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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the amendments would require LEAs to take account of the

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ascertainable wishes of the child when carrying out assessments and making and maintaining statements of SEN. We fully support the principle that the views of the child should be taken into account whenever they are ascertainable, according to the child's age, maturity and understanding. However, I fear that I am going to disappoint my noble friend Lady David and others who have spoken. We do not believe that putting the provision on the face of the Bill is the right way forward.

We can achieve a sensible solution through the SEN code of practice. We give the views of the child clear prominence as a fundamental principle at the beginning of the draft revised SEN code of practice. We have devoted a whole chapter in the draft to seeking the views of children and young people with SEN throughout their school life, including in their early years. Going beyond what I said in Committee, we shall enhance the guidance in the final version of the revised code of practice to carry an expectation that schools and LEAs will seek and take account of the views of the child wherever possible. We shall ensure that there are clear links between the general principles in the chapter on pupil participation and the later chapters on specific aspects of the formal processes for making assessments and statements, for example in relation to decisions about the provision to be made for a child or young person.

We will encourage schools and LEAs actively to involve pupils in other ways, such as through setting and reviewing individual education plans during the school year and by encouraging and supporting children to give their views on their progress during the previous year, to discuss any difficulties encountered and to share their hopes and aspirations for the future in the annual review and transition processes. That could involve attending all or part of the annual review and other meetings.

In addition to strengthening the SEN code of practice, we are strengthening the arrangements for hearing the child's views at tribunals. The new SEN tribunal regulations will entitle the child to attend the hearing of an appeal and give evidence at the tribunal's discretion. The current regulations do not expressly entitle the child to attend hearings. That is another step forward.

Strengthening the provision in the revised code of practice is not a soft option. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that LEAs must, by law, have regard to the code of practice. They cannot ignore it. If it contains an expectation that they will seek and take account of the ascertainable views of the child or young person in relation to assessments and the provision to be made for them, the LEA will need to do that. The Secretary of State can consider a formal complaint if they do not. The SEN tribunal will consider whether LEAs have complied with the code of practice when it hears appeals. The new SEN tribunal regulations will also require an LEA responding to an appeal to state the ascertainable views of the child. Having heard my reassurances and

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the fact that the code of practice will really bite in this respect, I hope that my noble friend is able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Rix: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. Recently the DfEE released a video which shows parents attending a tribunal. Does not the Minister believe it appropriate to withdraw that video, for the child is not present at the moment? If the child is to be present under the terms of this Bill, then I assume that the video should be brought up to date.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am happy to give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that we shall look again at this video to see whether we can adjust it to take that factor into account.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of this amendment. I am pleased that that support has come from all round the House, which is very satisfactory in itself. I do not pretend that I am not disappointed by what my noble friend has said, but I suppose that I must draw some crumbs of comfort from the fact that she is going to enhance the guidance and strengthen the code of practice, particularly as regards the tribunals. Rather reluctantly, I accept what my noble friend has said and hope it will work out in practice. I shall naturally be following the matter with very great interest when the Bill becomes an Act. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 29:

    After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(" . In paragraph 3(4) of the 1996 Act, after second "school" insert ", providing them with a copy of the draft statement,".").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment at Committee stage. I was speaking in support of a very real concern of the National Association of Head Teachers. I made the point, which was made to me, that the association supports the aims of the Bill and that it wants the Government to know that. I suspect that they know it anyway because they have been in discussions with that body. The association also wishes to be party to making the Bill work. Therefore, its starts from a very positive position.

At col. CWH 87 of Hansard of 29th January, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, when commenting on this amendment, spoke of the intention under the code of practice to provide full information to the proposed school, including the draft statement. But the point of the amendment on that occasion, which I again make today, is to assure schools that sight of the draft will be sufficiently timely for the school to have a meaningful input. The noble Lord is probably well aware of it anyway, but perhaps I may remind him that, at CWH col. 88, he said that he would consider what had been said. On that

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occasion he appeared to be reasonably impressed with the arguments and the concerns expressed on behalf of schools.

As I have said, the head teachers are very positive about the aims of the Bill and about wanting to make it work. However, they need to be involved in the process at a stage when they can make the kind of input that would either make it easier to pave the way for young people to be received into their schools or to prevent a situation becoming much more difficult where tensions rise, tempers are frayed, the parents, children, and perhaps the professionals, are very frustrated by the process. If they can be involved at a very early stage some of these problems may be avoided. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, I gave some positive indications at Committee that the arguments she put forward on that occasion found considerable favour and that we would seek to make progress along the lines which the noble Baroness suggested.

We have tabled Amendment No. 64, which is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 152, which is tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Blackstone. That will ensure that maintained schools, which an LEA is considering naming in a child's statement, will receive a copy of the proposed statement or proposed amended statement for that child. Where a school being considered is in the area of another authority, the school and that authority will also receive a copy. That will ensure that schools are fully consulted and previous good practice in this area is standardised. The noble Baroness referred to good practice in Committee.

Head teachers will be able to discuss with the LEA the arrangements that may be required to make provision for the child within the school. The agreed arrangements can then be reflected in the final statement or alternatives can be considered. In those circumstances I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, can safely withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am very grateful for the positive way in which the noble Lord has responded to my amendment. I wish to be absolutely clear that timeliness has been properly taken on board; that we are not talking about the proposed statement, but a draft before it is proposed as the final statement. Therefore, it will be at a stage when the statement itself can be modified in the light of the opinions of the receiving school.

If I heard the noble Lord correctly, he referred to the named school. In the course of drafting statements and making choices about which is the appropriate school, more than one school will be mentioned. It may be a school preferred by a parent, one named by a professional or a different school named by the LEA.

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I would like an assurance about timeliness and the fact that in the draft statement there may be reference to more than one school.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I can certainly give an assurance that the draft statement is also included within the framework of the proposed Amendment No. 152, which we shall have the opportunity of debating at a later stage at Report.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 30:

    After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(". In the 1996 Act, after section 316 insert the following section--
"Consideration of disproportionate expenditure.
316AA. In the exercise of any functions under this Part, provision is not to be considered as giving rise to disproportionate expenditure only because that provision is more expensive than comparable provision." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to a new clause which raises the question of comparable expenditure. It says in effect that in deciding whether a mainstream or a special school is to be preferred, the cost should be irrelevant; that is to say, that the wishes of the parents and the needs of the children can be given priority irrespective of the cost.

This amendment was moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who cannot be here today. The main point in favour of the amendment is that in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 the principle contained in the new clause was applied to students between the ages of 19 and 22; so why should it not apply to younger pupils?

Perhaps I may quote one short passage from my noble friend when moving the amendment at Committee stage. He said,

    "Special schools benefit from economies of scale and from a concentration of personnel and facilities for SEN children in a way which cannot be matched in the necessarily more dispersed environment of a mainstream school".--[Official Report, 29/1/01; col. CWH 81.]

Therefore, there appears to be a strong case for this amendment. I beg to move.

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