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Baroness Byford: I speak to three amendments in this grouping. I apologise to Members of the Committee. Earlier I was wrong to assume that they would be run together. It was a newcomer's error. I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 187A, 194A and 197A, all of which are part of the same group. Amendment No. 187A deals with the whole question of exclusion. It proposes that after a period of more than three days parents should have a right of appeal. If their child is excluded for a shorter period that is perhaps unnecessary. The amendment seeks to define an acceptable period. If a child is excluded for half a day or a day to trigger the whole process is unreasonable. My amendment suggests that the provision should be activated after a period of more than three days.
Amendments Nos. 194A and 197A deal with the length of time that the exclusions are in process before the end of the appeal procedure. The noble Baroness, Lady David, and I seek to ensure that in this day and age of instant communication children go back to school as quickly as possible. I believe that it is sensible to reduce the period in the Bill to two weeks. That is the purpose of these two consequential amendments. The intention is to get children back into the class. One of the difficulties is that until the appeal is heard very often the child cannot be moved to another school and dealt with in an ongoing manner.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 223 which is part of the present group. Once again, one of my amendments has been propelled involuntarily into a group to which it is totally unrelated. With the leave of the Committee, I propose to speak to it when we reach Amendment No. 195 and defer comment upon it until then. At the risk of repeating the obvious, that in no way diminishes my support for what has been said by my noble friend.
Lord Swinfen: Amendment No. 235 is in my name. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has spoken ably to this amendment. Amendment No. 235 seeks to ensure that pupils who are excluded are given full-time education. It is the parents who have the responsibility to ensure that their children have full-time education, not schooling. I do not suggest that the parents should necessarily be responsible for providing the education but it is important that the child is educated. If the child is excluded and allowed to do nothing the child's behaviour will become worse. The child will be idle. The Committee will be familiar with the old saying that the Devil makes work for idle hands. A child needs to be educated and kept interested in his education. If the child is not interested in his or her education he or she will not pay attention and will not learn.
Lord Elton: I briefly endorse what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I do so on the basis of seven years' experience as a teacher in a secondary school, two of them in a comprehensive school with 1,500 boys on a slum clearance estate. The availability of exclusion when I was teaching at that school would have been enormously tempting. My task would have been a great deal simpler had I been able to disembarrass myself of certain people whose names and voices are still clearly imprinted upon my memory. But that would have been a dereliction of duty. I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is a minimum requirement that the Government can refuse only on the grounds that the requirement already exists elsewhere in another form.
I should like to emphasise to the Committee that first temporary and then permanent exclusion is a slippery slope down which disaffected children slide into an area in which they are almost universally tempted into some form of criminality. I chair a charity, the Divert Trust, which introduces adult mentors who are paired up with children who are on the edge of exclusion or who are in exclusion. Its aim is to reduce juvenile crime. The most predictable area of juvenile crime is among children who are excluded from school and given nothing whatever to do or a little to do without supervision; in other words, they are subjected to an intensification of the circumstances which led to their misbehaviour in the first place. Their position is made worse and not better. This is an expensive activity, but I can assure Members of the Committee that if children are not formally taken in hand at that stage with care the expense to the state and the institutions to deal with criminals will be hugely greater.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I too rise in support of the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. The Committee is considering exclusion in terms of the protection of the school or perhaps the punishment of the individual. But I believe that there may be occasions when the young person needs the kind of support that can be given by a pupil referral unit which perhaps the school is unable to give. Often youngsters with behavioural problems come from difficult home backgrounds and will require the kind of individual support that is simply not available in a large class.
Baroness Blackstone: In responding to the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady David and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I am also speaking to a group of government amendments which I hope will provide reassurance for those who have spoken on this group.
Perhaps I can say this to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer. I am sorry that for some reason on the groupings the amendment that he has referred to, Amendment No. 223, was listed with this group. On the groupings that I have we intended it to be grouped with the other amendments on Schedule 18. He is absolutely right, that is the correct place for it.
I understand the intention behind these amendments, which is to reduce the number of children who are excluded from school every year. I have an enormous amount of sympathy with that intention and agree with a great deal of what has already been said. The Government are very much committed to the same goal. However, they do not consider that these amendments are the best way to achieve that.
Beginning with Amendment No. 186, I recognise the wording of this amendment as advice taken from the department's own guidance on exclusion. While most schools follow this guidance carefully and use permanent exclusion only as a last resort--which, of course, is what they should do--and in response to the most serious incidents, it is clear that a minority of schools choose to ignore our guidance. That is why we have tabled amendments--to require all those involved in the exclusion process to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance. That was in the earlier group, Amendment No. 193C.
The revised guidance will continue to place emphasis on the need for permanent exclusions to be used only as a last resort and when the child's continuing presence in the school would be seriously detrimental to the welfare or education of others in the school. However, unlike primary legislation, the detailed guidance can be used to recognise that there may sometimes be exceptions to this general rule.
Acceptance of Amendment No. 186 could make it unlawful for a school permanently to exclude a pupil with no previous record of poor discipline who mounted a serious physical attack on a teacher, as it might be argued that such an exclusion was not a "last resort". It is important that schools are able to respond with a permanent exclusion to one-off incidents of behaviour
Moving on to Amendment No. 187, I should reassure noble Lords that the Government are well aware of concerns within this place about the provisions introduced by the Education Act 1997 to allow schools to exclude a pupil for up to 45 days in a school year rather than the current limit of 15 days in a school term. The changes will come into force this September and the revised limits on fixed period exclusions are replicated in this Bill.
The changes to th e time limits were introduced, with cross-party support, in response to concern from head teachers that 15 days was not long enough to prepare the pupil to be reintegrated into school, and that schools were having to resort to permanent exclusion when a longer fixed term exclusion would have been much more appropriate. The 15-day limit is seen as a particular problem where support from social workers or educational psychologists, for example, is needed to ensure successful reintegration.
I know that there is concern that some schools may abuse this new flexibility, leaving children out of school for several weeks at a time with no proper education. But it cannot be right to abandon a provision which, when used appropriately should help reduce the incidence of permanent exclusion simply because of fears that not all schools will use the provision properly. Instead, we need to establish an exclusions process which includes enough safeguards to ensure that schools use longer fixed period exclusions only where appropriate. We therefore believe that the Bill contains the necessary checks to ensure that exclusions of more than the current limit of 15 days are used only where these are absolutely necessary to avoid a permanent exclusion.
Turning to Amendment No. 188, I should like to reassure noble Lords that there is no need for a regulation-making power to help ensure that a child who is excluded for a fixed period returns to school as quickly as possible. Clause 63(1)(a) requires the head teacher to tell the relevant person, normally the parent, the length of the exclusion at the point at which the pupil is excluded. We will use guidance to make absolutely clear to head teachers that fixed period exclusions should not normally be for more than a few days, and also to encourage meetings between teachers, parents and the pupil where a child persistently misbehaves.
As with the other amendments in this group, I have sympathy with the intention behind Amendment No. 194. The amendment would force schools which have permanently excluded a pupil to give first priority when filling that place to a pupil excluded from another school.
Unfortunately, however, the proposal is not without its disadvantages. First among these is that it would appear to "reward" an excluded child with a place at a popular oversubscribed school, ahead of well behaved children who were on the waiting list. Instead we intend
I sympathise strongly with the intention behind Amendment No. 235. As noble Lords know, many children who are permanently excluded from school currently receive little education, often only a few hours a week. Some children do not have any education arranged for them at all for several months. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly pointed out, this is an appalling situation. These children will not only suffer educationally in the period out of school, but will also have great difficulty re-integrating into school, as well as being likely to get into trouble with the law.
Following the report Truancy and School Exclusion from the Social Exclusion Unit, it is now government policy for all children excluded from school to receive an appropriate full-time education by the year 2001, and I welcome the support for this from my noble friend and from the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.
In May of this year, the Social Exclusion Unit report recommended how we can make a step change in the levels of truancy and exclusion. We are pledged to reduce levels of truancy and exclusion by one third by 2002 and we are taking a whole range of steps to achieve that. We recognise, however, that there will always be some children, I am afraid to say, who are excluded from school. An important part of our strategy is therefore to ensure that those pupils' needs are properly catered for while they are out of school. We have therefore agreed to stipulate in statutory guidance that "full-time and appropriate education" be provided for every child who is excluded for more than three weeks. This will be quite a difficult recommendation to meet. It will take some LEAs quite a while to reach the starting blocks.
We are, of course, aware that arranging education out of school for a mixed bag of schools is expensive. Extending that provision will certainly have financial implications. These are being considered as part of the comprehensive spending review. It will take a little time to achieve the significant improvements that I think we all agree are needed to current provision, but I expect there to be a full timetable for all excluded children by no later than 2001.
I do, however, understand and fully support the aim of the amendment. I am still, however, doubtful that an amendment of this kind is necessary. It does not have the effect of requiring full-time education for excluded pupils. An amendment to require that cannot be made to Section 19 of the Education Act 1996, as that section applies to all children who are not in school, not just those who have been excluded; including, for example, sick children. It would also not be advisable to apply a rather narrow legal meaning of "education" to that particular set of children. Many of the children, particularly the older ones, are seriously disaffected. They will respond to something out of the ordinary to re-engage in mainstream society and education. An increased emphasis on personal and social development,
The department's statutory guidance will explain in detail the kind of provision that might not easily be defined as "education". It will be much easier to explain that in statutory guidance than to set it out in law. We intend to issue the guidance later this year, after wide consultation with local education authorities and others. We have already informed LEAs that they should be moving towards a full timetable for every child, with a clear focus on reintegration into mainstream schooling wherever possible. The guidance will expand on that. As I have indicated, we expect that to be delivered by 2001.
I now turn to a group of amendments concerned with the arrangements for a parent to appeal against the permanent exclusion of his or her child. In some cases, for example training of appeal panel members and the presence of observers at the hearing, similar considerations apply in relation to both admissions and exclusions appeals.
Amendment No. 187A is intended to remove the parent's right to make representations against exclusions of three days or fewer. The Bill as drafted requires the governors to hold a meeting to which the parents are invited only in the case of exclusions of more than five days. For shorter exclusions the governing body may decide to receive written representations only, and perhaps consider them termly at an ordinary meeting.
Amendments Nos. 194A and 197A are intended to reduce the amount of time that excluded pupils are out of school and not learning. I am entirely in accord with the desire of the noble Baroness to speed up the appeals process as much as possible. Indeed, the Bill as currently drafted explicitly requires the LEA to have regard to the desirability of securing that an appeal is heard without delay.
Where parents are sure that they wish to appeal against a permanent exclusion there is nothing to stop them doing so immediately. In some cases, however, parents will wish to seek advice from others before reaching a decision as to whether to appeal. The Government consider that reducing the time limit from 15 to 10 school days might place too much pressure on parents when they are making that important decision.
I turn to Amendment No. 197A. We have already set LEAs a challenging timetable for setting up panels to hear appeals against permanent exclusions. While we would, of course, encourage those panels to hear their appeals as quickly as possible, we do not believe that it would be practicable to reduce the timetable any further in every case. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will feel able not to move her amendments.
I turn now to the government amendments. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 198A, 222A, 222B, 223A and 226A. The amendments respond to concerns raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer who fears that too large a number of observers can be intimidating for parents and that a restriction on observers would emphasise the independence of the appeal.
The amendments restrict the right of observers at admission and exclusion appeals at appeals hearings relating to children permanently excluded from two or more schools. Under our amendments, a member of the authority or, in the case of admission appeals, a governor of the school concerned, will only be allowed to observe an appeal hearing where the appeal panel so directs. That would allow the appeal panel to hear representations from the parties involved and come to a decision on whether observers should be allowed. We expect the provisions in the Bill to be supported by guidance on the role of observers in the proposed code of practice.
We have also tabled a technical amendment (Amendment No. 223A) to ensure that the right of a single Council on Tribunals member to observe an appeal hearing is worded in the same way in the separate schedules relating to admissions appeals and to exclusion appeals. These amendments do not affect the right of members of the Council on Tribunals to observe an appeal hearing.
Government Amendments Nos. 196A, 219B and 219C concern the arrangements for hearing appeals against decisions on exclusions and admissions. They are necessary to cover those, I hope, rare occasions when a member of the appeal panel is taken ill or dies during the course of the consideration of the appeal. The amendments apply only to panels with five members. They allow the panel to continue its consideration of an appeal provided that three or more members of the panel remain, and the panel continues to include at least one lay member and at least one member with knowledge or experience in education or who is a parent of a registered pupil at a school.
These amendments will reduce the number of instances where the untimely death or illness of a panel member delays the conclusion of an appeal or, particularly in the case of multiple admission appeals, requires the relevant authority to reconstitute the panel and rehear cases. Such a delay to the outcome of an appeal hearing is not in the best interests of the children concerned.
Finally, Amendment No. 198B removes from the primary legislation details of the factors that must be taken into account by an appeal panel when deciding whether to direct that a permanently excluded pupil be reinstated. As we intend to replicate those provisions in new guidance, to which appeal panels will be required to have regard, that level of detail is more appropriately covered in guidance.
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