HC Deb 05 February 1992 vol 203 cc313-9

'. A board of management shall, when requested to do so by an education authority in whose area their college is situated, provide to the authority as soon as is reasonably practicable such information or advice as the authority may reasonably request from the board to facilitate the carrying out by the authority of their duty under section 65B of the 1980 Act (provision for recorded children over school age) to consider in relation to any recorded child what provision would benefit him after he ceases to be of school age and to make a report thereon.'.—[Mr. Michael Forsyth.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 18—Future needs assessment'.—(1) Section 65B of the 1980 Act (Future Provision for Recorded Children) shall be amended as follows:— (2) After subsection (4) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (4A) If it appears to the education authority that the child may benefit from further education after he ceases to be of school age, the education authority may invite the board of management of a further education college to assist them in performing their duty under subsection (1) above, and the board of management shall co-operate in rendering such assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances". (3) In subsection (6) after the word "resides" there shall be added— (bi) the board of management of any further education college making provision from which, in their opinion, he might benefit".'— and Government amendment No. 82.

Mr. Forsyth

New clause 11 and Government amendment No. 82 fulfil an important undertaking that I gave in Committee. The effect of new clause 11 would be to require boards of management to provide information or advice to education authorities, following a request to assist authorities in carrying out their duties under section 65B of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. Under this section, education authorities must consider, in relation to each recorded child belonging to their area, what provision would benefit that child after he ceases to be of school age. Amendment No. 82 makes clear that boards of management are included in the categories of bodies to which education authorities may send a copy of their report on what provision would benefit a recorded child after he ceases to be of school age.

Further education colleges have an important role in the provision of continuing education for those with learning difficulties. The amendments underline our commitment to those students. I hope that Opposition Members will accept that the amendments have the same effect as new clause 18, which I invite them not to press.

Mr. Dalyell

When I saw the new clause on the Amendment Paper I made inquiries, as is my custom, of two West Lothian headmasters, both of whom made the same point: did the Government realise what expense could be involved in recorded children?

All hon. Members realise that there are children with special needs and would not begrudge money being spent on those who are recorded, but do the Government not understand that they may be involving education authorities and others in fairly considerable expense in relation to recorded children? Do they have any immediately available figures of the average cost of recorded pupils? I understand that in a big school of about 1,000 pupils there are about five recorded children. In some areas the figure may be slightly more. I am told that this is a legitimate question to put to the Government.

Mr. Tom Clarke

New clause 18 was tabled in the name of my hon. Friends and myself, following the discussions in Committee. I welcome new clause 11 and the Minister's comments.

We have to accept that education, including further education, is an important aspect of community care when dealing with young people with disabilities or learning difficulties. I fully understand, since the Minister was kind enough to write to me, that the rules of the House do not allow us to go into too much detail about community care. In his letter to me on 28 January of this year, the Minister said: I hope you will accept that we have fully explored the possibility of amendments in this area. I recognise the importance of boards of management co-operating and producing information to local authorities carrying out community care assessments. I propose, therefore, that a circular be issued to boards recommending that they do so. You raised in the debate the desirability of consulting those involved in the community care working group. I am happy to give an undertaking that in drawing up the circular to boards the Scottish Office Education Department will consult with this group. I welcome that and thought it was important to put it on the record because the spirit of new clause 18 is covered by new clause 11.

My hon. Friends and I are genuinely interested in co-operation in the interests of proper assessment for the individual—the child or the young person—so that we can deal with his further education needs. It is important that this should not be seen merely as an exchange of paper. We all know—and this emerged during our discussions in Committee—that it is very difficult to put a duty to co-operate into legislation, but we hope that the measure will lead to all of the agencies dealing with recorded children working together.

The Minister has accepted the arguments that we made in Committee and has honoured his commitment to table a new clause—in this case, new clause 11. We have made our points and, subject to the important consultations with the Scottish care in the community working group, and, in fairness, having seen a substantial concession to our arguments, we shall not pursue new clause 18.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), and welcome the progress that has been made since the Committee stage. Clearly, this is an important clause for people with disabilities and/or learning difficulties.

As my hon. Friend said, further education is an important part of community care. However, it can be more than that—it can be an important part of the development of a disabled person or of someone with learning difficulties in terms not only of the tangible education benefits but of the self-esteem which can develop from such education. Before coming to the House, I worked in the training of people with learning difficulties. Another important benefit which disabled people often get from being in a college environment is that of being integrated with people who do not have learning difficulties or disabilities.

Social work departments and education departments are co-operating to provide the necessary services, but I am not clear how we can ensure continuing co-ordination and co-operation under the new set-up. It is important to define whose duty it is to provide the required services. Some students who are partially sighted or completely visually impaired may feel that they need Braille facilities or special computers. Who will be responsible for providing them—the social work department, the education department, or the college? The same applies to signers for the deaf and to aids and readers for people with dyslexia.

Physical access is also a problem. Mobility can be one of the greatest barriers to education for disabled people. Sometimes they cannot get access to the college or, within the college, to the department or course that they wish to attend. We must clear up the problem of co-ordination and decide on whom the duties and responsibilities fall.

Many disabled people attend college because they are training for work. Others attend for the general educational benefit. It is important that we get it right, because disabled people are three times more likely to be unemployed and, if they are employed, several times more likely to be low-paid and low-skilled. Therefore, we have a duty to ensure that education provision is not only promised but delivered.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for his kind remarks. We agree about the importance of providing throughout the education service proper support for people with recorded needs. I also agree with much of what the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) said.

Uncharacteristically, I must tell the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that this is not a matter in which expenditure consequences should be the main consideration. We are dealing with a group of people who are entitled to proper provision and a proper safety net at a proper level. Experience suggests that the reforming measures pursued by the Government have greatly expanded the opportunities, although I agree that it is important to recognise the resource consequences.

A good example has been the difficulties experienced in some areas with the provision of, for example, speech therapy services, of which I know the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) is aware. I have asked my officials to work closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to try to deal with some of the resource difficulties. We are making available about £2 million, which will be provided on a contract basis for health boards.

Rather than local authorities simply taking the view that this is an expensive and difficult problem, the issues must be faced and proper provision made. That was the original intention when Parliament passed the legislation to provide for recorded needs. I know that local authorities of whatever political hue do their best to meet the requirements and I believe that the legislation has been of immense benefit.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) for his offer to withdraw the new clause, and I hope that the House will support new clause 11.

Mr. Dalyell

I agree with the Minister. There is no argument between us that, in this particular circumstance, expense is not the paramount consideration. That was why I phrased my question rather carefully when I asked whether any facts were easily available about the likely cost of the needs of recorded children. Perhaps I should have known, but, to put it bluntly, I did not.

May I raise another issue following the Minister's answer, which should be dealt with at this stage? The Scottish Community Education Council wanted to table an amendment to clause 2(b) so that it would read: The duty remaining with education authorities in respect of further education shall include community education which encompasses adult education, youth work, and the educational aspects of community development. Why does the Bill not place on local authorities an explicit duty to provide community education?

The educational value of youth work in Scotland which forms an integral part of community education is unquestioned, so why does not the Bill explicitly recognise the duty to provide community education? The Minister may say that that duty is implicit in the Bill, but Esther Roberton and her colleagues at the council—I confess to another telephone call this morning—took a rather different view. I think that they at least deserve an answer.

The athletic Parliamentary Private Secretary has returned—

Mr. Worthington


Mr. Dalyell

No, not arthritic—athletic. The athletic PPS has returned, so perhaps we may by pigeon post get an answer that will deal with the concerns of the Scottish Community Education Council. The Minister will have had its brief, which is in the form of an amendment, to add in page 2, line 12, the words that I quoted. The Scottish Community Education Council says that that amendment would ensure that the duty remaining with education authorities to provide community education was clear.

Currently, under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, education authorities have a duty to secure adequate and efficient provision of school education and further education". Under that Act, further education includes voluntary, part-time and full-time courses of instruction for persons over school age, and social, cultural and recreational activities, and physical education and training, either as voluntary organised activities designed to promote the education and development of persons taking part therein, or as part of a course of instruction. It also includes the teaching of Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas.

The Bill broadly confines the duty to be transferred to boards of management of further education colleges, to courses of vocational education and training, and to access to such courses. The duty to provide community education as currently offered remains with education authorities.

Throughout the proceedings—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I am finding it difficult to relate what he is saying to the new clauses and amendment under discussion.

Mr. Dalyell

Perhaps I have chanced my arm a bit far, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have certainly done my best for the Scottish Community Education Council, whose brief is with the Scottish Office. Surely the Minister has now had time to give a considered judgment on it.

Mr. Wilson

I shall make a brief contribution. In general terms, if what is proposed is good enough for my hon. Friend the Members for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), it is good enough for me.

In listening to the Minister, I heard the enunciation of an important principle. Talking of the five children in a thousand, he said that money did not matter, and that nothing was too good for them. I ask him directly whether that description comes within 100 miles of the present situation.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I had hoped that I might be rescued with some advice on the questions asked by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), which I believe related to an amendment on community education which Mr. Speaker did not select. However, I was given a piece of paper telling me that those questions were outwith the scope of the amendment.

I believe that I can help the hon. Gentleman a little by saying that we remain committed to community education, and that it seems to me appropriate that it should be the responsibility of the local authority.

I believe that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) embroidered my words slightly, but certainly the spirit was there. We have made considerable progress. In the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989, we provided for an extension of choice for parents of children with special needs, and, for the first time, we provided funding to be made available through local authorities on a discretionary basis for children who require special provision not available in this country and who therefore have to go to centres overseas. Local authorities have done well in the development of integrated provision in schools, in the expansion of services, and in making physical alterations to meet special needs.

There will always be more to be done, and, obviously, that has to be done within the context of resources. I was expressing my personal view on the priorities—that such children are one group who should be at the front of the queue.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I have only just come in, but I have had some personal experience of the subject, and I should like to say that children recorded as having learning difficulties are not only those with obvious physical or mental disabilities. There are within our normal schools children with specific learning difficulties. It is best to record them, because then they can be identified and money can be spent on them within the normal school system. We are not talking about only five children in a hundred, or whatever number the Minister mentioned.

Mr. Forsyth

Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is right. There are also people with learning difficulties who are not recorded, and who should never be recorded; they do not have special needs. The emphasis in the five-to-14 programme, in reporting and—dare I say it—in testing, is to help to identify needs and see that they are met at an early stage.

I believe that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North was referring to children with special needs who are recorded, and implicit in what he said was the idea that services were not yet of the standard that everyone in the House would like to see.

Mr. McMaster

Will the Minister clarify part of his earlier answer that puzzled me? If a young adult with learning difficulties—say, someone who cannot read and write—wanted to get a job, and so wanted to enter a further education college but could not do so because he had not the basic skill of literacy, and attended a basic literacy course in the community to acquire those skills and to allow him to go to college, would that course be the responsibility of the college, and therefore funded by the college, or would it be an education department responsibility, and therefore funded by the local authority?

Mr. Forsyth

That would be entirely a matter for the college concerned. It could be either. There is no reason why the college could not provide such a service, and it might be encouraged to do so. Equally, the service could be provided through the local authority, perhaps through the secondary school system in the normal way. I believe that there is agreement that it is desirable for such a facility to be available, and that there ought to be co-operation between local authorities and colleges of education to ensure that it is provided. I believe that the Bill provides for that.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer on this matter. I conclude, in response to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North, by saying that there is a great deal to do. This sector does not always have its advocates in pressure groups—although those who represent people with learning difficulties do a splendid job. We did well in our deliberations in Committee. Hon. Members from both sides of the House contributed, and I hope that the new clause accommodates the points that were made in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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