Amendment 62

Schools Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:52 pm on 12th July 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

62: After Clause 46, insert the following new Clause—“Funding for specialist education services for children and young people with sensory impairment(1) An English local authority must secure that provision of specialist education services to children and young people with sensory impairment and their parents is sufficient to facilitate the development of the child or young person with sensory impairment and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.(2) Specialist education services include support to the parent of a child with sensory impairment, following the point of identification of any sensory impairment.(3) The Secretary of State must ensure that funding to local authorities for provision of services under this section is sufficient.(4) In discharging their duty under subsection (1), a local authority must have regard to the special educational needs and disability code of practice and any other guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to introduce a new duty for local authorities and the Secretary of State to ensure there is sufficient funding for specialist education services for children and young people with sensory impairments in line with the special educational needs and disability code of practice under the Children and Families Act 2014.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I am very grateful to the National Deaf Children’s Society for its support on this amendment.

I said in Committee that the Bill requires improvements if the Government are to meet their ambitions around inclusion for children with SEND. I still feel that very much to be the case. It will also still need improvement if the Government are to reach the target that they have set for 90% of children to achieve expected outcomes in reading, writing and maths by 2030.

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, rightly highlighted the existing duties of local authorities to ensure that appropriate support is available to meet the needs of children and young people with sensory impairment, as they do for all children with special educational needs. We did not hear in Committee how those local authorities’ duties will fit with the changed educational landscape that the Bill and other changes in the schools White Paper and SEND Green Paper proposes.

Focusing on the flexibility that they have on how they use high-needs funding to meet those needs misses a vital point: around 78% of school-age deaf children are attending mainstream schools, and the vast majority of them do not have an education, health and care plan. The support for these children is not cast in stone in a legally binding EHCP. It is very much coming under local authorities’ general duties under the Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND code of practice, for all children with special educational needs who do not meet the criteria for EHCPs. Those children without EHCPs do not automatically receive top-up funding from the high-needs funding allocation. The help that these children receive will be funded by a mix from within the school’s notional SEN budget and outside support services, which are usually provided and funded by the local authority.

With budgets stretched and higher needs funding having to provide for more EHCPs and more specialist claimants, it is this support to mainstream schools which has been cut back and sadly has resulted in them often being totally lacking. For instance, there has been a 17% decline in the number of teachers of the deaf since 2011, a trend which shows no signs of being turned around. We surely need to reverse that trend if the Government are going to meet the aims of inclusion and keep more SEND children in mainstream schools.

I think many will rightly view this new clause as very much part of a wider debate as to how we are going to ensure these services are delivered and who will pay for and provide the specialist roles, such as teachers of the deaf, who support schools, teachers and children. Nothing in the Bill, in the schools White Paper or in the SEND Green Paper protects or enhances these services which are critical for mainstream inclusion. That is why I feel a special duty is required for local authorities and the Secretary of State to ensure there is sufficient funding for specialist educational services for children and young people with sensory impairments.

The Special Educational Consortium supports the amendment because of its concerns about the funding of specialist support services for children and young people with a sensory impairment; 42 organisations have indicated their support for this amendment. The erosion of funding for specialist support services surely needs to be halted and services need to be restored to ensure that children get the support they need to enable them to learn and make good progress. I beg to move my amendment.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely, and I invite her to speak.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I completely agree with his Amendment 62 on the high needs budget for children with special educational needs. I have signed Amendment 63 in the name of my noble friend Lord Storey, on financial assistance for purposes related to mental health provision in schools, and have laid Amendment 107 in this group on pupils with medical conditions.

I start by thanking the Minister for the various meetings she has held with noble Lords. The fact that this Bill is so heavily contested has required considerable discussion, and I suspect that the stamina of the Minister and her officials has been somewhat tested by a lot of very quick turnaround meetings. The Government have made some concessions, which has also been very helpful.

On Amendment 63, I hope the Minister has something positive to say. In Committee it really was noticeable that almost all parts of your Lordships’ House, Ministers included, agreed that ensuring appropriate mental health support was available for children in schools was vital, especially after the surveys showing that their general mental health condition has worsened as a result of the pandemic. The problem is that mental health support will not appear from any magic money tree, so we argue in this amendment that there must be a duty for the funding of said mental health provision. I look forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Storey’s slightly longer exposition of this amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 107 in my name and signed by my noble friend Lord Addington. It is important to explain why, under Section 100(1) of the Children and Families Act 2014—on the duty to support pupils with medical conditions—we need a duty that

“the appropriate authority for a school must follow the medical advice provided by an individual pupil’s doctor”.

When I raised this in Committee, the Minister replied:

“The department’s statutory guidance on supporting pupils with medical conditions at school is clear that school staff, healthcare professionals and parents should work together to agree the support that a child needs in school to effectively manage their condition and take the best approach. That includes fully considering the advice of healthcare professionals, including doctors.”

She went on:

“We believe the position in the guidance is quite clear that the needs of these children must be met, and it would be useful to talk through some of the specifics where the noble Baroness thinks that might not be happening.”—[Official Report, 20/6/22; col. 64.]

I thank the Minister and her officials for the meeting yesterday morning. We did indeed spend some time debating the different publications of statutory guidance for pupils with medical conditions over the last eight years. I was hoping for a reply from the department following my forwarding of my original version to it, but unfortunately that has not happened.

The difficulty is that the original version, published at the end of the Children and Families Act, was very clear that the relevant authority should follow the advice of a doctor. It is absolutely right, as the Minister said, that this should be a partnership with professionals, other healthcare professionals, school staff, the parents, and of course the children where appropriate. Indeed, the original version has an entire section that lists what schools must not do, because schools—whether heads, governing bodies or others—have not followed previous statutory guidance. Unfortunately, this section has been dropped from more recent editions of the statutory guidance.

Parents continue to be asked to come into school to give their child medicine or to join them on a school trip because the school cannot or will not provide support. That was explicit in the earlier editions. Worse, I heard recently from parents of a severely disabled child who required very specialist medication to be taken during the school day, who discovered that their child was being given complex medicines, by tube, by an untrained member of staff. Some parents are being fined because their children are out of school—more recently, for example, with long Covid, or because they are severely immunocompromised, perhaps because they have cancer, and their doctor says that while there are still Covid cases around it is literally not safe for them to go into school. Parents are being fined, despite what the hospital doctor or GP says. Schools say that children should be in school; schools are fining parents.

As an aside, the penalties for parents—in what I think are now Clauses 49 and 50—will be particularly difficult for this group of parents, who are already torn between medical advice for their child and the medical problems they face daily versus desperately trying to do the right thing for their child’s schooling. All of this is despite the guidance, even in the current version, that:

“The governing body must ensure that arrangements are in place to support pupils with medical conditions. In doing so it should ensure that such children can access and enjoy the same opportunities at school as any other child.”

The statutory guidance for pupils with medical conditions, as currently written, and even as it was originally drafted in 2015, is just not working, whether on pupil absence or pupils not being supported to have the same opportunities as other children. That is why many parents, already at the end of their tether, find themselves being penalised for their child’s illness. This means that the one core element, the advice of the child’s doctor, needs to be strengthened.

My amendment does this very simply—by putting it in the Bill. It cannot be diluted by officials without even consulting the sector. The medical charities involved in the original drafting tell me that not one of them has been consulted on more recent iterations of the guidance. I think, and fervently hope, that not one of us would want a pupil with a medical condition, whether disabled or not, to be treated less favourably than any other child—but it is happening today.

If the Minister thinks that the existing statutory guidance still covers all this, it is not getting through to school governing bodies and heads. I hope she offers a solution that means that it will, and I look forward to hearing her response. But if it means that children are given medicine, by tube, by an untrained member of staff, or that parents are fined because their child is out of school and a doctor has confirmed that they should not be in school, that is not sufficient, and we need something stronger.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 9:00 pm, 12th July 2022

My Lords, in supporting Amendment 62, I underline what an important need it fulfils. That is why such a large number of professional and charitable organisations also support it.

Many children with sensory impairments require a whole range of specialist education services, which need to be provided by healthcare professionals—for instance, speech and language therapists are needed, as many young children who have sensory impairments also have speech, language and communication needs. This includes those who are deaf, deafblind and visually impaired. Many come from areas of social disadvantage and start school with language difficulties. The life chances of all these children are severely curtailed.

I have some recent information where local data shows massive inequalities in accessing clinical speech and language therapy services during the last year and the year before. Digital is not enough; you need the actual professional people. Of course, I quote again that poor language outcomes are a significant determinant of poor social mobility. I noted that when my noble friend Lord Watson moved an amendment about more help for young people whose sensory impairment is accompanied by speech, language and communication needs, his plea for extra support did not get any kind of response from the Government. It is absolutely vital that the specialist education services that are required to compensate for sensory impairment and to develop the spoken language and communication skills of all children and young people are going to be provided, so I urge the Government to accept this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise very briefly to offer Green group support for all these amendments. Most of them have already been powerfully covered. I particularly echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I am sure I am not the only noble Lord who has received very distressed and distressing emails from many parents who have found themselves in similar situations to the ones that she outlined where they know and have medical advice that says that it is unsafe for their children to go to school, yet they are still coming under extreme, undue pressure to put their children into an actively dangerous situation.

The structure of these things is that we have not yet heard the introduction to Amendments 114 and 115 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. In a sense, I want to continue a conversation with the Minister that I started on 29 March in the debate on the schools White Paper about mental health. These amendments particularly draw attention to the elements about how children’s mental health is affected by their schooling. I hope to hear a positive response from the Minister to both these amendments, which are about collecting essential information. I would like to hear a response from the Government that acknowledges that mental health in schools is an issue that cannot be addressed by simply saying, “We’re going to increase the exam marks” because that focus on exam marks is very much part of the problem.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I am very sympathetic to Amendments 62 and 107. I have spoken several times about mental health and I want to oppose Amendments 63, 114 and 115 on mental health provision. One concern I have is about the focus on creating a duty on the Secretary of State for Education to give financial assistance to set up consultations and reporting mechanisms on mental health and well-being. I do not think it is the job of the Education Minister to have this role, and this focus could well incentivise schools to focus too much on mental health. It is inappropriate for schools to prioritise mental health issues, and it muddles the responsibility of schools and the NHS and CAMHS. I would like to see more done for young people by the NHS, and I am trying to separate those things out.

My main point remains, as I have argued before, that if adults in schools continue to focus on mental health, there is a danger that young people will see the undoubted challenges of growing up—whether they are the agonies, anxieties and confusions of being a child going through puberty and what have you or the stresses and strains of facing exams and being educated—through the prism of mental health. We should be reassuring young people about the challenges and that they are perfectly all right. I worry that we are in danger of pathologising them.

I worry about a fait accompli situation. That point was emphasised by a recent report. Since we last discussed this issue, a shocking revelation has emerged, based on an Answer to a Question tabled in this House by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, which revealed that children under 18 are being prescribed record levels of anti-depressant drugs, a 57% increase over the last four years, and noted that among five to 12 year-olds the prescription of anti-depressant drugs has gone up 40%. That situation could refute everything that I have said—it could mean that there was an exponential growth of mental health problems among the young—but psychiatric experts and psychologists have responded to it by saying the figures are staggering and dangerous. Professor Sami Timimi calls them a generation pathologised by adults steering the young towards medical diagnosis that is not appropriate, and says that itself then leads to treatment that is often pharmacological.

This medicalisation can of course have a catastrophic impact on the young. Another expert, Professor Spada, talks about the dangers of that, saying that adult neuroses about the young will lead them on to taking drugs that are highly addictive and will create a dependency. I think there is a real warning here that we should not just say “There is a growth in mental health problems” and let it run its course. I also think that the young themselves can then develop dependency not just on drugs but on the therapeutic labels that we have given them and been socialising them into during their school years.

The amendment uses an odd phrase, which has just been referred to, which is to explore how children’s mental health is “affected by … their schooling”, which I thought sounded rather accusatory or even a bit conspiratorial. That is especially ironic when we have ample evidence that it was the lack of schooling in the lockdown, combined with fear-based messaging over the last couple of years, that seems to have done a huge amount of psychological damage. I urge the Committee not to put this into law. If anything, I would like to have a more open discussion about the real problem of mental health and what it emanates from.

Finally, I am glad to see that Ofsted has been removed from the equation—it was in earlier amendments—but I still dread that the Secretary of State is being told to publish a report on the actions taken by schools to improve mental health. That will inevitably distract from the core purpose, which is indeed about the minds of young people but it should be about improving their minds educationally, not playing amateur psychology or psychiatry in the classroom.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, I support Amendments 114 and 115. I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, has made some very helpful points about the danger of pathologising and the need for collaboration between education and health, although she put it rather more as an either/or while I would want to see it more as a both/and.

I particularly thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman of Darlington and Lady Wilcox of Newport, for proposed new paragraph (c) in Amendment 115. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and I could give the Committee a very good example of the work in local schools by the Darlington Area Churches Youth Ministry, which is outstanding when it comes to young people’s mental health and mental well-being. It is a voluntary charity that works in collaboration with schools. I am delighted that that was included.

While I acknowledge some of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, I think these amendments are well thought through and would be of value.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I encourage the Government to look in the directions that Amendment 63 is looking in. Generally, having a school counsellor is very positive: it adds a lot to the spirit, education and good running of a school because it deals with those people who, left to themselves, would generate a lot of unhappiness in the structure.

To my mind, a school counsellor is generally enough, someone that you know you can go and talk to, but that counsellor has to be supported in two ways. First, they have to be supported by the whole culture and structure of the school. Everyone has to know that they are able to speak to them. There has to be an open structure of communication through to the counsellor so that information flows in, and everyone is aware that that person is there to help.

Secondly, the counsellor needs a good connection out to mental health services, when they hit something that is beyond their ken. In that context, I am quite encouraged by what the Office for Students announced recently about collaboration with the mental health services. By putting a budget in and saying “Here’s 15 million quid”, it seems to have got a level of collaboration that the health service had not been able to deliver in the 10 or 15 years it has been looking at this problem. I am a fan of the Office for Students as it is at the moment; I think it points the way. If the Government will combine a flow of funds with an insistence on research and the development of good practice, we might find something worthwhile in the direction of Amendment 63.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 9:15 pm, 12th July 2022

My Lords, starting with Amendment 62, it was one of those amendment where I proved, once again, to myself that I could not be in two places at once and came in halfway through last time. It is one of those amendments where I am unhappy about the fact that it needed to be moved. It is a group of lobbies, effectively, coming together saying the system does not work and that we have not got round to fixing it. I know the Minister will tell me, when she replies, that there is a review looking into special educational needs at the moment, but will she take on board and feed back that we actually have a postcode lottery about where there is support and where there is not? There is no arguing about this: it just is. If it were possible to transform the circumstances from the good authorities to the bad ones, that would be fine and we would have much less of a problem.

Something else that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has picked up on is that, unless people have an EHC plan, the chances of their getting help are so much more reduced. When we passed the Children and Families Act 2014, we assumed there would be a gradated approach of support and the EHC plans would be reduced compared with the number of statements. This has not happened, because we have identified more problems. There was a gross underidentification—this much we do know—probably not in these particular groups because most people can spot if someone cannot hear or see, but with other problems it is more difficult. Without an EHC plan, it is a struggle, and if people fall behind, they have higher needs and they go to the lawyers. One thing that should be borne in mind with this amendment is that we are in an environment where one of the greatest growth departments in the legal profession is people dealing with the educational system to get support. That says, clearer than anything else I can think of, that there has been a failure. I was on the Committee of that Bill and I did not see it coming, but it has happened.

We need some indication of how better allocation of support will come. This is not a big argument about “Are they or aren’t they?” or whether we need a heavy diagnosis of things such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder or the rest of them. It is something that is comparatively easy to spot, so I would hope we can get some idea what the Government’s thinking is. I appreciate that the review is still going on, but if we can get some kind of idea of what they are thinking about on these conditions, it should take some of the pressure off.

My noble friend Lady Brinton’s amendment, once again, goes back to the Children and Families Act 2014 and is something of a no-brainer in my opinion. If someone with medical training such as a doctor—a specialist doctor, often—says “Don’t do it: it will be detrimental to their health or difficult” and then someone in the Department for Education says, “But we want to do something else”, I am sorry, but health comes first. Children cannot learn if they are unhealthy, or if they are struggling with their health or if they are worried about it. That much we have proven. It is essential that we bring into the Bill some way to give greater clarification that, when a medical need is identified, the school or education environment must react correctly—that is agreeing with it unless they have very good grounds. If noble Lords can think of some examples of where this would happen, or where a school might have that capacity, I am all ears.

On the general area of mental health, having talked about some of the other issues here in special educational needs et cetera, we know that stress enhances mental health conditions. Let us face it: schools now are expected to pass more, and Governments of all sides have encouraged that. Anybody struggling with that process is immediately under stress, so it is not that surprising if we are discovering that many more stresses or mental health conditions—and we do spot them now. We are looking for them and if you look for things, you find them.

If you want to find an environment where people have incredibly low attainment and very high mental health needs, look into a prison system: the scholars of the group will have left school at 14 and virtually none will have secondary education. That is often because they cannot cope with it or are not succeeding, or it may be because of their background. I might be going to the worst-case scenario early, but it hones minds on to these areas. We need to get in and spot this.

If some financial support is found here or from government generally, that may well help with money in the long term, because departments should work together. They find it incredibly difficult to do it because there are Chinese walls. Everybody says, “We’re going to have a committee that works together.” Two Ministers meet once in a blue moon, then forget about it and find another priority so as to avoid it; that is the experience many Ministers have described to me, not just in education or health. If we do not get some better way of giving some active support, we are going to miss these problems and they will become acute later on.

I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, is going to say on this group, but these issues are ongoing. I would hope, on Amendment 107, that the Minister will simply tell us how it is to be better done. I understand that the others have a more complicated web of interaction, but I hope that we will get some positive guidance—or see the way that the Government’s minds are working, or were at least working a few weeks ago.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, this is my first opportunity at the Dispatch Box after the vote we took last week on changing the hours of the House of Lords. I am so glad to see that all those people who were so clear about staying after the dinner break are here—not.

Good mental health is fundamental to be able to thrive in life. I spoke in Committee about the experience of growing up with a dearly loved mother who suffered so wretchedly from mental illness and the limiting effects it had upon her quality of life. She was extremely proud of my achievements but could never fully engage in them, due to the debilitating effects of her condition.

Current research shows that 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and that 75% are established by the age of 24. Young people in the UK today are dealing with high levels of stress, due to a variety of issues. The DfE’s annual report State of the Nation 2021 noted that reductions in average levels of well-being occurred most clearly in February 2021, when schools were closed to the majority of children, before recovering towards the end of the academic year.

In this context, we have therefore introduced two amendments. First, Amendment 114 would compel the Secretary of State, whoever he or she may be, to consult on the current provision in place to support children’s mental health and well-being in schools. Our second amendment, Amendment 115, would compel the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on: how the mental health of children in academies and maintained schools in England affects, and is affected by, their schooling; actions being taken by schools to improve pupil mental health; and the extent to which schools are working with local National Health Service and voluntary and community sector providers, as noted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

I have previously drawn your Lordships’ attention to the fact that mental health is not mentioned in the Bill. We have debated over many days and have made—people who have been here for years tell me—gigantic changes to this Bill by comparison. We have debated school structures, while one in six of those aged between six and 16 have a probable mental health issue. This is a priority area for Labour. We would guarantee mental health treatment for all who need it within a month and hire at least 8,500 new mental health professionals. But a creaking National Health Service cannot do this alone.

The focus should be on prevention. Schools play a vital role in this area with a maintenance of general welfare and resilience throughout a child’s time in education, rather than acting only at times of crisis when it is too late. It is an acute crisis, and recognising that is an essential tool to learning and welfare. We need to intimately understand the drivers of the problem and give targeted support to tackle it. Both Labour amendments are urgently needed.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I will start by responding to Amendment 62 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for this amendment. As he said, we have previously discussed these issues in Committee. As he knows, local authorities have existing duties to identify children and young people in their area who have special educational needs or disabilities—SEND—and to work with other agencies to keep under review the adequacy of provision available to meet their needs. The department supports local authorities in doing so.

I acknowledge the points the noble Lord made, but they are best addressed by our wider reforms to the SEND system. I reiterate that high needs funding is increasing by £1 billion in the current financial year to a total of £9.1 billion. Local authorities have flexibility in how this funding is used, particularly and including to support those with sensory impairments. Separately, pupils with additional needs also attract additional funding through the schools national funding formula, which includes proxy factors for SEND. I reassure him that this will continue under the direct national funding formula. This additional needs funding equates to £6.6 billion in 2022-23 and is not dependent on whether a child has an education, health and care plan. I take the noble Lord’s point about those who may have sensory needs not having education, health and care plans, but there is also additional needs funding in place that is not dependent on those plans being in place.

As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referenced, the Government recently published their SEND and alternative provision Green Paper, setting out ambitious proposals to improve the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND. He referred to a postcode lottery, and he will know that the Green Paper includes a proposal to introduce national standards for how needs should be identified, assessed and reviewed, as well as the support that should be available for children and young people with SEND, including those with sensory impairments. That is currently out for consultation until 22 July, and we do not want to pre-empt the response.

The noble Lord talked about the litigiousness of the current system, and I agree with him. One of the aims of our reforms is to address that by having clear expectations across the country for parents and children. We hope to reduce that side of the system and take things forward in a more collaborative way.

Turning to Amendment 63, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for their amendment on statutory funding for mental health support in schools. Schools can play a vital role in supporting young people’s mental health. However, as we have discussed previously, tackling this issue cannot be the responsibility of schools alone, and it is not a school’s job to provide specific or specialist treatment interventions.

Access to specialist support is vital. In February, NHS England and NHS Improvement published the outcomes of a consultation on introducing five new access and waiting time standards for mental health services. This includes a standard for children, young people and their families or carers presenting to community-based mental health services to start receiving care within four weeks of their referral. Those waiting times are backed by record investment of an extra £2.3 billion a year through the NHS Long Term Plan. This includes education mental health practitioners, mentioned in the amendment, who are employed by the NHS to staff mental health support teams. I absolutely agree with noble Lords who said that this needs to be a collaborative effort. It cannot be solved by just the NHS or the education system; we need to work across different points of intervention.

Noble Lords have also said that many children do not need specialist support. Schools can use their funding, including the recovery premium, to provide the pastoral support they need, which can include counselling, where appropriate. Place2Be was mentioned in previous debates and is a good example of how to embed counselling support in the life of a school. But we remain of the view that we should leave schools free to judge what approaches suit their circumstances, including those focused on prevention.

I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, for Amendments 114 and 115, concerning consultation, assessment and reporting on the issue of mental health in schools. As I said, we cannot consider schools in isolation, and I reassure both noble Baronesses that we are taking a joined-up, evidence-based approach to future policy. The Department of Health and Social Care just held a call for evidence, which closed earlier this month, to inform the development of a long-term, cross-government mental health plan, which will encompass prevention and treatment and how sectors, including education, can work together to support this. We also already gather and assess a range of data on children and young people’s mental health to inform policy, and we publish this in our annual State of the Nation report.

We take a similarly joined-up approach to health in our practical programme of support for schools on pupil mental health, training senior leads to put in place whole-school and college approaches, and funding mental health support teams to support pupils and staff and make links with specialist services. The key thing is that we evaluate whether this programme is making a difference in practice. An interim report of the independent evaluation of the initial trailblazer phase of mental health support teams was published last year, and the final report will be published later this year. In addition, the National Institute for Health and Care Research is commissioning a large-scale impact evaluation, due to start in spring next year.

We agree wholeheartedly with the House about the importance of children and young people’s mental health and the crucial role that schools can play. As the right reverend Prelate said, this is not an either/or but an and/both. We are providing extensive support and evaluating whether it is working.

I acknowledge what the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said about mental health not featuring in the Bill—both noble Baronesses have said this during our proceedings. But we always have to ask ourselves whether legislation is the right answer to the important problems that we seek to address. Obviously, amendments can provide the opportunity to debate and probe, but I hope I have set out that the Government take this issue seriously and have a programme of action in place. It does not feature in the Bill because it is not necessarily the most effective avenue the Government have to ensure that people get the support they need and that this is based on the right evidence, as has been debated.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for Amendment 107, and apologise for not being able to join the meeting that I know she had on this issue. As I set out in Committee, while we agree with the intention of this amendment, we still hold that the effects of the amendment are already covered by the Children and Families Act 2014, which requires schools to make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions. Since 2014, the department’s statutory guidance on supporting pupils with medical conditions at school has made it clear that school staff, healthcare professionals and parents should all work together to agree the support that a child needs in school to effectively manage their condition. The guidance also states that it is not generally acceptable to ignore medical advice. We therefore expect schools to receive and fully consider the advice of healthcare professionals when making arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions. Were a head teacher to entirely disregard the advice received, they would likely be acting unreasonably, and the school may be in breach of its duty.

I say to the noble Baroness that we have received the version of the guidance provided by her. It was dated April 2014 and published to assist with the implementation of the Act in September 2014. The summary section states that the

“document contains both statutory guidance and non-statutory” guidance. It states:

“Statutory guidance is set out in bold text”.

The same text is included in the version of the guidance published in September 2014. When the guidance was updated in December 2015, the summary section was revised with non-statutory guidance presented in text boxes. The intention of this change was to make the distinction between statutory guidance and non-statutory guidance clearer, but this did not change the relevant content; it is the same in all three versions.

I thank noble Lords once again for raising the issues within this debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, feels able to withdraw his Amendment 62, and that other noble Lords will not move theirs.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 9:30 pm, 12th July 2022

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for a very full response. On my Amendment 62, I noted with interest what she had to say. There were two key points: first, that you do not need statutory change because local authorities already have existing duties and, secondly, that the issue about EHC plans can be overcome, because the additional funding is not dependent on those plans—I understand that. The problem we have is that, at the moment, local authorities are not really following the duties they are expected to carry out, mainly because they just do not have the resources to do it. One way or another, this must be tackled, and for parliamentarians, the law is the way we do this—through amendments like these. It is very frustrating if the response is, “You don’t need to change the law because local authorities already have the existing duties”, when we all know that local authorities are failing to provide the necessary support.

There was a fascinating debate on the other amendments. In a sense, I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said about this issue regarding the number of young people receiving anti-depressants, which is pretty frightening. I accept that it is unfair to place all responsibility on schools. This is rather like the police force; so many of its issues are mental health issues. Clearly we need the health service to step up to the plate. Again, the Minister referred to additional resources going in and an access target, but the NHS has an awfully long way to go to provide the kind of mental health support needed, particularly for young people. We all know the frustrations for parents and young people in getting access to NHS services and the long waits they often have to suffer. On the other hand, schools could be more sympathetic to parents when their children have mental health issues. On Monday, we will come back to the issues of school attendance and home-educated children. When you talk to parents, a recurring reason that they are home educating their children is because their children have mental health challenges to which the school is utterly unsympathetic. This is the issue we will continually come back to.

This will only be achieved through partnership. The noble Baroness, Lady Penn, knows all about the Health and Care Act and integrated care partnerships. I still think we need to get schools around that table to get a much more concerted approach at local level to resolve some of these very difficult issues; parents and children are often at the end of their tether in seeking support where it is not forthcoming. Having said that, I thought it was a really valuable debate and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 62 withdrawn.

Amendment 63 not moved.