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Baroness Blackstone: The Government are aware that it is essential that parents know about the wide range of options that will be available to help them make good decisions about the education of their children with SEN. It is fundamental to the role of the parent partnership services. The Bill provides for advice and information to be given about matters that relate to children's special educational needs, and those will include details of how the SEN system works, parents' and children's rights, and the various options that are open to parents. I am happy to give Members of the Committee an assurance that the revised code of practice will explain that advice, and information about those SEN matters should be given as part of the minimum standard that the partnerships will be expected to reach.
Turning to Amendment No. 48, we know from consultation that parents want and need more information and guidance on the SEN system and on their legal rights. I accept some of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have just made. The SEN system is complex and it can be difficult to understand.
I am happy to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that that will be underlined in the code of practice and the draft good practice guidance. I hope that, in the light of that reassurance, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In fairness to my noble friend to whom I was doing a favour, I shall leave him to read what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, which I believe is helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 49, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 50, 53, 57 and 81. With my amendments the Bill would require head teachers and governing bodies of all schools in their area to be informed.
While the head teachers of all schools (both maintained and independent) should be kept informed about facilities for special educational needs--that has been provided for in this clause of the Bill--so too should the governing bodies of all schools, both maintained and independent. Under the terms of this clause as written they are not included. Involving both head teachers and governing bodies would ensure that all schools are well informed, even if a particular head teacher or governing body was unsympathetic to special educational needs.
There is an additional purpose for Amendment No. 49. All independent schools have a governing body, but very few independent schools have a proprietor. Where there is a proprietor, he is also the governing body. Therefore it would be better to substitute "the governing body" for "proprietor".
Most independent schools are "not-for-profit" registered charities, and thus have trustees and a governing body. A few independent schools are "for profit" and are owned by a proprietor who is the governing body, or may already have appointed a governing body.
As the Bill is currently written, whatever the legal advice may have intended, those in education will interpret "proprietor" as meaning the owner of a profit-making school, and will not include all the non-profit-making schools that are registered as charity schools. The term "proprietor" needs to be amended throughout the Bill.
I expect that the Minister will say that the new provisions in Clause 2 for information and advice to be made generally available to all concerned remove the need for paragraph 6(b) in the 1996 Act, hence the Government's proposal to omit it. I do not agree with that. The new requirements make advice and information generally available to parents, teachers, governing bodies and so on. However, once a parent has a special educational needs statement made on their child, regardless of whether they agree with it, they may well need to turn to one or more experts for more information and advice. For example, they may need to know the names of consultants who can advise in detail on dyslexia, autism, violent behaviour, speech, sight or hearing difficulties. It would be arrogant of the local authority to deny such help to that parent.
My amendment would not delete paragraph 6(b) of Schedule 27, but would amend it so that the names of several people who could help would be given, if appropriate. It is not uncommon for experts in the field of a child's perceived special need to include persons and voluntary bodies outside the LEA.
Amendment No. 53 goes back to my argument about the proprietor and inserting the relevant authorities. I explained earlier that the term "proprietor" has a limited meaning in ordinary educational parlance. It would be far better to use the term "relevant authority", which covers all types of school.
Amendment No. 57 again goes back to proprietor and relevant authorities. The governing bodies of all the independent and maintained schools should be informed, not just the proprietors and the head teachers.
On Amendment No. 81, the definition in Clause 8 of "responsible body"--those who can make the request for reassessment--is rather strange. The Bill says that if a child is in a maintained nursery school or a pupil referral unit, the responsible body is the head teacher, but for all other schools the responsible body is deemed to be the proprietor. I am concerned on two accounts. First, the term "proprietor" reflects the normal accepted meaning and not what the parliamentary draftsman chooses to make it mean. It should be replaced by "governing body". My second concern goes further than that. If it is right for the head teacher of a maintained nursery school or a pupil referral unit to make a request for a reassessment of a child, it must also be right for the head teachers of all other types of school to do so. The amendment would replace the word "proprietor" with the phrase
Whatever comforting words come from the Minister, the amendment will be pressed to the barricades. "Proprietor" is not the right word. Governing bodies, head teachers and others need to be included. I beg to move.
Baroness Blackstone: Not all independent schools are required to have governing bodies and many do not. The amendment would mean that LEAs were not required to inform those in charge of some independent schools about their parent partnership services. Independent schools have nothing to fear from being informed about the arrangements for parent partnership services. They do not allow LEAs to intervene in the day-to-day running of independent schools. The service is simply available to help the parents of children in those schools, as it is for other parents. There are many cases of children with special educational needs in independent schools. It is just as essential that they have access to the information and advice they need to enable them to make informed decisions as it is for others. If those in charge of independent schools were not aware of these services, the parents of the children in those schools could be at a disadvantage compared with those whose children are in maintained schools. Members of the Committee will agree that parents of children at independent schools should have the same right of access to both information and advice.
Turning to Amendment No. 50, at present parents have access only to a named person where the child has a statement. In future all parents whose children are identified as having SEN will be able to draw on the support of an independent parental supporter if they so wish. By "independent" we mean that they should not be part of the decision making process that is going to affect the particular child's provision. Not all parents will wish to have support of this kind but, where they do, they should certainly have access to it. The independent parental supporter can provide parents with more information and make them feel that they are real partners, which of course they should be.
Members of the Committee have raised concerns that the right of parents to have access to an independent parental supporter is not on the face of the Bill. In the draft code of practice, however, we say that there needs to be a range of practical services, including access for all parents to an independent parental supporter. The IPS should be seen as a central component within the range of services offered to parents. Naturally, the code is statutory guidance to which LEAs have to have regard.
Amendment No. 53 seeks to limit access to the new arrangements for preventing and resolving disputes to maintained schools, maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units. This would mean that where a child has a statement to attend an independent school, or attends a non-maintained special school, the parents of that child would not be entitled to use the new dispute resolution arrangements. The Government believe that it is important for access to
Turning to Amendment No. 57, the Government recognise that it is essential that parents know about the new dispute resolution arrangements and that information is widely available, so that parents are enabled to make the informed decisions that we all want them to be able to make. Where a child has been placed in an independent school by a statement of SEN, the parents of that child still have a right to know about the dispute resolution services and LEAs have a duty to inform proprietors of schools so that parents and schools know of these services.
I turn now to Amendment No. 81. We have some sympathy with this amendment which would enable all head teachers of relevant schools to request an assessment of a child's special educational needs. However, we cannot accept the amendment as it stands and simply delete the term "proprietor" in favour of
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