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We would also like to hear moreamendments Nos. 16 and 18 relate to thisabout the protections there will be for the records of young people who are
affected by this Bill, when information about them is passed not only from educational organisations but particularly from non-educational organisations. We had an extensive debate on that in Committee, and many Members are still concerned about the type of information that could be accessed and its relevance.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 70 relate to the crucial issue of the flexibility there will be for employers in relation to the provision of in-house training and the burden of checking on those young people aged 16 and 17 who will be employed by businesses, which will have obligations to check whether those individuals are compliant with the Bills proposals on accredited education and training. We have a concern, which has also been expressed by those on the Conservative Benches, that some of these proposals could destroy the youth labour market and close down job opportunities, which might be better for some young people than being in a more formal education and training setting.
On young peoples rights in the process of appeal, we discussed in Committee whether a young person or their representative could be invited to attend the appeal stage in relation to the issuance of any attendance notice. We would like to know whether the Government are willing to be more flexible on that, and whether they have further considered the limits there will be on the penalties imposed on young people and how they will relate to young peoples incomes, particularly for those on very low incomes, and to the current level of the education maintenance allowance.
Philip Davies: I intend to use just a minute of the remaining time to highlight new clause 23, which would allow a pupil to leave school after year 9, at the age of 14, to pursue full-time vocational education, provided they had the written permission of their parent or guardian and of their head teacher, and that they had achieved level 5 at key stage 3 in English, maths and science.
This country has the big problem of trying to force all children down the same academic route in schools. I believe in horses for courses. Every child is good at something, and we should provide an education system that allows children to pursue their area of expertise and the areas in which they might be able to thrive, rather than force them to stay at school to pursue an academic line when it clearly does not suit them. Some children are playing truant from school and some are causing big problems for teachers in terms of school discipline. Allowing such children to leave school at age 14 to pursue full-time vocational education would re-engage some of them with the education system, it would provide them with the skills they need for future employment and it would improve the discipline and truancy rates in our schools.
The proposal is also supported by many teaching unions. Stuart Herdson, who is both a constituent of mine and the immediate past president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, supports it. He has articulated such a proposal on many occasions, and I pay tribute to him for doing so. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the proposal, and to how we can allow children, whatever their expertise, to shine in
that particular area and how we can encourage more vocational education, rather than forcing everybody down an academic route.
Ed Balls: I shall speak to Government amendments Nos. 100 and 105, and try to respond to as many points as possible. I want particularly to focus on new clauses 6 and 9, but before I do so, may I say to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that I very much understand the points that he makes? The work that we are doing on studio schools and alternative provision deals precisely with the issues that he raises. All the powers that we need to provide vocational opportunities outside the school setting are already in placewe do not need new legislationbut I would be happy to ensure that he receives detailed briefing on that matter as we move towards our alternative provision White Paper.
A number of other detailed issues were discussed at length in Committee. I know that because I have been told as much by my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners, who described to me the length of the Committee debates. He seems to have managed to organise todays business to reveal to me just how lengthy the debates were; he has ensured that I have dealt with all todays debates rather than him, although he will get an opportunity on Third Reading.
On amendment No. 29, I can reassure the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) that young people in custody will not be excluded from the Bills provision and that we will ensure that their needs are properly addressed. I can reassure the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) that information and guidance are paramount to our thinking too. He rightly says that they are integral to the success of the Bill, but I do not think that strengthening the Bill in this regard will make any difference, because what really matters is ensuring that we deliver, with the local authorities, on the information and guidance requirements that we have set out.
As we have discussed before, I think that Alison Wolf is far too pessimistic on the jobs issue, not least because 65 per cent. of young people aged 16 to 18 who are in work will not be affected at all by these provisions. They are working part-timethey are doing fewer than 20 hours a weekso will be entirely unaffected. Her estimates are far too pessimistic, but we are determined to work with the CBI and other employer organisations supporting the Bill to ensure that there is no negative impact on the youth labour market. As somebody who worked closely on the minimum wage to ensure that it had no negative impact on the youth labour market, I can assure hon. Members that that is of paramount importance to me.
On amendment No. 70, I say to Opposition Members that there will not be a need for employers to check with individual learning providers on enrolmentthat will not be a matter for them. I know that those issues were discussed at length in Committee, and we have been true to what we said then. I do not think there is a need to amend the Bill; the important thing is to ensure that we deliver on the commitments that we have made, and we will do that.
Youth appeals are a matter for the Ministry of Justicethe penalties regimerather than for our Department, but we will ensure that we consult it fully. On information sharing, I know that there has been a
report today from the Joint Committee that oversees human rights issues. We will respond in due course and ensure that our response goes to hon. Members in advance of those issues being discussed in the Lords.
As we have discussed, new clauses 6 and 9 have been raised by Barnardos and by Rainer. We are grateful to them and to Opposition Members for the part they have played in highlighting the approach being set out with learning agreements and for the work done on the education maintenance allowance, which is all about a quid pro quosomething for something, whereby young people have to demonstrate that they are learning and attending to get the money. We have also introduced issues around behaviour to the EMA. That shows that we are sympathetic to this approach.
We are piloting and delivering a similar approach in activity agreements and learning agreements for 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. Many voluntary sector organisations, including Barnardos and Rainer, have played an important part in that something for something contract. The issue is whether we need to put that in the Bill.
We believe that many local authorities will want to go down that road. It is part of ensuring that sanctions and penalties are very much a last resort, as was discussed in detail in Committee. We would go further and strongly encourage local authorities to pursue the approach being proposed by Rainer and by Barnardos, and to go down that road before considering any formal enforcement action against a young person.
We support that approach and will specify that in guidance to local authorities, but we do not think that the right thing to do is set it out in primary legislation. It is better to leave flexibility and discretion to local experts who know the needs of particular young people. It would be too inflexible and encumbering to specify it. At this stage, the right thing to do is work with careers services and local authorities to ensure that these measures are genuinely tailored to the needs of young people and we will do so
This is my final point. I have also studied in detail what Barnardos and Rainer said on the more general point, which is made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), about whether compulsion is the right way to go in the Bill. It is absolutely at the heart of the Bill. Martin Narey said:
I think it was Michael Gove who said on Second Reading that you cannot take a horse to water, but my experience is that you can.
If you use compulsion simply to force a 16 or 17-year-old back into the same classroom environment from which he has been truanting since year 11, it will fail. But, if you use compulsion to open his or her eyes to a different form of education or training, it can work.
The reason I welcome compulsion is that it changes the nature of the terms of the debate. You no longer ask, How do we work our way up to 85 or 90 per cent.? You actually start asking, Why are we not at 100 per cent.?
Our approach to the Bill is to ensure that school, college, work with training or an apprenticeship are available to all. We start from an assumption of 100 per cent. Rather than starting from 80 or 85 per cent. and working up, we want to ask, Why dont we have 100 per cent.? That is our approach. The system can be galvanised, as Barnardos, Rainer, the Princes Trust and the principal of North East London college say, by starting from an assumption that that is universal for all.
That is why we have consistently said that we should have a universal system for all. Compulsion as a last resort is necessary. I urge Opposition Members to change their minds, support excellence for all, not just for some, and back the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: Will the Secretary of State therefore allow consistency on the matter of a reasonable excuse, in the way that Barnados and Rainer want, or is he prepared to let that matter be inconsistent, given that he wants a universal level of participation?
Ed Balls: It is important that we consult the local authorities and specify that point clearly in guidance. It does not need to be in primary legislation, although we are happy to take forward the issue of learning agreements. The fundamental issue is whether we believe that every young person should be in school, college or an apprenticeship, or that just some should be. In Committee, Opposition Members opposed the Bill on that issue. It goes to the heart of the legislation. It is not too late
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