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Lord Addington: My noble friend has a point. We shall have to make sure that people know what they are doing when they come newly into a situation, and some form of training provision would certainly seem sensible. If it is covered somewhere else, I shall be happy. But I believe that this matter must be addressed. Later amendments of mine cover teacher training.
Baroness Blackstone: Significant record levels of funding are already available to LEAs and schools through the SEN component of the Standards Fund to support the training and professional development of both teachers and support staff working with children with SEN. In the current financial year we are supporting expenditure of £26 million on SEN training--an increase from £21 million last year--and we envisage that £30 million of the total £82 million available for SEN under the Standards Fund in 2001-02 will be spent on training.
That funding is designed to support the implementation of the SEN code of practice and to give direct, practical help to schools and LEAs when implementing the policy of inclusion. But it is designed to be flexible as needs in one area, or indeed from one school to the next, may not necessarily be the same.
A wide variety of providers currently offer courses of training in SEN, including some of the specialist voluntary bodies. We believe that such diversity is healthy, allowing flexibility and the ability to respond to changing needs.
We have been working closely with the Local Government National Training Organisation and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in connection with their work on developing a national, UK-wide set of occupational standards for teaching assistants. Both are expected to be ready this year. They will provide an overall framework within which teaching assistants can demonstrate their abilities and develop their careers.
The amendment refers to formal approval of courses and qualifications. We do not see the case for such a system at a time when we are trying to reduce bureaucracy in education. Indeed, creating a new administrative burden could have the unintended effect of dissuading current or potential providers from offering courses, which would be a pity. That is not to say that the Government should have no involvement in training at all: of course they should. There is a long-standing requirement for teachers of classes of pupils with visual impairment or hearing impairment or a combination of both to have an additional mandatory qualification approved by the Secretary of State and, of course, there are specific requirements laid down in relation to courses of initial teacher training, currently under review by the TTA. However, we see no need for a general requirement for courses for support staff to be subject to formal approval.
Rather, we see our role as lying in somewhat different directions. We have established an inclusion website which is designed to promote good practice and publicise SEN materials and facilities available to teachers and support staff. That would include the courses that are on offer. And we will be working with the National Association for Special Educational Needs and others over the next year to develop some teacher training material of our own designed to meet specific needs. Our intention would be to cover the interests of support staff in this material.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. She made many helpful points which I should like to read carefully. I should like to make three quick points. One is anecdotal. I was discussing the Bill with somebody who told me about a parent with an autistic child about whom that parent was extremely worried. The parent was not having the
Thirdly, it sounds as though I am pressing the Minister to do something about this matter. I hope that we will not go down the road of adopting the rigid recruitment bar that used to be applied to social work training where one had to have a very specific qualification. It seems to me that in the area of special needs different qualifications will be needed. Some thought needs to be given as to the suitability of someone to work with a young person with special needs. I hope that we will keep in mind the need for training to be made available; the need for people to be better trained and the need for them to receive more suitable training. However, we also need to adopt sufficient flexibility to enable schools to employ people whom they believe to be the right people to work with children with special disabilities. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 91A and to speak to Amendments Nos. 92A and 92B. These three amendments are probing amendments relating to the word "justified", which is in the proposed new Section 28B(1)(b). Amendments Nos. 91A and 92B relate to independent schools. I shall come later to Amendment No. 92A which relates to maintained schools.
Independent schools are often small and some specialise in particular ability ranges in sport, music, gymnastics or whatever. Can every school be expected to accept any and every form of disability? There are so many different kinds of disability. The National Union of Teachers says that the range of disabilities is vast and that enormous research would have to be undertaken for schools to inform themselves of every possible condition. Perhaps each school in the independent sector should be encouraged to cope with one disability. However, as I read the Bill, it might deny an independent school the opportunity to concentrate on doing one job well. Will the noble Baroness confirm that the word "justified" in the proposed new Section 28B(1)(b) covers a school which elects to concentrate on one disability and provide for it effectively but it could then reject children with other kinds of disability?
Finally, there is the question of costs for independent schools. Can independent schools make charges for extra services? The school with which I am familiar has a good service for dyslexic children. It has about a dozen dyslexic children and, of course, an extra specialist dyslexic teacher is required. The parents of those children pay extra for that teaching. If they did not do so, the burden would fall upon all the other parents. Most independent schools today are non-profit making schools and someone has to bear the cost. Unless the clause is amended, or the word "justified" is very clearly defined, this clause might mean that independent schools had to accept every single pupil disability of any kind.
I move to Amendment No. 92A and the subject of maintained schools. The same problem was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in the context of Amendment No. 91. I see two sets of circumstances which might cause problems in the interpretation of the word "justified". First, it simply is not realistic to suppose that no additional costs will be involved and no additional staff needed to enable children with many types of disability to participate fully in a mainstream school. Each type of disability will generate its own costs and staff needs.
Surely common sense and indeed a responsibility to use public resources effectively dictate that where a local authority has several schools of a particular kind--secondary, primary or whatever--each school should specialise in a particular kind of disability. Perhaps school A would specialise in mobility and school B in hearing difficulties. How do we know whether the courts would find that a local authority's policy on this matter falls within the category of being justified?
Clause 11(1)(b) refers to the treatment in question being justified. Justified by what? Since we shall not see the guidance until after we have passed the Bill, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the problems I have raised will be covered by the words "the treatment in question is justified"? I beg to move.
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