Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: My Amendment No. 15 is coupled with this one. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has covered all my points. He has moved on beyond the word "appropriate" and coupled with that the importance of making sure that the support is there for people when they are placed in mainstream education. These are the first of many amendments that we are likely to discuss on the issue. It has been said in informal meetings that, however well intentioned the Bill is, it is not a cheap option for any Government. Delivering the provisions properly and effectively will be costly. If we are going to raise the hopes of parents and their children who have special needs and bring about the shift that I know the Government want from special schools into mainstream, we must bear in mind and reinforce the points made by noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the strain under which many schools currently operate, with teacher shortages, four-day weeks and other difficulties.

It is one thing to put upon them an obligation which I know teachers will welcome--the noble Baroness herself has said how much the teachers want this Bill

23 Jan 2001 : Column 25

to work--but it will not work if they do not have the properly support. It is important to add to Section 3 that if the statement is maintained under Section 324 for the child, he must be educated in a mainstream school, unless that is incompatible with the wishes of his parent or the provision of efficient education for other children. But we must also add provision for the necessary support for that child.

I support my noble friend Lord Baker when he said that we must make sure that whatever the provision is, it is appropriate to the needs of the child but it should also properly support the staff who have to provide it, and also be in the interests of the children.

Lord Rix: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, a question. Does this wording not provide yet another further excuse? I fully sympathise with the intention of his amendment and that spoken to by Baroness Blatch. What worries me is that in relation to the provision of necessary support to meet the needs of the child, the education authorities may say that they cannot meet the needs of the child and that they do not have the necessary funds to provide the necessary support for the child. Does that not give them an excuse to get out of it even more than at present?

Lord Baker of Dorking: I do not think that it is an excuse. I am trying to establish a right. It is not an excuse to say, "We will shrug it off. We cannot possibly do it". I am trying to ensure that parents have the right and ultimately the child has a right--and that is the subject of the next group of amendments--to appropriate education. That is what the child's right should be. It is up to the LEA to satisfy the child and the parents that that education is appropriate. If they cannot be satisfied, that child should not be sent to the school.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has just made a very interesting speech, as indeed he did at Second Reading. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept this amendment. Without proper provision for children, that child's education will simply not proceed. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Rix about the possible objection that can be raised to the amendment. Local authorities will not put forward that kind of excuse and the provision is absolutely vital.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, is also right--this is dangerous for a Labour Peer--in demanding more money for the provisions. I am aware of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's influence, but the case is indisputable. I do not expect the Minister to give a positive, easy answer to that, but I should like my views to be recorded. I strongly support the noble Lord.

Lord Northbourne: I should also like to support the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, but on the condition that the provision he describes is not provided at the expense of other children.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I too support the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. It is right that we should

23 Jan 2001 : Column 26

recognise that whatever is done must be appropriate and in the best interests of the child. In her response to the previous amendment, the Minister used precisely those words. I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Earlier we argued about the dangers of local authorities using excuses to exclude children, and I would hope that as the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, said, this would not be used as an excuse.

He made two points. There are occasions when other forms of education are more appropriate and we must look to the best interests of the child to see what is necessary. Secondly, we also need the resources. Like the noble Lord, in my Second Reading speech I warned that the Government were not taking account of the need for necessary resources.

I point again to the Explanatory Notes where provision is made for the access arrangement under the disability part of the Bill. However, there is remarkably little in the budget to meet the SEN provisions of the Bill, which will be considerable.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may I add one point to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Everything has to be affordable and there will be a great tension here for money. The placement of a child in a mainstream school which is not supported to meet the needs of the child will impact on all the children. It involves not just the interests of the child whose needs will not be met but those of all the children. The alternative may be an even greater expense in mainstream schools. So the impact on other children may be greater if a child is placed without the appropriate support. In the interest of ensuring that the needs of all children are met, this is an important caveat.

Lord Lucas: I should like to illustrate that last point by referring to a case that I was discussing yesterday. A child with mild autism is in a mainstream school and has progressively over the past three years gone from being taught on his own for two hours to 23 hours because the teachers are not trained to deal with the child. As he has had more time on his own and less time with other pupils, he has become more disruptive and now the situation has reached a critical point and come to my notice. It is essential that we act in the best interests of the child. We must always think not that it is good automatically to be in a mainstream school, though I agree with the principle, but that it is good to be in a mainstream school which is properly equipped to deal with a child of that particular nature. It must meet his needs and make sure that he keeps up with his peers: that he does not become disruptive and emotionally damaged by always falling behind and always failing because the school is not equipped to deal with his particular circumstances.

I can see difficulties with the wording but we must make sure that in the Bill the interests of the child come first and not some principle--with which I agree--of how children should, in general, be taught.

23 Jan 2001 : Column 27

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I should like briefly to support my noble friend Lord Baker and emphasise perhaps the difficulty of human resource in our education system to meet the kind of burdens that will be placed on it by the Bill. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the financial resources which are, I submit, comparatively easy in this case. I have my doubts as to whether in the system at the moment, or indeed in training and on the horizon, there do exist enough qualified assistants and qualified teachers to meet the demands that the Bill may produce. I hope that I am wrong but I feel I should utter that as a word of warning at this stage of the proceedings.

Baroness Blackstone: We have had an interesting debate about these amendments and I am sympathetic to many of the things that have been said. However, before responding to some of them, we should remind ourselves what these amendments seek to do. They want to reinstate provisions similar to the first of the caveats of the existing Section 316 relating to the interests of the child. Our starting point in inclusion is that, with the right support--and I accept that that is a very important phrase here--nearly all children should be included in mainstream schools. We believe that the test of whether they are should be limited to what parents want and to safeguarding the interests of other children. I find it very odd that my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp--from what they were saying earlier they want an absolute right to inclusion--should support the amendments.

The first caveat of the existing Section 316 has often been used to refuse a mainstream place when we believe that sometimes the children would have benefited from a mainstream placement. Therefore, I must say that their support is strange.

I should add that parents are not always well placed to argue against such a judgment. We want an inclusive education system to offer genuine excellence and choice.

I understand some of the concerns that have led to the amendments being tabled. There may be worries that children's needs will not be adequately met. However, I believe that noble Lords will be reassured that by virtue of section 324 of the 1996 Act, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred, LEAs will have to ensure that the special educational provision specified in a child's statement is made. That is important. Statements of SEN will set out what support an individual child needs and what support will be provided. That applies whether a child is to be educated in a special school or in the mainstream. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was right about the need to make it clear to parents what will be available. That is what will be required of local education authorities in an SEN statement. I hope that he will accept that.

A number of speakers also referred to resources. The Government accept that extra resources will be needed to make the legislation work. Extra resources are being provided. We are supporting expenditure of 82 million from the SEN standards fund next year, up from 55 million this year. That is a substantial

23 Jan 2001 : Column 28

increase and will go some way to providing the extra resources that are needed. Next year, schools in England will receive 540 million in direct grant to spend on top of the increase in the education standard spending, so a typical secondary school will receive about 60,000 a year more.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about there being benefits as well as extra costs. That is a bill that we should meet. I believe that my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke referred to it being dangerous to make commitments about resources. I have to tease the noble Lord, Lord Baker. It may be particularly dangerous for a Conservative Peer to ask for a bigger commitment on resources, given that the Conservative Party has recently said that it intends to slash public expenditure, and education is not one of the areas that it wants to protect. Of course I accept that the benefits of inclusion involve higher costs, and the Government will provide the resources.

I hope that what I have said answers most of the points that have been raised. One point to which I have not responded is what constitutes "appropriate education". There is apparently no statutory definition of it. For a child with special educational needs, it will be the special educational provision suitable for his or her needs. That is enshrined in section 324 of the 1996 Act. "Suitable education" is education that prepares a child for life in modern society and enables the child to reach his full potential

Those are general statements, but what is appropriate for each child will vary greatly according to particular children's needs, so we need some flexibility. Children's individual needs as set out in their statements have to be met and will continue to be met.

Under Section 317, maintained schools--and LEAs in the case of maintained nursery schools--have to use their best endeavours to ensure that the special educational provision called for by a pupil's special educational needs is made in the school and that those needs are made known to the child's teachers. Of course, as I said earlier, parents, too, should receive a proper explanation of what can provided.

In the light of what I have said, and the fact that the decision to replace the first caveat of Section 316 is in accordance with the findings of the Disability Rights Task Force and with the great majority of those who responded to the Bill's consultation, I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that we have struck the right balance here, and that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page