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Lord Rix: In speaking to Amendments Nos. 113 and 118, I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Addington (regrettably he is not in his place). the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--a formidable triumvirate indeed. The amendments are a complete mirror image of Amendments Nos. 112 and 117.
It is a matter of continuing sadness to me that the whole access debate so often resolves itself into a debate about whether you can get a wheelchair in. In the early days of the late Millennium Dome--which was quite good on access--it took some time for the Access Advisory Committee to get beyond the planners' initial preoccupation with physical access. Now, in an educational context, despite the Disability Rights Task Force recommendations and the department's consultation document in March last year, we seem yet again to be concentrating on physical access.
I am sure that being able to get a wheelchair into a toilet is very important, but for the disabled child with learning disabilities or difficulties, accessing education depends on the curriculum, the teaching methods and materials, classroom and wider support, the measurement of progress, the way the school and the class are organised and the way that the child is supported.
The inclusion debate in education is coloured by an apparently simplistic assumption that if you change the physical environment you have achieved equal access. That is simply untrue. Every child is capable of learning, but many children in special schools as well as in mainstream schools are not being given the chance to learn, because the educational experience offered to them is irrelevant to their needs. Imagine the effect on our education had we been given a comfortable chair in a comfortable classroom, but the lesson was conducted in a language that we did not understand, accompanied by gestures that meant nothing to us with tasks that we found unintelligible and goals that were incomprehensible.
I cannot believe that the Government have misunderstood the challenge of inclusion as completely as Clause 13 seems to suggest. I hope that the amendments will be accepted, or at least that I will be given substantial reassurance, perhaps in the ever-lengthening code of practice.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I support what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has said. Amendments Nos. 112 and 113 duplicate each other, as do Amendments No. 117 and 118. The issue here is access to the curriculum in its widest sense. It is not just a question of physical access. It is vital that we have that on the face of the Bill.
Baroness Wilkins: I give my support to Amendments Nos. 113A and 118. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the point is that mainstream schools should be capable of absorbing the full diversity of children and giving them a good education. They do not necessarily all have to go there, but the place should be available for them. Maybe they will come in and out as appropriate.
The aim of the clause is that over a prescribed period, we will achieve full inclusion for all disabled children. In the London Borough of Newham, the principles were set down initially and it has been achieved over time. There are currently also two Channel 4 programmes that speak to this very well called "Count Us In", which I recommend to Members of the Committee. I give my full support to these amendments.
Baroness Blatch: I do not want to hold up the proceedings but I should like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, to know formally, on the record, that I support the whole point of having curricular arrangements properly addressed, and that will include Amendments Nos. 113, 117 and 118.
Lord Astor of Hever: I support Amendments Nos. 113 and 118. I am concerned that Clause 13 uses too narrow a definition of disability. It needs extending to ensure that curriculum teaching and learning arrangements are included on the face of the Bill. This is a particular problem for children with an autistic spectrum condition; they need access to the curriculum. Currently, a lottery exists as to whether LEAs will plan provision for children with autism.
Due to the breadth and complexity of the autistic spectrum, authorities must plan for a range of educational provision, ranging from autism-specific schools, colleges and units to supported mainstream places. The challenge of autism is exacerbated by the increasing reports of a significant increase in the number of children with autism. Research by Dr Fiona Scott of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University has shown that one in eight of the primary school SEN population of Cambridgeshire has a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum condition.
Yet lack of trained staff remains the critical barrier to the effective inclusion of children with autism. Where staff are not adequately trained, a sympathetic placement in the mainstream will remain difficult and parents will continue to seek a specialist autism-specific environment for their child.
Research has shown that 70 per cent of teachers, in the mainstream, taught children with autism but only 5 per cent reported having specific training in their basic teaching qualifications, and only 5 per cent reported attending subsequent autism-specific training days.
Lord Lucas: I entirely support the same two amendments and would only add what wonderful schools they are that concentrate on this aspect of the work, because they are so much better for ordinary kids too. There are so many benefits that come from providing properly and individually for the learning and teaching requirements of disabled children, particularly children who have dyslexic/dispraxic autism spectrum disorders. It breeds an attitude in the school and its teachers; it breeds a range of facilities which are of enormous use to ordinary kids. They are wonderful places to visit and this is something we should be encouraging. Just making doors wider is not really not where it is at.
Lord Davies of Oldham: The planning duty is a crucial mechanism for increasing, over time, the physical accessibility of school premises and the curriculum to disabled pupils and disabled prospective pupils. After all, as first steps towards learning, pupils need to be able to get into and around the school and the classroom and be in a classroom which is conducive to their learning. We are aware that, although some good practice exists, LEAs do not plan as strategically as they could.
We have accepted the Disability Rights Task Force's recommendation that the most effective way for increasing accessibility for disabled pupils is by taking a more strategic approach with local education authorities working with schools in their area to increase accessibility.
What is the planning duty intended to achieve? It is not just about increasing the accessibility of premises; it is also about increasing physical access to the curriculum by providing aids to learning outside of the SEN framework, which provides specific aids and services to meet the needs of individual pupils.
We want to ensure that LEAs and schools do more to improve physical accessibility than just providing ramps and lifts. We want them to think about what physical measures will help disabled children access the curriculum. This may include providing laptops, using appropriate paint schemes and carpets, installing soundfield systems or providing specialist furniture.
We recognise that improving physical accessibility to schools is important. LEAs in England are eligible for funding through the schools access initiative to increase accessibility to mainstream schools for pupils with both physical and sensory disabilities. The sum of £220 million is being made available to LEAs in
If this were all that LEAs were required to do, the amendments might have some substance. However, other provisions in this Bill and other measures already being taken by this Government provide sufficient levers to ensure that teaching and learning arrangements are sensitive to the needs of disabled pupils.
We do not believe that schools' plans and LEAs' strategies are the right vehicle for securing change to teaching and learning approaches. These amendments would introduce additional administrative burdens when schools and teachers are now required to ensure that they follow inclusive practice in delivering the national curriculum.
Under Clause 12, schools will have to consider what reasonable adjustments to practices, policies and procedures such as general teaching methods should be made if particular arrangements would place disabled children at a substantial disadvantage.
All maintained schools and a fair few independent schools follow the national curriculum. The national curriculum statement on inclusion sets out three principles that teachers are required to have due regard to in planning and teaching the national curriculum: setting suitable learning challenges; responding to pupils' diverse learning needs; and overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils.
It goes on to say that teachers should take specific action to respond to pupils' diverse needs by, among other things, providing equality of opportunity through teaching approaches. For pupils with disabilities, it specifically states that teachers must take action in their planning to ensure that these pupils are enabled to participate as fully and effectively as possible within the national curriculum and the statutory assessment arrangements.
This is a major lever for ensuring that teachers, as part of their professional duties, will consider how to adjust their teaching methods to ensure that disabled pupils are able to access the curriculum--which is the burden of the speeches and the nature of these amendments.
During the Second Reading debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, described the planning duty as appearing "very weak". This is not so. It should not be seen on its own, but rather as part of the wider framework which includes the existing SEN framework that provides auxiliary aids and services to meet children's special educational needs; the duty to make reasonable adjustments; additional school access initiative funding; the national curriculum statement on inclusion; and increased funding for training for SEN. These will increase services to disabled children and make provision that will help them develop to their full potential.
The planning duty is to plan strategically over time. The LEA may initially decide to concentrate on improving the accessibility of its schools to pupils, for instance, with a hearing impairment. Alternatively, the LEA may decide to improve the accessibility of one school to a number of pupils with a number of different disabilities. We do not want to be prescriptive. It will be for each LEA according to its particular circumstance to prioritise. Not all LEAs will start from the same starting point. Some LEAs, for instance, may already have accessible provision for visually impaired pupils.
As time moves on, we naturally expect LEAs to have made progress in increasing the physical accessibility of schools to disabled pupils. The duty is progressive. But it is also realistic in recognising that some schools, because of the availability and nature of their building stock, may have further to go than others.
In the light of this description of the way in which all aspects of educational policy come together, I hope that it will be recognised by the noble Lord that this amendment need not be pressed.
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