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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, this is a difficult area and I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that there is a difficult tightrope to walk. Of course the Government want to support teachers in what all noble Lords know is an increasingly difficult job. The Government have no intention of preventing head teachers excluding violent or potentially violent pupils. At the same time, everyone is agreed on the importance of trying to use every possible way to prevent exclusions. Many excluded children end up as damaged adults with no qualifications or ability to do a job. If we are not careful, they are also likely to end up on the streets.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the prevention of disruption is more important than having to deal with disruption? What government initiatives are in place to ensure that pupils do not become disruptive?
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, as the NUT has said, her national target for the reduction of exclusions of disruptive pupils from schools is a monitoring mechanism, not a strategy, and therefore could be seen as putting the cart before the horse? Does the noble Baroness also accept that the imposition of that target puts schools in an impossible piggy-in-the-middle position and sets them against their LEAs? On the one hand, the LEAs put pressure on schools to reduce exclusions to meet the Minister's target; on the other hand, the schools have an incentive to remove the most disruptive pupils to maintain their position in the league tables and to protect performance-related pay. What plans do the Government have to untangle this mess of conflicting pressures?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not believe that it is a tangled mess of conflicting pressures. It is an attempt by the Government to ensure that there are goals as we try to reduce the number of children who are permanently excluded from school. That number rose very rapidly under the previous government, which is in no one's interest. I defend the Government's decision to have targets and goals as we try to reduce that number. That does not mean that proper guidance and support should not also be given to teachers. It is also very important that, through the learning support units that the Government are creating, we promote the possibility of removing disruptive children from the classroom without at the same time totally removing them from their schools as it is then much more difficult to reintegrate them later when their behaviour and performance have improved.
Lord Laming: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what progress has been made, first, to ensure that when children are excluded from school they receive proper education and, secondly, to help them to become reintegrated into mainstream education?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising a matter which is at the core of the Government's policies. When children are excluded, it is vitally important that we continue to educate them. That is what the learning support units within schools are all about. There must also be some offsite provision for those pupils who need to be excluded. The pupil referral units, which have been established for some time, are doing a relatively good job in trying to help children and parents to get back
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is an underlying problem? In recent years teachers have been asked to bear unfair burdens, which have been imposed on them by society as a whole as a result of the fragmenting of society and family breakdown, and those burdens have been compounded by the way in which teachers have been treated by the press. Does the Minister agree that teachers need all the support that we can give them?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I believe that I indicated earlier to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, just how important it is to support teachers in an increasingly difficult job. For that reason, the guidance that we have issued about exclusion appeals makes it absolutely clear that where a child is persistently disruptive and violent, that child should not, on appeal, be sent back to the classroom.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, there are now over 26,000 Welsh claims. Almost all the initial medical tests have been completed. Some 2,000 have received expedited offers and 608 claims have been accepted with payments of £1.5 million. A further 5,300 interim payments have been made totalling £15.7 million, including 800 bereavement awards totalling £7 million. This is the biggest ever personal injury scheme and progress has been too slow. Currently, there are five Welsh testing centres and the DTI is investigating suitable sites for two additional ones in Glanaman and Ystrad Mynach. In addition, the DTI recently announced proposals for new and increased offers to thousands of miners. There are detailed points to work through with the claimants' solicitors, but the DTI hopes to make about 4,000 offers in Wales, totalling approximately £25 million, before Christmas.
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that the failure to meet these claims has done considerable harm to the reputation of the Government? Mr Justice Turner, who made the original judgment, has been openly critical. Mr Vincent Kane, who chairs the monitoring group, has said that the rate of progress has been pathetic, and
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, all members of the Government believe that this extremely difficult situation is being dealt with far too slowly. However, we should also realise that this is a hugely complicated matter in which we must conform with both the judgment of the High Court and the constraints of the Public Accounts Committee, in that we are not free to give money to people to whom it is not due. We must, therefore, input a great deal of information from solicitors, medical employment records, initial lung screening tests and medical assessments by a respiratory consultant. It is accepted that there have been problems to do with solicitors sending claims documents back to us and GPs and hospitals being unsure about whether to release records. We have now sorted that out with the British Medical Association. The Government are united in their belief that the process is taking too long, but there is a limit to what they can do. The Minister announced a whole series of new measures to improve the performance of the medical assessments, to put simplified proposals to solicitors and to increase fast-track offers. I know that the Minister has done everything that she can to move the process forward.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, to date, of the 26,000 claimants only 23 claims have been finally settled? Is the noble Lord also aware that at the current rate of Healthcall examinations it will take years to complete the medical assessment process? Will the Minister look into the situation where the DSS is reclaiming some of the money paid out under the scheme? Does the noble Lord agree that this process should be looked at again before it becomes even more scandalous than it is?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there have been 630 full and final settlements totalling £2.2 million. Of those, I believe that 22 cases--perhaps that is the figure to which the noble Lord refers--are negotiated settlements of litigated claims. Although there have been 630 full and final settlements that is not good enough given the total number, but it is better than the noble Lord implies. The purpose of the expedited offers is to enable us to avoid the complicated process of the medical assessment. For that reason we have put a good deal more effort into it. It is, however, clear that it will take two to three years to complete the process, but it is not as long as it would take if one simply divided the numbers involved by the rate at which one carried out the Healthcall assessments. I am unaware of the circumstances in which the DSS reclaims money, but if the noble Lord lets me have any information I shall certainly investigate it.
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