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Baroness Darcy de Knayth: As I put my name to Amendment No. 13 of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, perhaps I may speak now. I, too, would wish not to exclude the wishes of the parent but Amendment No. 13 simply excludes the efficient education of other children. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, indicated, the caveats have over the years been used as an excuse by LEAS and as a smokescreen for prejudice against pupils with disabilities and/or learning difficulties. I should like to give one example to show how that can be purely from prejudice and misunderstanding. This was given to me by IPSEA, the Independent Panel of Special Education Advice. I should declare now that I am a member of that panel. The case is that of Paul Gibbs, in Suffolk, who was robbed of almost his entire secondary schooling by the caveat. The possibility of his being included in the local mainstream high school was never, in IPSEA's opinion, seriously considered until half way through what was to be his penultimate year of formal education. When he was finally

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admitted to the school, it was immediately and readily acknowledged that there was no way in which his needs could not be met; or that the education of the other children or the efficient use of resources would be prejudiced. In short, the placement was just right for him and the staff agreed and were delighted to have him. Nevertheless, the caveats had been used for over three and a half years to rob him of his education. I welcome the fact that the Government have gone part of the way to remedying the situation by removing some of the caveats, but this one, while it remains, will, I fear, be used as a smokescreen.

Of course it is vital to protect the education of all children at school, with and without special education needs. But head teachers have very real powers already with regard to children, with and without special needs, whose behaviour prejudices or may prejudice the education of other children. They can exclude the child either on a temporary or permanent basis. Therefore the power to exclude would make the caveat redundant.

I am more worried by Amendment No. 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. I understand the argument that it is more inclusive in that it refers to all children, but does it not put back the caveat of the need for efficient education to be provided which at one point was one of the provisos? I wonder about that.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: I say at the outset that I do not wish my early comments on the Bill to be any kind of omen as regards any disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. However, I take issue with the proposition that these amendments should be agreed to.

First, there is something unacceptable about basing the rationale for the amendment on bad practice, on things that are done by local authorities and/or schools, and always citing examples of that bad practice. There will be times when the efficient education of other children will be a very real issue. To remove that provision completely and to introduce inflexibility into the Bill is unacceptable. I refer to a local education authority and/or a school which is abusing--that is the word that is used by the proposers of the measure--its position and making light of the reasons why it should not accept a child into mainstream schooling.

The informal conciliatory process that can be used to resolve any issues locally is a welcome addition to the ways in which people can challenge decisions. I would prefer to leave it at that because at least it leaves some flexibility for all kinds of situations to be taken into account. There may be undue pressure for a child to go into mainstream education where that may not be appropriate, or there may be pressure to keep a child out of mainstream education where that may not be appropriate. The Bill refers to efficient education for other children.

I hope that no one will say that such is the status of the child with special needs--we all regard them as special, that is why we use that word--that the

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education of other children should be in any way sacrificed. Again, it is a question of degree. As regards some of the examples we have been given, it is possible to make physical adjustments to the school; adjustments to the staffing of the school, and adjustments to the resources of the school. There needs to be better understanding and training on the part of the staff of the school to appreciate that mainstream education is appropriate for some children with special needs. But to remove the provision I am discussing and end up with what I would regard as a very inflexible situation is something that I would find difficult to support.

Lord Northbourne: I would like to declare my interests: I am the trustee of the Caldecott Community which is a special school; I am a patron of an independent school, and I was the governor of Weavers Fields School in Spitalfelds.

I reluctantly have to oppose the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. There are two reasons why this amendment is wrong. The first is that there are cases where the mainstream school is not the right solution for the child; we are going to discuss that under a subsequent amendment. The issue here is the effect that putting a child into mainstream education has on other children in that mainstream education. I believe we have to look at the issue of proportionality. I have, I hope, enormous sympathy and understanding for the children who suffer from disabilities. I can quite see that a child who is, for example, in a wheelchair can be satisfactorily integrated into a mainstream school; and it can be good for the child and good for other people in the school. However, I am particularly concerned about children with Asperger's syndrome, other forms of autism, emotional behavioural difficulties and problems like dyslexia--learning difficulties. These disabilities demand considerable additional resources if a child is to be in a mainstream school. One cannot afford to have too many children with that kind of disability in one class. Therefore, one should consider some way of piecing the Bill together so that local judgment can be used to ascertain the best interests of the child and other children. It should not simply be a diktat from the sanctuary of buildings.

Lord Addington: The noble Lord is not aware that in Swansea the education authority has dyslexia-friendly schools, which means that everyone can be integrated. A large number of people can now be integrated into the mainstream. I appreciate what he said about severe cases which will still need some special schools to act as a catchnet for those who have not been spotted and have not received help early enough. However, it is certainly possible to integrate a far greater number of people, especially those with hidden difficulties.

Lord Northbourne: I believe that I am entitled to speak again in Committee. I forgot to make the main point that I wanted to make: that the issue here is resources. Of course, certain education authorities and schools which are rich, can do the kind of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has described. However, the reality is that in some of our inner cities today we

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have schools that are about to go onto a four-day week: they do not have the same teacher for the whole of one term, let alone the whole of one year. It is ridiculous to suppose that those schools can have spare resources to cope with the kind of problems about which we are talking without disadvantaging their existing children.

Lord Morris of Manchester: George Bernard Shaw once apologised for writing a long letter: it was due, he said, to his not having the time to write a shorter one. So I make no apology for intervening only briefly in this debate. I do so principally to support the amendment of my good and noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke, which seeks to delete lines 18 and 19 on page 1 of the Bill.

My noble friend was too modest to recall today that he was a leading player in enacting the world's first statutory provision for improving the prospects of inclusive education for disabled children. I refer to Sections 4 to 8 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 on access to the built environment for disabled people, including access to mainstream schooling for disabled children.

I had no more doughty an ally than my noble friend in promoting that legislation, which also includes the world's first ever legislation on autism--to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred--and on dyslexia.

I gave my noble friend Lady Blackstone my warm support for the Bill at Second Reading, because it is a major further step towards inclusive education for children with disabilities. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Ashley improves the Bill by helping to take the process still further and I strongly support his amendment.

Lord Rix: I, too, rise to support Amendment No. 13, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. The current reference to the provision of sufficient education for other children is a catch-all phrase that will encompass a great many excuses. I have listed a few excuses that have arisen: a child needing a classroom assistant; a child having to leave for the next lesson a few minutes early to avoid the crowded corridors; a child with diabetes needing to eat a snack during lessons; a child with autism, anxious to answer all the teacher's questions and needing some help to let the other children in. Those are real examples that could be covered by the need to provide

    "efficient education for other children",

thereby adding to the possibilities for exclusion.

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