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Baroness Seccombe: The question of special needs has been raised and it is always very moving in this House when the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and other noble Lords refer to special needs. However, I am particularly concerned about a group of children which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, referred to, but more or less in passing rather than in emphasis; that is, very gifted children. We always think of children with special needs as those who do not have the talents which many others have. But in this Bill, there is very little about gifted children who are, after all, the high fliers of the future. That is something that we should always keep before us.

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3.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, Amendment No. 28 would define the children in relation to whom LEA education development plans are to apply as "all children" in an authority's area. I have seen the letter which my noble friend Lady Blackstone sent to the noble Baroness on 30th April. The second paragraph of that letter states:


    "You asked whether the definition of "children" in Clause 6 of the Bill concerning education development plans specifically included children with special educational needs. I can confirm that it does".

We cannot be any clearer than that. We take on board the noble Baroness's concern that no child should be overlooked under an education development plan. In fact, Clause 6(3) sets out the definition. For the purpose of outlining the scope of an education development plan, that part of the Bill defines children as "persons of compulsory school age", that is five to 15 inclusive, "(whether at school or otherwise)", which includes those being taught at home, for example, and,


    "persons of any age above or below that age who are registered as pupils at schools maintained by the authority".

In other words, it is all those children that the amendment is concerned to include.

There is one practical effect of the noble Baroness's amendment. It would make local education authorities, through their plans, responsible for privately-educated children in the areas. That is certainly not what we intend because clearly, local education authorities could not meaningfully discharge that responsibility although we envisage that, where information is available, LEAs will take account of the performance of local independent schools in drawing up their targets and school improvement programmes. We welcome and fully endorse any voluntary co-operation between the state and private sectors in promoting educational attainment.

Amendment No. 39 would require LEAs, in drawing up their EDPs, to have regard to the written statement of policy on the secular curriculum that every LEA is presently required by law to have and to keep up to date. Our intention in the Bill is to repeal the requirement for LEAs to produce a curriculum statement. That requirement predates the introduction of the national curriculum and was intended as a tool to promote consistency in the school curriculum across the country. With the establishment of the national curriculum the requirement is now redundant and it would not be right to include it in an education development plan. Leaving it in would create a duplication and an unnecessary burden. Of course, if individual authorities wish to have a curriculum statement, there is nothing to stop them doing so.

Amendment No. 40 is a rather important amendment because it would work only on the assumption that LEAs will be able to impose targets on schools. We have made it clear that individual school targets are the responsibility of the school. We believe that the target-setting exercise between LEAs and schools should be a co-operative effort, involving a full exchange of views in agreeing appropriate performance targets. Local education authorities are responsible for encouraging schools to raise their standards and setting

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out in their EDPs how they will help schools to do so. But the schools must have the lead responsibility for their own improvements and should be accountable for their own performance. LEAs are responsible for their part of the bargain: how well they support the schools. Where it is not possible for schools and LEAs to agree targets, the EDP should record the disagreement.

I believe that the noble Baroness will agree, on reflection, that that is better than taking responsibility from schools for their performance while giving LEAs an important role in challenging school targets. Our proposal strikes a proper balance between the rights and responsibilities of LEAs and schools. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Peston: Perhaps I may ask my noble friend for some slight clarification of his answer. He says--and it seems to be clear from the Bill--that children means children. In other words, we do not need the word "all" and, indeed, the word "all" may be unhelpful. He then said that included in that is a sub-set of children; namely, those with special educational needs.

Does it then follow that, without writing the words "special educational needs" into this part of the Bill, the plan must clearly provide targets and there must be a plan to encompass those children with special educational needs? In other words, it seems to follow logically from my noble friend saying that we do not need the amendment that if, the plan did not include what was required for children with those needs, it would not be acceptable. Am I right to interpret his answer in those terms?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It would not be a proper plan for all children in the area unless it provided for those children with special educational needs.

Baroness Blatch: I understood the noble Lord to say that Sections 370 and 374 of the Education Act 1996 are to be repealed or will not have effect as and when this Bill receives Royal Assent. In that event, what curriculum is to be regarded in the drawing up of those plans? It seems to me important that if there is not to be regard to the national curriculum, it should be made clear what is to be in its place.

Secondly, education action zones are to be a great factor in many parts of the country if the Government carry through their policy on education action zones. They will have the power to disapply the national curriculum and can therefore put another curriculum in place. At this stage, none of us has any idea what that may be because it will be a matter for the Secretary of State and the action zones to determine what will be the substitute curriculum.

Are the action zones exempt from that process of drawing up education development plans? I understand that they are not. In that case, how on earth will an LEA take into account the relaxing of the national curriculum as we have all come to understand it, which means a possibility of different things in different schools? Moreover, how do the LEAs take into account the action zone's curriculum?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There are two parts to the noble Baroness's question. I can confirm that it is our intention to remove the curriculum statement requirement from the 1996 Act. I hope that that is entirely clear.

The noble Baroness's second question was about education action zones. She talked about them. It may be better for us to discuss those when we reach Clause 10.

Baroness Blatch: I reject the answers to both those points. First, in the event of the repealing of those parts of the 1996 Act, I asked what curriculum LEAs would have to have regard to in drawing up the EDPs. They must have regard to something going on in those schools. Secondly, as regards education action zones, I shall be happy to discuss these when we reach that point in the proceedings. However, at this stage, there is a read-across between the preparation of EDPs and the existence of EAZs in those authorities. That does not form part of the four clauses which appear later in the Bill. Therefore, in the context of EDPs, it is important to know whether they are exempt from that process. If they are not exempt, we need to know how the EDP clauses in the Bill will work in relation to education action zones.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the requirement for a curriculum statement will indeed be replaced by the national curriculum. There is legislation, both primary and secondary, on the national curriculum. On the question of education action zones, the answer is no. The schools in the EAZs will not be exempt from the requirement to produce an education development plan.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, had to say about the particular attention that should be paid to the needs of people with exceptional gifts. Indeed, it is a theme which I have often pursued, though in different chambers from this one. I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for teasing out some of the detail of the Minister's reply on the question of gifted children.

Having listened to the interchange between the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the Minister, I must say that I am now rather confused as to the situation with regard to curriculum status. I did not think that the Education Act 1996 came into being before the national curriculum; indeed, I rather thought that it happened considerably after the national curriculum was introduced. Therefore, I did not understand the Minister's original reply. Moreover, I did not manage to achieve a better understanding of the situation from following the interchange between the two speakers. In the circumstances, I believe that we shall have to return to the matter at a later stage, when I have had the opportunity to read the Hansard report of that interchange and been able to reconsider the matter at greater length.

As regards Amendment No. 28, I believe that here, too, we shall need to reconsider the question. I do not believe that we shall manage to have the word "all"

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introduced into the Bill, because I have referred to the matter twice now in debate and have twice been turned down. Indeed, the letter from the Minister was pretty firm in that respect. However, there may be another more suitable way of ensuring that concern for pupils with special educational needs is expressed on the face of the Bill. If so, we may well return to the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


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