§ Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they are satisfied with the progress being made in assessing the educational needs of children with disabilities.
My Lords, the 1981 Education Act set new standards for the assessment of children with special educational needs and for the provision to meet their needs. The Education Bill, which is to receive its Second Reading in this House today, substantially improves upon the 1981 Act for the benefit of all children with special educational needs.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, following the Audit Commission's highly critical report of July last year, what action have the Government taken? What problems remain following any action that the Government may have taken? Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient support is being given to those children who require help but who need not be statemented?
My Lords, the Audit Commission report received considerable publicity during the summer of 1992. Its findings tended to confirm the need for changes to the 1981 Act, some of which are embodied in the Government's proposal for revision and improvement of that Act. The issue of integration was considered within the report, but in general it recommended the need for a cautious approach, and so its findings are broadly in line with existing Government policy. However, as a result of the Bill now before your Lordships, every school will be required to produce policies to provide for children with special educational needs, including those without statements. All schools will be subject to an inspection every four years. That inspection will include quality of provision for children with special educational needs.
§ Lord Rix
Is the Minister aware that there are many parents who are confused—indeed intimidated—by the statementing process? Will the Government ensure their support for voluntary befriending groups which make it possible for such parents to receive appropriate advice and to take a meaningful part in the future development of their children?
My Lords, under the Bill, as well as being able to express a preference for a maintained school, parents are being given the opportunity to make representations to the local education authority 158 if they believe that a non-maintained school would be better for their child than a maintained one. The whole point of the assessment and statementing procedures is to discover what are the needs of the child and how they can be met.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the financial bickering that goes on after children are assessed and statemented? Is he aware or the case of Christopher, a child suffering from spina bifida and cerebral palsy? His statement specified that he needed a special seat in school, but the health authority refused to pay for that because it was in a classroom. So the buck was passed from one authority to another while that child suffered pain and discomfort which resulted in his education being cut down. Will the Minister take steps to ensure that the relevant authorities make specific provision for these children?
My Lords, I am not aware of the details of the case that the noble Lord described, but the Bill deals with the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord. It fulfils the commitments we made to pupils with special educational needs.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us who were worried about the position on statements for children are delighted with the provisions which are contained in the Bill which is due to receive its Second Reading this afternoon?
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Blatch is grateful to have my noble friend's support.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the hospital authorities are not especially helpful in making available accommodation for those children who need speech therapy and physiotherapy? They are the two therapies that the local authority has to buy in. What progress has been made in increasing the number of therapies available?
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness any details today. The Bill covers those issues. The Bill has 276 clauses and 17 schedules and we shall be discussing it in the House over the next three months. There will be ample opportunity to discuss all the issues which it raises.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, if the Minister listens to the debate this afternoon, he will probably find that his noble friend is the only Member to agree with the proposals in the Bill. The debate will reveal that one of the Bill's large omissions relates to special educational needs. Will the Minister give the House details of how the improvements will be made?
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord must conserve his enthusiasm until the Bill arrives in this House later today. I can assure him that my noble friend and I will listen closely to all 46 Peers who are to speak today.
My Lords, that is an interesting question and one which the noble Lord can ask during today's debate on the Bill.