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Access To Suitable Education For Child With Learning Difficulty

Volume 621: debated on Monday 29 January 2001

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(" . In section 312(1) of the 1996 Act (definitions), after "difficulty" insert ", or a difficulty in accessing education suitable for his abilities,".").

The noble Lord said: The amendment reminds us that the children about whom we have been talking are not the only ones with special needs. There are a large number of children in this country whose special needs arise because they have particular abilities which schools are generally not in a position to encourage. They may be exceptionally intelligent; they may have exceptional talent as musicians or artists, in sports or other ways. Many schools are not in a position to give the child the attention and support which would be required for the child to develop fully those abilities.

It is an old chestnut and I do not intend to waste the Committee's time on it. However, we should remember that differing needs arise and we should support those children with particular provision just as we wish to support children whose needs arise from other causes. I beg to move.

I welcome the opportunity to have the matter discussed. We—and I include the Government—aim for the learning difficulties of any child which are over and above the norm to be appropriately addressed. They should be given equal consideration. If over time, we want to reduce the number of people who require statements, then the more seriously the aims of the amendment are met, the better.

A combination of early intervention and taking seriously all learning difficulties at an early age will reduce the later needs of children whose difficulties are such that they require a statement. I therefore welcome the amendment. It may not be easy to draft an amendment to meet those difficulties, but it is important to put on record reassurances about meeting the needs of all children, particularly those with learning difficulties, who fall short of needing a statement.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment
(Baroness Blackstone)

I am sorry that Amendment No. 96 is grouped with Amendment No. 36. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, does not consider them in any way related. We thought that they were. The fact that Amendment No. 96 applies to a different part of the Bill does not mean that it cannot be grouped with Amendment No. 36, although I accept entirely the noble Lord's right to de-group the amendments.

Amendment No. 36 would add to the definitions of "special educational needs" in section 312 of the 1996 Act. Concerns have been expressed about how the definitions will work together between this and the second part of the Bill. I hope that I can provide the reassurance sought by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Section 312 of the 1996 Act provides that children are classed as having learning difficulties if they have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age or have a disability that prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind provided for children of the same age. The test for children under five years is whether this would be true of them once they reached five, if no special educational provision were made.

The current statutory arrangements in the 1996 Act, supported by the guidance given to LEAs, schools and others in the SEN code of practice, already provide for children's needs to be addressed—whether solely through school-based provision or with additional resources and support from the LEA by way of a statement. The current definition already seems to achieve what the noble Lord seeks in Amendment No. 36. I do not dispute what he is seeking in any way, but the definition is clear in the Act.

The amendment could also be read as extending the SEN definition to cover children who are not provided with work that specifically meets their abilities at any time. The problem is one of wording. That interpretation would extend the definition of SEN to all children when they are not provided with lessons or resources commensurate with their ability. This would mean that every child would be likely to fall within Part IV at some stage in their school career, as there may be times, especially in whole-class, mixed-ability teaching, when the lesson is not totally differentiated but is appropriate in that particular context. No doubt as parents we could all cite examples of when what was being taught did not seem to be 100 per cent appropriate to the needs of our children at that precise time. That seems almost inevitable.

Amendment No. 36 refers to,
"a difficulty in accessing education suitable for his abilities".
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has in mind an example of a very bright child who has some specific learning difficulties in, say, literacy that threaten his access to the rest of the curriculum. Such a child would have learning difficulties under the present definitions of special educational needs and would receive provision for those needs through the SEN framework, perhaps by way of a differentiated curriculum and some targeted multi-sensory work in reading and spelling through the national literacy strategy from the school's resources without the need for a statement.

To give another example, a visually impaired child at a mainstream school might need advice from a qualified teacher of the visually impaired, low-vision aids and specific IT equipment, including a computer, in order to access education suitable to his abilities. In that case, he would receive help through the SEN framework via a statement of special educational needs. Both children would fall within the existing definition of SEN in the 1996 Act. I hope that illustrates why Amendment No. 36 is unnecessary. In the light of the reassurance I have given and that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[ Amendments Nos. 37 to 40 not moved.

4.30 p.m.

moved Amendment No. 41:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause"