Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elton: My Lords, I am tempted to my feet only by the appeal from the noble Baroness. I am unsure what she wanted to elicit from me, but I believe it was an endorsement of the fact that exclusion of a child from school is sometimes imperative for the benefit of the other children in the class. In such cases the needs of the excluded child have to be set against those of the children in the class. The noble Baroness spoke to this point in relation to Clause 19 about contracts. The contract is a parenting contract in cases of exclusion from school or truancy. I am a little pessimistic about this because presumably, if the school is a good one, there will already have been a home school contract for a difficult child which, of course, is unenforceable. In this clause, subsection (8) states:

In fact, unless the noble Baroness tells the House otherwise, it is almost unenforceable and the parent will recognise that from previous experience. I wish this well. I believe that what the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches has asked for should automatically be forthcoming. If it can be put on the face of the Bill, so much the better.

Lord Addington: My Lords, on Amendment No. 38, I, too, would feel slightly more comfortable if on the face of the Bill there was some recognition that specialist help, care and so on will be required for certain people with special educational needs. The correlation is proven between the people in the group and those who will be subject to the order. To have the provision on the face of the Bill would be better than having it in the regulations. The draft guidance, which I have read, mentions—as the noble Baroness said—disability and special educational needs. However, unless we can get the two tied in more closely, we will make a few more mistakes. It is to be hoped that we can better establish that issue after the guidance returns from consultation.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I commend both noble Baronesses on speaking to their amendments with such elegance. In particular, I commend the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I believe that guidance is the most appropriate way forward. I thank the noble Baroness for her generous comments about the consultation document, which we have produced. I just emphasise that, as she has rightly said, this is a consultation document. We will anxiously sift through all the comments that we have received and will receive on the guidance. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is correct to say that we should get this issue absolutely right. We will take all comments on board.

No one would dispute that there must be safeguards in place for children with special educational needs, but there are already safeguards in place. There is the

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1821

Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, the Education Act 1996—which places schools and local education authorities under a duty to identify, assess and make suitable provision to meet a child's special educational needs—and the department's guidance on exclusions which emphasise the importance of addressing a child's special educational needs.

Perhaps I may say a few words on the issue. We have discovered that children who show evidence of special educational needs sometimes have those needs contributed to by the quality and nature of the care and parenting they receive. If one can help deal with the parenting, one often can help materially the way in which the child can take advantage of the opportunities available to it.

Lord Addington: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she make sure that a definition is made between those who have a special educational need resulting from a disability—either hidden or otherwise—and those who have a social problem? Confusing the two leads to a great deal of misdiagnosis and wasted time and money.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that often there is confusion between those two. Children suffering most acutely from social needs can be misdiagnosed as having some other need. I understand that. That is why I very gently suggested that parenting can also have an influence on these issues.

I was very pleased to note the comments made by the noble Baroness about the guidance. On the position in the Bill, the draft guidance, which we have recently published—and to which the local education authority must have regard—makes clear the position of children with special educational needs. It fully restates the duties which schools and local education authorities are under, including their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act; and it requires schools and local education authorities to take into consideration any special educational needs and to satisfy themselves that they have done all that they can to meet them before applying any of the measures in the Bill.

The home/school agreements, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, apply to all children. It is the usual format: schools will have an arrangement about the behaviour which the parent and the child are expected to maintain while at that school. The contracts to which we refer are different, because they are specific, tailored contracts to deal with particular difficulties that may have been evidenced by the child having been in some way non-compliant—by either its behaviour or its non-attendance. It is those different, finely honed contracts that we think will be targeted to change behaviour. There are of course two sets of draft guidance: one on youth offending teams and one on education-related parenting measures. Copies of both are in the Library.

I turn to parenting contracts. The parenting contract is a two-sided agreement and it is clear that the local education authority or governing body's side

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1822

of the contract is to provide support for the parents. In some cases, that may be something that the school can provide without external assistance; or it may require a multi-agency approach.

I therefore firmly support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her aim behind Amendment No. 37—namely, to encourage local education authorities and governing bodies to involve a range of relevant agencies to provide support to parents. The Government are committed to ensuring better and more effective working between different agencies and will be advancing that, following on from the recent publication of the Green Paper, Every Child Matters.

However, that aim requires a more flexible approach, which, I therefore submit, is better suited to guidance. We are currently consulting on draft guidance and the concern to ensure that a joined-up approach to support those parents is reflected—indeed, strongly propounded—throughout the document.

Thus, before the meeting between the education authority or governing body and the parents to draw up the contract, consideration must be given to whether other agencies should attend or suggest terms for the contract. Even before the decision is taken to enter into a parenting contract, the local education authority or governing body must consult with any other agency involved with the pupil or its family. Clause 25 allows youth offending teams to enter into parenting contracts with parents whose children are "likely to engage" in criminal conduct and/or anti-social behaviour, with the purpose of steering the child or young person away from such behaviour.

Amendment No. 45 would prevent youth offending teams from entering into parenting contracts at that crucial stage when the child or young person has perhaps not yet come formally to the attention of the police for anti-social behaviour. If an agency becomes concerned about a child or young person, it might refer him or her to a youth inclusion support panel, which will carry out an assessment. That assessment would consider the risk factors and protective factors. Where that indicates a high risk of offending, the youth inclusion support panel may ask the child and parents for consent to be referred to a youth offending team so that they can access appropriate support.

The youth offending team could then work with the child and, if appropriate, the parents, to steer the child or young person away from criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour. That could involve a parenting contract. That could provide invaluable help for families at an early stage, before a child or young person's misconduct becomes entrenched and leads to more serious problems.

Evidence suggests that intervention at that early stage can be especially effective. I stress that referral and intervention would be voluntary. The amendment would deprive families of the support that they want, need and deserve. I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press it.

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1823

I speak briefly to government Amendment No. 48, which is grouped. It specifies that the term "guardian" in Clauses 25 and 29 has the same meaning as in Section 107 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Parenting orders for criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 already use that meaning.

We always intended that that should apply to parenting contracts and the parenting orders, and that change is needed to make this clear. It allows youth offending teams to provide support in a wide variety of family circumstances—such as where the court regards step-parents as having the care of the child or young person. I know that that has been of concern to several noble Lords—in particular, to the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Northbourne. I hope that that will give them some pleasure and satisfaction.

I commend the government amendment and invite the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page