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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), is well known for her commitment to securing education for students with disabilities. Indeed, she was responsible for the amendment to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 which brought into being the current arrangements. I am not sure whether she is now suggesting that those arrangements should be changed.
The amendment would destroy the clear division of responsibilities between the funding councils and local education authorities and the associated apportionment of funds set out in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.
The councils are under a duty to secure adequate facilities for education for all part-time students over compulsory school age and full-time students over the age of 19 years where the education falls within the ambit of Schedule 2 to the Act. The schedule includes courses,
That has a two-fold aim: to ensure that all who can benefit are offered the opportunity to progress to academic, vocational or access courses; and, where that is the case, to secure that the precursor courses could also take place in further education sector colleges. In the debates on this clause during the passage of the 1992 Act, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, pointed out that many young people with learning difficulties begin to learn when they reach their late teens. The current provisions take cognisance of that.
However, there is an equally important duty on local education authorities to secure adequate facilities for further education. That duty is set out in Section 11 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, amending the 1944 Education Act. It encompasses full-time and part-time education for people over compulsory school age, including vocational, social, physical and recreational training and associated leisure-time occupation. Each of those courses is self-standing rather than necessarily leading on to something else. LEAs also have a power to supplement the provision made by the funding councils. The respective duties of the councils and of the local education authorities were recognised in the financial arrangements flowing from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.
I have set out the existing provisions and the thinking underlying them because I share the view as to the importance of securing adequate and appropriate education for disabled people and of ensuring that there is a clear understanding of existing provisions.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that existing provisions are robust and clear. The distinction between the responsibilities of the Further Education Funding Council and the LEAs is clear. To go down the road of the noble Baroness's amendment would confuse rather than improve the position. I hope that in the light of my explanation of how we see the system, put in place largely thanks to her efforts, working, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness David: Is the Minister satisfied that no one can fall between these stools? I think that there may be a few characters who may not fit into any of those categories and, therefore, not get exactly what they need.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am sorry but I feel that the Minister's answer fails to grasp the point. It should be a duty for FEFCs to make provision for the full ability range as of right in the same way and in the same college as such students' peers. The narrow interpretation set out in Schedule 2 precludes that area of activity.
It is true that LEAs are empowered to make provision within what is generally termed "adult education". That sometimes is the voluntary area and the vocation area may be involved. After listening to the Minister's response tonight, it is my belief that, had the legislation been framed in the way that many Members of the Committee wished, such a division would never have occurred in the first place. I say that because in itself that division is discriminatory. Therefore, I regret that the Minister has taken that view. It denies young people the right to equality of treatment with their peers.
It is certainly the case that basic literacy and numeracy do not have to lead rigidly to a specific course on which a student has been enrolled. As we are pioneering new ground for those with severe learning difficulties, in many cases the courses will have to follow the students being given access to them rather than the other way round.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): Perhaps I may first thank all Members of the Committee who gave me such strong support at this late hour; indeed, a large proportion of those in the Chamber. I should point out that that support comes from all sides of the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, attached his name to the amendment and, had he been here, he would have supported me most strongly. All those who have spoken know exactly what they are talking about.
We are discussing a very important matter upon which people feel strongly. Clearly, it needs clarification. The Minister said that he was not sure whether I was suggesting that I now wanted to change what I had brought into being. I certainly do not want to do so; indeed, I do not want to change what I hoped I had brought into being. However, it clearly is not working quite as the noble Baroness, Lady David, and I envisaged. The problem is that one can only go to an FE college and take such a course if one is going on to join other courses.
I thank the Minister for clarifying the guidance as regards FEFCs in that "eligible courses" must have as their primary objective "progression to another course". That is now very clear. The Minister said that there was an equally important duty on the LEAs and that they also had powers to supplement FEFC courses. But, as the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Farrington,
It is clear now that both have their separate duties. However, the system is not working. Will the Minister say that he might issue encouragement to LEAs to pursue their duties? Or will he at least agree to discuss the matter further and see whether we cannot at least issue guidance to ensure that what is meant to be happening does happen?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am more than happy to have a discussion with the noble Baroness to see whether something needs to be done to make clear what I thought was a pretty clear definition of where duties fall between the Further Education Funding Council and local education authorities. Having listened to the noble Baroness, I believe that the point that she makes is not necessarily that the boundary is wrong but that one of the parties on one side of the boundary does not seem to recognise how the Act works, as I have explained it. Of course I am happy to talk to the noble Baroness.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not have the original Act to hand, so I am afraid that I cannot answer that question. One could go to the Library and look up Statutes in Force, but of course I shall write to the noble Baroness.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I thank the Minister for that reply. He summed up the position rather well. I shall be delighted to talk to him. Skill would probably like to give him some examples of where people have fallen between the two stools. Perhaps we shall be able to go forward and produce some guidance or get some encouragement.
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