Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that response. Of course, I shall withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 56:



("( ) an independent school,
( ) a school approved under section 342.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 56 fulfils the commitment that my noble friend Lady Blackstone gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to consider adding independent schools to the list of relevant schools in Clause 8. Noble Lords will see that we intend to add independent schools and non-maintained special schools to the list. Those schools would, therefore, have the right to ask a local education authority to assess or to reassess the special educational needs of any of their registered pupils in the same way as maintained schools.

In the light of that, and as it achieves what the Opposition seek with Amendment No. 57, and more, I trust that the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch, Lady Miller of Hendon and Lady Seccombe, will withdraw their amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I would like to sound grateful for what the noble Lord has done. It is good news that he has included the independent schools. However, in speaking to the amendment, the Minister has given no reason whatever why, in adding "an independent school", the Government have removed "a city technology college", "a city college for the

20 Feb 2001 : Column 716

technology of the arts" and "a city academy". I believe that we are owed an explanation as to why "an independent school" has been added but three schools have been taken away.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the issue that we believe that the noble Baroness raised in Committee has been covered by our approach on independent schools. We believed that that covered the points discussed in Committee. The other schools mentioned by her are legally independent schools, so they are within the framework of this provision. By indicating that we had covered independent schools I believed that we had covered the categories to which she referred.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, this is very strange. Either the Government made a mistake when they produced this Bill or they did not. The Government had included "a maintained school", "a maintained nursery school", "a pupil referral unit", "a city technology college", "a city college for the technology of the arts" and "a city academy", but now they have included "an independent school" and left out three of the other schools. What is wrong with including all the schools?

The status of an independent city technology college, a city college for the technology of the arts and a city academy is different from an independent school. The way in which they are structured and the way in which they were set up are different. They are independent in one form but they are within the bosom of state-funded education. Therefore, it is important that they are not seen in the same category as totally independent schools that receive no funding whatever from the state. The city technology college, the city college for the technology of the arts and the city academy are entirely publicly funded. Therefore, I do not agree that they should be removed and replaced with "an independent school".

Lord Lucas: My Lords, this is a thoroughly confusing piece of nomenclature with which the Government, and indeed previous governments, have landed themselves. This long list of different types of school appears in several places in the Bill. Is there any kind of school which the Government have left out of the list or does the list include all schools?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because he has spoken the lines I was about to deliver. We thought that our amendment met the objectives contained in an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in Committee and which included independent schools. That covers all the categories. Nothing is left out. We thought that the noble Baroness would recognise the amendment as a concession on our part to the discussion in Committee. Accordingly, we have presented an amendment which covers all schools.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 717

Therefore, we hoped that she would be prepared to withdraw her amendment. I hope that that still is the case.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it does not cover all schools. The Government have put in one and then removed three. So it cannot possibly cover all schools. So far as concerns finance, the three categories which have been removed--the city technology college, the city college for the technology of the arts, and the city academy--are maintained wholly by public funds. They are within the bosom of state-funded education. They are not independent in the sense of an independent school which is not dependent on the Government for any funds whatsoever, other than the remnants of the assisted places scheme which the Government have abolished anyway. So it really is not good enough to say that "independent schools" covers all these other schools. It does not. There is a very strong argument for leaving them in. We shall certainly return to this matter at Third Reading.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 57 to 59 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Duty to specify named school]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 60:


    Page 8, line 27, leave out ("not").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 60, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 62 and 63. In Committee I fear that the Minister misunderstood our amendment. We do not intend to oblige local education authorities to fund places outside the maintained sector that they are not already obliged to either fund or part fund. We want to ensure two matters: first, that there will be no premature closures of special schools in the maintained sector; and, secondly, that local education authorities will continue to fund or part fund those educational places for children with statements appropriate to the child's needs.

It is acceptable if parents notify local education authorities that they do not require such a place. But I want to see provision for those parents caught in the "Catch 22" situation where they wait so long for either a statement or a placement that they resort to the private sector as a kind of stopgap until the LEA makes the necessary provision for their child. Under the terms of the Bill, there will be no way back into the maintained sector except by the withdrawal of their child from the independent school. In Committee, in response to my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the Minister stated that:


    "All I can say to the noble Lord is that this Bill does not in any way affect the current arrangements for the funding of places in the independent sector where the school is named in the statement".--[Official Report, 29/1/01; col. CWH 81.]

Will the Minister go further and say that not only will current arrangements continue to be funded, but that all the existing flexible packages that suit so many children will also remain available for children in similar circumstances in the future? If an LEA cannot provide an appropriate place to meet the requirements

20 Feb 2001 : Column 718

of a child with a statement, then it should be obliged to fund such a place elsewhere. We wish to ensure that existing funded or part-funded places and similar places in the future remain available to children and for parents who pay their taxes in this country.

There is some sympathy with local education authorities which hold open special educational needs places for pupils, only to see those places remain empty. The local authority is financially committed, while at the same time another child is prevented from benefiting from that place. That is why we have stipulated holding the place for half a term. That allows enough time for parents to decide whether to accept the place, but not so long that it would prevent another child from benefiting from it later. Should the Bill as drafted become law, local education authorities will have no incentive whatever to speed up their decision making, no incentive to meet parents part way in funding, no incentive to agree flexible packages for children and no need to ensure any additional special needs provision at all.

Where the parents of children with statements have private funds, they will be forced to pay for appropriate places in the private sector, whereas children with statements whose parents do not have the financial means will be forced into the mainstream sector by the gradual closure of many special schools. Until now, we did not believe that this was the original intention behind the Bill. I hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, we shall once again receive a reassurance on this point.

During our earlier debates in Committee, the noble Baroness stated at col. CWH 136 that it was not the intention of the Government to allow LEAs to avoid naming a school in a statement in a significant number of cases. Can we be told exactly what number of places would be regarded as "significant"? How will this number be calculated, both nationally and within LEAs? What is to be the cut-off point before the department or inspectors or tribunals on behalf of parents step in? Does not the fact that the point has been raised at all by the Minister indicate a serious flaw in the proposed clause as it stands without my amendment?

What is the purpose of an LEA undertaking to statement a child if it then does not have to nominate an appropriate place for that child's education? In Committee the Minister said that:


    "If parents arrange their own provision for the child, we see no reason why the LEA should hold open a place at the school currently named in the statement pending the conclusion of the appeal".--[Official Report, 29/1/01; col. CWH 137.]

That misses the point I made in Committee and which I have repeated this evening. This goes to the nub of the matter. If parents are already satisfied with their own arrangements, they would not be taking the LEA to appeal. They would merely write to the LEA to say, "Thanks, but no thanks. We are happy with the arrangements we have made". There is no need for the LEA to hold open an empty place.

I believe that this clause goes too far in that it may even encourage local education authorities not to make enough special needs places available in the first

20 Feb 2001 : Column 719

place. My amendment seeks to ensure that local authority places are made available for those children who need them, but at the same time, local authorities need not hold open such places indefinitely. Again, if we refer back to the aims of the Bill, so far as concerns the Government, then the Minister ought to be sympathetic to my amendment. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page