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Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): The hon. Gentleman refers to LEAs taking the decision and parents

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expressing a preference, but will he confirm that the LEA has the same obligation to take into account the preferences of the parents as it has in any case involving a parent whose child does not have special educational needs?

Mr. Timms: Certainly, the LEA needs to give great weight to the representations received from parents. I am not quite sure what specific point the hon. Gentleman wishes to make, but perhaps he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we can return to the issue later, when I may be able to help further.

Mr. Willis: The issue should be dealt with the other way round. Will the Minister confirm that applications from students with statements of special educational need who transfer, for example, from year 6 to year 7 will be given preference over those of other children who may have selected a particular school as their first choice? In other words, is there an assumption that children with statements of special educational need will be necessarily given places in their first-choice school in preference to children without statements?

Mr. Timms: Yes, that is the case, although the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) was right to suggest that LEAs will need to take a decision that follows parents' preferences—but perhaps we can explore that issue further during the debate.

The draft code makes it clear that schools are expected to keep appropriate individual and whole-school records of children with special educational needs, including those with and without statements. Parents of children without statements have always been able to request assessments. Under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, schools will be able to request assessments and have their requests considered in the same six-week time scale as requests from parents. Educational psychologists regularly liaise with schools about children who receive school-based provision for their special educational needs and alert LEAs to any child who may need an assessment. In practice, LEAs can fulfil their duty without the need for additional bureaucratic burdens to be placed on schools.

From January 2003, we will collect additional data, by LEA, on children with statements who are excluded from schools, so LEAs will know about those children. From September 2002, we shall ensure that any child who is excluded from school for 15 weeks will receive suitable full-time education. We expect LEAs to ensure that children with special educational needs who are excluded from school receive provision appropriate to their special educational needs.

The current code of practice has done much to improve the identification and assessment of special educational needs, but it can be improved. Teachers and LEAs have told us that the current code is too bureaucratic, that it does not focus enough on teaching and learning and that it does not reflect recent important developments in education.

We consulted widely on a draft code of practice last year, and most people favoured the main changes that we proposed, but further concerns were raised. We listened carefully to people's views on those issues and made a number of changes to the draft. In chapter 1, we have brought together the strategic planning functions of school

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governing bodies and local education authorities for SEN to make it easier for parents and others to know who is responsible for what.

In chapter 2, we have provided fuller guidance for LEAs on the services that they are expected to provide to parents through parent-partnership services and the authorities' arrangements for resolving disagreements with schools and parents. The guidance also sets out minimum standards.

In chapter 3, we have strengthened considerably the guidance on seeking and taking account of the views of children with SEN. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 now give stronger support for the role of the SEN co-ordinator in helping governing bodies and head teachers to raise the standards of achievement for children with SEN and to recognise their need for support within the school.

The guidance on assessments in chapter 7 has been strengthened to clarify the terms on which LEAs should seek advice. It makes it clear that they should seek the views of the child, We have also enhanced chapter 8 on statements to highlight the accountability that schools and LEAs share for children with statements when funds are delegated.

The draft code of practice is intended to remove barriers to participation and learning and to raise the attainment of all children. Its key principle—that children with SEN should have their needs met—reflects the Government's view that providing effective support for such children is an essential feature of an effective school.

We support the greater emphasis in the draft code of practice on the early identification of children's SEN. Some £25 million will be available over three years to help LEAs and their early years development and child care partnerships to improve local provision for young children with SEN. A multi-agency working party will also develop guidance for health and education practitioners on a coherent approach to the early identification of need. It will provide support for children under two with special needs and for their families.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): The Minister mentioned a figure that was pitifully low. He is aware that many of us think that a doctrinaire attitude is taken towards the placement of children in mainstream schools. That means that they may get a worse education at a higher price. Kent county council has calculated that, as a result of these provisions, it is likely to be able to pay for the identification of needs, but not to fund the meeting of the needs themselves. How on earth will local authorities pay for that?

Mr. Timms: I shall come to the point about inclusion shortly. It is an important matter, but I am confident that the Government's approach is right.

We support the greater emphasis on early identification. With the Department of Health, we are considering the educational implications of the introduction of newborn hearing screening where we are supporting a bank of training materials, activity in the next tranche of early excellence centres and support through SEN standards funds for 2002-03 to help early intervention. As children can have SEN at different stages of their school career—not just in their early years—the guidance in the draft

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code of practice on school-based intervention focuses less on procedures and more on improving teaching and learning.

We have reduced the number of school-based elements from three to two and cut the paperwork on individual education plans and annual reviews to free up time for teachers to concentrate on helping children to learn. That will be widely welcomed.

We have placed the voice of the child at the heart of draft code of practice. LEAs and schools are expected to seek and take account of the views and wishes of children with SEN throughout their school lives.

Partnership with parents is given a fresh impetus and greater emphasis in the draft code, which makes it clear that the parent-partnership and disagreement resolution services that LEAs are expected to provide following the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 should be of high quality. They will, of course, in no way affect the rights of parents to appeal to the SEN tribunal.

To come to the pointed raised by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), essential guidance on the key features of the new statutory framework for inclusion that was introduced by the 2001 Act is set out in the draft code of practice. However, we have also consulted teachers, governors, local education authorities, teacher associations, voluntary groups, parents and others on separate statutory guidance on the new arrangements for inclusion. Copies of this guidance have been placed in the Library and we aim to publish it alongside the revised SEN code of practice.

The guidance provides practical advice on how the inclusion framework interacts with other provisions within the Education Act 1996; the reasonable steps that maintained schools and LEAs should consider taking to prevent inclusion from being incompatible with the efficient education of other children, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for North Thanet; instances when it may not be possible to include specific children; and the safeguards that protect the interests of individual children with special educational needs.

Inclusion can certainly improve the education experience of all children, but we have always been clear that one size does not fit all and that there is a continuing and essential role for special schools in an inclusive education system. The essential principle of our inclusion policy is to safeguard the interests of all children.

The hon. Member for North Thanet asked about resources. The principle is backed with substantial resources. Last week we announced an additional £9 million in the SEN standards fund for the coming year, taking the total available funds for SEN to £91 million. That will help to support training on the code of practice and give direct practical support to inclusion. Governing bodies can also, of course, deploy resources provided through a school's budget share to support additional training. The increase in the standards funds is only one part of a major investment in education in which we will have increased overall funding per pupil by nearly £750 in real terms between 1997–98 and 2003–04.

Hon. Members will appreciate that we have taken very seriously all the views that were put to us. We have acted on them and addressed them in the draft code of practice. I am pleased with the response to the revised proposals by those outside the House who follow such matters, and I commend the draft code to the House.

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