HC Deb 02 March 1993 vol 220 cc245-72
Mr. Win Griffiths

I beg to move amendment No. 42, in page 80, line 27, leave out from 'school' to end of line 26.

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 173, in clause 149, page 89, line 39, leave out 'use their best endeavours,'.

No. 74, in page 89, line 40, leave out `to secure' and insert 'ensure'.

No. 50, in clause 155, page 93, line 12, leave out 'and' and insert— '(c) where the named school in subsection (b) above is a special school, specify which of the conditions listed in section 148 subsection (2) above apply, and'. No. 51, in schedule 9, page 180, line 36, after 'school', insert 'or other school providing education solely for children with special educational needs, approved under section 172 of this Act'. No. 97, in clause 156, page 93, line 36, leave out `subsection (2)' and insert 'subsections (2) and (3)'.

Mr. Griffiths

In this group of amendments, there are five different debates. The first can perhaps be dealt with quickly, because it is to some extent a semantic exercise, but it needs to be put on the record that, strictly speaking, the words in clause 148— unless that is incompatible with the wishes of his parent"— are not necessary, because the statementing process in clause 155 adequately covers all the rights that any parent has.

In correspondence with me, the Under—Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), dealt explicitly with the point. He said that, if a parent decided that the choice offered under clause 148 was incompatible with his or her wishes, the rights and duties of LEAs contained in clause 148 would fall away completely. The rights of parents in clause 155 and schedule 9 to appeal against the choice of school that a local authority may nominate in the statement will be upheld. I would maintain that the words referring to incompatibility with parental choice are an unnecessary veto in clause 148, because the parents have exactly the same rights in clause 155. The special educational consortium pointed out that those words in clause 148 were undesirable.

10.15 pm

The purpose of the following amendments in the group is to strengthen the duties of the governors to provide for children with special educational needs. The Bill as drafted mirrors the Education Act 1981, yet part III of the Bill is designed to improve the provisions in the 1981 Act, because it has been shown over the past 10 years that there are very good reasons for including provisions, some of which are in part III, to strengthen the rights of parents of children with special educational needs.

In the Bill as drafted, the governors are enjoined to use their best endeavours in providing for children with special educational needs. Amendment No. 73 would place a duty on governors to ensure that the special educational needs of any child were properly met without question. There is no doubt that, over the past decade, governors could say that they used their best endeavours but that, unfortunately, it was impossible to provide for the special needs of a particular child. The Government could have taken this opportunity to be more positive and to place a definite duty on governors to make sure that children with special educational needs received the support they required.

The Government could argue that the provisions in part III will strengthen the statementing process, so that governors and LEAs will be duty-bound to make sure that the provisions in a statement will be met by the LEA and the school governors. That still leaves children who have special educational needs but are not deemed to be in such need as to require a statement, dependent on the best endeavours of the governors, which in the past decade have sometimes been inadequate.

There are two possibilities. First, governors could say that they had used their best endeavours but that the emotional or behavioural problems of a child were such that the school could no longer provide for that child, and exclusion rates could rise. Secondly, another child without a statement, a quiet child but a slow learner, could be left at the back of the class, and if the parents were not sufficiently concerned, the child's needs could be allowed to lapse completely, because the duty on the governors to use their best endeavours is subject to a wide interpretation.

Mr. Harry Greenway

It is rather hard, in educational terms, to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. There is no reason for statementing children as slow learners. On the other hand, there may be some educational reason. Would the hon. Gentleman care to be more precise?

Mr. Griffiths

It could be argued that, under the Bill, a child who has been statemented will have been subjected to a process tightened up to such an extent that the needs mentioned in the statement will be provided, whereas a child who is a slow learner but is not deemed to be so badly behind as to require statementing will have his provision determined otherwise. Unless the parents are particularly concerned and careful, such children will not get the attention they deserve.

By suggesting replacement of the words "use their best endeavours" with "ensure", we are attempting to have the process tightened up. The governors would have placed on them a very real duty that they could not escape. In the past, it has been shown that the words "use their best endeavours" have been used as a means of opting out.

Mr. Bowis

The hon. Gentleman knows that no one is more anxious than I to have appropriate education provided for children with special needs, especially when statementing has been carried out, when needs have been precisely shown. But I have to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is being realistic. If he is simply probing and saying that we ought to push further and further, I am with him, but this amendment would mean that, even in the case of a maintained nursery school, the governors might have to adapt premises forthwith, whether or not they had the resources to do so. Surely the hon. Gentleman is being a little over-ambitious in pressing an amendment in these terms.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman may recall the Chinese proverb to the effect that one should aim for the stars if one wants to get to the top of the tree. That is what we are doing. We are trying to impress on the Government the fact that the wording of the 1981 Act, which has regulated governors' actions over the past decade, has been shown not always to provide in the best possible way for children with special educational needs. We are seeking to tighten up the way in which governors are required to provide for such children, and I hope that the Government will respond positively.

I should like to move now to what is, in effect, the third part of the debate on this group of amendments. I refer to the need for a local authority, when providing a statement for a child, to specify in particular why it considers that only placement in a special school is appropriate.

Clause 148 places upon a local education authority a duty to integrate, but the Government put some conditions on how that duty is to be carried out. Account has to be taken of the needs of the child and the views of the parents, as well as factors affecting the efficient education of other children in the same class and the efficient use of resources. Thus, there are very specific conditions that a local education authority must fulfil if it is to integrate a child into a mainstream school. We would make it incumbent on a local education authority to specify which of those reasons applied when, in a statement, it named a special school to which the child should go.

It is important to consider the background to the amendment. In the HMI Audit Commission report "Getting In On The Act", 36 per cent. of parents with children in special schools said that they would prefer to have their children in ordinary schools, with all the specialist support needed to enable that placement to be maintained in an effective manner. On the other hand, 11 per cent. of parents with children in ordinary schools wanted their children to be in special schools. So there was a much greater desire among parents to have their children in ordinary schools, with the specialist support being available, rather than have the children placed in special schools.

The Spastics Society did its own survey, which reached much the same view as the HMI report. It cited a particular case, that of a lady whom they called Mrs. Baldwin, with a son named Paul who had attended an integrated nursery and then went to a mainstream infant school. The head teacher at that school said of that child and of two other children, who were the first disabled children to attend the school, that he could not have them in the school because they constituted a safety risk.

Mrs. Baldwin would have liked to have fought that decision of the head teacher, but because she was recovering from a nervous breakdown, she felt that she could not go through the trauma that would be involved. However, she looked forward to the day when a local campaign might help to provide integrated schooling in her area.

So there is no doubt that many parents would like to have their children in integrated provision. In a case where the LEA felt that such integrated provision was not the best place for a child, at least by specifying the reasons, the parent could, in an informed way, decide whether to appeal against the decision.

Mr. Hawkins

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a difficulty in the important area of special needs education is often that the circumstances that lead to a child being statemented can change over time? While I appreciate the reasons that lead the hon. Gentleman to advance the case that he is making, a local authority might be restricted to choosing a particular category when there might be a combination of categories.

Does he agree that it is crucial when dealing with special needs children to remember that the outreach which special schools provide—by providing peripatetic teachers to help in mainstream education—varies from one area to another? Is he aware that what he is suggesting could work only if that outreach was always available?

Mr. Griffiths

That is not necessarily the case, but, in any event, we are talking about a situation that should prevail, with that combination of special schools and specialist support from specialist schools or centres going out to help in mainstream schools. Our proposal would give parents specific information to enable them to decide whether to appeal against a statement.

It would also help the LEA, because by always specifying the reason for not integrating a child, the LEA could, within a year or so, review what it is doing to see whether there was some way of overcoming what might turn out to be a common problem to which there was a straightforward solution.

10.30 pm

The Spastics Society is very sure that there are good and acknowledged reasons for reducing the number of people in special schools to the bare minimum for whom there is genuinely no realistic alternative. But it believes that the continued existence of special schools should not be allowed to undermine the longstanding commitment to integration by providing an easily available alternative that bypasses the difficulties of adapting and supporting schools adequately in the task of catering for children with the widest possible range of needs.

I just want to mention an amendment put down in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam). We debated this matter briefly in Committee, and the Minister said that he might wish to consider an alternative proposition, which he felt could perhaps be used by the generality of independent schools to seek state funding. I know that great care was taken to draft an amendment which would meet that concern.

We are talking here of over 100 independent special schools in England and Wales, and over 80 non-maintained special schools. Probably all those schools make highly specialist provision. The Royal National Institute for the Blind did a survey which showed that, out of 21 special schools for blind and partially sighted children, 10 were outside the maintained sector; and that for blind and partially sighted children with other severe handicaps, there was only one school in England and Wales in the maintained sector.

The issue at stake, as we see it, is that a parent should have the right to nominate such a school in exactly the same way as the Government are giving them the right to nominate a maintained school. It is entirely possible that a local education authority would decide that a particular child, because of his or her specialist needs, should be placed in one of these independent or non-maintained special schools anyway.

It is also true to say that, if a parent is dissatisfied with the statementing process and with the fact that the LEA has not named an independent or non-maintained special school for the child as the most appropriate provision, the parent has the right of appeal. But that is right at the end of the statementing process and, even if we allow for the possibility of local authorities managing to do their statements in six months, going to the tribunal will take another one, two or three months—who knows how long? —and it may mean that the child's needs will not be met for a long time.

I hope that the Government will therefore agree that so many parents of children who are deaf, deaf and blind, partially sighted or have profound multiple handicaps can have a meaningful choice of schools only if they are able to choose from independent and non-maintained special schools, as well as from schools in the maintained sector. It would be a small step for the Government to move from giving the parent the same right to go to the tribunal at the appeal stage as at the beginning of the process.

Earlier today, Madam Speaker was kind enough to add two amendments to the selection, because amendment No. 97 was a paving amendment for Nos. 98 and 99. We were a little disconsolate because amendment No. 40, which was suggested to us by the Centre for Studies on Integration in Education, was not selected. It would have put local authorities and schools to a greater test about making integrated provision. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) was deeply disappointed, because he has a long and successful track record in pursuing the rights of disabled people, and. I know that he would have liked to speak to that amendment.

Our last few amendments in the group deal with providing for arbitration. Quite a number of voluntary organisations, such as the Spastics Society and the British Dyslexia Association, were keen that there should be a stage between the end of the statementing process and the appeal to a tribunal, when parents and the local education authority could reconsider why they had not reached an agreement on the statement, and to put it to an arbitrator —on whom both would agree—who could study the evidence and come to a decision.

We are firmly of the opinion that anything that can be done to avoid the panoply of proceedings associated with a tribunal would be welcome. However user-friendly the Government may like to make a tribunal, it will be a place where highly legalistic arguments will be used about the provisions of the Bill or the clashing views of expert opinion.

Many parents have said that they would not gladly go through the existing appeals procedure again. Parents, who already have a difficult and challenging job to try to ensure that the educational and other special needs of their children are dealt with properly, then find themselves in the middle of a fight over legalistic interpretations of whose duty it is to provide what, and over conflicting expert opinions about their child's needs.

I hope that the Government will consider setting up an arbitration procedure. In Committee, we suggested that its deliberations should not take longer than 28 days, so that the statementing procedure is not held up unduly. Many parents want a new procedure to be introduced so that they can avoid having to go to the tribunal, which in itself means that the statementing procedure has been a failure.

I hope that the Government will respond positively to all the amendments in the group, because I firmly believe that that is what children with special needs need and what their parents, as well as all those voluntary organisations that work long and hard in that sector, want.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker(Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I must point out that there is a slight error in the amendment. Where it reads: leave out from 'school' to end of line 26 it should read "line 28".

Sir John Hannam (Exeter)

I am puzzled by the wording of the amendment which seems to take us backwards rather than forwards.

I shall confine my remarks to amendments Nos. 50 and 51 which were tabled by me, members of the all-party disablement group and other hon. Friends. The amendments were tabled in response to representations from the Special Education Consortium and other disability organisations. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools has been extremely helpful in receiving numerous delegations and correspondence on special needs education. I had hoped to secure his acceptance of an earlier amendment that would have ensured that membership of the funding agency included someone with knowledge of special needs. For some reason, that amendment was not selected, so I now express the hope that we can achieve further progress in a slightly different direction for parents who want to be able to make the correct choice of school for their child.

Amendment No. 50 would amend clause 155 so that if an LEA does not name an ordinary school in the statement, it will be required to spell out the reason or reasons for not doing so. As the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) pointed out, clause 148 sets out a qualified duty on LEAs to secure education of children with special educational needs in ordinary schools. That duty is conditional on the needs of the child being met, the views of the parents, the efficient education of other children in the school and the efficient use of resources. Our amendment to clause 155 is designed to help parents by giving them information at an early stage to which they would ultimately have access should they pursue their case to appeal.

It would be desirable and in line with the Government's policy on open government and access to information that that information should be noted on each statement and, therefore, be accessible to the parents as soon as a decision has been made. That information would also enable LEAs to monitor their procedures and take account of that information when reviewing and planning provision.

The Government have clearly expressed their support for the principle enshrined in the Education Act 1981 that pupils with special needs should be educated in ordinary schools to the maximum extent practicable. Hon. Members who were here on Friday for the debate on anti-discrimination legislation will be aware that the move towards the integration of special needs pupils into ordinary schools has progressed slowly in many LEAs. It is an important matter.

If the reasons given by LEAs for not offering integrated placements were monitored, it would establish whether the Government's intentions on integration were being frustrated. It could reveal if the reverse were the case and a particular LEA was proceeding with integration too fast, against the wishes of parents. That would also become apparent from the number of cases in which parental wishes were cited as the reason for not offering a placement in an ordinary school.

Mr. Harry Greenway

My hon. Friend is talking about a fascinating and important sector of education. Is he implying that some LEAs would ignore, for some reason, suggestions made by the educational psychologists about a child's education? Is it suggested that the educational psychologist might not give the full reasons for riot pressing for integration or non-integration? I am not quite clear—will my hon. Friend clarify that issue?

10.45 pm
Sir John Hannam

It does not relate to that subject. It is basically because the aim of the 1981 Act was to integrate as far as possible the 18 out of 20 pupils with special needs who would be best educated with their peers at normal schools. The other 2 per cent. were estimated to need special-school education. That was the Government's intention as clearly laid down in that Act. However, unless the amendment is accepted, evidence in the educational psychologists' reports or wherever will not be seen clearly to show why the child is not being integrated in a normal school.

The local education authority will not have that information on the record in order to make its planning decisions for the future and to provide the necessary resources in normal schools for the provision of the special units for educating children with special needs. In addition, there will be no clear evidence of when an education authority is trying to integrate too many children after not providing the necessary special units.

The amendment is designed to achieve information and would have a neutral effect on integration. It is important because it would produce information about integration, both to individual parents, so that they know what is happening, and collectively to the education service. The amendment was tabled in order to place information on the record for parents and the education authorities. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will accept the amendment's constructive intention which is very much in line with the Government's basic policy on integration.

Amendment No. 51 switches to the special school sector and deals with what is considered to be a right of the parents of children whose needs are more complex or severe and who may need highly specialist provision that is available only in the non-maintained sector. Under schedule 9 to the Bill, the parent receiving a copy of the proposed statement from the education authority is enabled to express a preference as to the maintained school or grant-maintained school at which he wishes education to be provided for his child and to give reasons for his preference. At the crucial stage of the drafting of the statement, when parents have already undergone the full assessment procedures with their child and are ready to express a preference for a school—whether maintained or non-maintained—a choice is not provided for them. To give them the right to express a preference for one sort of school, but not the other, at that stage may set up antagonisms that could run through and echo around the later decisions about the final statement.

We all know from our experience with parents of children with special needs how totally involved they are in their children's upbringing and how incredibly hung up they can become if they feel that they are being frustrated by those in authority over them.

Mr. Enright

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a particular difficulty for denominational special schools in the non-maintained sector? Will he add their cause to his cause, as they are of a piece?

Sir John Hannam

I was not aware of that aspect, as I had not received any representations. However, I know that non-maintained special schools in my constituency are often linked with particular religious orders, and different groups and trusts set up to establish special schools.

I believe that expressing a preference at that earlier stage should help to reduce reliance on the later stages of decision-making and on the use of the proposed tribunal system of appeals.

As we all know from constituency experience, a large proportion of special education is provided by excellent non-maintained special schools for the blind, deaf and physically disabled. The hon. Member for Bridgend referred to the Royal National Institute for the Blind's 1992 survey, which showed that 22 per cent. of visually impaired children attend a special school for the visually impaired. Of the 21 special schools in the whole of England and Wales, 10—nearly half—are non-maintained.

One such school for the blind, and a superb one at that, is in my constituency—where we also have the Royal West of Englnad school for the deaf. It is one of the schools that have successfully been developing vision for children with dual sensory handicaps, which is a tremendous step forward. Both are non-maintained special schools.

The amendment does not argue for an unfettered right for parents to have their child placed in their preferred school, but seeks the right merely to express a preference from among available and appropriate provision from the same point that other parents are able to do so.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that parents have the opportunity to express their views generally, as part of the statement process, and that if the final statement does not accept those views, parents can appeal. My hon. Friend the Minister argued therefore that non-maintained special schools, if they are good enough, will continue to be supported. If that system is sufficient to allow parental preference to be indicated, why not leave it as it is for all schools? Why pick out maintained and grant-maintained schools and leave out non-maintained special schools?

The Bill provides an extra means of attending to parental preference by allowing parents to express a preference at the beginning of the process but only for maintained schools. Consequently, if a parent lives in an area where all special schools are non-maintained—such as in the south-west—their opportunity to have their preference is reduced. All schools in my area of the south-west are non-maintained. Certainly parents can appeal—but surely that is not the path that we want to go down, because it would be establishing a placement system based on litigation.

My hon. Friend the Minister argued that the right to express a preference for a non-maintained or independent school would open the floodgates and that schools that choose to be independent should not expect the protection of statute. I accept that point in relation to independent schools because there is, in their case, the possibility of someone making a profit—though I do not necessarily accept that as a reason for excluding them.

Parents will only have the right to express a preference —not to demand funding. The LEA would still be bound to decide whether such a placement represented an efficient use of resources. If it thinks that the school is too expensive, the LEA has a cast-iron reason for refusing. Non-maintained schools are different—they cannot make a profit. They are established not from a desire to be independent of the LEA management but because many minority disabilities are best catered for on a regional basis. All their placements are LEA funded. They are eligible for capital grants from the Department for Education and they are extremely grateful for the generous amounts that they have received from the Department for extensions and developments.

Those schools are an integral part of the education system, and even if independent special schools cannot be included in the choice, surely the excellent non-maintained special schools should be part of the expressed parental choice.

I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reconsider my request and will make the necessary change to schedule 9.

Mr. Hall

When the White Paper "Choice and Diversity" was published and the promises that went with it were made, there was an expectation that special needs problems would be addressed by the Bill. We could be forgiven for thinking that because of the statement in chapter 9 of the White Paper, on page 40, in which the Government recommitted themselves to the principle that pupils with special educational needs … should be educated in ordinary schools to the maximum extent possible". The interesting words are to the maximum extent possible". The special needs lobby was given assurances by the Secretary of State that special educational needs provision would be improved in the Bill. The right hon. Member for Exeter—

Sir John Hannam

Hon. Member.

Mr. Hall

I stand corrected. No doubt the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) looks forward to the promotion that I have offered him, and perhaps it will be forthcoming.

I have often commended the Education Act 1981 to the House as a forward-looking piece of educational legislation, with the proviso that it is the only educational legislation since 1979 that has had any educational merit. It was put on the statute book by Mark Carlisle, then Member of Parliament for Runcorn—my next-but-one predecessor, now Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. The Act enshrined in statute the 1978 Warnock report, which dealt with special educational needs.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, although the Bill was enacted in 1981, it did not come into effect until 1983 when it was implemented by regulations. Commendably, it sought to remove the categorisation of handicap in education—a worthwhile move. It went on to say that pupils' special educational needs should be made specific in individual statements. That was an excellent piece of legislation: it really meant that provision for such pupils would be needs-led rather than resource-led. However, because of the limited resources allowed to local education authorities, the statementing procedure is clearly resource-led now.

Mrs. Lait

Does the hon. Gentleman remember our debate in Committee on Baroness Warnock's later thoughts about her report? Last autumn, she suggested that she considered the report naive, and thought that many of her recommendations were not valid today.

Mr. Hall

I do not agree that that applies to many of the recommendations; in any case, everyone is entitled to revise his opinions. I still consider it good educational practice for the special educational needs of an individual pupil to be set down in a statement rather than being subjected to categorisation. That was the wonderful thing about the 1981 Act. We hoped that this Bill would include measures enabling the statementing procedure again to become means-led rather than resource-led. Unfortunately, when we put our views to the Minister on 26 January—I had questioned him before—he said: No, I will not confirm anything of the kind."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 26 January 1993; c. 1136.] He went on to give an exposition of why the statementing procedure would still have to be resource-led. Clause 149 extends those arguments.

We hoped that the Bill, bad though it is, would produce some increase in provision for special educational needs, but the Government have missed that opportunity in drafting clause 149. If, even at this late stage, the Minister accepted the amendment, we would go some way towards addressing the problem.

I part company with the hon. Member for Exeter on another important issue. The Warnock report stated that, at any one time, approximately 20 per cent. of the school population would have special educational needs, that 2 per cent. of those would require a statement, and that 18 per cent. would have such needs at some point in their school careers. At no point did the report say that the 2 per cent. with statements should be educated in special schools. Both the report and the White Paper spoke of the integration of pupils with special educational needs into ordinary schools. That is another reason why those of us in education, with an interest in special education., find clause 149 very disappointing. It provides the Government, and schools, with a get-out.

If integration is to succeed in the education system, it must have the necessary funding. Funds must be available to ensure that pupils' special educational needs are best met in their own schools. I see that the Secretary of State agrees with that.

Clause 149 includes the words "best endeavours", which disappoints us. It states that schools shall use their best endeavours … in exercising their functions in relation to the school … to secure that if any registered pupil has special educational needs the special educational provision which his learning difficulty calls for is made". It is a get-out clause. We are entitled to say that it contains two obstructions to integration. The first is registration.

11 pm

Until a pupil is registered in a school, the clause's provisions do not come into effect. Some pupils will then be excluded from schools either temporarily or permanently. However, more important are the words "best endeavours". If a school has a pupil with special educational needs but the school's best endeavours do not meet those needs, how will they be met? Will they be ignored at that school because of the operation of clause 149? The answer must be yes, which is why the words "best endeavours" must be removed. If they are removed, the school will have a duty to meet the needs of such a pupil. It is worth remembering that 18 per cent. of pupils with special educational needs might not have a statement and their needs could remain unmet.

We have heard a great deal in Committee and again today about local management of schools. While the Secretary of State is here, I must tell him that if he goes to my constituency and visits any primary school which is faced with falling rolls and which is told that it must make teachers redundant because of those falling rolls, the schools will tell him that local management of schools is sometimes not practical. Schoolteachers will be made redundant, which will disrupt the curriculum. In a couple of years' time, if the area begins to expand again, the school will have to re-employ teachers, which is an inefficient use of resources. The Secretary of State talks about the wonderful aspects of LMS, but he must remember that it means that governing bodies sometimes have to make teachers redundant, which does not go down well.

If the Government were to say that there was a ring-fenced element for special needs in their funding formula for schools, it would go some way to ensuring that pupils' special educational needs were met in their present schools. The Secretary of State would do well to consider that idea.

We have heard much about improving the statementing procedure. As someone who was directly involved in that procedure for seven years before coming to the House, I could not agree more with the Secretary of State. However, the way to do it is to employ more educational psychologists so that the professionals can get on with the job. That is the only way to reduce waiting lists and give more people access to a good tool of education. The Secretary of State may say that there is no money available, but we have to ask how he intends to put into effect the rhetoric of his promise to improve the statementing procedure.

There are further problems. What happens where special units are attached to mainstream schools and where the admissions to the schools are the responsibility of the governing bodies if they are grant maintained, and the admissions to the units are the responsibility of the local education authority, which has a duty to provide overall cover for special educational needs? What will happen when clause 149 requires schools to use their "best endeavours" to meet pupils' special educational needs?

I have a direct question about special schools applying for grant-maintained status. A later amendment deals with balloting in such schools, but will the Minister confirm now that admissions to special schools, as opposed to ordinary schools with special education facilities, will be at the behest of the local education authority, as he told the Committee? During consultation on the White Paper and subsequently, how many demands did the Minister receive from special schools that they be given the opportunity to acquire grant-maintained status? His reply could assure us that there is a demand for this move in special educational needs.

I see education as having an intrinsic value. I would like to see education that provides equality of opportunity and is freely available for all who need it. We see in the White Paper and the Bill that the Government see education as something to be bought and sold in the market place and subject to the market economy; a commodity which subjects pupils to what the Government would call the rigours of the free market place. I wonder whether the Secretary of State sees any intrinsic value in education, or does he agree with me that there should be some equality of opportunity in our system which would give every pupil the opportunity to prosper?

The Secretary of State was subjected to a television interview on Sunday when he took exception to being called arrogant. This Bill gives him 44 more powers to exercise control over education. He seems to think that it is like "Dad's Army"-that everybody else is out of step but him. If he would listen to those in education about the demands for education, we might have a better Bill.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Adverting to the last few sentences of the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall), the last thing that any Minister should sensibly do is listen to the educational world for advice. The only advice I could give is to listen to what they say and then do the opposite. That seems to me a better way of behaving and I say so with all sincerity.

I am very happy to speak in support of amendment No. 51, which commands all-party support in the House. I am grateful for the explanation of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and for the lucid way in which he advanced a very compelling case for the minor changes which should be made in wording—minor but significant in terms of the message that will be given to various teachers and governors who work so hard in both non—maintained and maintained schools dealing with those with visual and hearing handicaps, among others.

The Minister will know, because he is a student of history, that I sat on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the Education Act 1980. I also served with my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) on the Standing Committee on the 1981 Bill dealing with disabled pupils. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) was also on the Committee. She was then translated out of the House but has now come back. She led very effectively in those days. She has now matured a bit and become much more stateswomanlike, or statespersonlike, which I think is the correct term now.

That was a very good Bill because it attempted to give to parents of children who have a handicap the same rights and opportunities, inasmuch as they could be provided, as parents of children in the mainstream sector. I felt that that was a major step forward because, like the 1980 Act, it put into statute rights and responsibilities for parents. It is strange to admit in the House that, before 1980, parents had very few rights in the selection of a state school for their children. We passed the 1980 Act and gave parents more say and the right of appeal in the selection and provision of a place for their children. In 1981, we gave the same rights to parents of disabled children and introduced a range of concepts, some of which we can look back on with pleasure, but some of which need tightening up. Certainly, in my day, I felt that the statementing procedure was far too lengthy in arriving at a decision.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will embark on the attack on those authorities, rather like St. George of Worcester, slaying the dragon. I commend to the House the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter. For example, there are 21 special schools in the whole country that cater especially for visually impaired or blind children. I believe that 10 of them are non-maintained. There is a problem over indicating a preference, a problem over access and a problem of the downgrading of the choice of such a non-maintained school for those who teach and work in the schools. That aspect has not been mentioned tonight, but it is important in the context of perception.

The fact that there are so few schools means that there cannot be one in every local authority area or every neighbourhood, as we should like, because of the sheer difficulty of numbers. In Kent, there is a school for the blind—Dorton House, in Sevenoaks. That is our nearest school. It happens to be non-maintained. If it did not exist, if it were taken away, or if its numbers were reduced, some of my constituents' children would be denied access to their nearest school. We talk about extending choice, yet in that case there would be no choice-or at least no easy or immediate choice-for my constituents who might wish to send their children to a non-maintained school such as Dorton House, which is well respected in the south-east.

Because of the scatter of such schools across the country, whether they are maintained or non-maintained, there will still be problems of access. The Minister must consider that. There is great uncertainty in those schools at present. A robust and positive response from my hon. Friend would go down very well, and would settle the nerves of the people who do such marvellous work in the schools.

There is also the vital question of parental choice. We all live in a realistic world, and we know that we can talk only of preference rather than of choice, in that choice cannot be maximised in every case. If a school that takes 120 pupils is over-subscribed by a factor of four, clearly more than 300 people will be disappointed. We know that that is true of mainstream schools.

The amendment deals with a smaller number of schools for the visually handicapped. It refers only to allowing parents to express a preference. If that preference cannot be met, just as preferences cannot always be met for children who attend mainstream schools, parents will fully understand, so long as the procedures are clear and they have a right of appeal and a right to an input. If my hon. Friend listens to the arguments on the subject that have been advanced from both sides of the House, the signal that he will give will be superb, and he will go down, as I believe that he will, as a superb education Minister—especially if he does as I ask.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

I do not intend to detain the House long, because I had the opportunity in Committee to voice many of the arguments. However, I am aware that some hon. Members are hearing the arguments for the first time.

I begin by talking about some of the difficulties regarding special needs that arise in my constituency—and, I am sure, in many others—which the Bill will do nothing to correct. Those difficulties are caused by the problem of funding. I know that funding may not be a popular subject to mention to Ministers at this time. In view of the general state of the economy, it may be unrealistic to think about more money for education just now. None the less, over the past few years local education authorities' funds have become increasingly tight, and their ability to supply additional support in the classroom for children with special educational needs has been reduced.

Parents of pupils with special educational needs are now beginning to realise that their children can be guaranteed extra help in the classroom only if each child has a statement. I feel sad about that. Ideally, there should be a more informal relationship between children, parents, teachers and the local education authority. The LEA should be able to supply what children need without having to go through a lengthy formal procedure. Unfortunately, many parents now realise that they must go through that procedure to ensure that their children get the extra help which is needed.

11.15 pm

In my constituency in the past two years, there has been a vast increase in the number of children who are receiving statements. The local education authority has increased the amount of money available for children with special needs, but it has not been able to keep pace with the increased number of statements. As a result, many children have found that the learning support they receive in the classroom is being steadily diminished year by year, which puts extra pressure on local education authorities. Parents find that difficult to understand.

Local education authorities are often criticised because they take too long to make statements or they supply statements that are not meaningful documents. In that case, it is not easy for the parents to say, "The child's statement says this and you are not supplying it."

I am not defending local education authorities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) ably said, we are not addressing the root cause of the problem which is the lack of resources and the difficulty of local education authorities in supplying the necessary resources for children.

A real danger is that the process of statementing will gradually encompass a larger percentage of children unless definite criteria are laid down as to what constitutes special needs. Pressures do exist, and that fact needs to be addressed. The Bill does not address the problem.

The Government's answer has been to provide tribunals for parents to challenge local education authority intransigence. Although we support tribunals, there is a danger that they set up confrontational situations between parents and local education authorities. We should be looking to a spirit of co-operation. We want parents, children, teachers, local education authority officials and educational psychologists to come to some amicable agreement on what is in the child's best interests. We rehearsed these arguments in Committee. We need a pre-tribunal arbitration stage that would enable the issues to be settled in a much more informal way. We would not need to go through a legalistic and what could be an expensive procedure. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider that proposal, although it was rejected previously.

There are other problems. I was interested in the number of statements issued by my local education authority. I am speaking from memory, but I think that my local education authority had completed two thirds of its statements in the six-month procedure period. The reason why one third of the statements had not been completed did not have anything to do with the local education authority. Some of the problems related to social services and others to the district health authority.

It is difficult to understand that, although the local education authority has a duty to provide a statement within a six-month period—which seems to be reasonable and which we all applaud—statements may be held up because other agencies are involved. We need to address that matter seriously.

When we asked the Minister about the matter in Committee, we were told that there were three possible answers. One was that parents had different means of complaining if other agencies were involved. However, if it were a national health service complaint, parents would have to complain through the procedures for complaining about health services. They would have to go to the chief executive or general manager of their local health service or hospital. If that failed, they would have to take it up with the health service ombudsman.

My district health authority takes, on average, approximately two and a half months to respond to my letters. Such a time scale would make nonsense of the NHS complaints procedure for parents trying to get a quick response from a health authority.

It might be interesting for Ministers to reflect on another problem that I came across. One parent did not want her child to be statemented. It had not occurred to her that her child was in such serious difficulties that she needed a statement. But the child's head teacher could not supply her with the resources that she required unless she had a statement. So the parent was put under great pressure to have her child statemented when she did not want that. It caused some conflict. The parent felt, rightly or wrongly, that a statement was a stigma and she did not want her child to be labelled in that way. We must take that view on board and be sensitive to parents' feelings.

Mr. Harry Greenway

The hon. Lady is putting a most interesting point. However, children have to be categorised in many ways—in terms of IQ, special need and other needs. Special needs are simply one form of need. Does the hon. Lady agree that if parents are carefully and properly counselled they will accept the statementing process, if it is suitably sensitive? Sometimes it is not, I am sorry to say. That is when problems arise.

Mrs. Campbell

My point is that it is perhaps anomalous to single out children with special needs for this treatment. I ask the House to consider whether it is always appropriate to meet those needs by a statement. Certainly in the past, when LEAs had more flexibility and perhaps more funds available, it was usually possible to provide a great deal of support for children in the classroom without their having to go through the statementing procedure. That is the main point.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

My hon. Friend has reminded me of an interview that I had with a headmaster when I was recruited to my first school more than 35 years ago. We did not have statements. We had a remedial department which had as many as seven forms and seven qualified staff. The headmaster said, "This is the most expensive department in the school, and quite right too."

Is not the challenge to the Secretary of State for Education tonight to explain how, in the circumstances of competitive performance and results of pupils which he is creating in the Bill, headmasters or headmistresses who think in that direction will be able to use their best endeavours to see that that position is maintained? Will there not be a problem of people taking action, possibly legal action, against the school or, indeed, the Secretary of State, to define what best endeavours are?

Mrs. Campbell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Perhaps the Minister will take it up in his reply to the debate.

Opposition Members who feel that schools are communities which provide for a wide variety of different needs and abilities feel that as much integration as is physically and humanly possible should be achieved. Parents who have experienced mainstream integration for their children with special educational needs often speak highly of that experience and are anxious that, if they move from one local authority to another, their child can still be integrated into a mainstream school.

Many good local education authorities have planned to integrate children into mainstream schools and, consequently, have had to make some difficult decisions about closing special schools. Making resources available in mainstream schools often means running down provisions in special schools and closing one in order to fund the other. I believe that is right, but the ability of local education authorities to make that provision and fund it sensibly will be greatly reduced by the Bill, because the Government have introduced a clause to allow special schools to opt out of local authority control.

I can envisage a good local education authority that is trying to integrate children into the mainstream sector finding that the number of children in a special school is reducing and that the only sensible educational solution is to close down the school. If the school objects to that decision, it now has the opportunity to opt out of local authority control. The Minister has given repeated assurances that he will not allow that to happen, but we all know that, in practice, it does occur and schools opt out because they wish to fight local education authority closure plans. I am worried that if they opt out, grant-maintained special schools will do their damnedest to attract as many pupils as possible and, if they are successful, they will reverse the integration process and that will have a damaging effect on the community and, ultimately, on children with special educational needs.

I have made some points. I am afraid that they may not all be related directly to the amendments under discussion, but I hope that the Government will respond to them.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

I suggest that one assumption underlies all the amendments which have been tabled and supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that we debate and search for the best policies to benefit children with special educational needs with the minimum of political partisanship. Therefore, I take some of the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) as, to some extent, badinage.

The assumption underlying the amendments, which reflects that of the Government in framing the Bill, is that there should be carefully planned and co-ordinated provision of education for children with special needs in a strategy that embraces both the grant-maintained sector and the local authority maintained sector. That is what the Government want and what we all want.

However, the Bill does not make it clear how that is to be achieved. The roles of the Funding Agency for Schools and grant-maintained schools need to be interlocked almost at every point with the role of local education authorities in relation to special educational needs. We should be able to look forward to an intimate complementarity and partnership between them. But it seems to me that the mechanisms and processes whereby this is to be achieved are not made entirely clear in the Bill. The Government assume that it will happen, and no doubt the sensible and well intentioned people who work in special educational needs will do their best to ensure that it does.

I suspect that amendments Nos. 73 and 74 to clause 149 were tabled by Labour Front-Bench Members in a deliberately simplistic way to remove the qualification on the duty of all concerned to make appropriate provision for each child. I am much in favour of the deletion of the cliché "use their best endeavours". It is not appropriate that a Bill brought to the House by the Department of Education should contain clichés. Jargon is unavoidable, but clichés should be abhorred. However, it is not helpful to substitute for this cliché a summary insistence on perfection. How, in practice, are the powers and duties of all concerned to interlock in the best interests of children with special educational needs?

11.30 pm

In subsections (3) and (4), clause 5 requires a two-way sharing of information between the Funding Agency for Schools and local education authorities. Clause 142(4) requires the governing body of a grant-maintained school to provide information to a local education authority in the exercise of its duties. So far so good, but the precise nature of the mutual obligations remains unclear. The responsibilities of the two sectors are properly inseparable, as the drafting of clauses 148 and 149, without amendment, indicates.

The funding agency has a duty to secure sufficient places in grant-maintained schools, including places for children with special needs who do not have a statement. As has been said, such children may constitute about 18 per cent. of the nation's school children, of whom an increasing proportion will be in grant-maintained schools as the sector grows. The funding agency must provide realistic funding to support these pupils. It must also provide capital and maintenance grants to cover, for example, the cost of physical adaptations and specialised equipment that may be necessary to enable grant-maintained schools to receive and educate children with particular disabilities.

How does my hon. Friend propose that the funding agency should be provided with the necessary expertise and be enabled to give the necessary priority to this dimension of its responsibilities? Meanwhile, the local education authority, operating in its sphere, has responsibility for children who are to be statemented. It is responsible for the process of assessment, for the establishment of the statement, for ensuring that what is specified is provided and for subsequent review and reassessment. For many children, this whole process will begin and continue within grant-maintained schools.

More broadly, local education authorities have a duty —set out in clause 147—to keep under review the whole range of provision for children with special education needs in their areas. It is clear that that duty will have to be undertaken in the closest co-ordination with others concerned. Obviously, in the case of the grant-maintained sector, it is crucial that it be carried out in conjunction with health authorities, to which local education authorities and schools look for the provision of speech therapy and physiotherapy. The interests of far too many children have been lost in the gap between the responsibilities of LEAs and those of health authorities. I should have liked to see that aspect of co-ordination more firmly secured in this legislation. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) was right to draw attention to this issue.

Local education authorities' reviews of provision for special educational needs should also be undertaken in close relationship with section 19 reviews under the Children Act. Department of Education circular 791 calls for clear and coherent authoritywide policies for special educational needs and for monitoring the performance of schools and support services. These amendments, in their various ways, seek to secure the achievement of this objective. I do not say that they all do so satisfactorily, but that, I think, is the Government's aim.

PagAt all points, therefore, co-ordination is assumed, but it remains unclear—to me at any rate—how local education authorities are empowered to achieve it. Clause 149(3) sets out a duty to promote integration. Amendment 42 to clause 148 bears on that issue. I am glad that the Government have given renewed impetus to integration, but integration must be carried forward at a pace and in a manner that is in the interest of the child.

That implies a full knowledge on the part of LEAs of the circumstances and nature of provision in all schools, including grant-maintained schools, and close cooperation between them. That will certainly be the wish of professionals, but what powers will the LEA have in the event that professionals in the grant-maintained sector disagree with the judgment of professionals in the LEA sector?

Both sectors have a vital interest in the training and professional development of teachers. With more children with special needs being educated in mainstream schools and with our rising aspirations for children with special educational needs expressed in the national curriculum, there is an immense task for initial teacher training and for the in-service professional education of teachers.

Every teacher will need at least a competence in the education of children with special needs, and every school will need special needs co-ordinators and possibly other staff trained to increasingly high expertise in the highly diverse field of special educational needs. All of that will need systematic organisation and monitoring, and I am not clear from the Bill how responsibility for that will be apportioned.

The Funding Agency for Schools and the grant-maintained sector will have to work with LEAs to secure a rational and sufficiently extensive overall pattern of special needs provision. Every school will need to be able to cope with the most common special needs. No school should be able to shirk that responsibility, which is found enriching by schools that embrace it positively, as most do.

In the middle range of needs, there will have to be carefully planned, differentiated provision involving specialist support staff and specialist units in the grant-maintained and LEA sectors. Then there will, certainly for the foreseeable future, need to be special schools. The Bill envisages that they may be grant-maintained schools, although overall responsibility to secure the range of provision will rest with the LEA. For rare and intensely special needs, there will have to be highly specialised provision at regional or national level.

In that context, and bearing in mind amendment 51, I too am puzzled that the Government have not proposed to entitle parents to express a preference for their child to be placed at a non-maintained special school. Many of those schools, centres of excellence, must be considered to be an indispensable part of the overall system. It is the duty of the LEA to provide suitable provision to meet the particular needs of the child, and placement at a non-maintained special school will, in particular cases, be appropriate.

We, and LEAs, must have regard for the efficient use of resources in that incantation familiar from the 1981 Act and, properly, reproduced in the Bill. But if that objective is to be achieved, and if the formula is not to mean merely rationing and disappointment, the most careful joint planning and co-ordination will be essential. As the hon. Member for Cambridge suggested, we must avert the increasing tendency for more statements to be sought, because that does not tend to the efficient use of resources.

So the lines of responsibility must be clear. The principal message of the Audit Commission and HMI in getting in on the act was the need for clearer definition of objectives and responsibilities and for improved accountability in the special needs sphere. The Audit Commission and HMI saw the LEA as the champion of the pupil with special educational needs, but how are LEAs to fulfil that role in relation to the Funding Agency for Schools and the grant-maintained sector?

That is what the group of amendments variously seeks to address, and no doubt the code of practice which is adumbrated in clause 145 will clarify a great deal. But I should be grateful if the Minister would give some foretaste of it and explain how he envisages the necessary close co-ordination between the sectors being achieved.

Mr. Bowis

One should begin speaking in any debate on special educational needs by paying tribute to the achievements of Conservative Administrations, who have made giant strides, as is recognised by the professionals who deal with children with those needs. We are light years on from the generation to which the hon. Member For Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred, and he recognises the progress that has been made.

It is against that background that we are now looking to tighten regulations, take them a bit further and move them on. That is what this Bill does, in terms of the tribunal, speeding up statementing, and so on. The next stage may well be, as I have hinted to my right hon. Friend in the past, to look at ways in which the funding process for the achievement of statementing by local education authorities might be assisted by some mandatory award system which would take away any question mark over the determination of LEAs to proceed and remove any disincentive for them to do so on grounds of cost.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Bowis

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I think that, like me, he is looking forward to the Minister's response.

When we reached this stage in the Committee, dealing with schedule 9, it was one of the moments when the Committee came together across the divide of politics. I think that that is recognised by the Hansard record, which refers to the amendment being proposed by "Mr. Win Forth". I can only suggest that that was a recognition that my hon. Friend was moving fast towards all-party agreement on this.

More seriously, the debate that we had then was resisted by my hon. Friend on the grounds that the amendment was a little too wide and because of the precedent that he saw being set. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir. J. Hannam) for tabling his amendment and indeed to our colleagues for supporting him. He put a better way of achieving this to the House and to Ministers. The point that he made about these being charitable schools which depend almost exclusively for their fee funding on placements with the LEAs is an important one.

My hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee that he would ponder on that and, I think he said, come back another day. I do not know whether this is that other day, but perhaps we can be thinking in terms of finding a way of securing the future of these schools and, more important, securing the right education for the children about whom we are talking. I have had too many cases in which the LEA eventually agrees to the placing of a child in such a charitable school only after a great deal of effort, campaigning and pressure from me and others. We need to shift the balance a little towards parental choice, if we can.

I have the case of a child now going to the Department on appeal on the ground that the LEA believes that there is an adequate school for deaf children in the area maintained by the borough, but the parents believe that there is too much emphasis on signing in that school and feel very strongly that there should be an alternative school available. However, the only alternative is in the same category.

I do not know whether we can put it into the Bill in the form that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter is seeking by giving the parents the right to name a school and the LEA the right to decide whether that naming is reasonable. I look forward to my hon. Friend's response, and I ask him to go on pondering, as he promised he would, until we can ensure that such children have the education that we know they need.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I do not wish to detain the House for long this evening, but if we are to achieve a limited number of statements and extra teaching for those with special educational needs within our schools, we will have to do at least two things.

One is to change the training within our teacher training establishments so that teachers are trained to recognise and diagnose special educational needs at a very early age. When that diagnosis has taken place, they must know what to do about it and how to teach those children. They must have the modest additional resources in terms of teacher time within each school to give that necessary extra attention and intensive teaching.

That will need additional money, but it could and should be encompassed within the budget for special educational needs. I fear that the worst cases—the statemented cases—will attract all the resources, and leave little to provide the extra teaching time for the 14 to 15 per cent. of the school population who will need it if they are to achieve their natural ambitions, and if their natural ability is to be realised.

A revolution will be required in our teacher training colleges, and a change in the way in which education authorities and the Department of Education use the money necessary for special educational needs. I hope that the Minister will indeed ponder those matters, and will ensure that our teachers know how to teach, and how to teach children to read, using phonetic and other methods, as that is what those children desperately need and have been denied by the avant garde experimental teaching methods so prevalent in our teacher training colleges and schools in recent years.

11.45 pm
Mr. Forth

In the time left to me, I shall endeavour to deal as fully as I can with the amendments that have been mentioned in the debate. I hope that I shall be able to cover most of the issues raised by hon. Members from both sides of the House.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) claimed amendments Nos. 73 and 74 were designed to strengthen the position of children with special educational needs who may not have a statement of their needs. In trying to persuade the House that the amendments are unnecessary, I remind hon. Members that we amended the Bill in Committee to benefit all pupils with special needs, but particularly those without statements. To do so, we introduced two new policies: a requirement on governors to publish and report to parents on their schools' policies for all their pupils with special educational needs, with or without statements; and an explicit provision for local education authorities to continue to offer special educational needs support services to all children with SEN in maintained schools—whether grant-maintained or local education authority schools—who wished to use them. The amendments introducing those policies are now clauses 149(4) and 150 of the Bill.

An underlying principle of the Education Act 1981 was that the school should meet the great majority of the special needs of its pupils, with support as necessary from the authority. The introduction of local management of schools and self-governing, grant-maintained status means that schools are now increasingly autonomous. But increased autonomy means increased responsibility towards pupils with special needs and increased accountability towards their parents. The school has the direct influence, constant contact with, and the prime responsibility for all its pupils, and the school is directly accountable to parents.

I believe that we have strengthened the duties on governors in clause 149 to "use their best endeavours"—a phrase which has been repeated over and over again in the debate—to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs. We want all school governors to think carefully about the provision that their schools make for pupils, and that is why we tabled an amendment to the clause.

Our amendment—clause 149(4)—provides for a school's annual report to parents to include information about the school's policies for pupils with SEN. The Secretary of State may make regulations prescribing the information to be included. The annual reports are required of LEA governors, under section 30 of the Education Act 1986, and of grant-maintained school governors under paragraph 8 of schedule 6 to the Bill.

The Secretary of State will be able to prescribe the areas that governors' policy statements should cover, and I envisage that the statements will be very comprehensive. The Secretary of State will use existing powers, under section 8 of the 1980 Act and clause 137(1) of the Bill, to require school governors to publish information about their policies for pupils with SEN.

We shall consult on the issues that schools' policies should address, but I should like to give the House some idea of what we have in mind. A school's policy might cover basic information that parents might want, such as the name of any SEN co-ordinator—that was mentioned during the debate—the number of pupils with special needs in the school, admissions arrangements and any SEN specialism for which the school caters.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) should note that the admissions arrangements and other matters, including the policies I have outlined, would cover special units that were part of a school, as well as the school itself. For that purpose, units would be regarded as an integral part of the school.

A school's policy might cover equipment and building adaptations, physical access for the disabled, teachers with specialist SEN qualifications and staff training provision. The policy might then set out the school's objectives for its pupils with special needs, including its arrangements for identification of such pupils. The policy statement might set out the school's recording and evaluation procedures, and the indicators which it uses to monitor the implementation of its policy. It might then specify how it meets those objectives through its arrangements for access to the national curriculum for special needs pupils, use made of support teachers, differentiated teaching practices, policy on short or part-time withdrawal, information on individual curriculum programmes and pupil groupings.

Finally, it might be sensible if the policy set out arrangements with bodies and agencies outside the school. The policy might state what arrangements the school had with other special or ordinary schools and with the local health and social services. It might also set out its policy for obtaining SEN support services, either from the LEA or other sources.

The degree of detail and comprehensiveness that I have outlined might reassure many of those who have spoken in the debate. It might go some way to providing a reply to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), because a school's policy might identify the role of that school, as defined by it, and the way in which it would be required to work with LEAs.

On amendment No. 50, I have already stressed the Government's commitment to meeting the needs of all children with special needs. We recognise, however, that a proportion of them will require formal assessment of their educational needs and, therefore, a statutory statement of SEN. In addressing their needs in the Bill, one of our major priorities has, again, been to involve their parents as active partners in the whole process of determining their children's education. We are doing that by creating extended rights for parents, setting up an independent appeals mechanism and establishing a code of practice, which was referred to frequently in Committee and mentioned again tonight. That code of practice will govern LEAs' exercise of their functions under clause 155.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) tabled amendment No. 50 and said that he wanted to make LEAs justify, on a child's statement, their decision to specify a special school. The LEAs would not be similarly required to justify naming an ordinary school and I believe that the amendment is unnecessary, because the Government believe that LEAs should always discuss with parents all aspects of a statement. Those discussions should include the name of the appropriate school, be it special school or ordinary. We are confident that the Bill makes full provision to that effect.

The naming of a school is the final stage in writing a statement, and I believe that that is right. Surely there is little point in assessing needs and considering provision if the school has already been decided. The logical flow of the statement leads to naming the appropriate school, so the specification of needs and provision should justify that very naming.

Of course, the LEA must explain its decisions to parents. Indeed, parents should have been closely involved throughout the process of assessing the child and drafting the statement. We have already issued clear advice to this effect. Our circular 22/89 states: The relations between professional advisers and parents during the process of assessment are of crucial importance. Parents should be encouraged to feel that they are partners in this process". I hope that the House is assured that the further guidance that we shall issue under the Bill will underline the importance of that partnership. Beyond that, the Bill gives parents an important new right—to state a preference for their child's school. The statement will go to parents in draft form. They will have explicit rights to make representations to the LEA and to hold meetings with it. I believe that, therefore, there will be ample opportunity for parents and the authority to discuss the name of the school which should appear on the statement. When parents state a preference, LEAs will be bound to abide by that preference, so long as certain reasonable conditions are met. In that respect, the Bill makes fully adequate provision for parents to express their views and for authorities to explain their thinking. At the end of that process, it is for the LEA to decide which school should be named and to arrange the provision. But the LEA cannot, in fulfilling its duties, ignore—even if it does not always meet—the wishes of parents. Moreover, authorities know that they cannot act arbitrarily in naming a school. Their actions will be subject to scrutiny by the new SEN tribunal set up under the Bill. They must, under the Bill, tell parents of their rights of appeal to that tribunal. If a case goes to appeal, the LEA will have to justify itself before the tribunal, which will have the power to overturn an LEA's decision and to instruct that LEA to name the school of the parent's choice.

I want to talk about amendment No. 51, because I know of the interest in the subject, which was so eloquently raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Exeter and for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). The amendment refers to the parents' rights, under the Bill, to influence an authority's decision on which school to name on the child's statement of special educational needs.

I am not persuaded of the need for the amendment, and I shall explain why. The Government fully recognise the high quality of specialised provision offered by many non-maintained special schools and other institutions outside the maintained sector. I am confident that the Bill does not jeopardise their future—many people have expressed a fear that it will—as long as they continue to provide the best education at the most reasonable cost, as I believe that they do. We expect LEAs to take into account the quality and cost effectiveness of such schools when considering the placement of a child.

Our intention in paragraph 3(1) of schedule 9 is to extend to parents of children with statements of special educational needs the same right that the Education Act 1980 gave to other parents. That is the right to express a preference for the maintained school that their child should attend. If hon. Members consider the nature of non-maintained special schools, they will see why it might not be appropriate to include them in the provision. A non-maintained special school is a school not maintained by a local education authority, but which is approved by the Secretary of State as a special school—currently under section 9(5) of the Education Act 1944. There are at present 81 such schools, many of them run by major charities, such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Barnardos and other such organisations.

Those schools are clearly distinct from those in the maintained sector. They are not subject to closure or alteration by local education authorities; nor will the Funding Agency for Schools have any jurisdiction over them. They exist in a market, and will continue to do so by offering what that market wants. They have no need to be propped up by specific legislative provision of the sort envisaged by the amendment. Moreover, if non-maintained special schools were brought within the scope of the provision, there would be a serious question about where to draw the line.

Independent schools might take the view that they, too, should be included. Some hon. Members mentioned that possibility. In law, there is no such thing as an independent special school, but there are independent schools that may be approved to cater for children with special educational needs. There are more than 100 of those, and yet more that take in individual statemented children on the basis of specific approvals obtained by LEAs from the Secretary of State. Such schools do not even have to be "special" in character. They may be ordinary independent schools that happen to be able to offer provision for a particular disability. It would be hard to justify excluding any independent schools that had the appropriate approvals from an extension of the "parental preference" provision which took in the non-maintained sector. If all independent schools were given an incentive to try and get on the bandwagon, there would be a real danger of matters getting out of hand.

However, we recognise that some parents may feel strongly that their child should be placed outside the maintained sector in, for example, a non-maintained special school. Let me spell out what the Bill provides for such parents. Instead of expressing a preference under paragraph 3 of schedule 9, the parents will make representations under paragraph 4(1)(a). In response to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, may I say that parents will do so at the draft statement stage—at the same stage of the proceeding at which they would be able to exercise their rights under paragraph 3 of schedule 9. Paragraph 4(1)(a) provides for parents to make representations to the LEA about the content of their child's statement—including making a case for placement in a non-maintained special school, independent school or any other institution that they may consider appropriate for their child. The LEA will then be under a duty, as in paragraph 5(1) of schedule 9, to consider all such representations before finalising the statement. It will have to do so against the background of its statutory duties to determine and arrange appropriate special educational provision for the child. The LEA will be fully aware that if it cannot justify its decision not to name the non-maintained special school, the parent may, under clause 157, challenge the LEA's decision and appeal to the independent tribunal, which would then have the power to direct the LEA to place the child in a school outside the maintained sector.

We have achieved a balance between recognising the special independent nature of such schools and their special privileges, which I briefly described, while allowing the full mechanisms available in the Bill, including those that I outlined, which I believe will give full rights to parents and full protection to non-maintained special schools. For those reasons, I am not persuaded that we should accept the amendment in the names of my hon. Friends. I hope that on reflection—

It being Twelve o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER pursuant to Order [15 December] and Resolution [12 March] put the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER then put the Question on all remaining amendments up to the end of clause 195 moved by a member of the Government.

Forward to