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Baroness Blackstone: An opportunity is available for that and I am happy for de-grouping to take place. Lists are available in the Whips' office. It is not reasonable to ask that the Whips should deliver them personally to every member of the Committee, but members can come to change them. It is right that the groupings should go to the main Opposition spokesman, as already happens.

I am sorry about what happened with amendment No. 41. I apologise for that, but it would be helpful if de-grouping could take place in advance, rather than in Committee.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Moving away from procedural matters, I have a question for the Minister. Why was the new clause thought to be such a good idea for more senior colleges and for higher education, including pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, but not for schools?

Baroness Blackstone: I do not quite follow what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is asking. This part of the Bill is only about schools. The second part of the Bill relates to further and higher education as well. I am puzzled by his question.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am not making myself clear. This provision was inserted into the Learning and Skills Act 2000. It was accepted broadly by the Commons, then brought back and accepted here. The principle of the clause remains that provision should not be thought to be giving rise to disproportionate expenditure, whether it be for a more mature student or for a child in the school system. The clause would

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simply put in this Bill a provision that is in the Learning and Skills Act. I do not see why it should apply to more mature students covered by the Learning and Skills Act, but not to schoolchildren. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, may want to re-gather her forces and maybe we will come back to it again at the next stage without taking more of the Committee's time, but that is a very simple question. Why is this provision necessary for, say, 19 to 22 year-olds, but not for 15 year-olds?

Baroness Blackstone: I think it would be better if I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, as I have already offered, giving a fuller reply to the issues raised in the amendment and his more specific question about the Learning and Skills Act.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am most grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 42:

    After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

(" . In paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 27 of the 1996 Act, after second "school" insert ", providing them with a copy of the draft statement,".").

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 42. In speaking to this amendment I speak unashamedly for the schools and, indeed, for the National Association of Head Teachers, who at the end of the day will be responsible for serving the needs of all children, including those with special educational needs, and for the effective delivery of the provisions of the Bill.

It is a fact of life that some local education authorities pay no more than lip service to the duty to consult schools, in particular the potential recipient school of a pupil with special educational needs. The thrust of my amendment is to improve the quality of consultation by providing that the school, not necessarily the local education authority, can determine what steps can be taken in order to ensure compatibility, particularly when those steps are to be funded from within a school's own budget.

Just as national government tell local education authorities that money for special educational needs is fed into the support grant, local education authorities tell schools that funds are part of their delegated budgets. The process of conforming with the measure may involve providing no additional resources for a school to admit a child with special educational needs or may involve considerable and costly provision. The school, therefore, should be involved in the consultation process before a decision is made.

All political parties contesting the next election agree on the delegation of budgets and giving schools more control over their resources at the local level. Certainly the funding paper which is in circulation at the moment achieves that to a great extent.

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I cite a hypothetical but entirely possible, even probable, situation. A local education authority is minded to agree to a particular placement for a pupil with special educational needs. The only way in which the recipient school can accept the pupil and fully meet the needs of the pupil as set out in the statement is to reduce the staffing levels at the school and thereby increase class sizes. The local education authority nevertheless names the school in the statement. That leaves the school with a duty to admit the pupil under the terms of the legislation.

I ask the Minister what would happen in that situation? Would the school be required to adjust its budget, and/or to reduce staffing which would result in larger class sizes in order to admit the pupil? The particular issue at stake here is the quality and effectiveness of the process and the degree to which the local education authority consults with the potential recipient school in good time before taking a final decision. I emphasise the words "in good time" because if the negotiations are held at a timely point in the proceedings, it gives the school and the local education authority an opportunity to thrash out some of the issues of proper support for young people with special educational needs when the statement is made.

The National Association of Head Teachers, other teacher organisations and teachers in general--this needs to be emphasised--support the primary aims of the Bill. However, they are rightly concerned that the necessary funding and support will not be available in order to make the Bill work.

Schools want more say in the process and a strengthening of the obligation on local education authorities to consult with and to take into account the views of schools, of their heads and of their governing bodies when the statement is in draft form. If schools abuse their position and simply use this process as an excuse not to admit a pupil, that can be tested. But where there is genuine tension as regards meeting the needs of a child with special educational needs and ensuring also that the needs of all other children are met, the more qualitative the discussions that take place before a statement is finally agreed, the better. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I support the spirit of the amendment. It is extremely important that schools should participate in the discussion and in the development of these statements. However, I do not fully agree with the noble Baroness' assertion that all political parties supported further extension of local management of schools. The Liberal Democrats feel that it has gone as far as it should go at the moment, partly because of the need to keep sufficient resources at local authority level to meet special educational needs. Needs frequently arise in one school and then another and it is very difficult to predict where they will be. The more that money is dispersed, the more difficult it is to meet those needs. However, that is a different issue.

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We feel very strongly about the importance of keeping schools informed in the process. That is the spirit of the amendment.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I was grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because we all recognise that the issue of resources is of import. Local authorities will have to have sufficient resources to meet some of the interesting challenges in the Bill.

Let us be absolutely clear about the present situation. It is not conceivable that a local authority can make an intelligent judgment on how to solve the problem of particular placements without adequate and full consultation with any school that might be involved. The usual practice is for local authorities to provide schools with a copy of the draft statement, because without that information the school is in no position to consider whether it can meet the child's needs or whether the admission might affect the provision of efficient education for other children. The answer to the particular case that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, offered as a problem--of course we all face many problems in this area--is that the local authority would be required to make resources available to meet the need that she identified.

The normal practice is for designated schools to be consulted, but we recognise that, under the 1996 Act, that can be strengthened. We therefore propose that the revised code of practice, which was published in July last year, incorporates guidance on consultation before a school is named in a statement. That will be further enhanced in the final revised code to indicate that LEAs should provide full information, including the draft statement, to the proposed school. Although we are resisting the inclusion of these words on the face of the Bill, we recognise the need to strengthen the obligation on the local authority to provide the necessary information. We propose to do that by strengthening the code.

I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness might consider that the points in her amendment are met.

Baroness Blatch: I thank the Minister for his reply, but can he tell us where in statute the school has the right--not as a matter of courtesy or normal practice, but the right--to see a draft statement and to be consulted about what should go into a final statement?

Secondly, some of us are slightly worried about the code of practice. There has been some concern about the consultation, although it was extensive, and representations have been made. However, I understand that the next time we see the code of practice, it will be the definitive article. That does not give us an opportunity to test the quality of the changes that will be made as the result of what has been said here and in the consultation process.

To give one example, the Secretary of State very quickly responded to the consultation and reverted to the need to specify in a statement the particular needs of a child, not simply to resort to broader wording. I do

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not know whether the noble Lord is aware that there is an undercurrent of rumour: that the code will state that the provision will be quantified as necessary.

If a child requires a statement I should have thought it necessary in every instance to set out and specify in a statement what those educational needs will require by way of provision. We should like some assurance that we shall see a draft of this code. After all, much of the work must now have been done. Many of the policy decisions have been taken. We should like to see this code in draft form while the Bill is proceeding through this House or another place so that we can see whether some of the fears that we express through our amendment will be met.

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