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Baroness Blatch: I was interested in what the Minister had to say about what will be required of schools. Clause 13 refers to the physical environment of schools for which they are the responsible body for the purpose of,


This is not the status quo, but each school starts from the base that it is required to produce plans which increase. That is what Clause 13 states. There is no flexibility for governors of a school to say that they have done all they can and need do no more. They are not free to say that. Clause 13 requires that the purpose of the planning is to increase the extent to which schools are able to make provision. It would be helpful to have clarification.

In the real world, the Minister is right to say that not every school can do so overnight; we know that. From the day this legislation becomes operative every school and LEA will be subject to the provisions of the Bill. So every school will have to provide plans to effect an increase in the provisions they make for young people with disabilities. Again, in principle, nobody is arguing with that. However, having to prepare and produce plans is burdensome. The plans have to be available for inspection. Someone has to judge whether they are acceptable. It is not enough simply to say that this will

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be the cost of these plans because to plan in a financial vacuum would be irresponsible. If they are going to make substantial changes, particularly structural, curricular or staffing changes, then clearly there has to be some costing of those changes, and the governors of those schools will have to make a judgment as to whether or not they can so plan.

In reply to my amendments, the Minister said the governors would have to plan within the resources they have available. It does not say that in the Bill. It does not say that the planning should be limited to what is believed to be affordable. I presume that the Secretary of State will have a view about what can or what cannot be afforded, but it would be helpful to know what will happen in practice. A school may decide that either it cannot afford to do more because it does not have the flexibility within the budget, or it may decide that it can do more but only if it has additional funds to do it. Not only would it like to do more but it probably needs to do more. It would be helpful to know what happens to either an LEA and/or a school in those circumstances.

I do not have to remind the noble Lord about the teachers' pay award because he will have been quite busy over the weekend spinning out the news about that. This morning, I met some members of local authorities who are absolutely desperate because they do not have the funding to cover the pay award. They are talking already about having to use the standards fund money--which presumably was never provided for pay awards for teachers--in order to meet the pay award that has just been announced by the Government.

Already local authorities are in some very real difficulties. The Minister has to say a little more than merely that schools do not have to make the required changes very quickly; that there is not necessarily any requirement on them to do so; and to argue against what I believe are the words on the face of the Bill. It would be helpful if the noble Lord--I think he has had enough billets-doux passed to him from his officials--would give me a very full answer as to how schools and LEAs will manage in those circumstances.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Members of the Committee will appreciate that my French is a little rusty, but I would not define these as billets-doux under any circumstances. I shall attempt to respond to the points which the noble Baroness has made.

The thrust of my response to the amendments is that they are not acceptable because they change responsibility with regard to the plans in terms of direct expenditure and authorisation by the Secretary of State. The burdensome quality about that is in relation to that sense of its dimension as regards the development of the plans at LEA level and individually within each school.

Of course we recognise that schools and local authorities are always under pressure in relation to the best way to manage their resources. They have a whole range of obligations placed upon them as regards the

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pay of qualified staff within the schools. We all know that schools have to make a judgment about their budgets in order to provide the effective education of students within the context of the legal framework in which they work.

Clearly this particular Bill provides a fresh part of the framework within which they work. It is clearly envisaged that the movement towards improving access and reducing what we know to be the value of the full implementation of the policy will take place over time. It is a progressive duty against the background of the resources which are made available. In my earlier reply I gave the Government's very clear identification of additional resources at this stage which they can foresee are required in order to implement the provisions within this Bill. Significant sums are being devoted to that objective.

We need to recognise that some changes will be able to be implemented very rapidly indeed once the Bill has become law, because they involve very limited costs. Other changes will take place over time as resources become available. We can all think of schools and institutions which vary enormously in these terms. I can recall one school a few years ago which had been built on an extremely attractive architecturally designed terraced principle: but it meant that every single movement in the school involved steps. The significant change required in that school--much of which has already been implemented--was much greater than most other schools would have had to face because of the particular design of the school. The flexibility in relationship to this matter surely rests with the governing bodies of the schools and with the LEA.

When it comes to the question of how far people are falling short of the requirements of the Act and whether progress in some areas is being made as rapidly as it ought to be, the noble Baroness will appreciate that the provisions of the Act will be part and parcel of the inspection requirement for schools and LEAs. We have a structure to ensure that, over time, schools and LEAs make adequate progress on the overall provisions of the Act.

Baroness Blatch: What the noble Lord has described is no different from what happens at the moment. For many years--certainly since the 1986 Act--schools have been doing what they can to improve accessibility for those with disabilities. The Bill builds on existing legislation. The Minister, referring to Amendment No. 131, said that planning does not cost very much. Local authorities might take issue with that, but Amendment No. 131 is not just about planning. If the noble Lord cares to read it he will see that the responsible body may make a request to the Secretary of State for such extra resources as are necessary to implement the accessibility plan. It is about the implementation of the plan, not just the plan itself.

It has been useful to flesh out some of the issues with the Minister, but the underlying point is that as the Bill goes through Parliament, we are raising the hopes of many people. My concern is that those hopes will be dashed when it comes to reality. The Minister gave the

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game away in his first response to the amendments when he said that we were are talking about planning. We are not. We are talking about delivery of a service in schools to people with disabilities. At the end of the day what will really matter is whether the service improves as a result of the Bill. Planning for the improvements will be part of that. I am concerned that we should be realistic.

Rumours are abounding that the Bill will receive very cursory attention when it gets to the House of Commons. I hope that that will not be the case. I hope that there will be an opportunity for it to be fully considered in Committee and that the process is not truncated, unless an election is called and it has to be dealt with in the sweep-up. That, of course, could not be avoided. My understanding is that this is one of the Bills at the top of the priority list and that it will be shunted through with very little debate. I hope that that will not happen, because such matters need to be considered by both Houses of Parliament. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 115: Page 12, line 10, at end insert--


("( ) An inspection under section 38 of the Education Act 1997 (inspections of local education authorities) may extend to the performance by a local education authority of their functions in relation to the preparation, review, revision and implementation of their accessibility strategy.").

The noble Lord said: This is a group of Government amendments relating to the duty on schools and LEAs in England and Wales to plan to increase, over time, the physical accessibility of school premises and the curriculum for disabled pupils and prospective disabled pupils. The amendments are technical in nature, but make the planning duty more rigorous. The Minister wrote to the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp, to explain their effect, but I am happy to explain further to the Committee if that would be helpful. I beg to move.


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