Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [H.L.]
Lord Davies of Oldham (Labour)
My Lords, I withdraw the word, "indefinitely", but for a period of time the place would not be available to another child who might need it. The burden of the case that we have presented in Committee and on Report is that local authorities are under an obligation to use their resources efficiently. Part of that must be to make available places for children with those needs and to ensure that, as far as possible, places are not kept open unnecessarily, although I accept the point that the noble Baroness has just made about the change from her previous suggestion.
If parents disagree with the provision or school proposed by the LEA, they will make either stopgap arrangements or alternative suitable arrangements. Case law indicates that suitable arrangements must be intended to continue and be capable of continuing for a reasonable period. LEAs will be able to rely on the provision in the clause only if parents have made suitable arrangements. Otherwise the arrangements will be considered stopgap arrangements and the responsibility will remain on the local authority.
If parents in that situation disagree with the provision or school proposed by the LEA and place their child in another school--as the noble Baroness said, it might be an independent school at their own cost--and then appeal to the tribunal to try to have that school named, they may be worried that any school place proposed by the LEA would be lost. However, if the tribunal agrees with the parents' choice of school, the LEA will be obliged to include that school formally in the statement. If the parents lose, the tribunal will be able to order the name of a different school proposed by the LEA or parent, including the original school, to be included in the statement. The original school may not be available, but requiring an LEA not to fill that place just in case, even for a short period--if the case went to the tribunal it would be a longer period--would be unfair to other parents who might want and need the place for their child.
We do not accept that the amendments are necessary or desirable. As we have said before, the LEA will be under a statutory duty to make suitable provision in all cases if the parents are not making suitable arrangements of their own. By definition, stopgap arrangements do not count as suitable arrangements.