Children Bill [Lords]

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Tim Loughton: And look what happened.

Margaret Hodge: I know—it damaged me for life.

Tim Loughton: She used to be a conservative.

Margaret Hodge: It brought me to my senses then.

I think that we have now been around the houses. The only other issue that I want to cover is the barring system, to which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred. He will appreciate that we are reflecting on Sir Michael Bichard's report on what went wrong at Soham. Clearly, arising out of that, we will have to see how we can develop a system whereby information on those who are unsuitable for work with children is taken over local authority boundaries. We take that issue seriously, but it is not totally pertinent to this set of amendments.

I have sympathy with the spirit of the amendments, but I am extremely sceptical about the confidence with which hon. Members claim that a registration scheme would change the world in the direction in which they and I wish to travel. I hope that they will support what we have proposed, which is to strengthen the current notification scheme. However, in understanding exactly where all hon. Members are coming from on this issue, we are taking the powers in the sunset clause, so that if we fail in our endeavours to make the notification scheme work, we will not need to return to the House with primary legislation and we will implement the registration scheme, despite our concerns about whether it will work as well as everyone would like it to.

Mrs. Brooke: I thank all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. It has been useful, but to my mind the Minister's arguments have not won the day over the other points that have been made. She mentioned the Social Care Institute for Excellence. I understand that the executive summary of the report to which she referred makes an argument for the registration of some private fostering arrangements based on balance and proportionality. It certainly does not dismiss them out of hand.

Tim Loughton: I have that executive summary in my hands. I was surprised to hear the Minister pray in aid a report that supported the principle of a private registration scheme and said how successful the child minding registration scheme had been. To quote one line:

    ''Registration of childminders has proved a prerequisite for professionalisation, leading to self-regulation in terms of both standards of care and notification of unregistered childminders.''

The same applies to fostering.

Margaret Hodge: Read on.

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Tim Loughton: I do not think I have time in this intervention to read on. I would be happy to read out the entire report if the Committee would tolerate it, but I think it probably would not.

Mrs. Brooke: There is clearly a debate to be had on that subject, but I did not want to let that point pass. There are various questions to be asked. As well as the subject of stricter requirement for notification there is the issue of potential enforcement and I would like to raise the question of fines being increased.

The Minister suggested that the current drafting of the amendment would not stand up to the regulations that I envisaged to make the system workable in consultation with all parties. I am sure that if we display the strength of feeling for the amendment now, there is ample time for the Minister to come up with a suitable amendment on Report. There have been many Government amendments during this Committee, and although I thought that they would be exhausted by Report, this is a situation in which one would be acceptable.

The serious point is that nobody feels that now is the time to delay working on a registration scheme. It would not be possible to implement it overnight and time is passing. We live in a slightly different world now and the number of unaccompanied children coming into the country is more of an issue—as we have said, we are not even able to quantify it. The scheme would apply to residents of this country as well as children coming into the country, but the latter is a new development since the Minister was in that situation.

I wish to press the amendment to a vote because it is important for us to convey the strength of feeling on the issue. Having listened to the overwhelming arguments and given that the Minister is prepared to introduce the system in a few years' time, the question is why not introduce it now. We have not had an answer.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Division No. 10]

Brooke, Annette
Clappison, Mr. James
Dawson, Mr. Hilton
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Loughton, Tim
Williams, Mr. Roger

Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Fitzsimons, Mrs. Lorna
Hodge, Margaret
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Mole, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Tami, Mark
Touhig, Mr. Don

Question accordingly negatived.

Margaret Hodge: I beg to move amendment No. 152, in

    clause 38, page 29, line 26, leave out 'six months' and insert

    '51 weeks (or, in the case of an offence committed before the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c.44), not exceeding six months)'.

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I intend to deal with the amendment quickly, to give time for debate on other amendments. The amendment brings the length of the prison sentence in line with the Criminal Justice Act 2003. If hon. Members wish to debate the amendment, I shall give greater detail.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 38, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 39 to 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

3.45 pm

Schedule 4

Child minding and day care

Margaret Hodge: I beg to move amendment No. 162, in

    schedule 4, page 44, line 7, at end insert—

    'Hotels etc

    In Schedule 9A, after paragraph 2 insert—

    ''2A (1) Part XA does not apply to provision of day care in a hotel, guest house or other similar establishment for children staying in that establishment where—

    (a) the provision takes place only between 6 pm and 2 am; and

    (b) the person providing the care is doing so for no more than two different clients at the same time.

    (2) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(b), a ''client'' is a person at whose request (or persons at whose joint request) day care is provided for a child.''.'.

Again, this is a small amendment to deal with an anomaly that we have uncovered. If babysitting is provided in a hotel, it needs to be registered. We are making the necessary changes so that if children are looked after or babysat in a hotel, Ofsted registration is not required.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42


Amendments made: No. 153, in

    clause 42, page 30, line 28, after '9', insert

    'and (children and young people's plans: England)'

No. 154, in

    clause 42, page 30, line 30, after '21', insert

    ', (children and young people's plans: Wales)'

    .—[Margaret Hodge.]

    Clause 42, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 43

    Inspection of local education authorities

Margaret Hodge: I beg to move amendment No. 155, in

    clause 43, page 31, leave out lines 7 to 13 and insert—

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    ' ''(2) An inspection of a local education authority in England under this section shall consist of a review of the way in which the authority are performing any function conferred on them in their capacity as a local education authority, other than a function falling within the remit of the Adult Learning Inspectorate under section 53 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c.21).

    (2A) An inspection of a local education authority in Wales under this section shall consist of a review of the way in which the authority are performing—

    (a) any function conferred on them in their capacity as a local education authority; and

    (b) the functions conferred on them under sections 21 and (children and young people's plans: Wales) so far as relating to education, training or youth support services (within the meaning of section 123 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c.21)).'''

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 156 and clause stand part.

Margaret Hodge: The amendment will ensure that the new duties in the Bill can be inspected in Wales. Also, because of what we hope to achieve in that respect, we have to modify the provisions for England.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 156, in

    clause 43, page 31, line 14, leave out subsection (2).—[Margaret Hodge.]

    Clause 43, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 44

    Duty of local authorities to promote educational achievement

Tim Loughton: I beg to move amendment No. 47, in

    clause 44, page 31, line 21, at end add—

    '( ) The duty requires local authorities to request schools to set out their admission policies with particular regard to looked after children and for schools to notify their arrangements for addressing the particular needs of looked-after children.'

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 230, in

    clause 44, page 31, line 21, at end add—

    '( ) For the purpose of satisfying the duty imposed upon it by this section a local authority shall have the power to secure from the governing body or other appropriate authority of any school within its area information about the admission policies applicable in that school with particular regard to looked after children and about arrangements applicable in that school for addressing the needs of looked after children.'.

Tim Loughton: We have just made a lot of progress.

I hope that we all agree on the need to improve the educational achievement of looked-after children. That is not at issue, but what is at issue is the way that is currently achieved—or not—and how the wording of the clause will affect that. I raised some of my worries on Second Reading, which led to the tabling of two Opposition amendments. We are offering multiple choice; the amendments would achieve the same result, but one is based on a more expert legalese than the other.

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I expect that everyone will agree that the educational achievement of looked-after children is a national disgrace. The figures make depressing reading; they are shameful. A report compiled by the Local Government Association states that 27 per cent. of looked-after children had statements of special educational needs, compared with only 3 per cent. of all school children in England. At key stage 1, as many as 53 per cent. of looked-after children achieved level 2, compared with 85 per cent. of all children. At key stage 2, 42 per cent. of looked-after children achieved level 4, compared with 78 per cent. of all children.

At key stage 3, the gap is even bigger: 23 per cent. of looked-after children achieved level 5, compared with 69 per cent. of all children. Fifty-three per cent. of looked-after children obtained at least one GCSE or GNVQ, compared with 95 per cent. of all children—almost double the number—and 9 per cent. of looked-after children obtained at least 5 GCSEs or equivalent at grades A* to C, compared with 53 of all children.

Those figures are pretty stark. The number of looked-after children going on to university is barely 1 per cent., compared with about 6 per cent. of all children. We desperately need to do something about that.

We must also consider the question of staying in full-time education post-16. Only 57 of looked-after children remained in full-time education post-16, compared with 72 per cent. of all children; and 22 per cent. of looked-after children were unemployed in the September after leaving school, compared with only 7 per cent. of all children. At virtually every stage, through secondary education, to higher education and on to employment, looked-after children are being seriously let down by the state; they are seriously disadvantaged.

Those figures reinforce what I and other hon. Members have said from the start. The state does not make a good parent. It fails looked-after children, particularly in the realm of education. We all agree that we need to do something about it. The problem is knowing what we should do. At the moment, schools are required to nominate teachers who can specialise in the needs of looked-after children. There are moves to apply that provision to governors; it certainly needs to happen, such is the scale of the problem.

In my experience as a school governor of schools that include looked-after children among their pupils, such children are not treated as a priority. They clearly need to be given greater priority. However, treating them as a priority on admission is fraught with problems. I said on Second Reading that if we read the clause as giving priority of admission at oversubscribed schools to looked-after children over those children that live with their birth parents, it will cause problems. Indeed, we debated that subject over the Dispatch Box with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw).

We clearly want looked-after children to go to the most appropriate school. I have had a lot of dealings with local schools that are oversubscribed—as

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constituency MPs, we see it all the time. We know that many constituents are unable to get their children into those schools because of oversubscription, even though the siblings are already at that school and even though they live in the catchment area. For the better schools, we are talking about large-scale oversubscription.

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The implications of the clause may be that if a school is oversubscribed by 20 children, 10 of whom are looked after and 10 of whom are living with their birth parents, there will be automatic priority for the 10 looked-after children. That may be the best course of action for the 10 looked-after children—I do not deny that—but is it fair on the 10 children living with their birth parents, who may have a greater claim to go to the school because of the catchment area or siblings already going there?

My big fear is that if that process is encouraged by the clause—that may not be its intention, but it could be a by-product—there could be a backlash against those looked-after children, which is the last thing that we want. The prejudice against them may already be substantial, and we need to do everything that we can to ensure that they are integrated as fully as possible into mainstream schools and no stigma is attached to them. That is why we have tabled the amendments.

I suspect that certain schools are currently operating in a discriminatory manner against looked-after children. I can understand why they may want to do that. Looked-after children's educational achievement is less impressive on average, and they may bring down the achievement standards of the schools. As schools have been so intimidated by the Secretary of State and this Government—[Interruption.] The Minister missed that one. As they have been so intimidated into achievement, keeping to targets and featuring well in performance tables, the last thing that they want is to take on raw material, for want of a better word, in children who may bring the standards down. That is not acceptable.

Someone has written to me to say that, in a certain country,

    ''there are comprehensive schools who use cohort selection in order to admit high achieving pupils, and hence often discriminate against disadvantaged children. It can often be difficult to prove that cohort selection is going on, since headteachers are able to justify their pupil statistics as being the result of 'parental choice'.''

That is a problem, and the impact that being left out of those schools can have on looked-after children is considerable. Another letter said:

    ''a young person being told that a school 'doesn't want them' is extremely damaging to their self-esteem and morale'',

and that is to someone whose self-esteem and morale is likely already to have taken a big dent by being a looked-after child in care.

The problem is not easy to solve but, it needs to be addressed. We need to achieve a proper balance between ensuring that such children get into the most appropriate schools that give them the best opportunities and not causing detriment to other children, which could lead to a backlash against the looked-after children. The amendments would place a

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greater clarity and transparency on individual schools' admissions policies with regard to looked-after children and ensure that they make much clearer their arrangements for looking after those children once they are in school. For example, are they serious about having a nominated teacher who can help execute the care plans within the school environment? Will they have a nominated governor who is not doing the job on Buggins's turn but is proactive in ensuring that the interests of looked-after children are stood up for?

The role of local authority is crucial in many respects. There is no excuse for the social worker or nominated person in the local authority not to turn up at a parents evening, just as any of us would expect our parents to turn up shamefully, ready to be told the bad news about our progress. We know about the great rapport between the Minister and you, Dame Marion, in your schooldays. I am sure that your parents and the Minister's parents showed up and that at least one set came away glowing with the reports that they received.

There is another important aspect. Considering the duty placed on the director of children's services, social services departments will have a greater responsibility

in moving children around the system. One of the greatest boosts to a child's educational achievement must surely be the stability of placement at a school, preferably the right school in the first place. However, time and again children in their teens, who are at a difficult, impressionable age, but a key age in terms of their character formation and their educational career, move from one foster family to another or to a children's home, where the last consideration is proximity to the school that the child attends. What is considered is what foster family is available that the local authority can afford, even if that placement is at the other end of the county, which in my constituency means 40 or 50 miles away. In such circumstances, the child clearly cannot keep his place at the school where he may just be finding his feet and making a go of things. We should give far greater responsibility to social services departments to consider the continuity of a child's education.

Amendments No. 47 and, the alternative, amendment No. 230 would provide greater transparency in admissions to schools, even if there cannot be an entirely level playing field in that respect. We need to do something about the matter, but it is fraught with problems. The National Union of Teachers, who warmed to amendment No. 230, assures me that it is written in a suitably watertight form, which may appeal to the parliamentary draftsmen who are so controlling in deciding whether Ministers are amenable to our proposals.

The amendments make a serious point: there is a deficiency in the present system. The Bill provides an opportunity to tackle it, and I hope that the Minister will support one of the amendments.

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