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Baroness Darcy de Knayth moved 82A:


The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 101A and 116A. These are probing amendments—or rather, prodding as it were towards a positive outcome. I should like also to thank the Minister for making time to discuss the amendments in what was for her a scarily busy week. I am very grateful. My spirits rise at the mention of so much guidance.

Amendments Nos. 82A and 101A are paving amendments to Amendment No. 116A, whose aim is to give school governors and LEA officers a legal duty to pause for thought before issuing parenting contracts and orders to parents of children with special educational needs who have been excluded from school. That is specifically so that they can consider whether there are more appropriate actions that can be taken with regard to improving the provision for the child in school, rather than placing possibly irrelevant legal requirements on the parents.

Just as teachers have to make every effort to avoid excluding a child with special educational needs, and have first to check on his or her special educational provision, so this would provide a similar second safety net: before issuing a parenting contract or order, LEAs and governing bodies must consider whether everything possible is being done to meet the child's special educational needs.

I must stress that this requirement would not involve much work. If LEAs had already checked on that before excluding the child, the work would already have been done—it would require only another quick look. But if they did not previously check properly, they must do it now. In relation to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Addington—I shall call it Lord Addington's amendment—that would help LEAs to judge whether there had been a material

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failure to meet the provision set out in the child's statement, because they would have made the second check.

Under Amendment No. 116A, LEAs and governing bodies would also have to consider whether the provision specified in the statement was sufficient and appropriate.

There is much evidence from those working with children with special educational needs that exclusion results from insufficient or inappropriate provision. IPSEA, the Independent Panel on Special Educational Advice, of which I am a patron, receives around 3,000 new cases a year from parents of children with special educational needs. Approximately 20 per cent are in relation to children who have been excluded from school or are being threatened with exclusion at some point.

In IPSEA's experience, the most common cause of exclusion of children with special educational needs is that their needs are not being adequately met, either because of lack of support or because the wrong kind of support has been provided. Clearly, the priority in these cases is to discover what needs to be done to meet a child's needs so that the child can resume full-time education as quickly as possible.

At best, issuing parenting contracts or orders could be completely irrelevant as it is simply not possible for parents to control their children's behaviour from outside the school when the cause of the behaviour problem is that their special education is not being met inside the school.

At worst, issuing parenting contracts or orders in situations where a child's exclusion is a consequence of his SEN not being met risks precipitating a complete breakdown of trust between parents and school and parents and LEAs. And this just at the time when everyone should be working together to ensure that the child's needs are met in the future.

Incidentally, I do not speak without notes, like the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I wish that I could. I believe that the amendment will be supported by a wide range of organisations actively supporting children with special educational needs. Certainly the problem is widely recognised. I had intended briefly to quote from several letters which IPSEA received in June, but for the sake of speed I shall not. I say merely that it received letters from the British Dyslexia Association, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder UK Alliance and the Downe's Syndrome Association were clear that a disproportionate number of their children were being excluded as a result of a failure to meet the provision.

I want to slot in, with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, a quote from the National Autistic Society, because it was scary. It stated:


    "The NAS report on inclusion and autism, carried in 2000, found that children with autism and Asperger's syndrome are on average 20 times more likely to be excluded from school than their peers. One in five are excluded at least once, compared with the estimated 1.2 per cent of the total pupil population. The situation is worse still for more able children with autism. Twenty-nine per cent have been excluded from school at one time or another. It is

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    our experience that for the vast majority of children with autism, exclusion represents a failure on the part of their local education authority to identify and meet their special educational needs".

This amendment will not in any way prevent parenting contracts or orders being issued in appropriate circumstances, but it will, I hope, reduce the risk of them being issued in inappropriate circumstances, such as when an exclusion has happened because a child's SEN has not been met. In that circumstance, parenting contracts and orders are not only unfair to parents but would provide a barrier to providing a solution to the problem which gave rise to the exclusion in the first place—the child's needs not being met. This would be against the best interests of children, which I know is not the Government's purpose in bringing forward this legislation.

I hope that the Minister will respond positively to these amendments, or at least will agree to consider them and perhaps continue discussions outside the Chamber. I was cheered by her earlier mention of guidance. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: I congratulate the noble Baroness on wielding the stiletto as opposed to the club on this issue. If the amendment had been part of the Bill, it would have met all the points I made earlier. It would work well with guidance.

Lord Elton: I am sorry that I was absent earlier. I had other work to do. I support the amendment because it goes to the taproot of crime in this country in juvenile delinquency. The noble Baroness speaks of particular people with disabilities, but it applies also to people who do not have disabilities. They can be extremely clever but become frustrated by their academic failure because they have been failed by the school.

This is an accelerating spiral in bad behaviour in young people and it marks them for the rest of their lives. If therefore we can pass in the Bill any provision which will reduce the incidence of such failure for people with a disability, it makes things easier in schools for the rest of the children and the staff. I am speaking slowly so that I may be rejoined by the Minister in due course.

What you do for those with a disability benefits those without. Anyone who is frustrated in a class disrupts the class, which is bad for all the children. Therefore, I warmly support the amendment both for the sake of the disabled and for those who are not.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has the club, the rapier comes from the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the steel from the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I come willingly; neither the club, the rapier nor the steel are necessary because I absolutely understand what noble Lords are saying. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was not present a short while ago, but I did everything that I could to reassure noble Lords that it is of real importance to the Government to get right the guidance in relation to children's needs.

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We were slightly resistant to putting the special needs children specifically on the face of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, is absolutely right that we care about all our children and their needs are disparate. Many of the children of whom the noble Lord, Lord Elton, speaks are those who suffer from emotional difficulties and, as a result, on occasions from behavioural difficulties. He rightly said that can lead to frustration at not having their needs met adequately or indeed at all by parents and others.

I hope that I can give even more comfort to the noble Baroness by saying, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Elton—forgive my tones; they are mine own; they are the only thing I have to offer the Committee and they are genuinely meant—that we are absolutely committed to trying to ensure that the provisions in Part 3 do not disproportionately or adversely affect children with special educational needs or any other particular group. That is the whole purpose.

As I tried to say earlier, we know that behaviour and attendance problems can often have some underlying cause or contributory factor. The statutory framework for special educational needs gives schools and local education authorities specific duties to identify children with special educational needs, to assess those needs and to make appropriate provision for them. Schools and local education authorities take their duties very seriously indeed. Nothing in Part 3 dilutes or undercuts those duties.

We do not see the provision in Part 3 as a substitute for identifying and making appropriate provision for a child's special educational needs; rather we see the measures that we propose as supportive of those provisions. In effect, they would enable formal agreements to be entered into in which the school, parents and the local educational authority would work together to support improvements in a child's behaviour and attendance. They offer an additional means of resolving issues concerning behaviour and attendance and enabling children to make progress. I am sure that we all share that aim.

In our view the best way of addressing the concerns raised by the noble Baroness is to make them crystal clear in the guidance that we shall issue for consultation later this month. With great humility I say that the children of whom the noble Lord and noble Baroness and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Elton, speak are children who can present the greatest challenges for their parents who need the highest degree of parenting skills. Many of us who believe ourselves to be good parents would be extraordinarily challenged by dealing with such children and would need every bit of support and assistance that we could garner together to help us to improve our skills so that we could meet those challenges.

There is no aspersion cast on parents who cannot meet those needs without help. They need help and it is right and proper that we should try to find ways to make it available. If parents will not take that voluntarily, we need to see what else must be done. The guidance will make it clear that schools and local educational authorities must take into account all the pupil and family circumstances in each case in deciding

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whether it is appropriate to pursue a parenting contract or order. If such action is pursued, it will include support for parents in helping to improve their child's behaviour or attendance at school.

Many parents—as we said earlier and with which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was kind enough to agree—who start parenting classes with reluctance, end up going to them with a great deal of relief and joy because they actually get some help and support which is capable of making the difference. If parents cope better the children are, frankly, happier. That is what is wanted by noble Lords who have participated in this debate.


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