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Lord Addington: Briefly, I wish to support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady David. These amendments are important. A child excluded from school represents a failure for the system and any means of looking more closely into the problem should be incorporated in the Bill. The amendment is a sensible approach to what may be a medical problem leading to disruptive behaviour.
A good example was given to me at lunchtime concerning a child with diabetes. The child can suffer from a blood-sugar imbalance which makes him manic and disruptive in the classroom before the level goes too high and the child passes out. That sort of behaviour should be considered and some form of medical check, if such a situation arises, may be extremely important. It should be built into the system.
Baroness Lockwood: I support my noble friend in these amendments. The whole question of exclusion from school is one of concern to the education system. We need to look at the matter in a much more positive frame of mind, as my noble friend indicated.
In the current climate of schools with league tables and competition there is a tendency to look upon exclusion as one way out of the difficulty. I do not for one moment underestimate the problems faced by teachers having to cope with disruptive children. However, a number of research projects looked at the inclusion rather than the exclusion of children in a more positive way. I should like to see much more encouragement along those lines.
The amendments to which my noble friend referred give an opportunity to the education authorities to give advice and to help schools be more positive in their approach to the problem. It is important not only to encourage pupils and families to make representations and to put their point of view, but also there needs to be an understanding of how difficult it can be for an inarticulate family to put forward the positive views that are needed. Help for such parents and children is very important and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response to the amendment.
Scratch any actor or ex-actor and one will probably find that they bleed from having been bullied at school. That is probably because we were all ghastly little show-offs but, if my memory and that of my fellow
Lord Swinfen: I too welcome this group of amendments. When the Minister replies, will he say whether, when the teachers receive their training either before they take up their initial post or in continuing their training later, help is given to recognise in a pupil any medical or psychiatric condition which may be affecting the pupil so that appropriate advice can be obtained? I am not expecting teachers to be doctors or psychiatrists, but sometimes a layman can see that something is wrong and suggest that appropriate advice be obtained.
Lord Peston: Can my noble friend say how he is proposing to proceed? We have two classes of amendment--those from Back-Benchers and two from the Government. Though they are grouped together it is difficult to see how they fit. Is my noble friend proposing to speak to his amendments and then sit down and let the debate continue, or is he proposing to reply to the debate and speak to his own amendments?
Lord Whitty: Since the government amendments and the amendments of my noble friend Lady David are somewhat interlocked I propose to speak to the government amendments and then comment on the related amendments if that is acceptable to the Committee. I hoped to do that fairly soon, but I note that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is about to rise.
Lord Peston: I am still hoping to speak first as a Back-Bencher and I am sure that the noble Lord would rather speak afterwards. I find it difficult to see how the amendments interlock; they do not seem to be related and bear little resemblance to each other. I shall speak simply to the Back-Bench amendments and then wait to hear my noble friend speak to his amendments.
It seems to me that two or three fundamental principles are involved in this issue which ought to be on the face of the Bill. In other words, this is not a matter of regulation or ministerial Statement in your Lordships' Chamber. Central to this issue, first and foremost, is that the interested child--if I dare use that word; I know that it is not politically correct--the young person should have the right to be heard included on the face of the Bill. I have no doubt that the Government ought to accept my noble friend's amendments or themselves table an amendment that leaves beyond a shadow of doubt that principle.
Secondly, and reverting back to my schooldays, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred to bullying. What upset me most about my schooldays was the totally arbitrary behaviour of teachers, particularly the head teacher. I am not in touch with schools so for all I know that kind of arbitrary behaviour still goes on. It quite clearly goes on in the field of exclusion.
The point of the amendments tabled by my noble friend and others is that we should remove arbitrary behaviour and that decisions regarding exclusions should be rule-based and articulated rationally. My noble friends' words and the reasons for them should be obvious. However, I prefer wording such as "the reason for each rule should be spelt out so it becomes obvious". Either way, we need more than that which exists at the moment. Those are the two main points that I wish to put forward.
I speak as someone who would always wish to be supportive of head teachers, but reinforcing the removal of arbitrary behaviour relates to my noble friend's amendments. One relates to the inclusion of teaching staff and others at the school. I am immensely supportive of her expression in Amendment No. 184,
The implication of the way in which the world works is that the only badly behaved people in the school are a number of unruly pupils. That was certainly not my experience when I was at school and it is not my view now. I very much underline the words at the beginning of Amendment No. 184. I am well aware that this is an immensely difficult matter and I hope that we shall pursue it--if we are all alive after the Statements which will occupy our time. Other matters to do with exclusions are also relevant. If I dare to use the word "philosophy" underlying the amendments put before us, they are the ones to which the Government should respond positively and make sure that there is something on the face of the Bill.
I do not wish to be party political. As a layman I accept entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said. It seems to me that very frequently a medical difficulty underlines the exclusion problem. I would like that to be on the face of the Bill so that people are reminded of it. In supporting my noble friend, I am supporting what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
Lord Dearing: I hope that the breadth of support for these amendments influences the Government in their response to them. I welcome their thrust and I support particularly the amendments relating to bullying. It causes such misery. It has now become a well-recognised problem among many nations such as the Japanese. Its government has instituted a colloquium of six nations, of which the United Kingdom is one, to go into this matter. Part of the reason for the misery is that the victim is often most reluctant to draw attention to his or her experience. It can be disabling. It is a matter about which the Secretary of State has expressed concern. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government will respond to this particular amendment in this group.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: As the only practising teacher and former head teacher, my profession has some contribution to make to this debate. I admire the noble Baroness, Lady David, and I share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to support human rights. Like him, I am very much against arbitrary behaviour.
There are two groups of people involved when discipline is bad or when children become disruptive. The first is the teachers themselves and in many cases they are unable to control their classes. The second group comprises the other pupils who are not disruptive, but who find that their education is severely damaged.
I am not opposing these amendments in principle, but I am surprised that their proposers, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, in particular, at no point paid regard to the other side of the coin. For example, I have a serious worry that there are only 20--
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