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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not believe that schools or LEAs will be in any doubt as to what they need to do to accommodate young people with disabilities in their schools. I certainly do not believe that they need another raft of legislation with explanatory notes accompanied by another box of papers, especially as the Government have a mission to reduce such information to schools. It does not do the schools or the staff of those schools any service to believe that they can meet their obligations under the Bill only if yet more regulation comes down to them.

In answering the amendment, the noble Lord spoke of the terms "education" or "an associated service" as

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being irrelevant. They are not irrelevant because they are actually the words on the face of the Bill. The Bill states:


    "Regulations may prescribe services which are, or services which are not, to be regarded for the purposes of this section"--

that is the planning duty--


    "as being (a) education; or (b) an associated service".

I despair if there is to be regulation which states that the dining-hall must be prepared to receive young people with disabilities. I regard teachers as being far more intelligent than that. They certainly do not need vast tracts of legislation. But, I suppose that we cannot stop this great leviathan. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 95:


    Page 13, line 37, leave out from ("to") to end of line 45 and insert, ("the arrangements and facilities available and planned for the assistance of disabled pupils").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, if one lists some items that one expects to find in a report, by implication one considers other items not so listed to be less important or even unimportant. It follows that if one lists four areas of activity that one wants to see in the Government's annual report, those four areas will quickly become the only areas reported upon. If, on the other hand, one says that one wants to know all about the arrangements and facilities both existing and planned, then everything is covered, not just those four areas. That leaves the schools to use their professional minds and judgment about what in fact is applicable and pertinent to those reports.

The amendment greatly simplifies the clause. It makes it fully encompass what is needed. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in her reply claimed that changing the wording would probably cause confusion for maintained schools.

They are not infant children; they are professional people. They know what their obligations are under the Bill. They know what should go into reports. They do not need an ABC guide for absolutely everything. And they must be free to use their professional judgment.

Again the noble Baroness in her reply said that being vague about the information to be included in the annual report will probably be unhelpful to schools. Indeed it would be, but the amendment is far from being vague, whereas a limited list of what is to be included becomes the only item that will be included. I press the Government again to trust in our professionals to do the job that they were trained to do. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course there is a balance to be struck between placing duties on schools and reducing burdens on them. We recognise that. Maintained schools are already required to include certain information as to what they have done in relation to disabled pupils. We are not adding extra

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burdens. They will simply now have to include their accessibility plans in their governors' reports too, and the plan will obviously have been drawn up.

The noble Baroness, when speaking to this amendment in Committee, said that she wanted to make the requirement more understandable. We are confident that the provision is entirely clear as it stands. It is specific and sets out precisely what information maintained schools are required to provide. It also ensures consistency, as all maintained schools are required to provide the same information.

Changing the wording will simply cause confusion for these schools. Being vague about what information is required to be included in the governors' annual report will not help maintained schools. We would not want a position where schools were interpreting what is required in different ways. That does not promote consistency. We do not want to end up with schools producing different information depending on how they interpret the provision.

It also takes away the explicit requirement on maintained schools to publish information as to their accessibility plan in their governor's annual report. It is right that parents of disabled pupils and disabled prospective pupils have the information that they need, especially when choosing potential schools. That makes it even more important that schools are clear about what information to provide.

I should like to reassure the noble Baroness that I consider her concerns to be unfounded. I cannot see what is achieved by the amendment. I believe that the specifications in the Bill are clear.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, one matter on which I do agree with the noble Lord is that the number of regulations released only today will certainly place burdens on schools. As for the policy of what appears to be dull uniformity, perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord. Schools are different, areas are different and children's needs are different. Those differences would be reflected in the plans. If we leave it to schools to determine for themselves what they need to plan for in their reports on receiving young people with special needs, it will be done well.

The notion of putting in place a completely uniform set of rules and regulations and sending that information down to schools to ensure that they all do the same thing is not helpful. Armies of people in the department will then pore over the plans. We should set schools free to use their professional judgment. They will do the job far more effectively than will the man in Whitehall.

We shall return to this matter, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 [Accessibility strategies and plans: procedure]:

[Amendments Nos. 96 to 99 not moved.]

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Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 100:


    Page 15, leave out lines 8 and 9.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

Baroness Wilkins moved Amendment No. 102:


    After Clause 14, insert the following new clause--

ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION POLICIES (NO. 2)

(" . In the 1995 Act, insert the following section--
"Accessible information policies

Accessible information policies.
28EA.--(1) Each local education authority must prepare in writing and in accessible formats a policy (their"accessible information policy") for improving the extent to which all written information available to non-disabled children and parents is available to disabled children and disabled parents in their preferred, accessible format, at the time they need it.
(2) Each local education authority must nominate a named officer to be responsible for implementing and monitoring the accessible information policy including planning localised production of information in accessible formats and disseminating advice and information to schools, disabled parents and disabled pupils.
(3) It is the duty of each local education authority to implement their accessible information policy.
(4) It is the duty of each local education authority to publicise their accessible information policy to disabled children and parents.
(5) Each school must prepare in writing and in alternative formats a policy (their "accessible information policy") for improving the extent to which all written information available to non-disabled children and parents is available to disabled children and disabled parents in their preferred, accessible format, at the time they need it.
(6) It is the duty of each school to implement their accessible information policy.
(7) It is the duty of each school to publicise their accessible information policy to disabled children and parents.
(8) Guidance under subsections (1) to (7) may be issued--
(a) for England, by the Secretary of State; and
(b) for Wales by the National Assembly.
(9) "Written information" includes correspondence, curriculum information, reading materials required to support a child's learning and any other type of information which is otherwise made available to pupils or parents.
(10) "Accessible formats" means information in large print, in braille, in Moon, on tape, on disc or in another electronic format, on video, in easy English or in any other format designed to be accessible to disabled people who have difficulty reading standard print.
(11) "School" means--
(a) a maintained school or a maintained nursery school,
(b) a pupil referral unit,
(c) a city technology college, a city college for the technology of the arts or a city academy,
(d) an independent school,
(e) a special school not maintained by a local education authority."").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 101 and 102 seek to achieve the same end. In order not to take up the time of your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke has agreed not to move his Amendment No. 101. I shall move Amendment No. 102.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 779

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that there is an established system to enable sensory impaired and other print-disabled pupils and parents to have access to the same written information as their non-disabled peers. In order for these pupils to have real educational equality, this is essential.

This amendment received strong support from other noble Lords in Grand Committee and in order to meet the Minister's concerns, an alternative and less absolute form of wording has been proposed.

The reason for seeking a statutory duty to be placed on LEAs and schools to have accessible information policies is that there is hard evidence that visually impaired children and parents and those with learning difficulties currently do not receive information in their preferred format at the time they need it. In Grand Committee, the Minister argued that such a statutory duty was unnecessary because all blind and partially sighted children have statements setting out their needs for accessible formats. Sadly, this is not the case. As my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke has already pointed out, nearly 30 per cent of visually impaired children do not have statements. Moreover, a statement is no guarantee of adequate support, as there are still visually impaired children with statements who are not getting information in their preferred format at the time they need it.

Far from placing a significant additional burden on schools and LEAs, which was the concern of my noble friend the Minister, this amendment would ensure that teachers are not left floundering and unsupported, taking up their precious time in searching out accessible materials for their print impaired pupils. It is the experience of voluntary organisations in this field that teachers are frequently at a loss as to how to provide accessible information. This amendment would ensure that schools and LEAs have clear guidance and procedures in place for teachers. This will use the available resources to best effect and save time and money in the long run, thereby improving the educational opportunities of a great many children.

The role of the "named officer" in this is the clear source of reference for help. His role would be to co-ordinate, plan and advise. To meet the Minister's concerns that this would entail LEAs having to create a new post, the wording of the amendment has been altered to propose that a named officer be "nominated" rather than "appointed".

It is not only disabled children but print-impaired parents whose needs would be met by ensuring that LEAs and schools had an accessible information policy. In Grand Committee, the Minister referred to parents having a right to accessible information about services under Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act, suggesting that this meant that disabled parents are fully catered for. Unfortunately, once again it is the experience of the RNIB that this is not the case. It is all too aware that most blind and partially sighted parents have incredibly low expectations of their needs being

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met and they simply do not request or demand accessible information. Those that do often feel worn down by constantly having to ask.

This amendment would ensure that schools and LEAs meet the information needs of print-impaired pupils and parents in a proactive way, ensuring that teachers are well supported and that resources are used efficiently and to best effect. I beg to move.

2.15 a.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I warmly support the cogent arguments advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. I should like to reiterate what she said about the low expectations of parents who may be blind or partially sighted or dyslexic. That is hardly surprising, because they are excluded from a great deal of information in all other aspects of their lives. If they do not know that it exists, how can they demand information in a format appropriate to their needs? I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response in relation to parents as well as children.


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