Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Addington: My Lords, my name appears to Amendment No. 26, in top billing, to borrow the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. If I may first be a little sour, perhaps I may say that we could really have had this debate in Committee. I hope that in the future when we deal with the issue of special educational needs and bring that matter into our overall educational policy, we shall not need such debates. I hope that those of us with an interest in this will be brought together; that a discussion will take place and that the Government will not have to move such amendments because these provisions will, we hope, already be part of any future education Bills. Perhaps I should add that I was hopeful of that happening under the previous government because a similar process took place then. However, that did not occur.

I hope that this Government will learn from this experience and recognise the fact that, generally speaking, some attention has to be paid to this even if that means that our prepared set speeches cannot be rolled out quite so often. I hope that we shall then be able to deal with the other more controversial parts of such Bills where there is real disagreement between us. I think that this has been a victory for the House, but it

30 Jun 1998 : Column 572

is a victory in a battle that we did not need to fight because we have all discovered that we have been shooting in the same direction.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lords in first, second and third billing have said. Coming on as fourth billing, I should like to do a little more than merely respond to the amendments or speak to the government amendments. I should like to say a few words about special educational needs in the wider context of the Bill, given the concerns expressed at both Second Reading and in Committee that there has been only limited reference to SEN pupils on the face of the Bill. We know that the importance of ensuring high standards of special needs provision is an issue that is dear to Members of this House, as it is to the Government.

Following the Committee stage, officials from my department had a constructive meeting with the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Swinfen, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, at which they discussed a number of issues. In response to that helpful discussion and the earlier debates, we are proposing three amendments which we hope will address key concerns. I shall deal with those in a moment, but I should like first to mention one or two other important areas.

I begin with education action zones and education action forums. The issue becomes particularly important in education action zones, where poor health, low levels of family literacy and a large number of disaffected pupils are likely to lead to higher numbers of pupils with special educational needs. It is reassuring to see that these issues are being addressed by the EAZ proposals themselves. I will give three examples. In Herefordshire, teams of support staff will work across the zones addressing problematic behaviour and learning difficulties. In Thetford, the EAZ will include specialist, localised speech and language therapy provision; and in Leicester there will be multi-agency support teams to endeavour to help address special needs from early years.

Concerns have been expressed that the establishment of foundation special schools will create difficulties in planning specialist provision. There are fears that foundation special schools will be able to change their schools in ways that will not reflect local and regional plans for the development of SEN provision; or, indeed that they will not change to reflect such developments.

Those fears are unfounded. Foundation special school governors will be able to bring forward proposals to alter their school, but LEAs will also be able to propose changes to foundation special schools. Our guidance to proposers will make clear the plans they should consider when bringing forward proposals to reorganise special needs provision. These will include school organisation plans, proposals for the regional development of SEN provision and education development plans.

We are also very conscious of concerns about how children with special educational needs but without statements will be treated under the new admission arrangements. We have stated clearly and unequivocally

30 Jun 1998 : Column 573

in the draft interim guidance on school admissions that children with special educational needs but without statements must be treated no less favourably than other applicants.

The interim guidance also covers pupils with disabilities and reminds schools that they are under a duty to admit a child where the school has been named in the child's statement of special educational needs. It stresses the importance of schools and LEAs working together to agree strategies that will allow all schools to admit a more even share of children with challenging behaviour.

This guidance is the first consultative step on admissions leading to the statutory code of practice to which all admission authorities will be required to have regard. We shall continue to work with representatives of children with special needs as we proceed to finalise the interim guidance and to develop the code. I will speak further about how SEN issues have been addressed in developing other policies when the relevant clauses are reached.

I now turn to the specific amendments we are proposing. These relate to Clauses 6, 25 and 61. Amendment No. 27 to Clause 6 would place a requirement on LEAs when preparing their education development plans to have regard to the education of children with special educational needs. We have sought in this amendment to address some very important concerns. EDPs will be the key mechanism through which LEAs will play their part in raising standards in schools. Children with special educational needs are an important part of this agenda. We want to raise standards for all children. That is why the draft guidance which we issued drew special attention to their needs and required LEAs to include significant action to support them. But in response to the concerns that have been raised, we have looked again at this question to see what more needs to be done.

The definition of "children" in Clause 6 includes children with special educational needs. Clause 6 therefore requires LEAs in their EDPs to address education for pupils with special educational needs. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, confirming the position following concerns raised by her and others on Second Reading that, as drafted, the Bill may not fully reflect the Government's commitments to SEN. We are minded of those concerns and attach the greatest importance to ensuring that LEAs are continually reviewing and improving provision for these pupils. We have concluded that to put the matter beyond doubt there should be a specific requirement on the face of the Bill.

Special educational needs should be part of the mainstream programmes of LEAs with clear targets for improvement. Therefore, LEAs' targets for raising standards for pupils with SEN should be contained within the main body of the EDP. That is in line with the spirit of inclusion and will ensure that LEAs are held to account for raising standards for pupils with special needs in the same way as for pupils who do not have special needs. We also want to ensure that LEAs' EDPs reflect the broader range of the Government's key

30 Jun 1998 : Column 574

objectives for SEN. We therefore propose that LEAs should set out in a separate mandatory annex what they will do to make progress towards those objectives. This measure and our amendment to put on the face of the Bill a requirement for LEAs to have regard to SEN when drawing up their EDPs will send a clear message to LEAs about the importance that we attach to SEN.

The precise balance between what should appear in the main body of the EDP and what should appear in the annex needs careful thought. I know that there are differing views among those with an interest in SEN about exactly how EDPs should reflect SEN. We shall therefore be consulting organisations who have a particular interest in this matter on the details. We need to keep EDPs as streamlined as possible. Attaching these policies may make EDPs more lengthy than we believe is desirable; but we would expect LEAs to reflect key aspects of their policies and priorities for SEN in their EDPs. What exactly should be attached as an annex is a matter we can consider after further consultation.

I turn to school organisation committees and school organisation plans. It is important that school organisation committees should have access to appropriate SEN expertise covering provision in both special and mainstream schools. We are committed to achieving that. But there are a number of ways of doing so. We shall consult specifically on this point before making clear in guidance and in regulations how special educational needs will be represented on school organisation committees. We are determined to get this right. Amendment No. 79 responds to concerns expressed by your Lordships during Committee stage about the proposed school organisation plan. The plan will set the crucial context for decisions on school organisation proposals and will be a very important part of the process. Clause 25(2)(a) already provides that the plan shall describe how the authority intends to meet the needs of the population of its area. Pupils with SEN would clearly be covered by that provision. However, your Lordships expressed concerns during Committee stage. I am happy to respond with this amendment which puts beyond doubt that the plan will always have to take explicit account of the needs of pupils with SEN.

Finally, at Committee stage we undertook to consider further the arguments of my noble friend Lady David and others that there should be a specific reference to bullying on the face of the Bill. We have accepted the force of those arguments. Amendment No. 142 would require the headteacher to determine measures, as part of the school's discipline policy, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. We attach a high priority to helping schools prevent and combat bullying. This is by no means an issue only for children with SEN. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear on a number of occasions that bullying in whatever form, be it racial or because of a child's special educational needs, or for some other reason, is a pernicious problem which puts the emotional well-being and educational achievement of pupils at risk. Bullying is disruptive and intolerable and it must have no place in our schools. It can lead to disaffection and truancy that totally blights a young person's life. We want all

30 Jun 1998 : Column 575

schools to treat bullying very seriously and we are determined to help schools take steps to combat it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs.

I hope that the House will feel that, taking together what I have said today and the amendment that I move, the Government have shown in a very practical way that they are ready to listen to genuine and clearly articulated concerns. It was in order to listen to the widest possible range of views on SEN that last year we published our consultative Green Paper on the subject. Taking account of the thousands of responses we received, we shall in the early autumn publish our action programme designed to take forward the principles set out in the Green Paper. In the light of what I have just said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, will be persuaded to withdraw Amendment No. 23 and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will be persuaded to withdraw Amendment No. 26.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to respond to the Minister. The noble Baroness has given an excellent expose of the Government's approach to special educational needs and described how the amendments tabled by the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, help to reflect on the face of the Bill the concerns that we have expressed in relation to educational development plans, school organisation committees and bullying. We are grateful for what the noble Baroness said. I shall read the words of the Minister with great care. I listened as carefully as I could to a long and (if I may say so) rapidly read statement. I believe that it satisfies a great number, and possibly all, of the concerns that have been expressed. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page