Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Jacqui Smith: The term ``efficient education'' is used throughout the Education Act, in, for example, schedule 27 and section 7. It is appropriate to use it here to ensure consistency. There is, of course, a distinction between ``efficient'' and ``effective''. I have reassured the Committee on the extent to which we are putting extra resources into achieving inclusion and into the education system as a whole. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to expect LEAs to have regard for the efficient education of children, regardless of the fact that significant extra resources are being provided.

Dr. Harris: I had anticipated that the Minister might say that ``efficient'' appears in the existing Act. Nevertheless, it is still possible to amend all the words. I remain worried, even if I accept her point about ``efficient''. We are merely fortunate that the matter has not arisen before. Perfectly efficient education of other children is possible even when they are put at risk by the inclusion, behaviour and actions of another child.

I shall not press the matter, but I ask the Minister to consider whether a case might be made—this is the point of scrutiny—for including the words ``efficient and effective'' or ``efficient and safe'' to make it clear to authorities and schools exactly what is meant. Her comments would be useful. Scope exists for pursuing the matter further, though perhaps not now. There may be no clause stand part debate, but we may pursue the point at a later stage.

Mr. Hayes: I do not want to be seen to defend the Minister, but I want to test the hon. Gentleman's proposition. He said that a child could be educated efficiently while putting at risk other children in a class or school. I find it hard to believe that anyone would define such an education as efficient. It might be cost effective and efficient in purely financial terms, but not in broader terms.

Dr. Harris: That is my point. I shall not pursue the matter, because I do not believe that that would be appropriate. This mini-debate may, at your discretion, Mr. O'Brien, become a clause stand part debate. I rest my case where I left it. An issue remains to be explored, but we shall oppose amendment No. 1 if it is pursued.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 1]

Boswell, Mr. Tim
Hayes, Mr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
St. Aubyn, Mr. Nick

Barnes, Mr. Harry
Begg, Miss Anne
Betts, Mr. Clive
Ennis, Mr. Jeff
George, Mr. Andrew
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Harris, Dr. Evan
Levitt, Mr. Tom
Smith, Jacqui
Squire, Rachel
Whitehead, Dr.Alan

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. St. Aubyn: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 1, line 9, at end insert—

    `(1B)For each such child which is in care, the duty of the Secretary of State shall extend to securing that the welfare needs of that child are properly considered in determining the educational provision for that child.'.

The amendment is designed to focus the Committee's mind on the issue of children in care. The preceding debate included a great deal of discussion on the role of parents. This amendment relates to children who have no parents or only foster parents. It should be regarded as a probing amendment, as I do not imagine the Secretary of State being personally involved in each instance.

I am grateful to Ofsted for its information on children in care. In response to the Minister's earlier spate of self-congratulation on having introduced a section on the report on LEAs, I was waiting for her to congratulate the Conservative party on having introduced Ofsted. She and her party were hotly hostile to our doing that, whereas we welcomed the extension of the building block of higher standards to include invigilating the work of LEAs.

In the past financial year, to which the report relates, Her Majesty's inspectorate inspected provision for young people in public care in 26 local authority areas. The inspection shows that the level of attainment by children in care is far lower than that among those who have the benefit of a family home. Ofsted praises the fact that in some LEAS, 70 per cent. of pupils achieved one GCSE, but that level of attainment is far lower than that among other 15 and 16-year-olds. It is well known that our all-party Select Committee examined the issue of teenagers who are dropping out of the system, and the number of exclusions relating to children in care is proportionally much higher than for other children. Clearly, there is real difficulty.

We should all welcome the idea that children in care should have a named teacher in the school to look after their interests. Ofsted tells us that, at any one time, there might be three children in care in a typical primary school, or eight children in care in a secondary school. In another report, the Select Committee recommended that highly able children should have a named teacher in the school to look after their interests. That is a useful concept. The provisions envisaged in the clause might be achieved in practice by having a named teacher fulfilling the role of looking after the child's interests.

I will not speak much longer, but have a question for the Minister about the proposed new section 316(3). It states:

    ``If a statement is maintained under section 324 for the child, he must be educated in a mainstream school unless that is incompatible with—

    (a) the wishes of his parent''.

How will the wishes of a parent be translated into a proper assessment of the interests of a child who is in care, when the concept that the educational needs of the child should be paramount has been excluded from the Bill as a result of our Division?

Mr. Boswell: I am pleased that my hon. Friend tabled his amendment, which raises a serious and important matter. While the issue of children in care may be perceived as unglamorous and does not hit the headlines as often as it should, it is a very real worry to many of us, as my hon. Friend, who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee, has said to that Committee and in its report.

We all know how difficult it is when we are in Committee to keep up with the traffic of other matters. For example, today I have had thumped on to my desk two reports from the social exclusion unit. Those reports re-examined the problems of teenagers, including runaways, and I have not yet studied them. There is a worryingly high correlation between being in care and subsequent offending or getting into trouble.

I wish to make two further points. First, from my constituency experience, I am aware of the importance of parents acting as advocates for an individual child. In the absence of parents, somebody, such as a named teacher, must act—to use an old phrase—in loco parentis. There must be a person who sticks up for the rights and interests of the child and who, as part of the process of determining the child's provision, can offer advocacy on his or her behalf.

The second point that I throw in relates to secure training centres. Initially, such centres did not receive a terribly good press from the then Labour Opposition, although I think that they have since found that the centres have strong benefits. I mention that because the second such centre, at Rainsbrook, is on the edge of my constituency. It has just received a rave review from the social services inspectorate, and I have been to see it on the back of that.

Of course, not all children who have been in care are automatically offenders—or certainly not seriously enough to justify their being in a STC. Nevertheless, the regime of welfare, pastoral support and intensive educational provision of about 25 hours a week of full-time education that such centres impose, is important for the rehabilitation of a young person and, dare I say it, for adult prisoners in other institutions. I have been immensely impressed by the way in which people who had become educationally dysfunctional have been able to move, in a short time, to being capable of work of GCSE standard.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and the Deepings performed a service to the Committee by flagging up our concerns about failures in the educational system for children in care and the needs to support such children holistically, in terms of welfare and education, and to advocate their cause when others may not find it easy or fashionable to do so. We would all welcome further contributions to the debate and the Minister's reply.

Mr. Hayes: I want to draw out two brief points. I know, from his analysis of my earlier contribution, that the hon. Member for High Peak has his stopwatch running.

There is a correlation between children and young people who are in care and the potential for offending, which was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Guildford and for Daventry. There is a further correlation between young people in care and the likelihood of being statemented. It is not merely a question of emotional and behavioural difficulties—there is a range of other problems—but there is a greater likelihood that children in care will be statemented. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford performed a service to the Committee by raising that matter.

My second point refers to an important amplification. Given the rejection of our appropriate and desirable wish to include a measure relating to the educational needs of a child in the Bill, where should we look for guidance about provision in situations in which parents are absent? That is fundamentally important. Grandparents or other relatives may be involved with a child, or the child may have no relatives at all. A conflict of views may arise from a complex family situation. The fact that the provisions in the Bill are all that we currently have sends shivers down my spine, and I hope that the Minister's response may provide the warmth to stop those shivers as soon as possible.

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