Section 5E — Provision of published information to certain persons

Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 20th May 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 3:30 pm, 20th May 2009

Amendment 4, in the name of the minister, is grouped with amendments 5 to 12 and 21.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Amendment 4 will place authorities under a duty to ensure that a summary of the information that they publish under section 26 of the 2004 act is provided to parents of children and young people with additional support needs. That will allow parents to request further information on subjects that are of relevance to their child. The amendment also provides that information on how to access all of the section 26 information should be sent to parents of children and young people with additional support needs. I emphasise that that will not allow authorities simply to provide a signpost to information in isolation, as the signpost will have to be accompanied by the summary.

Amendments 5 and 6 will focus the range of parents and young persons to whom authorities are required to send the information that is published under section 26 of the 2004 act by linking it to those children and young persons with additional support needs

"for whose school education the authority are responsible".

Amendment 7 is a technical amendment that will tidy up a drafting ambiguity in section 5E. The amendment makes it clear that the test that authorities are to use in establishing whether a young person lacks capacity relates solely to the young person's ability to understand the information that is published under proposed new section 26(1)(d) in the 2004 act.

Amendments 4 to 7 will strike a better balance. They will enable parents and young people to access the information that they require in an environmentally friendly way and, in so doing, will remedy a totally disproportionate obligation on authorities that would result in a lot of wasted time, money and paper.

Amendments 8 to 10 are technical amendments to put the bill in a better order. Incidentally, amendments 4 and 8 are in no way related.

Amendment 11 focuses the places in which the summary of information that is published under section 26 of the 2004 act should be available by linking that to schools under the management of the authority.

Amendment 12 focuses the schools that must include the summary in their handbooks, publications or websites by linking that to schools under the management of the authority.

Amendments 8 to 12 will create a more practical and proportionate section 5F.

Amendment 21 enables the Scottish ministers to make an order specifying certain persons from whom parents and young people can obtain further advice, information and support in relation to additional support needs, including support and advocacy services under section 14 of the 2004 act. It places local authorities under a duty to publish information on those persons. I very much welcome the amendment and will ensure that we consult on the persons who are to be listed in orders.

I ask Parliament to support amendments 4 to 12 and I also offer my support for amendment 21, in the name of Margaret Smith. I move amendment 4.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Amendment 21 builds on an amendment that I brought to the committee at stage 2. It seeks to add to the information that councils give to parents about local advice, support and advocacy services by including other nationally specified bodies from which people can get information and support, and it ensures that those bodies should be specified by ministers. The intention is to name national bodies that are specified by the Government, from time to time, as organisations that will provide information nationally. It is clear that we cannot, at any given time, put the names of such organisations into legislation or regulations. The amendment is a way of ensuring that, when a national body gives information that is supported by the Government, that information is made available to people. I have redrafted the amendment to make it clear that that will sit alongside the information that is already given out by councils and will not supplant it.

I will comment on amendments 11 and 12, picking up on some difficulties for Scotland's disabled children. Parents, children and young people should have access to ASN summary information in more places than just schools, given the importance of partnership nurseries, learning centres and family centres.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No.

Information should be provided in the widest range of settings so that it has the widest possible reach to affected children and their families. There is a concern that amendment 11 would limit the provision of information on ASN simply to schools that are run by local authorities.

Moreover, as some local authorities place children with ASN in independent special schools but retain a responsibility for their education, it follows that families with children at such schools should be able to access information about ASN. To deny them such access would be a disproportionate disbenefit arising from the attempt to prevent private schools from benefiting from local authority information. Accordingly, amendment 12 is also unhelpful if we are seeking to ensure that all children with ASN and their parents are provided with the appropriate information regardless of where they access that information.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I echo Margaret Smith's concerns on the amendments. We have debated the provision of information at length in committee and it troubles me slightly that we are returning to the same arguments today. It was agreed by majority view in the committee that we do not want parents to be signposted to where the information is on display. We do not want them to be pointed in the direction of the local library. We want the information—even if it is only a summary of the information—to be given to parents in person. The issue is far too important to leave it to parents to find their way through the morass of information that is already available.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I hate to throw a spanner in the works—[ Laughter. ]

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

We are discussing how information on legislation is distributed to parents. Are we creating a precedent that would apply to all departmental information?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

First, I congratulate Margo MacDonald on delivering what I think was an Edinburgh kiss to the members on the Conservative benches—I certainly saw a nod of her head in that direction.

I do not believe that we are creating a precedent. We want to create a duty under this particular legislation to provide parents with information on additional support for learning. It would not apply to other statutes or cases.

I am disappointed that we are revisiting this issue again. The committee made its view absolutely clear at stage 2, and because the bill has no financial resolution, we worked hard and made a lot of compromises to ensure that our amendments came within the terms of the bill. We have already compromised our initial position to an extent, and I am concerned that the minister is trying to pull back some of the ground.

The key concern involves the proposed section 5E(a)(ii) that would be introduced by amendment 4. I recommend that members vote against that amendment. Amendment 8 specifically refers to that section, so I think that it is linked, even though the minister says that it is not.

We will support amendments 5 and 6 on the ground that it is unfair to ask local authorities to provide information for pupils for whom they might not have any addresses, but I am aware that many pupils who are either at private schools or are home educated have additional support needs. I would like to hear the minister say that the local authority will still have the power—if not a duty—to supply the parents of those pupils with information, as it would be unfair to discriminate against them.

Amendments 11 and 12 seek to rewind the clock on the committee's deliberations, and I urge members to vote against them.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Throughout the evidence sessions in the committee and during the passage of the bill, it has been abundantly clear that, although some local authorities are exceptionally good at providing relevant support to children with additional support needs, some are not. Sadly, in some parts of Scotland, children's support services fall woefully short of the expected standard—or, in some cases, are non-existent. In those areas, parents have little assistance with regard to what support services are available or what procedures they should follow when things go wrong. In those cases, it is all too easy for a local authority to make a token reference to what is available and hope that parents and families have the good sense to know automatically where to look for help. There is a clear need to provide a level playing field in that respect and to ensure that we are doing everything possible to identify all the cases in which there are additional support needs, to correctly diagnose the problem, and to ensure that the relevant support is provided.

It has been my intention—and, I believe, that of Margaret Smith and the Labour members—to ensure that parents are physically given the necessary and relevant information so that they are better informed and, therefore, better able to supply the appropriate support to their child. That should be a statutory obligation on local authorities. The Scottish Government has argued that that is the case under section 26 of the 2004 act, and that by lodging amendment 4 it is seeking to ensure that only a summary of the necessary information is provided, because the placing of the word "any" before "information" would mean families being provided with all the information that was relevant to any form of additional support needs, which inevitably would mean them ending up with far too much information.

I do not accept that argument, but I made it clear that I was willing to consider a Scottish Government alternative, which we see in proposed paragraph (i) of amendment 4. Sadly, that has come at the price of accepting proposed paragraph (ii) of amendment 4, which would oblige local authorities only to flag up where information is available rather than ensure that families are given it. For me, giving families information is a crucial part of the bill, as it provides them with greater assurances about and knowledge of their child's needs, rather than leaving them to navigate their own way around the rather daunting current system.

Despite section 26 of the 2004 act, giving families information clearly has not happened. For that reason, the Scottish Conservatives will be opposing the Scottish Government's amendments 4 and 8.

Finally, given that this matter is so important, it is disturbing to note that lobbying is still going on in the middle of the debate.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 20th May 2009

I re-emphasise to Elizabeth Smith that, with amendment 4, we seek not simply to signpost for parents or young people where they can find information but to provide a summary of information. The alternative, which is included in the bill as it stands, is to require all the information that the authority publishes under section 26 to be sent to parents of children with additional support needs and young persons with such needs. That could be a substantial volume of information on paper or in other formats, so it could cost a substantial sum of money. We do not believe that placing duties on local authorities to act in such a wasteful manner is an appropriate way to conduct ourselves. Amendment 4 was lodged to address those issues.

On Ken Macintosh's point about what will happen if an education authority places a child in an independent school, of course the authority will be required to provide information to the child's parents.

I am disappointed that we have not reached a consensus on this matter. Additional burdens will be placed on local authorities as a result.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

The Parliament is in this position because the Government failed to provide a financial memorandum to the bill that promised local authorities additional resources if the Parliament deemed them necessary.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Frankly, I urge the Parliament to give little credence to that argument. The bill was accompanied by a financial memorandum, as is normal. No member raised at stage 1 the question of the bill's lacking a financial resolution and the Parliament unanimously supported the bill at stage 1 in the full knowledge that no financial resolution was attached to it. I therefore reject the member's criticism out of hand.

I am sorry that the Parliament has been unable to reach an agreed position on this matter. An unnecessary burden will be placed on local authorities to no effect. Members might reflect on that when the debate is over.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The question is, that amendment 4 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 7

For: Adam, Brian, Allan, Alasdair, Brown, Keith, Campbell, Aileen, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Christopher, Hepburn, Jamie, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Adam, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McKee, Ian, McKelvie, Christina, McLaughlin, Anne, McMillan, Stuart, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, O'Donnell, Hugh, Paterson, Gil, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Alex, Somerville, Shirley-Anne, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Thompson, Dave, Watt, Maureen, Welsh, Andrew, White, Sandra, Wilson, Bill, Wilson, John
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Ted, Brown, Gavin, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Foulkes, George, Fraser, Murdo, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Goldie, Annabel, Gordon, Charlie, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Jamieson, Cathy, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Kerr, Andy, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Ken, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCabe, Tom, McConnell, Jack, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Mulligan, Mary, Murray, Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Elizabeth, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stewart, David, Stone, Jamie, Tolson, Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Whitton, David

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The result of the division is: For 49, Against 72, Abstentions 0.

Amendment disagreed to.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I invite the minister to move amendments 5 to 12 en bloc.

Amendments 5 to 12 moved—[Adam Ingram].

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Does any member object to a single question being put on amendments 5 to 12?

Members:

Yes.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

As a result, the questions will be put one at a time.

Amendments 5 to 7 agreed to.