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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps there is a misunderstanding. I received that information from the Special Educational Consortium, which I understand has been in touch with the RNIB about that matter. It is again unfortunate that notes of derision should enter into a debate on an important matter, and one which we can all discuss.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps I may continue, otherwise we shall never get through what is an important day of discussion. Let me be absolutely clear and review again the safeguards that protect the interests of individual children who have statements. The whole point of the statementing process is to ensure that children receive the provision which their learning difficulties call for.
Statements specify the provision to be made. LEAs are then under a duty to arrange for provision to be made. We intend to enhance the guidance in the revised SEN code of practice to make clear that a statement could describe clearly all a child's special educational needs in full; set out the main objectives that the special educational provision aims to meet; specify clearly the provision required to meet each of the child's needs and describe the arrangements for setting short-term objectives for the child and any special arrangements for the annual review of the statement.
It is important that we look at the 1996 Act, which the Bill seeks to amend. That Act has, at its heart, the needs of the child. Section 1 sits alongside the rest of Part IV and should not be read in isolation. Perhaps at this point I should mention to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, something which I said at Second Reading, as I do not think he was able to be present. The noble Lord mentioned the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We believe that the changes to the SEN framework, of which the Bill forms a part, will ensure that the framework fully complies with the convention. Indeed, that is the legal advice we have been given. The noble Lord shakes his head. However, I want to give him that reassurance. Lawyers with expertise in this area have provided us with that reassurance.
I return to Schedule 27 to the 1996 Act, which ensures that the individual needs of the child are taken into account in deciding whether to name a parent's choice of maintained school. Section 9 sets out the general principle that pupils are to be educated in
Where parents believe that an authority is providing inappropriate or insufficient provision or have not named a school that can meet the needs of their child, they have the right of redress to the SEN tribunal. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools has been asked to monitor the new inclusion framework. Once confirmed, that will help prevent any potential abuses and ensure that the needs of the child are safeguarded. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that I thought he was being unduly pessimistic about the matter.
I also indicated on Report that the statutory guidance on the new inclusion framework will underline the need to ensure that the interests of individual children with SEN are protected and will set out the safeguards I have again explained today. We believe that our proposals strike the right balance and protect the interests of children. We therefore do not believe that it would be right to reinsert provisions that might be seen as equivalent to the old first caveat. I very much hope--
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. The nub of her argument is that this could be a loophole for local education authorities to abuse the purpose of the Act. She quoted one example of Down's syndrome. With all the resources available to her department, perhaps I may ask how many other cases she or her department know about. Every Member of Parliament, including her ministerial colleague who was a Member of Parliament, will assure her that they know of dozens if not scores of cases in which LEAs have denied the best interests of the child by insisting that the child should go to a mainstream school where the provision is inadequate and when they should have gone to a special school. The abuse is mostly the other way.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, are not consistent with the consultation process and its outcome. We have consulted widely. We consulted those who represent the parents of children with special educational needs and statements. I cannot give a specific number; I do not know precisely how many cases there are. However, I know that those who have expertise in this area, those who have been affected by the previous legislation, take a different view from the Conservative Opposition. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, also referred to my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham. He did say that he had had letters in the past from parents who wanted a special school place, but he has also said to me on more than one occasion that he believes that there is a change in what many parents want; that more and more parents want their children to be educated in a mainstream school if possible, and if the child can get a decent education.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, provided some examples of children sitting at the back of the class, not benefiting, being excluded and getting into trouble with the law, and so on. The whole statementing process is designed to ensure that children get the support that their SEN calls for.
Section 317 requires governors at maintained schools to use their best endeavours to provide the special educational provision that children need. That means that children with SEN certainly should not be sitting at the back of the class, languishing and having their needs overlooked. I should be as concerned as he is if that happened. I do not believe that that will happen. Everything that we are putting in place, including substantial additional funding and extra training for teachers, should prevent that happening.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I have a short but important question. I want to ask the noble Baroness, as a Minister at the Dispatch Box, whether it is her understanding that if the LEA makes a wrong decision in the interest of the child, the tribunal may set it aside and quash it. If that is her understanding, what is the objection to including it on the face of the statute? It is a very simple question: I do not understand the objection.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have already said that there are many parents who do not have the skills and knowledge of the law of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. To be put in a position where they have to fight an LEA in this way is very difficult. Let me end by reiterating yet again that the Bill has at its centre--just as the 1996 Act did--the needs of the child. That is why the amendment is not necessary.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister, but, with the greatest of respect, she has not said anything new. I should like to try to be positive. We all want to achieve the same benefits for children. The problem is that many of us believe that the Bill does not say what we want to achieve. It is a badly drafted Bill, or, if it is not badly drafted, something is wrong with it. Sections 316(2) and (3) use the word "must". Several noble Lords have said, "But that is overruled by this and that is overruled by Section 27". I do not understand how the word "must" can be overruled in law. Perhaps someone can explain that to me.
The Bill must be made to say what we all want; the Bill must be made to say what the Government want. I accept that the Government want what the Minister has said they want, but the Bill does not say so. I recognise that my amendment is by no means the only way in which the problem could be solved, but my amendment is before the House. I believe that there are a number of your Lordships who would like to express their feelings on this subject by voting. I want to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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