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Lord Rix: Perhaps I may respond briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I am amazed that he dismisses special educational needs as a "special interest group" in a rather derisory tone, making those with special educational needs sound as though they comprise only a small body of people with most obscure objectives in view. Those with special educational needs account for one-fifth of the school population, so the noble Lord cannot possibly call them a "special interest group" and dismiss them as such. I was startled to hear the noble Lord use that term in what I believe to be a derogatory way and I must protest on behalf of children with special educational needs and on behalf of those authorities and schools which deal with their problems. They are, indeed, a special interest group of enormous special interest for government, education authorities, and local authorities. I would be most unhappy to leave the remarks just made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, hanging in the air without some opposition.
Lord Peston: It was certainly not my intention to take that view; quite the contrary. However, the fact is that those with special educational needs are a special group. That is why we use that word. They comprise a "special" group which many of us wish to see treated specially. The real point here is whether on the school organisation committee, or any other body, we should automatically say that they must be represented on every occasion. That is not my view, taking on board the obvious point that those elected to serve on a local
I do not seek to denigrate those with special educational needs; quite the contrary. I have spent a great many years fighting for their interests, and I continue to do so. However, it is not obvious to me that we should approach the school organisation committee in that way. I am not saying that that is obviously wrong; I am saying that it is by no means obviously right. I certainly would not want anybody to believe that I speak of special educational needs in a derisory manner or regard them as unimportant. I do not, as my record proves. However, I do not believe that every decision should be taken on the basis of its impact on special educational needs.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I rise briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Peston, because I understand his point entirely. It seems to me that the school organisation committees are composed of those who are providers. However important special educational needs are, it is not clear to me that that group comprises a "provider" of education. Once one starts to go down that road, one must take other groups into account. One could argue that the special educational needs group is among the most significant groups--or, indeed, that it is the most significant group--but, logically, it is not involved because it is not a provider of education. Those who are members of the committees are there simply because they are education providers. That is what I understand to be the logic of the provision. Once one passes beyond that logic, I am no longer sure what the committees are about. However, if you hold to the logic that you are requiring providers to reach agreement on any plans, it seems to me that there is a proper justification for such committees.
Baroness Blatch: I am startled equally by the contributions of the right reverend Prelate and of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. We are talking about "providers". In fact, the providers of education are the teachers in the classroom. Governors are not providers of education; they are managers of their schools. They comprise a school's governing body. Those who provide education are those who do the teaching.
Under the Government's proposals, school organisation committees are representative groups. The Government are not setting up panels of independent people who will collectively take into account all the different interests. The committees will include groups from the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, further education and school governors. The Government have left teachers outside those representative bodies, which are not collective panels simply taking on board collective interests. It seems
In answer to a question from my noble friend Lord Belstead, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he found it difficult to give us some idea of the composition of a small or large authority. Perhaps I may put the question in a different way which the noble Lord will be able to answer. How many groups? The number of members of each group may change depending on whether the authority is small or large, and reflecting the number of children, the number of schools and the size of the area. However, the number of representative groups will not change--unless, of course, there is no church school (Anglican or Roman Catholic) in an LEA in which case the school organisation committee will not include a member from the church group. It should be possible to say how many groups will be represented on each committee. That would give us some idea of the numbers involved, depending on the area.
Perhaps I may return to the point about teachers, which is the import of my amendment, Amendment No. 105. As I understand it, the FEFC will be a group in its own right on the organisation committee. Almost inevitably, members of that group will comprise lecturers from the further education world. Lecturers serve on its council and boards, so lecturers are likely to form this group. We would understand the position if the Government stipulated that governors of further education colleges are to be involved. However, if they do not, those serving are likely to be lecturers. Are we to have the spectacle of an organisation committee comprising lecturers from further education colleges but not including headteachers or teachers from local schools? If that is the case, it seems rather strange.
Technically, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was right about my reference to the adjudicator having absolute power. Ultimately, the power is not absolute because there is the judicial inquiry system. However, it seems extraordinary that a school or parents would have to go to the extent of invoking a judicial inquiry. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that a judicial inquiry will not make judgments about the quality of the decision taken or about the actual decision taken. A judicial inquiry will consider the procedure by which the adjudicator arrived at his decision--in other words, whether the adjudicator was wilful or vexatious in disregarding certain aspects of the case by, say, not properly listening to the case or by not following properly the procedural path laid out, probably in statute by regulations. However, if the adjudicator makes a decision which local parents believe is deeply unfair and in their view wrong, they have absolutely nowhere to go, so in that sense the power is absolute.
Lord Peston: I agree very much with what the noble Baroness has just said. I suppose that the difference between us is that I hope that recourse to the adjudicator will be rare. I would have to accept, as in the end would the Government, that if more or less every decision went
I support the Bill as it stands and what the Government are trying to do precisely because I strongly believe that one should try to sort out such matters locally. That was my initial point. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--this follows on from the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young--that if, on every single decision, one or other of the partners says, "I am going to the adjudicator", we would all have to accept that, although this was a good idea and a good experiment, it had failed. We would all have to accept that, including the Government.
The difference between us is that I think that for the most part the partners and providers at the local level will be capable of taking such decisions, including those of a very sensitive nature such as those relating to special educational needs. It is really a question of whether we are willing to see whether this will work or whether we are so certain a priori at this stage that it will fail. That is the difference between us. I fully accept the bona fides of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on such matters, but I believe that this is well worth doing as a step forward. The noble Baroness is, however, quite right that if every decision is referred to the adjudicator, the system will have failed. We shall have to wait and see. Some of us may not be around by then, but someone will certainly see.
Baroness Maddock: I rise to try to end this part of the proceedings, bearing in mind that we still have to debate whether this clause stand part of the Bill. We have ranged very wide in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said this afternoon that he had never been elected to a local authority. Given the deftness with which he got to his feet when a note was passed to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, anyone in local government would have been delighted to have had the noble Lord on his benches. What is more, the noble Lord managed to speak for a considerable period which gave me even more time in which to deal with the amendment.
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