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Baroness Blackstone: I begin with Amendments Nos. 210A, 214A and 215A. These amendments would place express duties on the face of the Bill requiring local authorities to keep a record of each parental preference which is refused under paragraph (a) of Clause 81(3)--the "prejudice ground"--and on authorities and governing bodies to publish the number of such refusals in a year. Paragraph (a) is capable of covering a range of types of "prejudice" that can occur, but these will not normally arise unless the number of places in the particular school is oversubscribed.
As to publication, we agree that knowing various levels of oversubscription at a school may be of considerable value to parents in judging the realistic options they have when applying for a school place. Indeed, departmental advice in the past has suggested that schools and LEAs might publish such information.
However, this is a matter which the Government do not think belongs on the face of the Bill. It would be unwieldy to include precise details to be published--important though they may be--in primary legislation. Instead, Clause 87 already enables details of this kind to be set out in regulations.
To require all LEAs and governing bodies to record and publish these details seems a trifle overbureaucratic. Published details are already quite lengthy and we do not believe that this is something that should be made compulsory.
I would, however, be very happy to give a commitment to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we shall carefully consider what the code might say about voluntarily publishing additional details such as the levels of oversubscription and about the ways parents may best assess the realistic options that they have.
Perhaps I could say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the code of practice that, yes, of course, it will address the issue of parental preferences. I confirm what my honourable friend the Minister for School Standards has already said: we intend, with the class size pledge, not just to sustain current levels of parental preference but to enhance them. That is something that the Government made clear when we were discussing the class size clauses in the Bill.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 203 and 205 and say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that I am sympathetic to the intention behind these amendments. I now understand that their aim is to ensure that children with disabilities and special educational needs are not discriminated against, by establishing a mechanism which would enable LEAs to monitor admission arrangements and identify whether schools are taking their responsibilities towards children with special educational needs--including those with disabilities--seriously. That is extremely important.
Perhaps at this point I could also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that she is absolutely right: if a child has a statement, the school must give the support that goes with that statement; so if a child with special educational needs is additional to the class size ceiling of 30, he or she would need to have the additional resources.
Baroness Blatch: That facility was already in place under the previous government: where a child is formally statemented, the provisions follow the child. I am talking about a child with special needs who falls short of being formally statemented. But if that child is guaranteed a place in a school where the class size pledge can be busted, then it is important to recognise
Baroness Blackstone: I was just about to come to that point. Of course the noble Baroness is right. I could not agree with her more. If a child with special educational needs has been taken into an infant class, which means that the number goes over 30, for the period of time that that class is over 30 and the child is in the class, the additional resources must be provided.
I shall return to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness. The new admissions framework is designed to allow consultation by all admission authorities in an area through a forum on one another's admission arrangements for the forthcoming admissions round. That is to allow for constructive debate, I hope, leading to local agreement on those arrangements, with the right of referral to the adjudicator where that cannot be reached. LEAs and governing bodies will be required to publish information about the current admission arrangements for all schools to help inform parents considering which schools to apply for.
We have previously stated our commitment to ensure that school admission arrangements do not allow children with special educational needs, including those with a disability, to be discriminated against. Monitoring arrangements will be important to ensure that, in practice, children with special educational needs, but without statements, are treated no less favourably than their peers. It is right that such mechanisms should be put in place, but we must ensure that we put in place considered arrangements which will provide us with the right information.
I assure the Committee that we are considering the issue in the light of the responses to the SEN Green Paper. Although it is premature to include specific legislation at this stage, I can give an undertaking that in working up our proposals for taking forward our policies on inclusion we shall take careful account of the issue raised by the amendment. In view of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for that reply. I am encouraged by her response that she might be looking for voluntary inclusion for schools or the LEA to indicate first preference, but she referred also to it becoming cumbersome and over bureaucratic. I assume--perhaps the Minister will correct me--that that information is already to hand and that the LEAs and the schools will know at this stage how many people have applied for that school as first preference. Perhaps she can answer that point.
Baroness Blackstone: I do not believe that the LEA will have all that information. It will have to ask the schools to record carefully every application made to them, including applications that may eventually come
When I was speaking earlier, I said that I was happy to give a commitment to the noble Baroness that we will consider carefully what the code might say about voluntarily publishing additional details, such as levels of over-subscription, and how parents might best assess their realistic options. I hope that that answer helps.
Perhaps I may tell the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that I am now informed that unless a child has a statement that child will not be admitted as the 31st, 32nd, 33rd or 34th child. It is only in those cases where a child has a statement that the class size ceiling of 30 will be lifted. In other cases that would not happen. I think that what I said earlier may have been slightly misleading.
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness sits down, can I press her a little further? Is she saying that a child with special needs who falls short of being formally statemented and who would be the 31st child in a school which cannot be physically expanded because there is no room, would be sent off to another school even though the school, the governors, the head teacher and the parents in that local community are entirely happy for the child to be taken into that school as the 31st child?
Baroness Blackstone: We are going over ground that we have already covered at great length in the debates that took place on the class-size clauses of the Bill. I do not think it is terribly helpful to have them again on a completely different part of the Bill. We will be able to come back to all these matters on Report. The Government's class size pledge is one that they regard as extremely important. If this was a village school where the child would be required to travel some distance, I made clear when we were discussing the class-size parts of the Bill that the child would be taken in. However, if it is an urban school then we are sticking to our pledge that we do not think that the standards of our infant schools can be raised with the very large class sizes we have had in recent years.
Baroness Blatch: I personally take offence at the remark just made by the noble Baroness. This is an admissions issue and we are talking about admissions policies. The very fact that the class size pledge is a separate issue in the Bill is one thing, but it impacts very much on whether the admissions code of practice is to take into and subsume the pledge covered in
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