§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Perhaps I may say at the outset that there one or two drafting errors which have already caused noble Lords a certain amount of confusion. I take complete responsibility for them and I shall put them right if your Lordships have the Bill.
1380 In Clause 1, line 12, "educational needs of" should read,special educational provision that should be made for".In Clause 2(a) "section 5(5) (c)" should read "section 5(7) (c)". In Clause 3(2), with regard to one of the new powers for the parent, after line 17,A parent shall have a right of appeal against a decision of a local education authority to",there should be inserted the words,refuse to make a statement or cease to maintain a statement".The last line of Clause 4 should read "section 8(2)" and not "section 8(1)". There are also consequential amendments to Section 5(6) and to Section 8(1) (a) in the schedule. I apologise for those errors. I shall introduce amendments in Committee to put matters right.
This Bill is concerned with an improved appellate structure against assessments and statements of special educational needs under the Education Act 1981. It affords new rights to parents which may he exercised in the interests of the welfare of their children who have learning difficulties, as defined by Section 1 of the 1981 Act.
At the outset it is right that your Lordships should know that by a series of case law decisions the courts have established two important and fundamental principles that affect the application of the Act. The first is that if suitable provision is not available within the maintained sector it must be made then outside the maintained sector at the expense of the local authority. If no special school is available, if such be appropriate provision, in the area, then provision must be made elsewhere outside the area.
The second important decision—there are three but I shall not trouble your Lordships with technicalities —is that, contrary to general belief, financial constraints on local authority spending are wholly irrelevant. The obligation to comply with these statutory provisions is mandatory. Such is the state of the law as an introduction to these amendments.
It is a modest Bill, at all events at present, of very limited scope. Of course the hope is that with your Lordships' help one will be able to improve the Bill as it goes through its various stages in the House and make it a much better provision. In no way does it interfere with the intendment of the 1981 Act which sought to give effect to the key proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, in her report, proposals to which it is understood the noble Baroness still adheres. It is understood that the noble Baroness will seek during the passage of the Bill to make good certain omissions which my drafting has left. Those indeed will be welcomed by noble Lords on all sides of the House.
Indeed it is in the wake of the debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on 20th November 1991 in which it became wholly apparent on all sides of the House that substantial amendments were required to the appellate structure of the Act that I discussed this matter with my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness. At his suggestion —he was then, so to speak, appearing for the department—I wrote a letter to the department and drafted an agenda for discussion. In deference to my noble friend's 1381 interest, perhaps I may refer to these documents as the Cavendish papers because some of the suggestions in the papers are carried into the Bill. Other items in the Cavendish papers were not carried into the Bill on purpose because they were difficult to draft and they were more concerned with the problem of the shortage of speech therapists, training and guidelines, which were Items 5 and 6 of the Cavendish papers. But my noble friend Lady Blatch has taken these under her wing and they are currently being dealt with by the Government.
Other proposals in the Cavendish papers as to the removal of the appellate function of the Secretary of State and the setting up of a reconstituted appeals committee sitting with a legally qualified chairman whose procedures would be governed by the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, a statutory tribunal from which there would be no appeal—a single-tier appellate structure instead of the two-tier structure which we have now—I did not draft into the Bill. I did it, I think, because I was for once rather timid. I am not sure whether I was right or wrong. I have discussed this matter with the department, which has at the moment an open mind. At least it is now accepted that the existing appellate structure ought to be amended. The question is how, with your Lordships' help—I certainly need your Lordships' help—this should best be done.
The approach adopted in the Bill is, I suppose, the minimalist approach. I adopted it because at the time I drafted the Bill I did not realise that there would be, so to speak, a totally new breath of fresh air in this matter and that the Government were going to accept in principle that something had to he done. So I adopted the minimalist approach, retaining the existing structure. I thought that I ought to owe your Lordships that explanation. It enlarges the existing appellate structure subject to certain safeguards that I have drafted into the Bill—to which, with your Lordships' leave, I may come to later—and it retains to a certain extent an appeal from the appeals committee against the decisions of the appeals committee on statements.
I have also introduced a qualifying provision on the appellate functions of the Secretary of State. That ensures that he must comply with the principles of natural justice, and not reach his decision on reports handed to him within the department by the inspectors on which the parties to the appeal have had no opportunity whatever to comment. That has given rise to serious problems in the courts—certainly in two cases, both of which I have been concerned with. It is a matter which should be put into the Bill and not be argued about at vast expense in the courts.
It will be a matter for your Lordships' consideration whether the approach adopted by the Bill for the appellate structure, which of course is crucial, or the Cavendish paper approach is preferred; or, indeed, whether some other measures are appropriate. As I have said—and it is now accepted by the Government—the situation is far from satisfactory. Substantial reform is requisite.
1382 In the past year or so about two-thirds of the appeals to the Secretary of State from the decisions of the appeal committees have involved children with special learning difficulties. The main purpose of the Bill is to generate discussion and evoke amendments, so that the situation may be resolved to the satisfaction of your Lordships' House and to the satisfaction of government.
We had an all-party meeting on the Bill, under the auspices of my noble friend Lady Faithful]. It was attended by the noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock, Lady Blackstone and Lady David, together with other noble Lords. It was a very constructive meeting. It was clear that there was general agreement on substantial matters, and that the matter was being approached, quite rightly, on a wholly non-party basis. I approach it from these Benches in that fashion.
As to the structure of the Bill, I am afraid that it is complex. That is because the 1981 Act is a desperately complex provision, and to try to get it right, one has to ride along with that complexity. There are, first, mandatory statutory assessments and then, later, statements. There is a mandatory statutory duty to assess the special needs of the child under Section 5(1) of the schedule. I had the Keeling schedules prepared because without them, quite frankly, it is very difficult to follow what on earth is going on. But, having made an assessment, the LEA has a discretion whether to determine the special educational provision that should be made. There is no way that one can attack that discretion in a court of law. Therefore, right at the beginning of the road there is a gap and something that needs to be done.
In the Keeling schedules to the Bill, I have set out Sections 5 and 8 of the Education Act 1981. Your Lordships will find that I have introduced an entirely new structure for consideration. It imposes a six-month time limit during which the decision of whether to determine the special educational provision must be given. It also enlarges the jurisdiction of the appeal committee. The enlargement is of course important and is set out in heavy type in the schedule.
I have already dealt with the contents of subsection (6). Subsection (7) provides for the six-month period. It also provides for the notification in writing to the parent of the decision and of the reasons for making it, the "parent's right of appeal" to an appeal committee and the obligation to,make arrangements for enabling the parent of the child to appeal".Then, under subsection (8), the new powers of the appeal committee are, if it thinks fit, to direct that a new assessment be made, to direct that a special educational provision be determined by the education authority, or to dismiss the appeal.
One of the problems is that the mandatory provisions to make a statement under subsection 7(1) of the Act only bite if the LEA is of the opinion, after assessment, that it should determine the special education provision which should be made for the child. But, as I have said—and I make the point again believing, as I do, that it is so important—if as a matter of discretion, or for some reason concerned 1383 with financial constraints, the LEA makes a decision not to make a statement, there is nothing anyone can do about it. Hence the importance of the new structure to rectify the gap. Therefore, we have introduced subsections (6) to (8). Moreover, for the sake of clarity, we have enshrined that right in the amendment to Clause 3(2)—namely the new subsection (1A)—which I have already mentioned. That replaces the old Section 5(6) whereby if the LEA, after having made an assessment, decides that it is not required to determine the special educational provision which should be made, the parent may appeal to the Secretary of State.
But, first, that is not a proper appeal. It is done in writing and is not like the appeal committee procedure in which the parties are represented, where they are examined and cross-examined and where the proceedings are conducted with all due and proper formality. They are written representations to the Secretary of State; but he can do virtually nothing. I say that because under Section 5(8) as it stands—which I should like to remove, if I can—where a parent has appealed to the Secretary of State, the latter has only the power to direct the LEA to reconsider. In other words, there are no teeth, there is no bite and no sanction. It is a cumbersome and far from satisfactory process. As I have said, representations to the Secretary of State in that context are not a real hearing at all in any sense of the word.
I turn now to statements. Again, I am afraid that this is also complex because of the two-tier structure. However, perhaps I may explain it simply to your Lordships. There is a two-tier appellate structure against the special educational provision in the statement. Under Section 8(1) to (5) in the schedule a parent goes to the appeal committee. Under subsections (6) and (7) a parent applies to the Secretary of State where, on appeal, the appeal committee confirms the LEA, or where the LEA makes a decision on a case remitted to it by the appeal committee and the parent is dissatisfied.
It is accepted that that appeal on a remitted case direct from the LEA direct to the Secretary of State is rather cumbersome. But it is expected that the appeal committee will exercise the new power to amend the statement under Section 8(4) (c). This is an entirely new provision that I fear is desperately controversial.
It may well be that your Lordships would introduce an amendment to the contrary. But some resolution must be found. This would mean that the amendment of the statement by the LEA would be final and not subject to appeal to the Secretary of State. In effect that would mean in practice that the only appeal to the Secretary of State is against the decision of the appeal committee confirming the decision of the LEA.
There is a new provision that the appeal committee should have a new power to dismiss an appeal; again a decision which would be final. There is the new subsection (1A) to which I have referred which will have the effect of reversing two wholly unacceptable decisions in the Isle of Wight cases, which were quite correctly made as a matter of legal construction, which said that the LEA, which had maintained the statement, could just as a matter of discretion cease to maintain the statement. It had to give no reasons. It 1384 was a matter of discretion. I am adding to subsection (1A): there is a right of appeal against the decision of the authority to refuse to maintain a statement.
Clause 4 is consequential. But there is a new provision of safeguard in Section 8(8); that is the requirement that the Secretary of State, on appeal—if your Lordships retain the existing two-tier structure —is to be governed by this rule of natural justice.
There is another new safeguard in Clause 2 of the Bill. It affects the composition of the appeal committee and deals with the point put quite simply by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that the local education authority should not sit there as judges in its own cause. In other words members of the committee who have been concerned in making the decision under appeal should not be allowed to sit.
For your Lordships' assistance before I sit down, the composition of the appeal committee is dealt with in Part I of Schedule 2 to the Act of 1980. The members are nominated by the local authority. There are two categories of members; three, five or seven members sit together. The first category are members of the LEA or of any education committee of the authority and the second category are persons who are not members of the authority or of any education committee. It is provided that those within the first category, (a), shall not outnumber (b) by more than one. But this gives the local authority members and the members of the education committee a predominance. In practice—I shall not go into detail—that has not been at all satisfactory.
Broadly speaking, that is the need for the Bill and the proposals with which we have to seek to deal. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Campbell of Alloway.)
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, there are clearly aspects of the Education Act 1981 which are not working as well as they should. The system dealing with the identification and assessment of children with special needs ought to be improved and therefore we on these Benches welcome the Bill in principle. Indeed, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for the work he has done in preparing it. I am sure other Members of your Lordships' House will share my view in this respect.
There are however some parts of the Bill as presently drafted which we believe do require some amendment. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has accepted that, but I shall come to those later.
There are also some wider issues concerning special needs provision which now need attention, which go beyond the contents of the Bill and on which it would be helpful to know the Government's intention. I am not sure what the Minister will say about the Bill tonight, nor to what extent the Government intend to cover special educational needs in the White Paper or indeed in the legislation that we understand is planned for the autumn. Perhaps we shall hear a little about that later.
1385 It is of great importance that everything possible is done to support children with special needs at school and to help their parents cope with those needs. With proper support many of these children will come through and be able to lead independent and successful lives as adults. Without them they will fail to get near their potential achievement levels and their later lives may be blighted by this failure. The greater number of such children who can be educated in mainstream schools the better. Much of the 1981 Act was about how to achieve that.
In seeking to amend the Act I therefore hope that your Lordships' House will not fall into the trap of being over-critical of this piece of legislation. It was in many senses a landmark in our provision for children with special educational needs. It sought to provide a legislative framework for the excellent report produced by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and her committee. I am delighted that she will be speaking later in the debate today. It set out the main principles of her report: the right to education in ordinary schools; governors' responsibility to see that pupils' needs are identified and met and the right of parents to take part in decisions about their children's schooling. That, of course, is central to what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, wishes to achieve.
The main underlying problem that we face today is an unintended consequence of the Education Reform Act 1988 rather than a direct result of the 1981 Act. This is that there has been a considerable increase in the demand for statements from parents. This of course has implications for resources and is likely to affect the time it takes for a local education authority to deal with individual requests for statements.
The 1981 Act demands that a statement is made when provision "generally made" in a school is not adequate to meet a pupil's special educational needs. The increase in the demand for statements seems likely therefore to reflect a drop in "generally made" provision. What appears to have happened is that since the introduction of LMS after the 1988 Act schools have found it more and more difficult to meet special educational needs from their allocated budgets. So statements are seen as a way of either getting more resources or removing children from ordinary schools who are both expensive to educate and whose performance at school might have an adverse effect on the school's league table ratings. That is something we want to avoid. I understand that the Audit Commission and HMI are reporting on these and other matters. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us when the report is due to be published.
As far as I know, it has always been accepted that statements should not be provided for more than about 2 per cent. of pupils. I believe that that is what the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, proposes. LEAs and schools do not have unlimited resources. As my former colleague, Professor Klaus Wedell, one of the country's leading experts on special educational needs provision, has said:The statement procedure in fact represents a way of selecting which pupils should be given priority1386 for special provision. At the same time, under the procedure all the parties should know how provision is to match the child's needs and there should be regular evaluation to ensure that aims are being met.
Escalating demands for statements must clearly be avoided—I am sure that your Lordships agree—if we are not to prolong even further the period that parents have to wait while statements are being prepared. One problem is that no one is altogether clear about what the levels of "generally made" provision should be. LEAs are now required to report on their special needs provision, including what is done in ordinary schools. The Department of Education is meant to monitor that provision. The problem is that no one is sure what the standards should be. That is complicated by the present provision for the local management of schools. Even if it is known what the standards should be, it is not clear how they are to be monitored under the new arrangements for school inspection. Perhaps the Minister will help us by saying what the Government plan to do about that under the new system. Will HMI be made available for that task or not?
Without consistent standards, including the vital matter of open admission to schools for those with special needs, one of the fundamental principles of the 1981 Act will not be implemented, and more and more parents will, with justice, demand statements. At the heart of this question, as at the heart of so many, lies the issue of adequate resources, including adequate resources for locally managed schools. The Government must address the matter in the light of their findings from the reports by LEAs in response to Circular 7/91. It would be useful to know whether the Government intend to publish those findings, given their new commitment to open government.
Perhaps I may now turn to the more specific issues raised in the Bill. Parents' rights are immensely important in this area. Parents faced with the prospect of a child who has learning difficulties are bound to be anxious and interested if they are good parents. In strengthening their rights, I have every sympathy with the Bill; but we must be sure that what is proposed is practical and achievable and that it will not leave those parents and their children in any way worse off.
Without going into too much detail—that can be done in Committee—I should like to run through the main provisions, indicating where we from these Benches support the Bill and where we have some reservations. I shall begin with the time limit on statements. It is of course intolerable that parents should have to wait—in some cases for as long as a year. What is not certain is how often the guidelines that statements should be completed within six months are ignored. We have only anecdotal evidence about that matter.
The question that we need to consider is whether what is proposed in the Bill is too rigid. While there should be strong pressures on local authorities to complete statements within six months, should we not allow for some flexibility to deal with the very difficult cases that sometimes occur? The problem is that in such cases various different agencies must be involved in the preparation of statements. It is not just the 1387 education authority and the schools. For example, the advice of various health service professionals may need to be sought. There are sometimes difficulties in getting parents to take children for assessment appointments with those different agencies, and time can be lost in arranging those appointments and persuading parents to keep them. I hope that it will be possible to amend the Bill to allow for some flexibility even though I accept in principle that a tough time limit is desirable.
The proposal for a local appeal procedure is highly desirable in cases where an LEA decides not to make a statement after a child has been assessed. Similarly, we welcome a local appeal procedure against an LEA decision to cease to maintain a statement and the requirement that an LEA tells parents about their right of appeal in such circumstances. It would be disgraceful if a local authority did not provide that information to parents.
It must also be right that the Secretary of State, when determining an appeal, should make available any information he has received so that the interested parties can comment. There might also be a time limit on the Secretary of State. We have had examples of central government departments taking an inordinately long time to deal with such cases. There should be a requirement on the Secretary of State to give reasons for his decision.
I am, however, less sanguine about the Bill's proposal to remove from appeal committees all elected members of LEAs. While it would be wrong for such people to be in a majority, to remove them altogether—
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness. We are not trying to do that. It is only those who have been concerned in the decision-making process under appeal.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving that clarification. It would be unusual for an elected member to become involved in a decision about a case; it is the officers who normally make such decisions. Local authority members often review critically decisions made by their officers, not just in this area but in many others. They often have a good deal of knowledge and expertise about the issues as well as being capable of independent judgment. I accept that if a member had been directly involved in an earlier decision relating to an individual case, it would be desirable for that person not to be a member of the appeal committee.
That brings me to the last matter upon which I wish to comment. The Bill provides new powers for appeal committees to amend a statement of special educational needs when a parent appeals. On the face of it, that looks all right; but, in practice, it runs the risk of lay groups overturning the conclusions of a professional assessment within democratically agreed LEA policies. I wonder whether that can be right. As a lay person on an appeal committee, I should be reluctant to involve myself in decisions about appropriate treatment for a pupil. The danger is that some children may be inappropriately placed because of a lay committee's insufficient knowledge. It may 1388 also lead to escalating costs which in these days of financial constraint, as I am sure the Minister will agree, local authorities cannot meet.
However, apart from those reservations we welcome the Bill and hope that the Government will consider favourably what it proposes, perhaps doing so in the somewhat wider context of ensuring that the general provisions in schools are adequate in the context of LMS and after the publication of the Audit Commission/HMI report when we should be clear about some of the broader issues.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
The Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, provides a welcome opportunity to discuss the workings of the 1981 Education Act which broke a tremendous amount of new ground. That Act has been tremendously helpful to many bodies in their efforts to bring special educational needs to the forefront of education planning.
The Bill is timely because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has just mentioned, our education system has experienced a period of tremendous upheaval. Therefore changes are bound to be required in virtually all our education legislation. That process is inevitable and we shall need time to catch up with all the changes.
The problem of a lack of resources has been mentioned. That problem has bedevilled the area of special educational needs for as long as those needs have been recognised as a separate area within education. Indeed the provisions of the 1981 Act have always been at the mercy of the assessment of priorities and the allocation of funds. Whether that is the fault of local authorities or government or a combination of the two is a subject which can be debated, and probably will be debated, for as long as both those organisations exist in any form. However, the provision which ensures that the appropriate funds are available will guarantee the effective working of any legislation in this field as in other fields.
I wish to make a few brief comments on the Bill. I do not think anyone can have any objection to any of the aims of the Bill. A more flexible approach should be adopted when dealing with special educational needs. Some effective appeal procedure should be put in place. I do not think anyone could find fault with those principles. Once we have accepted those principles, it is merely a matter of how we put them into operation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, thought that some of the provisions of the Bill were somewhat questionable. However, the provision of the six month guarantee was a provision that appealed to me the most as it will act as an enforcement tool. Again, the problem of funding arises, but there needs to be some limitation on the length of time taken to implement the provision. However, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, a flexible approach needs to be adopted when faced with special circumstances. I believe that 1389 there should be a fixed period of time by which some decision should be reached and some justification should have to be given for any delay.
I agree with the noble Baroness that we should consider the matter of the members of the appeal committee. Local education authorities should have some input there but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has pointed out, they are not necessarily excluded. Therefore I feel there are grounds for a compromise here. I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House would have little difficulty in reaching a workable solution. Ultimately if we are to make this Bill and this whole area a success, we must continue to review this matter as more research is carried out into how to help those with special educational needs and how to integrate those with special educational needs into our education system or into making provision for them outside the mainstream system. That is another area of debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has referred to this matter on numerous occasions. We must consider whether we have placed the correct emphasis on integration or on making provision outside the mainstream system.
To illustrate the requirements of those with special educational needs I give the example of a person in a wheelchair and a person with dyslexia. A person in a wheelchair may have difficulty in getting to a lesson whereas a person with dyslexia may be able to get to a lesson but he may not be able to understand dictation or what is written on a blackboard. It is virtually impossible to say whether or not people with special educational needs should be integrated into the mainstream system. This Bill may be the first step in a whole process of reassessing the way in which we deal with people with special educational needs and in the process of deciding how we incorporate such measures into the 1988 education Act. We shall need to consider how we can bring special educational needs more to the fore so that the country does not waste so many human resources and we do not wreck so many lives.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in this debate. I give the Bill a general welcome and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for introducing it. My information is that the 1981 Act operates unevenly in different parts of the country. It is not entirely clear, at least to me, what the reasons for that are. It seems to me that what this Bill attempts to tackle will therefore be welcome.
The Bill is particularly welcome at this time because, although it is right as a matter of policy to try to incorporate into the general educational system as many children as possible who have special educational needs, that policy is again working a little unevenly. There are many parents of children with special educational needs who at present are anxious whether there will be full and proper provision for their children. As I read the Bill, it secures the position of those parents in a much more acceptable way than is evident in the 1981 Act. For that reason the Bill will 1390 reassure parents who in many respects carry a heavy burden when they are responsible for children with special educational needs.
I await with interest the comments of the Government because I recognise that there may be points about the Bill of which I am as yet unaware. However, in general terms I support the Bill and I hope that it will, in this or some amended form, reach the statute book.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to my noble friend for providing an opportunity to consider and, if appropriate, to change the arrangements that now exist for making provision for children with special educational needs.
I personally am deeply grateful to my noble friend for making the gracious and generous provision of a Keeling Schedule at the end of the Bill as it is drafted so that it is much easier to understand the Bill. I wish others had more frequent resort to that helpful device.
In 1988 I had the honour to chair a committee of inquiry which reported in 1989. Our remit was to inquire into discipline in schools and to make recommendations. Our terms of reference were very wide because indiscipline was defined as anything that militated against the performance by a school of its proper function which was to enable young people to develop their full potential for adult life.
A very important factor in the ability of a school to do its job properly overall and to secure the good behaviour of all its pupils is the extent to which it is able to meet the educational needs of its pupils. Pupils whose needs are not met and who are frustrated in the struggle for achievement, which all your Lordships will remember so clearly from your school days, do not only suffer themselves but make others suffer too. They are a disruptive influence in the school at which they are pupils.
We discovered in the course of our inquiries that it was then reliably estimated that at any one time about 20 per cent. of the pupil population had special educational needs and that a tenth of those, or 2 per cent. of the total, were subject to statements, the effect of which was to secure for them treatment in some way different from the rest of the children and more appropriate to their special needs. The question that my noble friend is addressing is not, therefore, trivial or peripheral to the major issues of education for two reasons.
First, the number of individual children directly affected is substantial. Exactly how substantial I hope that my noble friend the Minister will tell us. Is statementing still running at the 2 per cent. which the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, recommended or has it changed? If it has changed, is this because of a change in need, a change in measurement of need, or a change in policy?
Is it true, as I have heard it suggested, that one LEA at least has actually given a directive to its staff that no more statements shall be made? I ask that question so that my noble friend can kill the rumour if, as I very much hope, it is false, or take appropriate action if it 1391 is true. If it is true, that is a worsening of a situation to which we had already drawn attention in our report.
I wish to quote from paragraph 31 of chapter six which states,provision in special schools for pupils with special needs tends to be expensive. LEAs have many competing priorities for expenditure. We have been told that at least one LEA does not recognise emotional and behavioural difficulties as a reason for making special provision because it is not considered to be specifically a learning difficulty".We went on, of course, to say that we found this to be unacceptable. Can my noble friend tell me whether this problem has been addressed since we reported and whether there are still any authorities taking this unacceptable line now?
We concluded the paragraph by stating the obvious but important fact that children who exhibit such disturbed patterns of behaviour that they cannot benefit properly from mainstream schoolingcan disrupt the education of other children".That is the second reason that the issues broached by my noble friend's Bill are neither trivial nor peripheral.
Where there is need and where the system does not deliver the special treatment or provisions required to meet it, either promptly or at all, not only will the life chances of those particular children be reduced, those of other children will be affected also. My noble friend's concern is not only with the 2 per cent. but with all the others affected by them.
Learning is not an easy process for most of us. Glances your Lordships have attracted by speaking too loudly in the Library of the House while other noble Lords were preparing to speak will have reminded your Lordships of that if you had forgotten.
If one garrulous Peer can snap the thread of concentration of a dozen others working in otherwise ideal conditions, imagine what the effect of a couple of determined school children can be on the work of 20 or 30 others with nowhere else to go—and the diversion from them of the energy of the teacher to contain and diffuse the difficulty. That may be repeated time and again in lesson after lesson while the process of assessment continues and statementing is withheld. Of course children should be taught, wherever possible, in the school attended by their friends and neighbours. However, where that becomes impossible because of genuine needs of this sort the call for alternative arrangements is urgent.
We were therefore deeply concerned to discover in 1988 that evidence had already been given to the House of Commons Education, Science and Arts Committee in 1986–87 that some LEAs were taking far too long to assess and make statements. We could find no significant progress since that committee reported. We learned that it was not uncommon for the process to take a year or more. We received evidence ourselves of the deep stresses on both pupils and their schools when that happens.
One factor in that quite unacceptable situation was the provision of personnel by local education authorities to carry out the assessments on which the statements were based. We found that in 1987–88 the ratio of educational psychologists to pupils aged 5 to 1392 16 varied very widely from authority to authority—from 1:2,500 in some to 1:8,000 in others according to figures published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.
At that time the Department of Education and Science had recently issued a draft circular to replace DES 1/83 and Welsh Office Circular 5/83 stating that:The Secretary of State expects that statements should be processed within 6 months".It went on to say that anything longer should be exceptional. We therefore recommended (in paragraph 37) that local education authorities should set and maintain an establishment of educational psychologists adequate to achieve the target of six months for the processing of statements of special educational needs specified by the DES, the Department of Health and the Welsh Office in the draft circular. That was accepted by the Government, along with virtually all our other recommendations, and I hope that my noble friend can tell us what is now the position in that regard.
Whatever her reply, even if she quarrels with the means proposed she will find it difficult to resist the proposal in Clause 1 of my noble friend's Bill that six months should in future be the maximum time allowed for that process as it is the time Her Majesty's Government themselves recommended. The only difference between my noble friend the sponsor of the Bill and my noble friend the Minister of State's department is that, whereas the department's circular makes reference to exceptional circumstances, his Bill, as far as I can see, does not. If I am wrong my noble friend will correct me in Committee.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend. My noble friend the Minister will doubtless argue that there are many hard cases and my noble friend Lord Campbell will no doubt argue that they make bad law. We shall listen with deep interest and be persuaded by whichever is the most persuasive. At present I tend to favour some letout, but the least we can expect is that the most persuasive argument will be that which puts forward the most reliable way of securing that such cases are dealt with both thoroughly and within a maximum period of six months, does not offer to recognise as "exceptionally difficult" more than a modest proportion of cases and does not provide for those cases to be sidelined for indefinite periods. There have to be buffers even at the end of the siding.
The appeal provisions in the remaining clauses of the Bill are important and highly constructive. However, my noble friend's expertise in such matters is so much greater than mine that I do not propose to delay your Lordships with my views on them, beyond one point which was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I thought that she had it right before she was helpfully interrupted by my noble friend. It seems to me that Clause 2 has the effect, as drafted, of excluding any member of a local education authority from an appeal committee. That may not be my noble friend's intention and it may not be the effect 1393 of the clause. Nevertheless, it is a matter which we should consider in Committee because I believe that some input to those committees from the local education authorities would be highly constructive.
It remains only to ask my noble friend the Minister to look kindly on a Bill which addresses a problem which was already pressing in 1988, which causes great distress to some and significant harm to many, and which I would have expected to have been dealt with in the three years which have now elapsed since our report was published.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I have written to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to say that I have to leave at 6.30 p.m. I had hoped that the debate would be over but it now looks as if it will not be. I apologise to any other noble Lords whose speeches I shall not hear. I shall read the reports of their speeches with great attention.
I know that we are all very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has taken the trouble to bring the Bill before the House. As he said, it proposes a six-month time limit for statementing procedures undertaken by LEAs and changes the arrangements for appeals against assessments and statements of educational need made under the terms of the 1981 Act. To both of those aims I can give general support but will have a few suggestions and criticisms to make which I hope the noble Lord will find that he can accept when we come to Committee stage.
I am particularly grateful that the noble Lord has brought forward this amendment Bill now because I know that a great many people involved in education and the working of the Act have concerns about what is happening. Everyone who has spoken has made that point.
The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, published in 1978 estimated that about 2 per cent. of all children would require specific protection and procedures to meet their special educational needs. That forecast has not been borne out in practice. Some counties have over 4 per cent. of their school populations with statements. That presents problems both as regards the availability of professional time and expertise to make the assessments and the additional costs of meeting the requirements in the statements. One south eastern county has found that the cost of supporting its pupils with statements in mainstream schools has increased ninefold in the four years to 1991–92 to some £4 million. From other sources and from parents one hears of delays in the making of statements, for whatever reason—it may be a shortage of professionals or fear of the financial commitment. It is that point which the Bill addresses.
Several interest groups, and a number of Peers, are pressing for a wide-ranging review of the 1981 Act. There is no wish to go back on the basic principle of the Act—the maximum sensible integration of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools—but rather on the operation of the timetables and procedures for assessment and statementing and the financing of the provision needed. I should also 1394 like to see an assessment of how well integration is working and whether there is always complete integration or instead the creation of units which remain very much units within the mainstream schools where there is not much mixing.
We heard that the Audit Commission and HMI engaged in a joint study of special needs, which will appear shortly. We hope that that will point the way to what needs to be done. We have, too, the promise of a White Paper in the late summer or the autumn. I should like to see the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, chair a new committee to review the working of the Act after 11 years and to bring forward updated recommendations.
There is widespread concern about the effect that formula funding may have now that all schools manage their own financial affairs under LMS. Under formula funding it is no longer open to the LEA to add staffing or other resources to individual school budgets on the merits of the case. If special needs funding is to be part of a formula-based element of school budgets then all schools are treated equally irrespective of whether they have an above or below average share of statemented pupils.
The alternative, under present arrangements, is for statements to carry with them specific funding additions to school budgets. Increasingly schools can be expected to look for such additions. This is both an engine for increased statementing and in tension with the principle of maximum delegation to schools. But if increased levels of specific budget addition are not agreed, there may develop an increased reluctance by schools to accommodate a child with special needs. One fears too the non-acceptance or removal from the ordinary school of an expensive to educate child whose learning outcomes and examination results may seem likely to detract from that school's published results, which governors fear may affect the popularity of the school. That needs to be examined.
Perhaps I may make a few points on the Bill. There could be very difficult or complex cases in which assessments and statements take more than six months—that point has already been made—possibly because of shortage of staff with professional expertise or perhaps shortage of cash. It seems to me that in those cases the LEA should give an explanation of the reasons for the delay. There should be a little flexibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, requested, and perhaps there will be an opportunity to put that into the Bill.
With regard to the composition and powers of the appeal committee, the proposal for simpler arrangements seems right. But there is justifiable concern on the part of LEAs and the local authority associations about the prospect of reduced LEA input into what will remain effectively an educational decision having significant resource implications in some cases. It seems wrong in principle that parents should have the right of further appeal to the Secretary of State while the LEA has no right of appeal against an amended statement, which may have significant financial implications and to which it has not been a party. I also misunderstood the point about the LEA 1395 representative on the appeal committee, but I presume that the author of the Bill understands the issue and so I shall not pursue it.
I query the proposal in Clause 3(3) which would empower an appeal committee to amend a statement as it deemed appropriate. The appeal committee might not have a member with the professional knowledge which enables it to do so. It is possible that the appeal committee might not amend the statement to suit the parents' wishes.
Perhaps I may say a few final words on the education of young people with special educational needs who remain at an educational establishment after the age of 16. Where a young person is covered by a statement, there is a duty on the authority to make that provision. But that duty does not extend to cover students aged 16 to 19 in further education or training. The situation has been made worse by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 which excludes all young people in the new FE sector from the 1981 Act provision. Far from extending the scope of the 1981 Act to all young people in education and training, it excludes a further tranche—those in sixth-form colleges—leaving the duty applying only to those still in schools. I strongly believe that we should look again at this provision. I hope that the House will be willing to accept an amendment along those lines.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the DES pamphlet Children with special needs, published in February this year, which has on it the words "Parent's Charter". Page 17, under the paragraph headed "Choices after 16", reads:Education for young people with special educational needs does not stop at 16. Depending on his or her particular interests and aptitudes, a young person can continue to have his or her needs met by staying on at an ordinary or special school, or by moving to a sixth form college or a further education college".Now that is just not right. I hope that the Minister can make some comment when she replies. Otherwise, I wish the Bill well and hope that it has an easy passage through the House.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, I speak briefly in support of the Bill. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for having taken so much trouble over it and for giving the House a chance to look at some of the areas in which the 1981 Act is not succeeding.
The Bill seeks to remedy some quite manifest shortcomings in the implementation of the 1981 Act. In accordance with the provision of that Act and the spirit of subsequent educational legislation, it places a strong emphasis on the rights of parents to ensure proper provision within a reasonable time to meet the special needs of their children. I should prefer a certain flexibility in the period of six months proposed. However, it should be a general aim. Certainly the decision of a local authority whether to make a statement on a child should be made far more speedily than often is the case.
It is right that if the authority decides not to make a statement, the parents should have the right of appeal to a genuinely independent appeal committee.
1396 Again, it is important that parents should have a right of appeal to such a committee if an authority decides that it does not wish or cannot maintain a statement for a child.
The provision in the Bill for parents to he informed of any reports to the Secretary of State from the HMI in the case of an appeal against a statement is undoubtedly needed and is a matter of natural justice. It seems to me very important that the appeal committee should be totally independent of the LEA and able to propose its own revision of a statement. But I suspect that with regard to both those points there will be difficulties in practice. I agree that the LEA should at any rate be able to give its knowledge and expertise to the appeal committee, though it should not be by any means in the majority. It will be difficult for the LEA if the new proposal or revision by the appeal committee turns out to have important resource implications, as they probably will. That is an area which will need to be clarified. It would be nice to be able to say that shortage of resources is no reason for an LEA not to make the recommended provision; but in practice that is an increasingly idealistic stand to take.
I believe that where this kind of new provision in the appeal committee comes in, we may find increasingly long and burdensome litigation following. Once again the time factor will become very important. Reference has mainly been made to how long it is for parents to wait; but for a child six months is an eternity in their school life before provision is made. I hope that whatever the final arrangements about the new style appeal committee, they will not need further litigation.
The consideration of resources lies behind all the points that have been made. That leads away from the present Bill to wider issues. It will not come as a surprise to noble Lords to learn that I am very worried about the implementation of the 1981 Act as a whole. The present Bill is designed to improve that implementation in certain respects but a great deal more is needed. After all, it is more than 10 years since the Act came into force. As we heard, in that time there have been innumerable changes in school education, changes which are still in rapid progress. For example, we can be less and less certain what the future powers and resources of local education authorities will be or over how many schools their writ will run. Therefore the time has come to reconsider some of the basic principles of the 1981 Act, to re-think them and to allocate responsibility for putting new principles into practice. I crave your Lordships' indulgence for straying so far from the confines of the Bill.
However, I shall confine myself to calling your Lordships' attention to three issues which I believe need fundamentally to be reconsidered as a matter of urgency. The noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to the first: the provision of post-school education for young people after the age of 16. At present the responsibility for providing resources for such education is unclear. I have the honour to be a member of a body called the Prince of Wales Advisory Group on Disability. About two years ago it 1397 published guidance for disabled students on how to apply for higher, further or continuing education. On reading the handbook recently, it struck me that it is now completely useless. We shall have to begin the task of issuing another handbook. I have no idea what we can put in it at present. How young people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities should proceed to continuing education requires urgent consideration. It is of the greatest importance for those young people.
Secondly, in addressing the subject of children with special needs, the Parent's Charter referred to a small number of children for whom a statement would be issued by the local authority. In most cases it suggested that provision for a child's special needs would be made after a full assessment but without a statement being made or maintained. That was the intention of the report on the education of children with special needs. I believe that it was the intention of the 1981 Act. However, as we have heard today, in at least some authorities the number of statements has vastly increased, generally as a result of parental demand. Although there are a number of authorities in which statements are not frequently made, the overall projected increase in statements for 1993 is 12 per cent. The increase in requests for statements is more than three times that number.
There is a substantial increase in the demand by parents for statements. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the reason is clear. Money goes with a statemented child. Other provision must be found from normal school budgets. With the increased development of LMS—the devolvement of the management by schools of their budgets—and the pressure of such schools to raise the academic standards of the vast majority of children with no special needs, it is not surprising that the only security for provision for children with special needs appears to parents to be a statement which carries a legal obligation on the local authority to meet the need.
The resource implications of meeting special needs are daunting. As parents are increasingly regarded as customers or consumers with rights, the issue of statements has become an issue of rights which I fear will lead to more protracted and expensive litigation. Parental trust of local education authorities has been perhaps fatally eroded. Children with statements are becoming a class apart, just as the handicapped used to be considered as a class apart. The notion that was central to the 1981 Act of a continuum of special needs—it includes at one end the needs of exceptional mathematicians or musicians through the fairly modest needs of the temporarily deaf or the child who has missed a great deal of school through illness, to the non-ambulant, non-speaking, severely mentally and physically damaged disabled child—has been lost sight of as the number of statemented children rises and non-statemented children are left out of the need for special provision. As we have heard, 20 per cent. have that need. It is because the continuum of provision has been lost sight of that the role of the statement and the resources that go with it need to be reconsidered.
1398 The third and final area is a failure of the 1981 Act which has been referred to recently in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to it today. I believe it to be of fundamental importance. It is the provision for those children who used to be referred to as maladjusted children and are now known—in my view most clumsily and unfortunately—as children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
It is necessary to mention those children separately because their numbers are increasing extraordinarily fast and because provision for their education is lamentably inadequate. The fate of those children is of vast significance. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if we could get the educational provision for those children right, we could radically change the outlook for the control of crime and for our overcrowded prisons.
I shall not take up your Lordships' time by going into details. But at present far too many such children are being excluded from school either permanently and officially or, more worryingly still, temporarily and unofficially. The latter category is known as children on hold. There are no figures available for children on hold. The heads of many schools do not even know how many children in their school are in that position. But even for those children who are officially and permanently excluded from a school, for whom the local authority has an obligation to provide alternative education, often virtually no alternative provision is made. Sometimes the provision is pitifully inadequate—a mere hour or two hours a week of home tuition in a home not generally fitted up with a suitable schoolroom as one can imagine. I believe that it is a matter of extreme urgency to review the powers of schools to exclude pupils and the duties of local authorities, or of the Department of Education in the case of grant maintained schools, to provide suitable alternatives.
I believe that that will involve the opening or reopening of boarding schools. Boarding provision is virtually the only solution for many such children who are at the bottom of the line. I am thankful that the boarding provision provided must now conform with the demands of the Children Act and therefore will be subject to rigorous inspection. However, boarding schools should also be subject to rigorous inspection as regards the education that they provide.
An issue of extreme importance, as has been mentioned, is the future role of the inspectorate with regard to the provision of education for children with behavioural difficulties. We are awaiting the findings of the Audit Commission on the working of the 1981 Act. I believe that its report is due to be published next month and my informed guess is that it will make extremely gloomy reading. We are also looking forward to the publication of a White Paper in time for the new school year. It is hoped that it will contain proposals for the provision of all kinds of special needs, both for the most able and least able.
Although I warmly welcome the present Bill so far as it goes, I urge your Lordships to support the view that there is a need for more radical changes in legislation. I am well aware that the expectations of educational provision are higher than they were in 1399 1981 and that parents now think of themselves as having rights. The combination of those two factors leads to a demand for vast sums of money to be spent on the education of children with special needs. That money does not exist and will not be forthcoming. In my view we could do more without incurring enormous expenditure if we could revise the structures correctly and redefine the responsibilities. That will take time; but in the end it will be good for the children concerned and, importantly, it will represent long-term value for money. That applies in particular to the children who I persist in thinking of as maladjusted.
I apologise to your Lordships for carrying the discussion into such wide fields, and I fully understand the dangers of riding a hobby horse. Therefore, I shall conclude by saying that I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for introducing the Bill. Not only has it given me a chance to get my hobby horse out of the stable again, but it may lead to a modest but important improvement in provision and to greater justice for those children and their parents.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, it gives me particular pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, because I had the great honour to be chairman of the board of governors of a special school which she opened 10 years ago. Her famous report had just been published, and that was followed by the 1981 Act.
Most of us were excited about the new thinking produced by the noble Baroness's report, in particular that the needs of the child should be paramount. We expected that statements would lay out a list of the requirements of a particular handicapped child and that those needs would largely be met. However, I am afraid that in many LEAs the wheel has turned full circle. Often the statement is written in the context of the provision that is available rather than in the context of what is needed by a particular young person. The provisions may well be determined by budgetary restraint, replacement policy and resource implications. In addition, there is often a need for medical treatment by a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist. The temptation to leave out of the statements such expensive treatments is obvious.
Like my noble friend Lord Elton, I have heard the rumour that, as a result of resource implications in recent years, some LEAs have operated a policy which avoids the writing of statements when it is thought that the resources do not exist within the authority. I shall be pleased to hear from my noble friend whether there is any truth in such tales. Parents who expect to receive a statement which is full in its description of their child's needs often receive one which instead is specific only in terms of the provision which a particular school in a local education authority can offer. Nowadays the statement often safeguards the local authority rather than the child.
As we heard from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, appeals are difficult. For instance, there is 1400 no right of appeal if the authority does not find a prima facie case to begin an assessment. The appeal committee is constituted by the local education authority and can often be seen to endorse the decision of the LEA's employees in carrying out policy generated by its officers and endorsed by its members. The appeal committee cannot reword or amend the statement. It can only refer it back either to the original assessment team or to a new team constituted from the same local authority's employees.
I was pleased to hear a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and endorsed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. It was that, although young people are entitled to receive special education until the age of 19, in the great majority of cases there is a reluctance on the part of many LEAs to maintain statements beyond the age of 16. Parents have few rights in that matter.
Those are some of the difficulties which parents run into as regards the statementing of their children and their lack of a fair appeals procedure. I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing the Bill. I am aware of the amount of time that he has taken in drafting it and in seeking assistance from all quarters. I was also grateful to my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack who perhaps stretched out his summing up of the previous business in order that my noble friend could be in the Chamber to introduce his Bill. Noble Lords would have been sad if he had not made it.
Although I know that my noble friend has worked hard in drafting the Bill, I am unclear about exactly how far it goes and what it states. He read out a number of changes that he had effected to the Bill. He said that Clause 3(2) will insert the following words into the 1981 Act:A parent shall have a right of appeal against a decision of a local education authority to refuse to make a statement or to cease to maintain a statement under section 7".Those words do not appear on the face of the Bill. As a good little boy and a Member of your Lordships' House I was brought up to understand that words which do not appear on the face of a Bill count for nothing. Therefore, a number of amendments must be made in Committee.
I support the Bill but in Committee I shall wish to strengthen it in many ways. I shall probably fall out with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, because I do not believe that the period of six months should be extended. Six months is a long time in the life of a school child with such difficulties and that of the parents. I do not agree with extending that in any way beyond six months, except in extremely unlikely circumstances. Also, for the reasons I have given, I believe that the local education authorities should be kept as far removed as possible from any form of appeal committee. Very often the people who take decisions of principle as to whether or not to close a certain school or to spend money on special education have friends who hear the appeals as regards the statementing of children. Therefore, there is not enough distance between the parties. It may be that I must have an argument about that with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in Committee.
I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed by my noble friend on the Front Bench. There is a lot to be said for 1401 it both as regards parents' rights and the Citizen's Charter. I should think it will attract the support of the Government. I wish the Bill well and I hope that it will go a long way towards restoring the paramount rights of a statemented young person under the 1981 Act.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for bringing this Private Member's Bill before your Lordships today.
As was stated by many noble Lords in a debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on 20th November 1991 on the Education Act 1981, this Act has been implemented well in some parts of the country—and we pay tribute to those authorities which are implementing it well. In other parts of the country it is being implemented not so well and, regretfully, in a few authorities it is not being implemented at all. That point was made by both the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Elton.
It is cause for wonderment that the Department of Education seems to have been unaware—or if aware has taken no action—of areas in which the Bill has not been implemented. This Bill deals with a narrow but important area of anxiety. There are many other areas of anxiety outside the Bill; for example, inadequate and unclear information about the local education authorities' assessment procedures and the range of special educational provisions available; insufficient help in supporting parents during assessment; a lack of weight being given to parents' views during the assessment process; a lack of real choice about provision—and on that I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said because I know that after a recommendation was made that a child should go to a special school, a city treasurer asked whether there was a cheaper recommendation—failure to implement the role of a named person or parent adviser; insufficient use of the resources, in particular counselling skills, of the voluntary sector; and, lastly, a lack of support services such as child guidance services and speech therapists, as has been mentioned previously. However, we must discuss those problems on another occasion.
As has been stated by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, the Bill aims to improve the statementing process. It aims also to introduce a machinery whereby appeals can be made against local authorities' decisions not to issue statements or no longer to maintain them. Further, it aims to strengthen the appeals procedure. I support the introduction of a six-month limit for the statementing procedure of local authorities. If a child appears before a court, the local authority, in the form of the social services department, must bring a report before the court in much less than six months. Those reports are as serious as the statementing of children. Therefore, I support the six-month limit.
Perhaps we should look at the appeals committee from the point of view of the parents. Parents often 1402 feel that there are too many representatives from the local education authority on the committee and therefore that the appeal committee is in cahoots, so to speak, with the officers. However, I believe that there should be one representative from the local education authority on the committee in order that the education department and its local councillors know what is going on.
I recommend also that there should be a specialist on the appeal committee who should be perhaps a retired paediatrician. That specialist should be appointed by the Secretary of State for Education to serve on the committee. I believe that in that way not only would the Ministry be represented but also there would be on the committee a specialist whose expertise would be valued by the parents.
Secondly, I believe that if such an appointment were made to the appeal committee, it would prevent many cases being referred to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is in the Chamber; I am sure that he would be happy not to have so many referrals on his desk. Also the parents would value that appointment.
I ask the Minister whether the recommendations of the appeal committee are binding. Somehow that point seems not to have been addressed. I wonder whether one should consider whether parents should have a right of appeal within a year of the findings of the appeal committee. In many cases an appeal is heard and the statement fulfilled, but fulfilled only in fact and not in spirit.
Many parents have been to see me about the way in which their children have been dealt with after a statement has been made and the recommendations fulfilled. It seems that parents have no power to alter the situation. For example, I heard of a dyslexic child for whom it was recommended that he should receive special treatment for his dyslexia. He was put into a class of 36 children younger than himself. The teacher had received a course in the teaching of dyslexic children but she could spare him only perhaps 10 minutes or a quarter-of-an-hour every day because she had to deal with the other children. The parents wanted to know how they could appeal against that. The mother worked, the father was out of work but they are now paying for the child to have special treatment out of school hours. That problem has not been addressed and it should be followed up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said that the problem of lack of resources is extremely difficult. However, I have dealt with older children coming before the courts. The country spends a great deal of money on children who should have been helped in school but have not been helped. Ultimately they get into trouble, they come before the courts and that costs far more than it would have cost had they received the special treatment which they needed while at school. We should address that point, quite apart from bearing in mind the happiness and emotional satisfaction of the child and its family.
I support the Bill although I believe that further amendments must be made. I believe also that we should have further discussions on other aspects of the Education Act 1981.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to dwell for a moment on the recent past. The year of the Education Act, 1981, was a good year for MENCAP—of which I am now the Chairman—thanks to a great deal of help from some who were then, or are now, Members of your Lordships' House. In the first instance, through the good offices of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, then Home Secretary, Her Majesty the Queen graciously commanded that we became a royal society —the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults—which was a splendid accolade in that International Year of Disabled People.
That same year also saw MENCAP sitting down at the conference table with many other organisations representing people with disabilities. That alone was a major step forward for up to then we had been generally excluded from their deliberations. For this newly found acceptance I must pay a somewhat belated tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, who was then President of the International Year of Disabled People in this country and who is such a strong defender of the rights of people with disabilities.
The year 1981 was good for us too in the world of education. In that February the noble Lord, Lord Renton, (then chairman of MENCAP) and I (as the, then, secretary-general) met with the Secretary of State for Education, Mark Carlisle—now the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow—to press upon him a number of important clauses for the forthcoming Education Bill. We were received with great courtesy, listened to most sympathetically and, to our great delight, were largely successful, for the new Act determined that appropriate education and training would be given to children with a mental handicap or learning disability from the moment of diagnosis, following an apparently straightforward statementing procedure to be conducted by the local education authorities. The principles behind the Education Act 1981 remain excellent. It is in the operation of the Act where the problems have arisen, and I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, on and thank him for drawing them to your Lordships' notice.
At present, the delay before a family knows whether a child will receive a statement can be as long as a year. There can be no justification for that. Parents who have a child with special educational needs are all too aware of the problems in delaying the educational process. Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to highlight this frustrating situation with the experience of a family in the west country.
A statement was requested by this family back in June 1988. Until that time their son, then aged 10, had received only an interim statement following the introduction of the 1981 Act. That was clearly unsuitable for his needs seven years later. Exercising their right under Section 5 of that Act, his parents requested a statement to be made. Later in the same month, the LEA agreed that that should be done. In September 1991—some three years later—the family were still waiting for a final version of a statement for 1404 their son and that was only achieved when they contacted their MP, who supported the case. It is the missed opportunities for the development of that child, and many others in a similar situation, which need to be addressed and which Clause 1 of the amendment Bill does by setting a six-month deadline for local education authorities to decide whether or not a statement of special educational needs ought to be produced.
What happens if the parents are still not satisfied with the LEA's decision? Currently parents are not able to appeal against such a decision. The appeals procedure is undertaken by an appeals panel which, as your Lordships may have heard and as was stressed by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, may contain employees of the LEA. The panel has only the right to confirm or reject a statement completely.
With your Lordships' permission perhaps I can again illustrate a case history. One family took its case to the appeals panel, which found in its favour. However, the LEA chose to ignore that decision stating that the panel was only "advisory". The parents subsequently appealed to the Secretary of State in March 1990 and are still awaiting a decision. I trust that it is not the incumbent Secretary of State in the Chamber who is being called to task in that regard.
As we have already heard, the amendment Bill introduces the right to appeal against an LEA decision not to issue a statement and to appeal if a statement is not maintained. It seems that there may well be further amendments to that procedure. However, to date the appeals panel will now have the power to amend a statement directly and no LEA employee will be able to serve on such a panel. Those changes are greatly to be welcomed and are entirely consistent with the Government's initiatives under the Citizen's Charter to try to give more power to the parents.
The American poet, Ezra Pound, wrote in the ABC of Reading,Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on the bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it".I trust that your Lordships will ensure that this particular cheque does not bounce; that amendments are made to the timing and efficacy of statements; and that the Education (Amendment) Bill achieves a Second Reading and a successful passage to the statute book.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renwick
My Lords, rising at the end of this Second Reading debate I too can do little more than echo what many other noble Lords have said. However, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for a timely Bill following on the debate last November initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, which I believe drew attention to many anomalies in the Education Act 1981. I am grateful also to my noble friend Lord Swinton who has covered many of the points I intended to make. I ticked them off as he made them and it will give me the opportunity to be even more brief at this relatively late hour.
1405 My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway gave a marvellous presentation of the Bill. Today he was in his legislative mode and was putting a complicated Bill into terms which even I find almost possible to understand. I have seen him in his litigious mode when he is preparing his cases. That is a different and fighting spirit, when he shows grim determination to overcome the vagaries of the Act. On occasions I have seen him come into the House with a glint of victory when he has been able to win some respite for the people for whom he has enormous care.
We are speaking about the cost in human terms. We speak of six months' delay and imposing a time delay. We have a British disease. When we send something away to be mended we are told we can have it back in two weeks' time. Why? It takes only half-an-hour or possibly an hour to mend. Is it due to lack of resources? In fact, I have noticed that the winds of the recession mean that we receive things back within a shorter time. One can have a shirt cleaned in 24 hours or on the same day. As new technology arises we should take a good look at the time taken for considering the cases of children who have educational problems and whose needs are not being served at the schools they attend.
Like my noble friend Lord Swinton, I have visited special schools. I am due to visit another in the west country the week after next. I have heard some extraordinary stories of delay. The parents of a boy requiring special education could ill afford to send him to a college which had around 80 pupils—35 supported by various local education authorities around the country. They approached one of the local authorities because they felt their child needed a statement and they certainly needed help in paying the school fees, the school being in the private sector. The school provided for the special educational needs of dyslexic and severely dyslexic children which are considerable because of the high staffing requirement. By the time a statement had been made four years later the boy had left the school.
Other anomalies exist with the activities of various local education authorities which should be examined. I hope that the Committee stage of the Bill will give us the opportunity to examine carefully not only the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway but also other amendments which may be tabled. I am not sure that we should go so far as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, suggested in rethinking the provision of a statement. I believe that we were all rather surprised at the entry of a new transitive verb into the English language, "to statement". Now we have got used to it, it is being suggested that it should be abolished. I hope that it will be replaced with something which is more effective for the child.
I am conscious of the resource implications. I am also fairly sure that help given to a child with special educational needs at an early stage need not be for five or 10 years of his educational life. He could benefit greatly from a year or two of highly intensive and very caring attention in a family environment such as is available in a school which I visited a week or two ago.
1406 It returns severely handicapped children in a year or two to the mainstream of education. That is done at some cost, admittedly. But the cost for a child who has not had that provision is likely to mean that he is not going to contribute to society as an adult. It is likely to mean also that he is not going to achieve his potential and that he will be a drain on society and therefore in economic terms a big minus. If help can be given for a year or two at a cost of £8,000 to £10,000 a year, or whatever it is, that child will probably become a taxpayer and contribute to the benefit of society. In human terms, behind the complicated provisions of this Bill, that is something we must take into account.
I know that tomorrow evening on BBC2 there is a programme in the "Public Eye" series, beginning at 8 p.m., which looks into the incidence of dyslexic children among offenders. I do not know what the programme will contain and none of us will know until it is shown. I believe that it will show that it occurs not infrequently. It will be of great benefit if this Act can reduce the number of children who have been frustrated from a very early age, who have found their differences in ability have been misunderstood by the people who care for them and provide their education and who grow up to believe that they can get their own back on society and do it in a way which leads them to offend.
I am not making any proposal, but I have started an inquiry of my own with colleagues of mine in the dyslexia movement, together with His Honour Judge Tumim. We are looking into this matter. I hope that tomorrow night's programme will be of interest. I very strongly support my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, can my noble friend further help us by telling us on which channel this programme will appear?
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, in speaking very briefly in support of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, I join with others in congratulating and thanking him for introducing it. I speak from an angle which has not been fully covered by other noble Lords in the debate this afternoon, to whom I have listened with great interest and, for what it is worth, approval.
I should mention that I speak as the father of an 11 year-old child with Down's Syndrome who is extremely fortunate to have been placed in a residential Camphill Community School. What I have to say is therefore based on personal experience and on talking to others in the field.
My particular reason for supporting this Bill is that I believe that it would help those parents of children with varying degrees of mental handicap who find themselves up against what they may regard as over-enthusiasm on the part of their local education authority to place their child in a normal school when they believe that special residential education would 1407 be in their and their child's best interest. I also agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that some of these children can also be very disruptive to normal children in a normal class. I am quite sure that, with the best will in the world, my own daughter would be.
I have also been very interested to hear other noble Lords mention the fact that sometimes perhaps statements are not being made and that there may be an element of what is known as resource implications in that. That is very serious. I believe that there is also an element of what I would call, in its mildest form, ideology which may creep into this problem. I believe that the enthusiasm in some local authorities, which I am afraid is fairly widespread, seems to be related to the current emphasis towards adult care in the community. Like that movement, it is certainly very well-intentioned.
But there are now serious worries about our ability to make adequate provision in the community for all the adults discharged from residential homes. Likewise, there are many experienced providers of special education who fear that too many children with comparatively severe special educational needs are being placed in normal schools when they would be very much happier and better cared for in special residential schools. I believe that the appeal mechanism envisaged by this Bill would do much to help these children and their parents and I therefore support it.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for having introduced his Bill to amend the Education Act 1981 in respect of assessments and appeals. The wide-ranging nature of today's debate has again demonstrated the deeply felt concerns which noble Lords have expressed on a number of occasions in recent months about the working of the 1981 Act. The aims of the Bill clearly have widespread support in this House and outside among the many voluntary bodies which contribute so much to securing improved educational opportunities for children with special educational needs and support for their families.
The 1981 Act is one of the major pieces of educational legislation this century. That gives me a further opportunity to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, how much we owe to the report of the Committee which she chaired. Her contribution today has rightly given us that sense of historical perspective about the importance of keeping the needs of individual children at the forefront of our deliberations. Perhaps I may say at the outset that the Government remain firmly committed to the main principles which the Act enshrines: the emphasis on the needs of the individual child; the duty on local education authorities to identify, assess and provide for special educational needs; the right of parents to be involved in that process as partners; the presumption that placements should be made in mainstream schools if at all possible; and the need for current arrangements to be kept under review in order 1408 to ensure that provision remains sensitive and responsive to individual children's needs and parental wishes.
My noble friend Lord Swinton specifically mentioned resources, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and others. At this point I want to stress that we are also very firmly committed to the duties which the Act places on local education authorities to identify, assess and provide for special educational needs. We have increased spending on education by 40 per cent. per pupil since 1980 and the resources are there for authorities to use. However, I am naturally very concerned to look into specific cases of which your Lordships may have evidence. I add that we also remain committed to the application of the national curriculum to all of these children unless there are sound reasons why some exceptional arrangements should be made.
In that connection, perhaps I may make my second mention in only a matter of days of a special school that I have visited on Humberside. I was encouraged to see that the national curriculum was not being disapplied for any of the children in that school because it operates at all levels. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that it is important to ensure that all children make progress from whatever base they start. The national curriculum is certainly helping in that way.
The Government share, therefore, the concerns which have been expressed about the working of the Act. That also includes those instances that were so graphically illustrated by my noble friend Lord Renwick and by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Earlier this year we issued a guide for parents in the charter series on "Children with Special Needs". It set out parents' rights and responsibilities under the 1981 Act and has been generally welcomed. We have also been considering in what ways we should be addressing the concerns which have been expressed today and how we might improve and extend parents' access to the present arrangements for assessments, statements and appeals.
We have undertaken a fundamental review of the provisions of the 1981 Act which deal with these issues and of the supporting regulations. We have concluded that the Government should bring forward proposals later in the year to improve access to the present arrangements for assessments and statements, to give parents the right to express a preference for their child's school, and to provide for a coherent and comprehensive set of rights of appeal for parents who are not satisfied with the decisions made by local education authorities. We would propose also to make other amendments to the Act to clarify the present provisions. I shall now describe the proposals in brief.
The Government share the widespread concern that assessments and statements should be completed in a reasonable time. My noble friend's Bill would seek to achieve that by requiring local education authorities to complete their assessments and decide whether they should determine the child's special educational provision within six months of notifying a child's parents that they were going to carry out a multi-professional assessment of his or her needs.
1409 I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that a six-month deadline within primary legislation may well be too rigid. However, I note also the points made by other noble Lords, especially by my noble friend Lord Elton, who pointed out that cases taking more than six months should prove the exception rather than the rule. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, there will be some occasions when authorities are not able to complete the process in this time. Other statutory bodies which have to give advice may not do so in a reasonable period; the child may be ill; or some other circumstance may arise which is outside the authority's control. We would expect these occasions to be rare but they should be recognised. The present Bill would also not deal with the time taken by authorities to decide whether they will assess a child or at a later stage make a final draft statement.
The Government have decided, therefore, that there should be comprehensive provisions for regulating the time and way within which authorities carry through the whole process from initial notification to the LEA that an assessment might be necessary to the issue of a final statement. We propose to amend the 1981 Act accordingly, but we believe that the precise provisions should be set out in regulations rather than primary legislation. That will allow for the flexibility that has been mentioned by the noble Baroness and by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It would also achieve greater flexibility and would allow more readily for amendment in the light of experience.
We should want to consult widely on the content and form of these regulations, particularly in relation to district health authorities and social services. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and other noble Lords, that in some cases six months can be too long a period. The Government recognise that at present the Secretary of State's powers would not enable him to provide for such a shorter assessment process—and nor would they enable him to provide for statements that might set out educational objectives for the child and ways of meeting them in the specification of special educational provisions. We propose, therefore, that the Secretary of State should be enabled to achieve such amendments to the present Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1983.
We have also considered whether we should now provide for the parents of children with statements to have a statutory right to express a preference for the school that their children will attend similar to the right that parents already have under the Education Act 1980. We have concluded that it would now be right to allow parents to express their preference for a particular special or ordinary school from within the maintained sector. The authority's decision on placement would need to take account of the assessment of the child's needs; consultations with those schools which would or might be able to make the special educational provision; the needs of other pupils and the wise use of resources.
Although the 1981 Act aimed to secure the full involvement of parents as partners in the assessment 1410 process and in the making of statements, it also recognised that there would be some cases where parents and authorities could not resolve their differences. Special provision was made for appeals to the Secretary of State when an authority decided that it was not required to determine provision, following an assessment, and when parents, having appealed to a local appeal committee, remained dissatisfied with the special educational provision set out in the statement. As my noble friend Lord Campbell has explained, his Bill would make far-reaching changes in these provisions.
The Government have every sympathy with my noble friend's proposals and have been considering whether changes are needed to the present arrangements. The area, as noble Lords will recognise, is a complex one. I can say, however, that we are paying close attention to three issues. The first is how parents who are dissatisfied can secure much quicker redress than the present arrangements allow. That issue was raised by my noble friend Lady Faithfull. The second point is to consider how, consistently with the Parent's Charter, an appeal system can be made more independent. Again, my noble friend Lady Faithfull raised that issue. The third issue is whether there should be a single appeal body that would allow an oral hearing to replace the present two-stage process with all the delays that that process imports—a point that was made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.
The Government propose shortly to consult about firm proposals that have been devised against the criterion of the coherent and comprehensive rights of appeal for parents to which I have already referred. I shall acquaint the House with those at the earliest opportunity.
Noble Lords will wish to reflect on what I have said, but I should underline that this amounts to a wide ranging agenda for amending the 1981 Act. I trust that the Government's proposals will be seen as evidence of our commitment to children with special educational needs and their parents. The assessment of these children and the provision for their needs are a fundamental part of our policies for ensuring that the educational needs of all of our children are met appropriately and for securing the full and constructive involvement of parents in that process.
In this debate we have concentrated on the rights and responsibilities of local education authorities, parents and their children. I should not wish the role of schools, their governing bodies and staff to be overlooked. Relatively few children with special educational needs have statements. All those without statements—and many with them—are in ordinary schools and their governing bodies and staff have the responsibility of ensuring that the special educational provision that they may require is made.
I should now like to deal with some of the points that have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was concerned about time limits on the Secretary of State. Perhaps I may advise her that the Secretary of State has no power to make the parents or the LEAs respond within specified times. We are very sympathetic to the points that the noble Baroness 1411 has made. If the Secretary of State's role is retained, we would consider whether the Secretary of State should be able to make regulations in respect of dealing with that particular issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, also referred to the publication of the Audit Commission HMI report. Perhaps I may advise her that we intend to publish it and we hope that that will be done in early July.
I should like to pay tribute to the energetic work and efforts and the great experience of my noble friend Lord Elton who led the inquiry into discipline in schools. That work has proved valuable since the report was published in 1989. Indeed, the report continues to be of great importance and relevance not only in connection with this debate, but in relation also to bullying, truancy and the other things that we are discussing in the department.
There has been a slight increase in the percentage of statements, but the figure still stands at exactly 2 per cent. Although the number of special schools continues to decrease steadily and the total number of pupils in special schools has decreased, the number of special-school teachers has nevertheless remained roughly constant over the period. That is leading to a significant improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio. To quote my Humberside experience yet again, I witnessed a one-to-one pupil-teacher ratio there because that was the requirement for the children in that school. The latest information is that that is required by 2 per cent. of children.
Some disturbing points have been made about children with learning difficulties. I ask noble Lords who have examples of cases to bring them to my notice. My noble friend Lord Elton referred to an LEA which had decided to make no more statements in a particular year. We would regard that as serious and I should like to hear if that LEA can be named. I was also asked about the average time for assessments. The average time is about a year, which is much too long. I have not heard of four years but I certainly have heard of two years. To those of us working in the department, these are unacceptable time delays, and whatever we do that issue must be addressed during the course of the review.
My noble friend Lord Elton asked what had happened to the recommendation in his report which required that LEAs should maintain an establishment of educational psychologists to achieve the six months' target. That is a matter for LEAs but it is a matter about which no doubt the Audit Commission will have something to say. We shall be interested in looking at how the Act is working with local authorities. Authorities must secure provision for all the special educational needs of their pupils, including those of a behavioural nature. I can promise that I shall look into any specific case where there is alleged abuse of the system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was concerned about LEAs' policy statements relating to extending their LMS schemes to special schools. They are in fact helping us to consider whether we can develop national guidelines on criteria for SEN provision. The noble Baroness also raised the 1412 important point of inspection. Inspections will be controlled and carried out to national standards set and monitored by a new independent office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools to give confidence in reports. The chief inspector will consult governors on the specification for their school. An appropriate inspector will then be selected from at least two registered inspectors to lead a team into the school. All team members must have received appropriate training. Performance in the conduct and reporting of inspections will be monitored to ensure consistency. Inspections must follow detailed guidelines which will be drawn up by the office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. We expect that the guidelines will set out how inspectors shall assess and report on the provision being made for children with special needs in ordinary schools. In the case of special schools, the chief inspector can be expected to offer more particular guidance on the nature of the team required and the detailed issues to be covered.
The noble Baroness asked about non-statemented special needs children. All schools, including special schools, will be subject for the first time ever to statutory regular inspection. We have made it clear that inspectors should report on all the school's provision, including special educational needs, for children in mainstream, both statemented and non-statemented. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was concerned about excluded children. I found some of her comments quite disturbing. She gave us warning of this problem and we are already looking into that within the department.
Concern was expressed about provision for post-16 education. There is a binding condition on governors of schools, where funds for pupils with statements have been delegated to them, to meet all the requirements of the statements. Very few authorities actually delegate the funds for pupil statements. The Further and Higher Education Act gives young people over 16 with learning difficulties a statutory right to have their special needs taken into account by the Further Education Funding Council and, where appropriate, by the LEA.
I have been asked how well integration is working. All I can say is that we have a vigorous programme of visiting schools, from the Secretary of State through the whole ministerial team. We are discovering many examples of good practice but we must of course continue to monitor; and that we shall do. It is simply not true to say that special educational needs provision cannot be met in sixth-form colleges in the wake of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. It is a matter for newly independent colleges from April 1993, but we are confident that the colleges will continue the existing good practice.
With regard to movement into further education, we expect the Further Education Funding Council to take into account the provisions specified in a pupil's statement when making placements after the age of 16. Local management budgets will be flexible enough to allow LEAs to delegate extra funds to schools or SEN pupils with or without statements. We are finding that some LEAs have imaginative and effective systems. We shall do what we can to spread best practice.
1413 As I said at the beginning of my speech, we are most grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for introducing his Bill on assessments and appeals. We are indebted to him and to the many noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I hope that my noble friend will consider the further progress of his Bill in the light of what I have had to say. I have not been able to deal with all the detailed points raised by noble Lords but I shall consider them most carefully with my right honourable and honourable friends in another place as we complete our work on the further proposals we shall be bringing forward later in the year on the future structure of the education service.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, within the traditionally very short time allowed for this speech, I cannot find words adequately to thank noble Lords for their general support. I undertake to put the Bill in proper form via an amendment before the Committee stage. Now that it has been brought to my attention, I thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for enabling me to move the Second Reading by what must have been a resort of timely subterfuge not unknown to any of us who practise at the Bar. I should also like to thank the learned judge who released me from his court.
The majority of those who spoke in the debate appeared to support Clause 2 as it stands. It was properly understood by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and I apologise for my intervention. Obviously, further consideration must be given to this matter in Committee. On the point of six months, in the interests of flexibility I am open to any form of amendment which commends itself to your Lordships' House. I could not draft one which would be effective. The term "reasonable circumstances" is so open to abuse that there seems to be no object in putting it in that way.
Many noble Lords felt that the Bill does not go far enough. I agree with them; but I felt that I could not get away with anything that went much further. For my part, I shall welcome proposals radical as they may be, as envisaged by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Faithfull; even if they to some extent enlarge the scope of the Bill. We have to deal with the uneven application of the Act throughout the country, a point to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford rightly referred. We have to deal with worries about the application of the Act; the absence of clear levels and standards (a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone); the policy not to make statements; statements on what is available and not on what is needed; safeguards for the local authority and not for the child, a point so eloquently put in one sentence by my noble friend Lord Swinton. How true in practice that sentence is. We also have to deal with the problems of post-school education after the age of 16; resources, and so on.
My noble friend Lord Elton with his expertise and knowledge on the subject is an authority on the 1414 matter. He set out a true perspective; indeed, until he spoke, I did not see it quite in that light. Your Lordships may think that we may have to reconsider the statement. That will not necessarily extend the scope of the Bill, because in that lies the crucial problem of the interests of the child, what is needed for the child, the resources for the child and so on. It is pretty useless in improving an appellate structure from something which is, so to speak, a rotten apple. I know that that overstates the matter, but I use the phrase graphically. However, that it is at the core of the problem.
Finally, I should specially like to thank my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr. John Patten, who, I understand, took the trouble to visit the Chamber to listen to the debate. That is a rather rare occurrence in this place. In particular, I should like to thank my noble friend, Lady Blatch, who, frankly, has cast a breath of fresh air on the subject. She has a positive, sympathetic and constructive approach which I am sure is greatly appreciated by your Lordships. I know that noble Lords would wish me to express that word of gratitude.
If the Government were to table an amendment along the original Cavendish proposals and do away with the two-tier structure and the appeal committee, and then establish a proper tribunal which is subject to law, no one would be happier than myself. My great hope is that, if the Government do not feel like doing it, one of your Lordships will do so. Of course, I cannot do it to my own Bill. I can only hope that some noble Lords may be inspired to do so and that the majority view would be that such an amendment against the Bill would be passed. With respect, if I may say so, we are all in this together. I thank noble Lords for the help that I have received thus far. I know that I cannot do without it in the future.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.