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Dr. Starkey: Is the Minister as disturbed as I am by the nomenclature used by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) when he referred to pupils who had been excluded but were deemed to be sufficiently rehabilitated as to be able to return to mainstream schooling as "bad pupils"? Is the Minister disturbed by the implication that such pupils cannot be rehabilitated and are therefore irredeemably damned as "bad pupils" who should presumably be excluded from the system for ever?
Mr. Twigg: I think that we all have to be careful about the language we use in these discussions because we are talking about the lives of children and the important impact that these decisions have on school communities.
Some of the issues have already been rehearsed in interventions on the opening speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and earlier in my speech. We are seeking to ensure that heads have the powers they need to exclude when necessary, but without killing off the appeals system, which provides safeguards to protect schools from needless and time-consuming litigation, as well as ensuring that fairness is transparent.
It is well known that the previous Conservative Government introduced appeal panels in the first place. We have passed a number of reforms to the way in which those panels operate and I believe that they are a necessary safeguard for pupils and parents, that they conform to the interests of natural justice and comply with human rights legislation. Abolishing them would inevitably lead to a sharp increase in legal action by parents against schools. That would mean head teachers spending time in court, and it would be costly, both in time and money.
Dr. Pugh: Does the Minister agree that under the Conservative policy, legal aid would not be available and only the rich could take action, so there would not be much legal action from parents of poor children?
I shall share with the House the statistics for independent appeal panels. In 200203, the latest year for which figures are available, independent appeal panels reinstated 149 out of 9,290 permanently excluded pupils, or less than 2 per cent. It cannot therefore be seriously argued that the abolition of independent appeal panels will make a big difference to the numbers of pupils excluded from school.
We have heard a call for a sixfold increase in the number of places to be provided for high-quality, intensive but separate education of those whose
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behavioural difficulties make them unsuitable for inclusion in mainstream schools. We heard clarification from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale that that increase was based on a previous figure, so the sixfold increase would not take us from the 13,000 places that are available now to 78,000, which would cost around £650 million, but would mean an increase to 24,000, which is a more modest increase than that set out in the motion today.
Rob Marris: Does my hon. Friend share my bemusement at the Conservatives' proposals for turnaround academies or schools? In my constituency, we have the funding and the land set aside for a skateboard park, but we cannot get community agreement because of the worries about young people gathering. How on earth will the Opposition be able to propose that a turnaround school be built in any neighbourhood without provoking huge opposition? Or will we have another fantasy island for those pupils?
Mr. Twigg: Perhaps they want an island for the bad pupils. My hon. Friend raises a serious point. The estimated cost of the proposals is based simply on the revenue costs of pupil referral units. However, what would be the capital costs for turnaround schools? Is it suggested that the turnaround schools would be in new buildings, which would be hugely contentious, or would an existing school in each community be turned into a turnaround school? The policy that we have been pursuing is seeking to improve all schools so that we do not have sink schools. Do the Tories propose a sink school in every neighbourhood as a priority for Government policy?
I do not know where the Opposition have got the 24,000 figure from, but we have been able to increase the capacity of pupil referral units. Indeed, we have almost doubled the number of places to 13,000, but we recognise that alternative provision is not simply confined to those units. For many children, work-based training or further education collegesand some of the work done by the voluntary sector, such as the Prince's Trust and Skillsforcecan provide more appropriate ways to improve behaviour and therefore discipline. I am not persuaded that we need a further large expansion in pupil referral units. Indeed, the Ofsted report that was published last week raised some serious issues, but they were primarily issues of quality and were connected to the running of the system, not the number of places available.
Pupil referral units are important, but they are only one part of the solution. We need to support schools in preventing exclusion through the use of learning support units within schools. There are now more than 1,000 of those units. They are typically based in schools and provide short-term teaching and support programmes for pupils who are disaffected, at risk of exclusion, or vulnerable for other reasons. The programmes are tailored to the needs of each pupil. The aim is to keep pupils in school and working while their problems are addressed, but to prevent them from disrupting the education of other children in the
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classroom. LSUs support whole-school approaches to behaviour and learning and teaching, and are a source of expertise in strategies for promoting positive behaviour.
I welcome the report issued by Ofsted last Friday. Next month, we shall issue guidance on the quality of alternative provision to make it clear that the needs of each pupil have to be assessed and addressed. That will mean a range of approaches; yes, pupil referral units, but also the voluntary sector, Skillsforce, further education and work-based learning, depending on the needs of the particular child or young person.
I want to turn to an important issue: the ability of teachers to exercise discipline and protection for them from the fear of false allegations of abuse. The motion urges swift legislation, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale set out in his speech. We share the belief in all parts of the House that someone who is under investigation by the police, but who has not been charged with a criminal offence, should not be identified in the press, and I pay tribute to the considered way in which the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue, both in this debate and at Education and Skills questions last month. As he knows, we are not persuaded that new legislation is required to achieve those aims. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) set out some of the challenges that we should face if we legislated in the way that has been suggested.
We were all moved by the examples given by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and by some of the other examples that have appeared in reports today and over recent years. We have a system of press self-regulation, overseen by the Press Complaints Commission, which provides safeguards against the publication of inaccurate or misleading information. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the PCC has issued further guidance about identifying people accused of crime, and the Association of Chief Police Officers' advice to police forces makes it clear that anyone under investigation, who has not been charged, should not be named, and their details should not be provided to the press. We have to balance a number of competing rights and pressures: the protection of teachers and staff, and of the child, quite rightly; as well as the right to privacy of people who are accused but not charged versus the freedom of the press. My sense is that there is much justice in what the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, but that many of his arguments would apply equally well to other public service professionals, such as the youth service workers in the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, social workers or people working in residential care homes. That highlights some of the practical difficulties that might occur in legislating as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale proposed.
In many care homes, one of the advantages of some publicity when a case comes to court is that other people who have been seriously abused in the past can come forward and find justice and retribution. Does my hon. Friend think that there is a way in which that could be achieved without legislation?
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