 in particular. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, the law requires a statement of special educational needs to specify the special educational provision. However, LEAs draft vague statements with the aim, as the Audit Commission research indicated, of avoiding long-term financial commitment. Certainly, in IPSEA's view, quantification is always necessary and without it there is no guarantee that children will receive the provision they need, which is the whole purpose of the statement. That view is strongly held by the overwhelming majority of organisations in the voluntary sector. That was apparent when they responded to the consultation on the proposed code of practice. Perhaps I might quote one or two briefly.The National Autistic Society said,
Mencap said,"Statements which do not specify the level of provision and support necessary for the child to receive an appropriate education risk leaving provision open to interpretation, reduction. and unfortunately in some cases, misinterpretation".
"There are already too many statements with insufficient specificity to provide a firm foundation for active partnerships between parents and schools. Statements that lack specificity are by their very nature open to differing interpretations by the school, parents and the LEA and are likely to lead to more rather than less conflict between these parties".
I shall not continue but there were many more.
I am unhappy about Amendment No. 44 and even more unhappy about Amendment No. 43 for reasons which I now hope to make clear to the Committee.I understand the objectives behind Amendment No. 43, which seeks to impose restrictions on the LEAs' decisions in relation to writing statements that go beyond the current provisions in Schedule 27 of the Education Act. Those require that LEAs shall specify the parents' choice of school in the child's statement, unless it is unsuitable to the child's age, ability and aptitude or to his special educational needs; or his attendance at that school would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he will be educated; or the efficient use of resources. The first part of Amendment No. 43—the interests of the child—is covered by the requirement under Schedule 27 to ensure that a school is suitable to the child's age, ability and aptitude or to his special educational needs. The second part of the amendment would require LEAs to have regard to parents' wishes and, where ascertainable, the wishes of the child. It is already established law that LEAs should have regard to parents' wishes. Advice in the draft revised SEN code of practice strongly encourages LEAs to take the views of the child into account, not only during statutory assessment but also throughout the child's school career. The third part of the amendment would effectively disallow LEAs from considering their resources at all when considering parents' choices of school. That cannot be right and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, recognises that her colleagues on local education authorities wrestle with such issues continually. It would run counter to LEAs' general duty to provide education as efficiently as possible and the specific provisions of Schedule 27. In view of this, I believe that she may consider, on reflection, that the amendment would not prove acceptable. Turning to Amendment No. 44, this would require LEAs to specify special educational provision in statements in such a way as to include its duration and frequency in all cases. The amendment is unnecessary and inappropriate. Section 324 already requires LEAs to specify provision to meet all of the child's special educational needs. Part B of the schedule to the Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1994 requires an LEA, in completing the statement, to specify the special educational provision that the authority considers appropriate and in particular to specify
Each child's special educational needs are different. LEAs must have the flexibility to specify provision that is necessary and appropriate to the special educational needs of each individual child. In specifying special educational provision in a statement. the LEA will need to take into account the outcomes of the statutory assessment of the child's needs and the setting within which the child may be taught. In many cases it will be necessary to quantify the provision to meet some or all of the child's special educational needs while in others it may not. It will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. It would not be right for provision to be specified in terms of its duration and frequency in every case. Requiring LEAs to quantify special educational provision in every case would be against the interests of those children whose special educational needs change frequently and require flexibility of provision to meet those changing needs. For example, a child with a speech and language impairment could be expected to progress rapidly in some areas. The content and precise detail of speech therapy provision—the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp referred specifically to a child in that category—will therefore need to change, often on a weekly basis. Where a child's school is specially resourced to cater for particular special educational needs, it can offer provision which is tailored precisely and varied easily by the school to meet each individual child's needs in a flexible, responsive and appropriate way. In any event, if parents feel that the provision is not specified clearly enough in the statement, or that it should be further quantified in terms of duration and frequency of support, they have a right to appeal to the tribunal. We made clear prior to and during the debate on Second Reading—last week my noble friend Lady Blackstone gave further reassurances to the Committee—that we will retain the requirement in the SEN regulations and the revised SEN code of practice for LEAs to specify the provision to be made for each child. I am happy to state that reassurance again today and I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, might be prepared to withdraw her amendment."any appropriate facilities and equipment, staffing arrangements and curriculum."
I repeat my earlier point that there is concern about reverting to specifying. Does the department intend to be unequivocal about specifying, or will there be a qualification as necessary that then allows flexibility for the local authority to determine whether it is necessary to specify? There is some concern among groups which represent people with disabilities. It would be helpful to know what will go into the code of practice. Will it be unequivocal that the provisions required to meet the special educational needs of the child will be specified, not "as necessary", but in every case?
I have a further question to add. As I have said several times, the current position to which the Government are, thankfully, reverting is not in itself satisfactory. There are many instances of statements coming through as we discussed on Amendment No. 32. Vague reports are coming from the education psychologists and, on the back of them, the statements are very vague. "Specify" seems to have become less and less of an exact term and one which can mean whatever the local authority wishes.It would be helpful if we set out in the legislation or the code of practice that statements should be clear not just to the local authority but to the schools which have to put them into practice and to the parents of the children who need to understand what is being offered to their child. Approaching this from a different angle, perhaps we could consider an obligation to ensure that the statements are written not just for the local authority but are clear to the school and the parents. That would address many of the difficulties which the noble Lord raises in relation to amendments I would otherwise wish to support.
Before the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, decides what to do, surely we do not want the parents to have recourse to tribunals all the time. That is not an answer. Am I right in thinking that the majority of appeals by parents to tribunals are about the provision in the child's statement of special need, not about the choice of school?
I am grateful for the further representations made in Committee. Perhaps it would help if I went into rather greater length about what we expect to be specified in the revised code of practice. to make clear what a child's statement should look like. We all recognise that we seek to ensure that the child's needs are met. Therefore we need the force and the clarity of the statement to ensure the child's needs are met while at the same time requiring the flexibility inherent in the child's development within the school. In some circumstances, that may make a statement very difficult to specify over a considerable period of time.In the revised code of practice, we shall insist that the child's statement should describe clearly all the child's special educational needs in full; set out the main objectives that the special educational provision aims to meet; specify clearly, and quantify as necessary, the provision required to meet the child's needs; describe the arrangements for setting shorter-term objectives for the child; describe any special arrangements for the annual review of the statement; recognise the need for the school to monitor and evaluate the child's progress during the year; and recognise the need for the LEA to monitor the child's progress towards identified outcomes with the school. We shall make clear that LEAs should not have blanket policies not to quantify provision in statements but should seek to meet the clear objectives identified in the code. It will be recognised that in these difficult areas—I accept the force of the amendments and the importance of this debate—a balance needs to be struck between the necessary identification and requirement from the statement with the flexibility of the developing child.
The noble Lord will not welcome my intervention at this point. The noble Lord has read out the words "quantified provision as necessary". That leaves the local education authority free to determine whether or not it is necessary to quantify. I have been alerted to that suspicion by people who are concerned about special educational needs. They are concerned that the Secretary of State for Education has moved from the unequivocal term "specify" to the term "quantify as necessary" which is not an unequivocal statement.
I appreciate the anxieties that have been mentioned. However, we insist that the first phrase which governs the whole of the conditions will make clear that local education authorities should not have blanket policies not to quantify provision in statements. We will, therefore, not expect local education authorities to do anything other than quantify where quantification is both possible and desirable in terms of the individual child's needs.
In concluding this debate I shall discuss the two amendments in the group separately. I am not surprised at the Minister's response although I am disappointed, needless to say, at his response to Amendment No. 43. In particular, the third section of that amendment was bound to rile the Government and would not be seen to accord with their wishes.However, as subsequent debate has indicated, this is an area where people are extremely concerned. In some senses the Minister misunderstood what I was trying to do. There is a case for having on the face of the Bill some of the fundamental principles that the Government seek to apply here. The Minister's response, in relation to the code, was that at its core the child's needs are paramount. It would be good to have something of that sort on the face of the Bill, which is what I have been requesting. As regards Amendment No. 44, we have gone considerably further than I expected. Our exchange on precisely what the code will specify was extremely helpful. I, for one, am pleased at the greater clarification that has been provided on this matter. I share the apprehensions of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that if the word "quantified" is not included, authorities will try to scrimp and save on these things. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that we shall return to some of these issues in later debate, whether under this or other amendments. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 44 not moved.]
Clause 2 [ Advice and information for parents]:
moved Amendment No. 45:
Clause 2, page 3, line 29, leave out ("with") and insert ("who has, or whose parents believe may have").
The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 45. It is not very dissimilar to Amendment No. 46. My noble friend Lord Lucas and I both say that parents who believe that their child has special educational needs should be taken more seriously. Clause 2 of the Bill obliges a local education authority to make advice and information available to parents living within its area. I do not disagree with that. Parents need to know what provision can or cannot be made for their child and where to go for advice.
However, there is a catch in the provision. Clause 2 states that,
"A local education authority must arrange for the parent of any child in their area with special educational needs to be provided with advice and information".
It is, therefore, open to the local education authority to say to a parent that his or her child has no special educational needs and that there is thus no need for it to provide advice and information. To give an example, the parents may say that they believe that their child has a learning difficulty—it may be because the child is hyperactive or for some other reason—and therefore wish to seek advice from the local education authority. The local authority, which at the time may be overburdened with many other things, would be entitled under the Act, as this particular clause is written, to say that the child has no learning difficulty and has no special educational needs. It may even advise the parent—sometimes patronisingly; sometimes with good intentions—that all the child needs is a little extra discipline and the problem will go away. It could therefore refuse to give advice and information to a concerned parent.
We are talking here only about advice and information. My amendment, therefore, carefully rephrases the opening sentence of Clause 2. It would now read:
"A local education authority must arrange for the parent of any child in their area who has, or whose parents believe may have special educational needs to be provided with advice and information about matters relating to those needs".
Therefore, if the parents think that their child needs help under the special needs provision, the local authority must provide the advice and information, whether or not at that stage—and it may be a very preliminary stage—the local authority agrees with the parents. Of course, subsequent assessment would establish whether the child does, in fact, require special provision. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 45 is better than Amendment No. 46 and would achieve exactly what Amendment No. 46 seeks to achieve. Therefore I support my noble friend's amendment.The time when parents are in particular need of advice is when they do not know what is happening to their kids; when they have worries about the way their child is developing. They see behaviour at home and aspects of the child's personality which may or may not reflect that the child has a special need, and that need is not yet being recognised in school. They need someone to whom they can turn for advice. There are one or two charities that offer that advice, but provision is very patchy—not least because the funding for it is limited. The local education authority must be in the business of providing advice about special needs— about what can be done about them, how they are assessed and how the process works—because it is the parents who do not yet know that they need that advice who need it most. I therefore support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch which will open up a local authority to that capability. It will make it accessible to the parents who need it and who would benefit greatly from it.
Let me briefly add a few words of support because I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has found a real flaw in the drafting as we read it. In the process of obtaining help, the identification of that help is the most important part. If we give advice, we will often end up dealing with the problem quickly. It is self-evident that the early recognition of problems is one of the most important factors here. Primarily that is because, in the education system—especially now—there is very little chance of going back and repeating things. For good or ill, having a national curriculum means that we are on something of a conveyor belt and it is therefore essential to deal with matters quickly. If we can get a parent to obtain advice; to know what they are looking for and dealing with, it will make the situation much better. It will also cause less stress for the parent and the child. The noble Baroness grasped a very important point here.
I should like to begin by saying something about parent partnership services. I was glad that during the debate at Second Reading there was very broad support for our plans. That mirrored the support that our proposals received when we consulted on them last year. All English LEAs have established a parent partnership service and, as a result, parents are becoming better informed. Disputes or misunderstandings are being resolved much more quickly and parents feel more able to play an active role in their child's education; in deciding what is best for their child. The Bill will help to ensure that we build on good practice and deliver much greater consistency throughout the country. First and foremost, parent partnership services provide a flexible range of services to parents whose children have special educational needs. They aim to empower parents to play a valued and informed role in their child's education. Our decision to include a whole chapter in the revised SEN code of practice was warmly welcomed in last year's consultation.The aim of the two amendments is to ensure that parent partnership services support parents who believe that their children have special educational needs. While I have a great deal of sympathy with this view, we do not believe it is a good idea to put it on the face of the Bill. There is not a drafting problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington said. We recognise that in some cases parents are concerned that their child may have special educational needs, but the school or LEA take a different view. Such parents are likely to discuss their concerns with a variety of people, including other parents, their own family, their child's school and the local parent partnership service. These services have to be flexible in their approach. We are not asking them to draw any hard and fast lines. They will be required to consider parents' concerns carefully, not to be dismissive when inquiries for help or information are made. I stress that the service is designed specifically to help parents whose children really do have special educational needs. However, I am happy to assure the Committee that when we finalise the section in the revised SEN code of practice on working in partnership with parents, we will explain that parent partnerships will be expected to be flexible and sympathetic in their dealings with parents, even where there might be a difference of view between parents and the school or the LEA. We have underlined that cases where parents believe their child has SEN but the school or the LEA takes a different view must be handled very sensitively. Specifying such issues on the face of the Bill could divert resources away from those parents whose children have been identified as having SEN. In other words, the people who really need access to the great deal of support that these services provide might then lose out. I hope that noble Lords agree that that would not be in the best interests of those parents or their children. I am sympathetic to the amendment, but, given my reassurances that we will make sure that the guidance addresses this issue, I hope that it will be withdrawn.
I found it slightly baffling for the noble Baroness to say that the amendment would not be in the best interests of those parents and their children. I have been speaking on behalf of those parents who genuinely believe that there is a particular difficulty and that the educational needs of their children are not being met or need to be recognised more fully. Some celebrated cases have ended up in the courts—not just the tribunals—after parents have become highly frustrated trying to get someone to take notice of them.It would be relatively simple to do two things. First, a parent who believes their child has a problem should be treated sympathetically and taken more seriously. The teacher and the school or LEA should look into what the parent believes are the problems and come to an agreement on whether there is an educational need, which could then be challenged. Secondly, to underpin that the parents must have the right to advice and information. I am not asking for a full assessment. I am simply asking that a parent who believes that their child has a need for special educational provision should have a right to advice and information. This is an important amendment. The noble Baroness does not sound sympathetic and believes that, as long as people are sympathetic and the issue can be written into the code of practice, that will suffice. I genuinely believe that parents who want advice and information ought to have a right to receive it or to be pointed in a direction where they can receive it.
There is a slight difference of emphasis between the Government's view and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I did not wish in any way to suggest that it is not in the interests of those parents to get as much advice and information as they can have. I was suggesting that if we were to put this matter on the face of the Bill and give them an absolute right, it might spread resources very thinly in relation to those parents whose children have been agreed by all parties to have special educational needs. It was that group to which I referred. I wish to correct that slight misunderstanding.I do not believe that the parent partnership services will turn away parents who are seeking advice and information. Wherever possible they will provide it but there is a matter of priority here. Where children definitely have special educational needs—that has been agreed by the school, the local education authority, educational psychologists and others—they need to have access to this advice and information. They must have priority. We shall make it absolutely clear in guidance that we expect the parent partnership services to try to help and support any parent who wants information. We think that that is the right place rather than placing an absolute right on the face of the Bill.
Under the procedure in the Moses Room, all that is left open to me is to withdraw the amendment. I may well return to it. I hang on to what I believe was a pledge on the part of the Minister: that there will be specific reference in the code of practice not only to children with special needs but to children whose parents believe that they have special needs. If that is the case, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 46 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 47:
Clause 2, page 3, line 30, at end insert ("all alternative options on").
The noble Baroness said: My noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking is not present. I can be brief in speaking, with his permission, to his amendment.
With or without prejudice to whether he would have supported my amendment, my noble friend simply says that in advising and providing information to parents all the alternative options on matters relating to the special needs would be incorporated. It is a straightforward issue. It is important that advice and information should not be limited only to what the LEA wishes but that advice and information are given in a much wider context; and that alternative options should be made available as a matter of information and of right to parents who seek advice and information. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 48 standing in my name and that of my noble friend reflects the experience of many parents who seek the best for their child under the current law. They spend vast amounts of time usually through voluntary bodies trying to find out the law and what they can do.The situation is not as bad as it was but it can still lead to horrendous situations where people waste vast amounts of time. They do not find out what they are legally entitled to often because people do not know or do not regard it as their duty to tell them. If we put some provision like this into the Bill, or some form of legal framework, we shall at least know when the people in power are not doing their job. Whether we like it or not, people have commented time and again, "We didn't know"; "They didn't tell me"; "I didn't know you could do that"; or "Oh, really, can you do that?" I am sure that case studies can be provided very quickly. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that this experience is almost universal to the parents of those with special educational needs. The amendment is one way of addressing the issue. I hope that the Government will give it a fair wind.
The Government are aware that it is essential that parents know about the wide range of options that will be available to help them make good decisions about the education of their children with SEN. It is fundamental to the role of the parent partnership services. The Bill provides for advice and information to be given about matters that relate to children's special educational needs, and those will include details of how the SEN system works, parents' and children's rights, and the various options that are open to parents. I am happy to give Members of the Committee an assurance that the revised code of practice will explain that advice, and information about those SEN matters should be given as part of the minimum standard that the partnerships will be expected to reach.Turning to Amendment No. 48, we know from consultation that parents want and need more information and guidance on the SEN system and on their legal rights. I accept some of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have just made. The SEN system is complex and it can be difficult to understand. One of the core functions of the parent partnership services will be to explain the system to parents and that includes informing them about their entitlements within it. Parents need the knowledge and skill required to play an informed role in thinking about what their children's needs are. We expect all those services to provide accurate information on both the role and rights of parents; without that information they cannot take informed decisions. I am happy to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that that will be underlined in the code of practice and the draft good practice guidance. I hope that, in the light of that reassurance, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In fairness to my noble friend to whom I was doing a favour, I shall leave him to read what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, which I believe is helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 48 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 49:
Clause 2, page 3, line 40, leave out ("proprietors") and insert ("governing bodies").
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 49, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 50, 53, 57 and 81. With my amendments the Bill would require head teachers and governing bodies of all schools in their area to be informed.
While the head teachers of all schools (both maintained and independent) should be kept informed about facilities for special educational needs—that has been provided for in this clause of the Bill—so too should the governing bodies of all schools, both maintained and independent. Under the terms of this clause as written they are not included. Involving both head teachers and governing bodies would ensure that all schools are well informed, even if a particular head teacher or governing body was unsympathetic to special educational needs.
There is an additional purpose for Amendment No. 49. All independent schools have a governing body, but very few independent schools have a proprietor. Where there is a proprietor, he is also the governing body. Therefore it would be better to substitute "the governing body" for "proprietor".
Most independent schools are "not-for-profit" registered charities, and thus have trustees and a governing body. A few independent schools are "for profit" and are owned by a proprietor who is the governing body, or may already have appointed a governing body.
As the Bill is currently written, whatever the legal advice may have intended, those in education will interpret "proprietor" as meaning the owner of a profit-making school, and will not include all the nonprofit-making schools that are registered as charity schools. The term "proprietor" needs to be amended throughout the Bill.
Turning to Amendment No. 50, paragraph 6 of Schedule 27 of the 1996 Act provides that when an LEA makes a statement on a child, the LEA shall make certain information available in writing to the parent. Included in that is paragraph 6(b) which requires the LEA to give the name of the person to whom the parent may turn for information and advice.
I expect that the Minister will say that the new provisions in Clause 2 for information and advice to be made generally available to all concerned remove the need for paragraph 6(b) in the 1996 Act, hence the Government's proposal to omit it. I do not agree with that. The new requirements make advice and information generally available to parents, teachers, governing bodies and so on. However, once a parent has a special educational needs statement made on their child, regardless of whether they agree with it, they may well need to turn to one or more experts for more information and advice. For example, they may need to know the names of consultants who can advise in detail on dyslexia, autism, violent behaviour, speech, sight or hearing difficulties. It would be arrogant of the local authority to deny such help to that parent.
My amendment would not delete paragraph 6(b) of Schedule 27, but would amend it so that the names of several people who could help would be given, if appropriate. It is not uncommon for experts in the field of a child's perceived special need to include persons and voluntary bodies outside the LEA.
Amendment No. 53 goes back to my argument about the proprietor and inserting the relevant authorities. I explained earlier that the term "proprietor" has a limited meaning in ordinary educational parlance. It would be far better to use the term "relevant authority", which covers all types of school.
Amendment No. 57 again goes back to proprietor and relevant authorities. The governing bodies of all the independent and maintained schools should be informed, not just the proprietors and the head teachers.
On Amendment No. 81, the definition in Clause 8 of "responsible body"—those who can make the request for reassessment—is rather strange. The Bill says that if a child is in a maintained nursery school or a pupil referral unit, the responsible body is the head teacher, but for all other schools the responsible body is deemed to be the proprietor. I am concerned on two accounts. First, the term "proprietor" reflects the normal accepted meaning and not what the parliamentary draftsman chooses to make it mean. It should be replaced by "governing body". My second concern goes further than that. If it is right for the head teacher of a maintained nursery school or a pupil referral unit to make a request for a reassessment of a child, it must also be right for the head teachers of all other types of school to do so. The amendment would replace the word "proprietor" with the phrase
"headteacher and the governing body (or both)".
thus enabling either or both to make an application for reassessment.
Whatever comforting words come from the Minister, the amendment will be pressed to the barricades. "Proprietor" is not the right word. Governing bodies, head teachers and others need to be included. I beg to move.
Not all independent schools are required to have governing bodies and many do not. The amendment would mean that LEAs were not required to inform those in charge of some independent schools about their parent partnership services. Independent schools have nothing to fear from being informed about the arrangements for parent partnership services. They do not allow LEAs to intervene in the day-to-day running of independent schools. The service is simply available to help the parents of children in those schools, as it is for other parents. There are many cases of children with special educational needs in independent schools. It is just as essential that they have access to the information and advice they need to enable them to make informed decisions as it is for others. If those in charge of independent schools were not aware of these services, the parents of the children in those schools could be at a disadvantage compared with those whose children are in maintained schools. Members of the Committee will agree that parents of children at independent schools should have the same right of access to both information and advice.Turning to Amendment No. 50, at present parents have access only to a named person where the child has a statement. In future all parents whose children are identified as having SEN will be able to draw on the support of an independent parental supporter if they so wish. By "independent" we mean that they should not be part of the decision making process that is going to affect the particular child's provision. Not all parents will wish to have support of this kind but, where they do, they should certainly have access to it. The independent parental supporter can provide parents with more information and make them feel that they are real partners, which of course they should be. Members of the Committee have raised concerns that the right of parents to have access to an independent parental supporter is not on the face of the Bill. In the draft code of practice, however, we say that there needs to be a range of practical services, including access for all parents to an independent parental supporter. The IPS should be seen as a central component within the range of services offered to parents. Naturally, the code is statutory guidance to which LEAs have to have regard. Amendment No. 53 seeks to limit access to the new arrangements for preventing and resolving disputes to maintained schools, maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units. This would mean that where a child has a statement to attend an independent school, or attends a non-maintained special school, the parents of that child would not be entitled to use the new dispute resolution arrangements. The Government believe that it is important for access to these new arrangements to be widely available. Disputes regarding a child's statement can occur in any school. We need to minimise the disruption to which disagreements can lead. We have recognised that it would not be appropriate to require independent schools to take part in these arrangements unless they are receiving LEA or central government funding. That is why the definition of relevant schools excludes independent schools in other circumstances. Turning to Amendment No. 57, the Government recognise that it is essential that parents know about the new dispute resolution arrangements and that information is widely available, so that parents are enabled to make the informed decisions that we all want them to be able to make. Where a child has been placed in an independent school by a statement of SEN, the parents of that child still have a right to know about the dispute resolution services and LEAs have a duty to inform proprietors of schools so that parents and schools know of these services. I turn now to Amendment No. 81. We have some sympathy with this amendment which would enable all head teachers of relevant schools to request an assessment of a child's special educational needs. However, we cannot accept the amendment as it stands and simply delete the term "proprietor" in favour of
That is because some of the institutions that will be covered by this Bill, such as city academies, will not have statutorily recognised governing bodies. The term "proprietor" encompasses both governing bodies and the management of city technology colleges, city academies and city colleges for the technology of the arts. We are, however, prepared to consider adding "or head teacher" at the end of Clause 8(12)(b). I hope the noble Baroness will be able to accept my general reassurances and withdraw her amendment."head teacher and the governing body (or both)".
That is the most unsatisfactory answer I have had so far in these debates. I simply do not understand some of the things the noble Baroness said. "Proprietor" has a very specific meaning—it does not have the generic meaning which the noble Baroness gave it. Subsection (2) reads:
and if my amendment is accepted will continue, "and the relevant authority of the school about the special education provision for that child". I cannot understand the explanation that the noble Baroness has given that putting "the relevant authority"—which could be the head teacher, the governing body, the proprietor or anything, because the authority has to be relevant and has to be of the school—could limit the parents of children at an independent school from having access to the resolution procedures. It simply does not add up. The next amendment refers to subsection (5), which would state:"A local education authority must also make arrangements with a view to avoiding or resolving, in each relevant school, disagreements between the parents of a relevant child";
"The authority must take such steps as they consider appropriate for making the arrangements made under subsections (1) and (2) known to—
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has been very critical of the legal advice which lies behind the answers I gave in my initial reply to her amendment. I understand that "proprietor" has a very long-standing legal meaning. It is defined in Section 579 of the Education Act 1996 as meaning:
I think it goes back much earlier in legislation—it might even go back to the 1944 Act. That is the legal reason for using this term. It covers all the points the noble Baroness raised because it applies to governing bodies."The person, or body of persons, responsible for the management of the school, including governing bodies".
I have never believed that two wrongs make a right and that just because it has been in previous statutes in fact becomes the reason and rationale for it to be here now. If one looked in a dictionary, "proprietor" would not have the wide meaning, while "relevant authority" does. It is the relevant authority of the school, and the relevant authority will be different in different situations— boards of trustees, boards of governors, head teachers. Indeed, it goes even further than that: "relevant authority" will pick up more than one person while a proprietor is only one body. It may be that it is just the head teacher or the governing body, but not both; whereas "relevant authority" will pick up any authority that is relevant to the school. My view is that my amendments would make more sense. I shall withdraw them for the moment, but we shall come back to all of them on Report, so this Committee procedure will not save a great deal of time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[ Amendment No. 50 not moved.]
Clause 2 agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 51:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—