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If the noble Lord replies yet again that another part of a statute somewhere else will allow the LEA the freedom to pay, in whole or in part, for the non-maintained provision for a child without a statement, this provision is in conflict with that and it ought not to be on the face of the Bill. If the words on the face of the Bill mean that a child cannot be given a place, in part or in whole, in a non-maintained school, that is very regrettable.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it would be regrettable if that were the intent or the effect of the proposals before the House. I want to emphasise, and to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as I sought to do in Committee, that the reference point for proposed new Section 316A(3) provides that the whole of the new section will have no effect on the operation of Section 348 of the 1996 Act. That is the base upon which decisions are to be made. That Act was piloted through this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It contains provision for statemented and non-statemented children to have access to public support for attendance at non-maintained schools.
Proposed new Section 316A(3) makes sure that proposed new Section 316 will have no effect whatever on the operation of Section 348 of the 1996 Act. On that basis, I am able to give the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the assurances that he seeks. There is neither the intent nor the realisation of discrimination against the use of public funds to support a student in a non-maintained school where that is defined as appropriate.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I shall need to read in Hansard what he said. Clearly he is right, but the matter is deeply confusing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 17, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 to 21. This has to be a repetition of what happened in Committee, but we continue to be as confused now as we were then about so many of the amendments.
Why do all those people have such an influence over and above the one influence that matters--that of the parents--and the one consideration that matters; that is, what is appropriate and what is in the best interests of the child? All those named in that section should not have the right of veto.
If the child has been admitted to a special school, as the paragraph states, then the agreement of all concerned has already been sought and given, otherwise the child would not have been admitted to the special school. It is wrong to allow, as these subsections do, the local education authorities and the mainstream school head teachers to object. I beg to move.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the amendments in this group concern provisions for children who have special educational needs but who do not have a statement; in other words, the majority of pupils who have SEN.
Amendments Nos. 17 to 20 would mean that only parental permission would be needed in order to place a child without a statement in a special school, either during a statutory assessment or because of a change in their circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is repeating what she said in Committee; that is, that her purpose in tabling the amendment is in part to reduce bureaucracy and to ensure that time is not wasted. However, she also felt that all concerned with the child would already have been in agreement.
I am sorry to say that there is not always the consensus that the noble Baroness assumes. She asked why other parties needed to be considered and to be at the centre of any agreement made. The reason is that parents' wishes are not necessarily always a reliable measure of the best interests of the child. We feel it is crucial that the step of placing a child without a statement outside the mainstream should be taken with the agreement of all parties--parents, LEAs, the head or governing body and other professionals; it should not be left solely to parental wishes.
Where a child has SEN, it can be traumatic for him and his parents. The SEN system may seem complex and parents sometimes need support and advice. We have no reason to believe that the existing arrangements are unnecessarily bureaucratic or timewasting. We set them out on the face of the Bill for clarity. Either unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally, the amendments relax the exceptional circumstances set out at new Section 316A(2). That could inhibit inclusion for children who would and should benefit from mainstream schooling, and that would be wrong.
Amendment No. 21 seeks to accommodate the wishes of the child before he is placed in a special school. As my noble friend Lord Davies said in Committee, the wishes of the child is a recurring theme and an important one that has implications for pupils beyond the scope of this Bill.
I can assure the House that the revised SEN code of practice, which will in due course be placed before Parliament for approval, will make absolutely clear that the views of the child should be taken into account wherever possible. Of course, that includes the statutory processes for making assessment and statements. Local education authorities and others will, by law, have to have regard to the guidance. We believe that to be the most appropriate way forward. I hope, in the light of my remarks, that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
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