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Baroness Blatch: I was going to come in on a slightly different tack, because I also believe that the Minister did not answer the specific point of the amendment. This section of Clause 3 is about a resolution procedure. The need for the resolution procedure, which I support, is to try to resolve, where possible, any tensions between the parents and/or the schools or recipient bodies which will be receiving a child with special educational needs.

One reason for tensions between the LEA and the parents may be that the LEA has prescribed one kind of placement and the parents have chosen something different. The parents may well have disapproved of a school named in the statement. They may have preferred a city technology college which the LEA did not support, a pupil referral unit, or a place in a maintained school. They may also have preferred an independent school. If that dispute is to be resolved, any party to the difficulty should be involved in the resolution.

The Minister said that the amendment would give parents a right to go to an independent school of their choice. No, it would not. The amendment is about resolving a dispute; it is about the LEA giving its reasons why a particular choice or preference of the parent is not appropriate.

As well as the parents having a right to argue their case, it is important that the school named by the parents should have an opportunity at least to be part of that process. My amendment would give no right to anybody to dictate which school they go to. It would

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simply give parents a right to be part of the resolution process. It seems quite extraordinary that every other type of school is mentioned.

We have said from the outset that we believe that there should be no "no go" areas when looking for the appropriate placement for a child with special educational needs. We should look right across the educational sector, covering maintained and independent schools. No schools should be excluded. A parental preference for an independent school could be a conspicuous cause of tension between the parent and the LEA. The school should not be denied the right of representation in the resolution procedures.

I hope that the Minister will discard his speaking note on the amendment and will answer the particular point about parties being excluded from the resolution procedure. I am not talking about a right to go to a school that is not of the LEA's choosing.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Let me clear up as best I can the issue of definition that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, addressed to me. The Section 342 approved schools are non-maintained special schools. They are covered by the new arrangement, so we were not in any way excluding them from the general reconciliation procedures.

I listened carefully to the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, put forward. When parents and the LEA are dealing with a dispute about the allocation of a school and the arrangements to be made, both those parties are covered. The independent school would be part and parcel of such discussion. The arrangements would be limited if the dispute occurred between the LEA and the school .

The issue is straightforward. I am talking not about what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said about Section 342, but about any independent school. The issue with regard to the independent school would be worked out during the process of conciliation.

If the parents and the child have decided to remain outside the state supported local authority sector, our contention is that when there are disputes between parents and the school about the proper provision for the child, it would not be right for the conciliation procedures of the local authority to be drawn down. Clearly, the amendment presented by the noble Baroness would bring such procedures into play in those circumstances. That is what I was seeking to resist and constitutes my explanation for the amendment not being acceptable.

Baroness Blatch: That is not my reading of what the Bill states here. My understanding of the purpose of Clause 3 is that a local education authority must make arrangements with a view to avoiding or resolving disagreements with parents of children in its area. The dispute is between the parent and the local education authority, the reasons for which can be many and varied. For example, in the specific case that I am addressing with my amendment the LEA may wish to make one kind of amendment when the parent has expressed a preference for another. The 1993 Act and the 1996 Act provided that parents' preferences should

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be given some priority. The only exception is where the LEA believes the parents' preferences to be inappropriate or where they can be superseded by some other provision that meets the special needs of the child. Obviously cost would be taken into account in such a case. This is a matter to be resolved between the LEA and the parent. Where the parent believes that appropriate provision for his or her child is in an independent school not named by the authority, the independent school should, in that particular dispute, be given the option to be known as a relevant school. The resolution of the dispute might involve the parents' preference being agreed to. However, the parents' preference may not be agreed to. Nevertheless, the school in question--the one to which the parents wish their child to go--should be contained within the list. That confers no rights apart from the right to have the school represented in any resolution dispute procedure.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying the matter. It was clear to everyone on the Committee apart from me and I apologise for my slowness in appreciating it. I accept the argument that she puts forward; namely, that where the dispute is between the parent and the LEA it is entirely right that the procedure is brought into play if the issues cannot be resolved through straightforward discussion. The amendment is open to the possible interpretation that where a dispute exists between a parent and the independent school attended by the child, that dispute could be brought back to the LEA's procedures for conciliation and reconciliation. I want to obviate that. I consider the amendment defective because of that interpretation. I shall, however, look again at today's discussion. I certainly accept the first point that the noble Baroness outlined.

Lord Lucas: The Minister seems to have ended on a high note as he began when dealing with my amendment, which I am delighted to withdraw. I had not appreciated the great ambitions of the Government, on which I congratulate them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 55 to 60 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Manchester had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 61:


    Clause 3, page 4, line 44, at end insert--


("(9) In the arrangements made under this section with respect to a dispute arising under section 316, the local education authority must make provision for the child's views to be taken into account having regard to the child's age and maturity.").

The noble Lord said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Ashley who is unable to attend today's meeting of the Committee, I speak on his behalf in not pressing the amendment at this stage. Thus I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

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6.45 p.m.

Clause 4 [Compliance with orders]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 62:


    Clause 4, page 5, line 5, at end insert ("and no prescribed period will be later than 6 months after the date on which the order was made").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 62 concerns delay and timescales. It will be essential for the tribunals to remain impartial while accepting the need to seek the best outcome for the individual child. However, over time tribunals may become ever more aware of and sympathetic to the financial or other constraints experienced by a local education authority. In turn, those financial or other constraints may constrain the timetable of the tribunals' decisions.

I do not wish to sound too cynical about the work of the tribunals, because I believe that they do a very good job. However, it seems to me that the reason outlined should not be a reason for delay. If there were a specified period for the implementation of the tribunals' decisions, no such constraint need arise. The child's parents, the school and the local education authority would then be on an even playing field.

My amendment calls for a time limit of six months. I should like to be flexible about that. If the Government find that six months is too short a timescale, I shall be prepared to consider other suggestions. However, it is important that the principle of having a timescale should be agreed to. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I support Amendment No. 62 and speak to Amendment No. 63. The issue in Amendment No. 63 is very different from that in Amendment No. 62. Amendment No. 62 is about the timescale; Amendment No. 63 is about compliance.

As things stand, if the local authority does not comply with the tribunal, it is left to the parents to take the local education authority back to the tribunal and to secure compliance. The initiative lies very much with the parents. This can involve the parents, therefore, in seeking further legal advice, possibly even an appeal to the High Court with all the emotional stress and financial expense that that involves.

Amendment No. 63 seeks to put the onus on the local education authorities not only to comply with the tribunal decisions within a given period of time but also to put the onus on the LEA to provide evidence of compliance in a written letter stating that they are in compliance with the requirements of the tribunal. They are not doing so satisfactorily. It still leaves the onus on the parents to go back to the tribunal but at least the LEA has produced some evidence that it is genuinely prepared to sign the letter. Few chief education officers would be prepared to sign such a letter unless they were in compliance with the requirements of the tribunal. That is why we put forward the amendment.


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