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Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I wish to add my name to the long list of supporters of the amendment. The Government have made huge improvements in the Bill. As we have seen, the duties amendment has gone way beyond what we asked for. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, it would seem from the Minister's letter to my noble friend Lord Rix that the Government are moving a little. However, we are rather sticking on the issue and not getting beyond a certain point. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said, if a disabled learner does not complete his or her education, it is wasted. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, in the case of some people the problems have only just been discovered at this stage. They are not even beginning to get to grips with their education. This is a very important issue.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise for two reasons, one of which is to apologise to the noble Baroness because I am responsible for the fact that we elicited from her what her reaction would be to the amendment. That was unfortunate, but I wanted to know for good reason. I believed it important that we have some flexibility between the ages of 19 and 25. The interesting amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also sought to introduce flexibility.
People with such disabilities must be at the top of the list of the category of those who require proper provision rather than a provision dependent upon the resources and/or the priorities of the day of the provider. I believe that the Government's fears are unjustified. We are talking about the kind of people who, through no fault of their own, do not acquire level 2 or continue to have learning difficulties to the extent that they need proper provision. They should not be subject to the priorities of the day or the
I admit my culpability for eliciting from the Minister her reaction to this amendment. An extremely powerful case has been put for the amendment. In the light of that, even at this late stage, I hope that the noble Baroness will rethink her response to it.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we had a helpful debate in Committee about the ways in which the LSC and CETW will need to have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties in exercising their duties. I made clear then why the Government could not support an amendment which sought to extend the scope of Clauses 2 and 31 of the Bill so that they covered all students with learning difficulties up to the age of 25. At the same time I emphasised that, in exercising their duties under Clauses 2 and 3 and Clauses 31 and 32, the councils would, by virtue of Clauses 13 and 41, have to have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties and, in particular, to any report of an assessment conducted under Clause 113. I also referred to the councils' duties to take account of the abilities and aptitudes of different persons.
Moreover, I should add that given that Amendments Nos. 55 and 100 were accepted earlier today, the LSC and the CETW will also have an additional duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between persons who are disabled and those who are not. I am grateful for the support for those amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others.
In Committee, I made clear that the Government and the National Assembly intend to give guidance to the councils about the way in which they must exercise their duties under Clauses 3 and 32. It will address the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and others about the position of individual students who begin a course at a later age than some of their fellow students, or need longer to complete their course. I am extremely sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, said in regard to young people who reach the age of 19 and are then not able to complete a course. That is clearly unacceptable and action must be taken to ensure that it does not happen.
But the reservations that I expressed in Committee are similar to my concerns about Amendments Nos. 15 and 93. They are largely to do with difficulties of definition. So I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will understand why I felt able to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her apology--that I should have to resist the amendments before I had actually heard what the noble Lord had to say. There would be enormous difficulties in drawing a line in individual cases between people who could legitimately claim that their
I have, none the less, been reflecting carefully on ways in which I might be able to meet the concerns that underlie the amendments while not accepting the amendments themselves. I am considering an alternative approach. In describing what I have in mind, I hope that I may be forgiven for looking forward from the beginning of the Bill almost to its end.
At present, Clause 113 does two things. It requires the Secretary of State to arrange an assessment of the education and training needs, and the provision which is required to meet those needs, of school pupils with SEN statements who are in their last year of compulsory schooling and who intend to move into other forms of education and training. It also empowers him to do so in the cases of other students with learning difficulties who are under the age of 19. I shall want to make clear when we consider Amendment No. 148 tomorrow that this power is one which we intend to put to good effect. I am presently considering, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has anticipated, whether we should extend it so that the power under Clause 113(3) covers students with learning difficulties up to the age of 25, rather than 19 as now. In other words, we might bring this older age group within the scope of eligibility for an assessment.
I shall bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have said. I shall want to look particularly at the point the noble Lord made about simplicity for parents and, perhaps more importantly, for students themselves--although I cannot guarantee that everything that noble Lords who have spoken in the debate would like will be incorporated into the government amendment.
I hope that by that means we may be able to recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, emphasised in Committee, and again today; namely, that some pupils with learning difficulties might have a slower transition from school into further education or training; that some students take longer to complete further education or training courses; and that some people with learning difficulties return to learning after the age of 19, having left school earlier and stopped taking part in education.
As is the case with younger people, the extent of the needs of this older age group will vary. However, I accept that some will have needs which would be identified in an assessment under the existing Clause 113 duty or power were they under the age of 19. I believe that there is a case for recognising that.
As I have already said, the LSC and the CETW will have a specific duty to have regard to the needs of persons with assessments when exercising their duties to secure reasonable as well as proper facilities. In other words, where people aged between 19 and 25 were in possession of an assessment, the council would
I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of noble Lords the principle of what I am currently considering. The Government will introduce an amendment at a later stage. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that what she has said is very helpful indeed. However, according to her final point, if a student aged between 19 and 25 receives an assessment--it is to be hoped on a simplified basis--the learning and skills council will then have to take that into account in the provision of resources. That is almost an entitlement. There is a wafer-thin decision between that and an entitlement. If in the future an entitlement is not given, what is likely to happen is that the parents of such a student, or the student himself or herself, will take the appropriate LEA or the learning and skills council to court and require that payment to be made. As the Minister is so close to saying "entitlement", at Third Reading she should be encouraged to make it an entitlement.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have not said that there will be an entitlement. We must be very careful about the language that we use here. Entitlements are normally universal for a particular group. What I have made clear is that some young people with learning difficulties would benefit from an assessment; but the reference is to "assessment" rather than "entitlement".
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