Clause 21 - Exclusions

Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 3rd April 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I shall be brief, as many of our concerns were aired in the previous debate. I want simply to ask the Minister whether there are any financial implications for individual schools in relation to the exclusion provisions on disability discrimination. As she rightly says, the purpose of exclusions and admissions appeals is to provide a quick and relatively straightforward means of resolving issues locally.

As I said on the previous clause, the panels will have to consider greater complexities in disability discrimination issues, and I hope that they have sufficient legal firepower to deal with them. It is almost certain, a priori, that the panels will take longer, as the issues are complicated and will have to be considered carefully. Advice may have to be taken from the Disability Rights Commission, which may want to be joined as a party with individual applicants, as we shall discuss under a later amendment. There will certainly be more difficulty than in simple cases of bad behaviour leading to exclusions and an appeal.

There are several sanctions on schools, of a financial or another nature, such as the pupil retention grant and whether pupils are counted as members of the school for the purposes of performance tables. The latter is not a financial sanction, but is sometimes felt to be. Such matters are frequently raised in a wider context by head teachers who do not think that the present arrangements fit fairly.

I have two more points. First, will the rules on exclusions appeals for disability discrimination have any impact on the grants? Secondly, will matters be reopened ex post facto? If schools know where they are financially, they can cope with it, even if they do not like it. If they suddenly find unanticipated, uncovenanted raids being made on their finances through the withdrawal of a grant—something that may take two or three years to resolve—they would have something to complain about.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities) 12:15 pm, 3rd April 2001

I accept that these are complex issues, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that they must still be dealt with within 15 school days after they are lodged, and that the full exclusion appeal procedure is usually completed within 45 days. It is important to reassure parents and children who may want to take advantage of the appeal mechanisms that they should be dealt with within that time, even though they are complicated. Schools will also be expected always to act within the reasonableness criteria that underpin much disability discrimination legislation, and they will always have to justify their actions in excluding or not excluding children.

Those key aspects of the Bill underpin the rights of the child at school, but protect the school from having to do anything unreasonable or that cannot be justified. The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch, has devolved the pupil retention grant to schools, so there is no question of schools losing access to those resources.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.