Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10 Jul 2001 : Column 744

Special Educational Needs

9.6 pm

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): I beg to move,

The draft code of practice is designed to replace the current code of practice on the identification and assessment of educational needs, which was introduced in September 1994. The code of practice puts flesh on the provisions of part IV of the Education Act 1996, as amended by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. The intention to revise the code was signalled in the Green Paper "Excellence for all Children: Meeting Special Educational Needs", which was published in 1997. The draft reflects the concerns expressed in the Green Paper and subsequent developments, especially under the new Act.

Regulations made under the 1996 Act and laid before Parliament on 19 June provide the detail of the statutory requirements for assessments, statements and reviews of statements of special educational needs in England. They will replace the 1994 regulations. Separate regulations, which were laid on the same day, set out information that local authorities must provide about their arrangements for special educational needs. Amendment regulations were laid on 10 July to ensure that the six-week time limit within which LEAs must respond to a parental request for an assessment also applies to requests for assessments by schools and other responsible bodies.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I thank the Minister for giving way so early. Given the Government's intention to bring in private sector companies to run many schools and local authorities, would a private sector company be regarded as one of the other responsible bodies?

Mr. Timms: The school will be regarded as the body, with the local education authority. If some partnership involving the private sector were to affect the LEA, the provisions would apply as to an LEA in any other circumstances. I do not think that the involvement that the hon. Gentleman has in mind would change either the code or the regulatory position.

Mr. Willis: What would happen if a private company such as Nord Anglia were to take over the running of a school or group of schools? As a private sector company that is trading on the stock market, would it be regarded as a responsible body?

Mr. Timms: The code of practice would apply to the school and local education authority in precisely the same way. The duties set out in the 1996 Act, the regulations and the code of practice requirements would have to be met in the normal way. I do not think that the situation that the hon. Gentleman envisages would change that. I hope that I have managed to make that point clear.

Section 314 of the Education Act 1996 provides for the Secretary of State to revise the code of practice from time to time, and where she proposes to do so, to consult upon a draft, consider any representations made and modify that draft as she sees fit. The Secretary of State, in those

10 Jul 2001 : Column 745

circumstances, must bring a revised draft to Parliament for approval under the affirmative procedure, which is what we are doing.

The current code of practice has undoubtedly done much to improve the identification and assessment of special educational needs. Ofsted reports on the implementation of the code of practice have shown that it has helped schools considerably in identifying children with special educational needs and matching appropriate provision to their needs.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): A number of my constituents have taken a close interest in the development of the new code. That interest is borne out of battles that they have had with the local education authority, past and present, over the provision of special needs for their children. When the parents have won, the battles have shown them to be right.

The current code provides that

I stress "quantified"—

During the development of the new code, Ministers at various times have said that provision should be quantified as appropriate, or have said that the new code will advise LEAs that there may often be a need for statements to say how much help a child should need. Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to clarify that in the new code LEAs should normally be expected to quantify special educational provision in statements of special need?

Mr. Timms: Many people have been following the debate closely and I know that they have been in touch with their Members about it. I know also that my hon. Friend has taken a close interest in the matter.

The phrase that appears in the draft code is "quantified as necessary". I shall set out the thinking behind that, and my hon. Friend may want to come back to me on the important point that he has raised.

The network of special educational needs regional partnerships, which my Department is supporting, adds an important new dimension to the SEN framework by encouraging collaborative working and sharing of good practice among schools, parents, local education and health services and voluntary agencies.

The draft code of practice is about removing barriers to participation and learning and raising the attainment of all children. Providing effective support for children with special educational needs is an essential feature of an effective school. In some instances, children with special educational needs may not be seen as a great catch by some schools. We need to maintain our focus on high expectations and high standards. At the same time, we must find ways of celebrating the impressive achievements of schools which succeed with pupils who have special educational needs, of which there are many. The work that we are doing on value-added performance tables can play an important role.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Before the Minister departs too far from his answer to the hon.

10 Jul 2001 : Column 746

Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), I shall ask him about quantifying where necessary. It is vital to understand that for parents who have real concerns, a statement is no good unless accompanying it is a properly signed up and agreed quantity of special care or special education that will go with it as support. If the Minister is to leave the provision as vague as quantifying where necessary, the code will be seen as not being worth the paper on which it is written. The issue needs to be probed and clearer answers should be given.

Mr. Timms: I intend to devote some time to the issue in recognition of its importance and the fact that many people have raised concerns about it. In a few minutes, I shall give the matter ample attention.

I want to set out some of the background to our thinking on the new draft code of practice. It places greater emphasis—this has been widely welcomed—on early identification of children's special educational needs, including a new chapter on the early years. We are supporting that greater emphasis through the £25 million that we are making available over the next three years to help LEAs and their early years development and child care partnerships to improve local provision for young children with SEN, and through the multi-agency working party that we are setting up to consider the needs of children under two with SEN and disabilities and the needs of their families. That will help us to produce guidance for health and education practitioners on early identification and help for those children.

Early identification is not just relevant to the early years. Children can have special educational needs at different stages of their school career. We have therefore developed the guidance in the draft code of practice on school-based intervention to focus less on procedures and more on improving teaching and learning. We have given proper recognition to the role that class and subject teachers play in identifying children's SEN and in tailoring their approaches to address those needs. We have reduced the number of school-based elements from three to two and cut the paperwork on individual education plans to free up time for teachers to concentrate on helping children to learn.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is still the enormous problem of schools, parents and medical practitioners not recognising conditions such as dyslexia? The children often develop all kinds of behavioural and other problems because it is not recognised. It becomes expensive for everyone later. There is little incentive for a school seriously to assist with identifying dyslexia. Often, it is expensive for the school. That worsens the problem, rather than mitigating against it.

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is in response to concerns of that sort that there is the new focus on early identification in the new draft code. We hope that that will help to deal with precisely that sort of difficulty.

The role of education and other professionals is central to the SEN framework, but the child has a unique and important perspective to offer on his or her own needs, so the draft code places the voice of the child at the heart of the provision. There is a new chapter on pupil

10 Jul 2001 : Column 747

participation, which carries an expectation that schools and LEAs will seek and take account of the views and wishes of children with SEN throughout their school lives.

Partnership with parents is given fresh impetus with the guidance in the draft code on the new duties on LEAs under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 to provide parent partnership services and a means of resolving disagreements between parents, the LEA and schools. The draft code makes it clear that those services in no way affect the rights of parents to appeal to the SEN tribunal.

The key principles of the new statutory framework for inclusion introduced by the 2001 Act are also set out in the draft code of practice. Inclusion can improve the education experience of all children—those with special educational needs and disabilities and their peers. It helps children to recognise that they are good at different things.

Next Section

IndexHome Page