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Lord Addington: I would never take it upon myself to say whether the drafting of any amendment was correct. However, if the noble Baroness is right, the amendment would allow the use of other schools and the pooling of resources. It is a common practice to go to certain schools for certain specialist types of back-up help. We seem to be encouraging the old-style special schools to become places where we provide resources that allow people to spend more time in mainstream schools. If the noble Baroness has correctly spotted something here, I hope that the Government will be supportive, because the idea of
Baroness Blackstone: I believe I can be helpful. We know that many mainstream and special schools already work together. We have been encouraging far closer links between the two sectors as an integral part of our inclusion strategy, developing the use of dual placements, which is probably what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, wants, as part of the outreach role that we want all specialist schools to play. They have an important role in helping mainstream schools to become more inclusive. They should share their expertise and knowledge for the benefit of all pupils.
The vast majority of dual placement support pupils have statements, but it may sometimes be appropriate for a child without a statement to spend some time away from his mainstream school. Again, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, had that in mind. However, where a child who has special educational needs but does not have a statement is supported by a dual placement, we would expect the child to spend most of his or her time at the mainstream school. There are many examples up and down the country of a child who is registered at one school spending part of his or her time at another, often a special school. It has been very effective in helping both pupils and schools. Therefore, where it is appropriate and in the child's best interests, we certainly agree that dual placements should be used. Last September we launched an initiative with an interactive CD-ROM package called "Connecting Schools for Inclusion". It is a practical training resource so that schools and LEAs can help teachers who are interested. One of the video case studies featured in that package looks at dual placements.
I hope that noble Lords agree that it would be far from satisfactory for a parent to gain a place for a child at a mainstream school, only to find out that the school did not intend to educate the child, but proposed to send them elsewhere.
Section 317(4) of the Education Act 1996 requires maintained schools and maintained nursery schools to secure, so far as reasonably practical, that children with SEN engage in the activities of the school together with those who does not have SEN. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Blatch: I thank the Minister for her reply. Two things occur to me. One is that the need for a consolidation Act for special needs is growing almost daily. We are not just cross-fertilising with the 1993 Act and the 1996 Act but we are also cross-fertilising within this Bill. A number of amendments have proposed changes to the wording. We have been given helpful and accommodating answers. We have been told, "Do not worry. This matter can be resolved by means of some other statute or by another part of the Bill".
I shall read what has been said about the amendment. The educational needs of children who are registered will be met in a variety of ways. Their needs may be met by an individual specialist provider or they may be met at another school or at home. There are so many ways of meeting the needs of the child. Therefore, in this context "registered" would be a more appropriate word than, "educated". The latter term seems rather ineffective to me.
I should like to apologise to the Committee. The speaking notes I have been given are completely out of order and the last paragraph was complete gibberish! I was amazed that no one picked it up, but it did not relate to what I was meant to be saying. I sincerely apologise.
I wanted to give an example of where dual placements had worked. Beaumont Hill School and Technology College in Darlington--a special school--has done pioneering work in this area. The video I mentioned earlier shows how pupils can flourish by using dual placements. I reiterate what I said at the beginning; namely, we do not think that there is any reason to change primary legislation where something is already operating in exactly the way that the noble Baroness would wish. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that the Government are absolutely committed to this measure and that it is already provided for.
Lord Rix: Before the Minister sits down, will the letter which she has promised to write to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, be circulated to those present because we all have a vested interest in the answers?
The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to allow the Committee to examine for the first time what constitutes appropriate education and also possibly to debate the resources that are needed in order to provide that appropriate education.
I hope that Ministers will not hide behind the argument that "appropriate education" is difficult to define, because in the speeches they made this evening, both have used the phrase "appropriate education". So it is quite clear that they must know what "appropriate education" is, if perhaps the wider world does not.
By "appropriate education" I would mean education that can be provided for a child that is appropriate to the child's needs. In his reply a moment ago, the Minister said that the Government's policy is that all children who do not have statements should be educated in mainstream schools.
First, on the question of statements, there are 150,000 children in the three constituent parts of the United Kingdom who have statements and 40 per cent of those go to special schools, either maintained by the local education authority or independent schools, one of which I am associated with. That has dropped from 50 per cent to 40 per cent over the past 20 years dropped and I think that that is regrettable. The equipment and expertise that is available in special schools is often quite difficult to replicate in mainstream schools--not impossible but difficult--and movement away from special schools over the past 20 years has been from two motives. One is that special schools are very expensive and, secondly, one wants to see more children included in rather than excluded from mainstream schools, if that is appropriate.
On the question of what is appropriate, there has been a very interesting brief from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People which cites the particular case of a child who has mild to moderate hearing loss.
However, for the parents of children whose loss is less serious, it is a difficult learning process. For example, a parent who has such a child should be given detailed information by the local education authority. It says in the brief that they should be told of the acoustic environment in the school to which the child is going; they should be told whether there is an installed sound field system and whether induction loops are available. That is the minimum information provided for the parents by which to judge whether or not the education is appropriate. As the disability gets more serious, they will require even more information.
One knows perfectly well that there has been a major improvement in the provision of special education equipment and teaching in mainstream schools over the past 20 years. However, I believe that the Government underestimate--not wilfully and deliberately--the cost of the consequences of the Bill. To provide appropriate education for children who are not statemented in mainstream schools will be a very costly process indeed. If one examines the amount of money which is spent on special education, something like 20 per cent of the school population are deemed now to have special educational needs of one sort or another and about 2.5 per cent of children are statemented. That is a huge proportion and in some boroughs it is even higher.
I was amazed to read that, for example, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets only six schools have fewer than 20 per cent of children registered with SEN; 24 schools have more than 20 per cent of children with SEN; 18 schools have 30 per cent or more; seven have well over 40 per cent; and one has 55 per cent of children with special educational needs. That is an area that has acute social needs. The fact that many of those children come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds intensifies those needs, but that is an enormously high proportion. Considerable extra funding will be required to cope with that sort of situation. Even in an average LEA where the proportion is 20 per cent, a good deal more money will be needed. I know that the Government have provided more funds, but one can take an estimate. One unnamed local education authority whose figures I was sent spent £26 million--a highly significant 19.2 per cent of its annual budget of £135 million--on special educational needs. The Bill is likely to increase that requirement. The parents have to be satisfied--both those who have statemented children and those who do not--that the education is proper and appropriate.
We shall deal later with the relative lack of comparative information on what is available. I shall strongly support the Liberal Democrat amendments that we shall come to later dealing with the provision of special reports by inspectors. I have tried to find some comparative data on the provision in an LEA special school, in a private special school and in another LEA school with similar problems. Regrettably, it is almost impossible to find such a comparison.
We all want to be satisfied that when a child goes to a mainstream school, with all the advantages to be gained from that, the services, teaching support and equipment are there. I do not intend to go over the figures and examples that I gave at Second Reading, but a study conducted by the Royal National Institute for the Blind showed that, with the best will in the world, certain local education authorities had not provided the exam papers in a form that blind children could cope with. There was insufficient equipment, which is expensive. Moreover, barely six months pass without new equipment becoming available for the visually impaired or the deaf. One can see an example in this Committee of the enormously expensive equipment needed. To replicate that or similar equipment throughout several mainstream schools is going to be very expensive. It is an expense that we should meet, but it is important to be aware of what is appropriate education.
The purpose of the amendment is to give the parents more precise information on the facilities that are available for their child and to ensure that that child is allocated and sent to a particular school. Those facilities must be genuinely and properly appropriate to the needs of that child. That is highly demanding. In many cases, that requirement is met, but much more comparative information has to be provided so that parents can be satisfied that all the alternatives have been explored and that their child is going to get the best education that society can provide.
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