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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 9:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in subsection (3) of Clause 1, we turn our attention to the child with special needs. However, unlike the child referred to in subsection (2), the child in this subsection is one with a statement.

Those noble Lords with detailed knowledge of a child with a statement--indeed, those noble Lords who have had relatives with such learning difficulties--will know that if parents have gone so far as to secure a statement for a child, then that child's disability or learning difficulty will be pretty severe. Indeed, I would argue that today many children with special needs should hold a statement, but for whatever reason a local authority may drag its feet in the assessment procedure to establish and issue the statement. Thus most children who have achieved a statement are in great need of specialist help.

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In Committee, I tabled amendments to this subsection but they were not voted on because the procedure did not allow for it. Along with another amendment to the clause to which I shall speak later, I wish to assert that adequate provision for a child with severe difficulties has to be made available in a mainstream school before parents can be obliged to place their child in such a mainstream school.

I hope that the noble Lord will be able to look more favourably on the aim of Amendment No. 9 and that he will be able to be more accommodating at this stage of our deliberations. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, with this amendment the noble Baroness, with her customary subtlety, seeks to restrict access to mainstream schools for children with statements.

I find this rather strange, because the argument--over which we have spent a considerable amount of time this afternoon--turns on the fact that the Government seek to ensure that the potential social, moral and educational benefits of inclusion are realised by this Bill. I believe that all sides of the House recognise that inclusion has its benefits. That is why young people who are able to attend a mainstream school, provided that it can provide adequate accommodation for them, will benefit from the aspect of inclusion which underpins the entire Bill.

The Government's commitment to inclusion has been strong and constant. Clause 1 of the Bill delivers our commitment to strengthen the right to a mainstream place for children with special educational needs. This is in line with the recommendation of the Disability Rights Task Force. The Bill provides that, where a child's parents want a mainstream place and where this would not prejudice the efficient education of other children, that child should be educated in a mainstream school.

We believe, and the majority of those who responded to the Bill's consultation agree--indeed, we have heard evidence in earlier debates this afternoon to that effect--that we have struck the right balance between, on the one hand, delivering greater inclusion, with all the benefits that that can bring, and, on the other hand, protecting the interests of other children. We are not restricting the use of dual placements or external support. We have also underlined that there is a continuing and vital role for specialist provision. Our intention is to safeguard the needs of all children and we believe that this clause delivers that aim.

What the amendment before the House would do would be to create further ambiguity in the system. We are trying to introduce transparency and clarity. For that reason, I ask the noble Baroness to consider withdrawing her amendment.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, in reply to the last debate, the Minister's colleague stated that plans were in place to modify the code of practice in respect of statemented children. She said that not only should the needs of a statemented child be set out but also the provisions needed for such a child. Perhaps I may ask

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the Minister to detail in a letter to me how detailed such provision is to be. Will it be like the case of Jonathan, where his need for speech therapy was not met, or will the code specify that such a child needs so many hours per week or per month of speech therapy?

I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer off the cuff, but if he could reply to me before Third Reading, I should be grateful.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps I may say that, so far as concerns the particular example he has cited, the number of hours of speech therapy required will be specified. However, I shall be only too happy to write in detail to the noble Lord before Third Reading.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, just as we were told in Committee, what the Minister has said in response to this amendment is neither clear nor transparent. The noble Lord began his remarks by suggesting that we are seeking to turn logic on its head. He spoke of strengthening a child's right to secure a place in a mainstream school, but there is an element of rigidity in what the noble Lord, together with his noble friend Lady Blackstone, is arguing here.

The Government have argued against acknowledging the wishes of parents where they wish to make a choice. They have argued against registration and they have returned to the rigid concept that a child must be educated in a mainstream school. They have argued against the notion that that should be compatible with the wishes expressed by the child's parents. They have argued against introducing the element of flexibility that would be present were the words "will normally" to be adopted here; namely, exactly as I said in 1992 and what I believe today. It is not acceptable to make a presumption. The use of the word "must" here is too rigid. In any dictionary, the word "must" is defined as signifying a rigid imperative and does not allow for any flexibility.

The Government have argued against adding the words, "in the best interests of the child". They have argued against the necessity to ensure that the provisions essential to the support of the child should be present in the school. This makes absolutely no sense. As I have said, it is neither clear nor transparent. The clause is rigid in its drafting and is designed for the Government to meet their objective; namely, that children, irrespective of their needs, will be moved from specialist provision into mainstream schools.

However, the Government are not prepared to give guarantees. They are not prepared to accept any amendment to the Bill that would ensure that adequate resources will be in place. They are not prepared to incorporate a form of words to the effect that the "best interests" of the child should be taken into account.

The Government are being prescriptive and restrictive here. They have turned their face against any element of flexibility. I find that both distressing and deeply disappointing. Parents and children will feel the same when the Bill becomes an Act and they discover that the fine words did not materialise. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 10 to 14 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 15:


    Page 2, line 3, at end insert--


("( ) In this section a child is "educated in a mainstream school" if he receives the majority of his education at such a school.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these or similar words were used by the Minister in her letter to me; however, she did not repeat this form of words in her reply to the amendment moved earlier by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I should like to know whether the Minister still stands by this formulation of what it means to be educated in a maintained school. If she does, can she point to the authority for it? She may be able to provide the authority merely by stating as much on the official record. That would at least give us some comfort as to how the phrase will be interpreted. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, in our view the amendment is unnecessary. As I explained in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we believe that the detail of how dual placements work on the ground should be determined locally. This ensures that the arrangements are tailored to the needs of the individual child--and to the two schools, which is also important. What works for one child in one area cannot necessarily simply be transferred in another set of circumstances. The noble Lord is keen to say that being overly prescriptive is unhelpful. As I believe he and other noble Lords will agree, this amendment is too prescriptive.

However, I can assure the noble Lord that we shall provide further advice on the use of dual placements--both for children who have statements and for those who do not--within the guidance that will back up the new inclusion framework. This is statutory guidance to which schools and LEAS must have regard. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not disagree with anything the noble Baroness said. However, I am disappointed with her reply. I am sad that she did not say what I asked her to say--namely, that she has some authority for the assertion that the phrase "educated in a mainstream school" allows dual placements. The Minister did not even say that that is what she believes. She certainly did not cite any reasons why the rest of us should believe that the phrase in the Bill allows dual placements to continue where part, or even the majority, of the dual placement is in a special school, particularly if it is an independent special school. I shall, therefore, return to the matter at Third Reading. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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