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Lord Lucas: I have a further question to add. As I have said several times, the current position to which the Government are, thankfully, reverting is not in itself satisfactory. There are many instances of statements coming through as we discussed on Amendment No. 32. Vague reports are coming from the education psychologists and, on the back of them, the statements are very vague. "Specify" seems to have become less and less of an exact term and one which can mean whatever the local authority wishes.
It would be helpful if we set out in the legislation or the code of practice that statements should be clear not just to the local authority but to the schools which have to put them into practice and to the parents of the children who need to understand what is being offered to their child. Approaching this from a different angle, perhaps we could consider an obligation to ensure that the statements are written not just for the local authority but are clear to the school and the parents. That would address many of the difficulties which the noble Lord raises in relation to amendments I would otherwise wish to support.
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: Before the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, decides what to do, surely we do not want the parents to have recourse to tribunals all the time. That is not an answer. Am I right in thinking that the majority of appeals by parents to tribunals are about the provision in the child's statement of special need, not about the choice of school?
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful for the further representations made in Committee. Perhaps it would help if I went into rather greater length about what we expect to be specified in the revised code of practice, to make clear what a child's statement should look like. We all recognise that we seek to ensure that the child's needs are met. Therefore we need the force and the clarity of the statement to ensure the child's needs are met while at the same time requiring the flexibility inherent in the child's development within the school. In some circumstances, that may make a statement very difficult to specify over a considerable period of time.
In the revised code of practice, we shall insist that the child's statement should describe clearly all the child's special educational needs in full; set out the main objectives that the special educational provision aims to meet; specify clearly, and quantify as necessary, the provision required to meet the child's needs; describe the arrangements for setting shorter-term objectives for the child; describe any special arrangements for the annual review of the statement; recognise the need for the school to monitor and evaluate the child's progress during the year; and recognise the need for the LEA to monitor the child's progress towards identified outcomes with the school.
We shall make clear that LEAs should not have blanket policies not to quantify provision in statements but should seek to meet the clear objectives identified in the code. It will be recognised that in these difficult areas--I accept the force of the amendments and the importance of this debate--a balance needs to be struck between the necessary identification and requirement from the statement with the flexibility of the developing child.
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord will not welcome my intervention at this point. The noble Lord has read out the words "quantified provision as necessary". That leaves the local education authority free to determine whether or not it is necessary to quantify. I have been alerted to that suspicion by people who are concerned about special educational needs. They are concerned that the Secretary of State for Education has moved from the unequivocal term "specify" to the term "quantify as necessary" which is not an unequivocal statement.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I appreciate the anxieties that have been mentioned. However, we insist that the first phrase which governs the whole of the conditions will make clear that local education authorities should not have blanket policies not to quantify provision in statements. We will, therefore, not expect local education authorities to do anything other than quantify where quantification is both possible and desirable in terms of the individual child's needs.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: In concluding this debate I shall discuss the two amendments in the group separately. I am not surprised at the Minister's response although I am disappointed, needless to say, at his response to Amendment No. 43. In particular, the third section of that amendment was bound to rile the Government and would not be seen to accord with their wishes.
However, as subsequent debate has indicated, this is an area where people are extremely concerned. In some senses the Minister misunderstood what I was trying to do. There is a case for having on the face of the Bill some of the fundamental principles that the Government seek to apply here. The Minister's response, in relation to the code, was that at its core the child's needs are paramount. It would be good to have something of that sort on the face of the Bill, which is what I have been requesting.
As regards Amendment No. 44, we have gone considerably further than I expected. Our exchange on precisely what the code will specify was extremely helpful. I, for one, am pleased at the greater clarification that has been provided on this matter. I share the apprehensions of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that if the word "quantified" is not included, authorities will try to scrimp and save on these things. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that we shall return to some of these issues in later debate, whether under this or other amendments. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 45. It is not very dissimilar to Amendment No. 46. My noble friend Lord Lucas and I both say that parents who believe that their child has special educational needs should be taken more seriously. Clause 2 of the Bill obliges a local education authority to make advice and information available to parents living within its area. I do not disagree with that. Parents need to know what provision can or cannot be made for their child and where to go for advice.
Therefore, if the parents think that their child needs help under the special needs provision, the local authority must provide the advice and information, whether or not at that stage--and it may be a very preliminary stage--the local authority agrees with the parents. Of course, subsequent assessment would establish whether the child does, in fact, require special provision. I beg to move.
The time when parents are in particular need of advice is when they do not know what is happening to their kids; when they have worries about the way their child is developing. They see behaviour at home and aspects of the child's personality which may or may not reflect that the child has a special need, and that need is not yet being recognised in school. They need someone to whom they can turn for advice. There are one or two charities that offer that advice, but provision is very patchy--not least because the funding for it is limited.
The local education authority must be in the business of providing advice about special needs--about what can be done about them, how they are assessed and how the process works--because it is the parents who do not yet know that they need that advice who need it most. I therefore support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch which will open up a local authority to that capability. It will make it accessible to the parents who need it and who would benefit greatly from it.
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