Clause 9

Part of Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:15, 2 Chwefror 2010

Clause 9 requires local authorities to provide full-time education for children who, for whatever reason, are not attending school. Subsection (3) provides an exception to that duty if

“the local authority consider that, for reasons which relate to the physical or mental health of the child, it would be impracticable or otherwise inappropriate for full-time education to be provided for the child.”

Amendment 192 would mean that that requirement would apply only following an independent assessment of the physical or mental health of the child. It reflects concerns raised by the National Autistic Society, which said in a briefing to members of the Committee:

“We recognise that there may be some circumstances where it may be inappropriate for a child to be in full-time education, but have concerns about:

Who would make the assessment about what is appropriate for the child and;

Whether the clause would provide local authorities with a wide ‘get out of jail free’ card not to provide education for children for whom they are unable to find appropriate education locally or whose needs mean that provision would be very expensive”.

It continues:

“Given the wide lack of understanding of autism and the potential for a conflict of interest, we believe that assessments on appropriateness would have to be made independently by someone with experience and expertise in the child’s condition. Autism is a complex condition and without a full understanding of how to communicate with the child and what their needs may be, it is unlikely that a fair and comprehensive assessment would be made.”

We agree with that assessment, which goes on:

“The use of the word ‘impracticable’ in the clause is of particular concern here. We would like to know in what cases it would be ‘impracticable’ for a child to receive full-time education, if this is not related to cost.”

It would be helpful and would reassure the National Autistic Society if the Minister could address that specific concern in his response. The NAS also states:

“An assurance that there will be independent assessments to determine state of the child's physical/mental health” would be helpful, and that is what the amendment seeks to do.

Amendment 191 reflects concerns raised by Barnardo’s. In its briefing, it said:

“Whilst Barnardo’s accepts that it is pragmatic to allow exceptions, we would like Members to seek assurances that this will be on a time-limited basis and subject to review after a fixed period, agreed with the parents or carers.”

It goes on to explain:

“We know from the experience of our services and the young people they work with that some young people facing temporary barriers to participation—for example, teenage mothers who have recently given birth or young people with mental health difficulties—end up drifting out of education altogether.”

Amendment 191 would insert a new subsection requiring that any decision about not providing full-time education,  because of the physical or mental health of the child, be reviewed annually if requested by the parents of the children concerned.

With those few words, I await the Minister’s response.