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the Bill team for its help throughout the Bill but particularly on this issue, and the officials at the Ministry of Justice for their time and patience in reaching this conclusion.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 11 November 2008; Vol. 705, c. 556.]
She was very gracious in her remarks as she decided no longer to oppose our changes. However, if the Opposition feel as strongly about these provisions as the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) does, they should vote against them today.
Questions were also asked about the level of fines and fees and the issue of reasonable excuse. The fine in the youth court on conviction would be a level 1 fine, and the maximum is currently £200, but it is determined according to means in each individual caseone of the advantages of the youth court route. The fixed penalty notice cannot be more than the maximum fine, but we have said that it would be significantly less. Indeed, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health was responsible for education, he saidon the publication of the Green Paperthat the figure would be around £50 in todays prices, and I do not disagree with that.
On the definition of reasonable excuse, I wrote to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) on 13 February, copying the letter to members of the Committee, to provide some further definition of reasonable excuse. I listed seven different examples of what that might mean in practice:
If a young person is homeless, this could prevent them from participating in learning until they have a permanent residence and a more stable home life.
Health problems, whether temporary illness, long term disability or ongoing mental health issues, could prevent a young person from participating either for a short time or for a longer period, depending on the nature of the health problem, its effects and the kind of treatment required.
Where a young person has addiction problems they may be unable to participate until they have successfully completed treatment for these problems.
Fourthly, when a young person has secured a place on a course but it does not start until the next month or the next term, they would have a reason for not participating in the meantime.
After giving birth a young mother will need time to recover (for mothers of compulsory school age, guidance sets out that the normal period of time is a maximum of 18 weeks) and would not be expected to participate until appropriate learning provision and access to suitable childcare had been arranged.
Where a young person has caring responsibilities, they may not be able to participate, or participate for as many hours as we would otherwise expect, until alternative care or learning provision that fits with those caring responsibilities is in place.
if a particular learning difficulty has been identified and the right support to address it is not yet secured or in place, it would be reasonable to expect that the young person could not begin their learning programme until that support was in place.
Mr. Hayes: It is extremely helpful to have those details supplied on the record. I asked the question so that the Minister could do just that. I wonder whether it would have been appropriateit might still be appropriateto put those matters on the face of the Bill, or at least to summarise them on the face of the Bill. I suspect that if they had done so the Government might have anticipated some of the concerns that have been expressed in the House and beyond this place.
Jim Knight: As an experienced Member of the House, the hon. Gentleman will know that notions of reasonableness are very common in legislation. It is important, I think, to leave flexibility for courts, attendance panels and so on to interpret reasonableness in the normal way. As soon as I start to specify details on the face of the Bill, and as soon as the House agrees to that, it creates an inflexibility that is not helpful for young people. I know that he is motivated by the wish to be helpful to and supportive of young people.
Mr. Hayes: I apologise for interrupting the Minister again, but he has helpfully said that SEN might provide the material for a reasonable excuse. My specific point was about the role of special educational needs, and particularly statements, in the learning agreements. The attendance process is to be informed by agreements so, given that that will require a definition of need, will special educational needs form part of the contract?
Jim Knight: The agreement, as it is an agreement, would be personalised. It would be individual to that learner and be in accordance with their needs. If their needs were set out in a statement of special educational needs, the learning and support agreement would clearly have to reflect that. I hope that that is helpful.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) asked a number of questions about learning and support contracts. I would say to himthe point reflects again on the subject of young people with special educational needsthat the process, in the end, is more important than the document. I think everyone agrees that it is important that there is negotiation and that the young person is involved so that both partiesthe commissioner of the education in the form of the local authority and the recipient of that learning and supportunderstand the deal.
Our amendment puts emphasis on what has to happen, while my recollection of the hon. Gentlemans amendment was that there was more emphasis on signing the document. I know that that distinction appears to be like dancing on the head of a pin, but it is quite important. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would use the document before enforcement, and whether enforcement would never be used when a person had unmet support needs.
Mr. Laws: The nub of it was whether the learning and support agreement could be an alternative to education and training for a period of time or whether it had to take place at the same time as the education and training requirement is provided.
Jim Knight: I think that it is possible for a local authority, if someone has particular support needs, to sequence things so that those support needs are addressed. For example, if someone was suffering from addiction and it would clearly be impractical and inappropriate to compel them to try to take part in some kind of learning until the addiction problems had been dealt with and treated, the learning and support agreement could specify the sequence of support followed by learning. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman. I referred in my opening remarks to activity agreements, and to some extent they reflect that scenario.
The hon. Gentleman asked about reporting. I think that I said that that would happen by 2016, so that is the time scale. I also said that we wanted to be able to reflect on the experience of the first year, so we are saying that there would be a report in 2016. He asked whether anything would stop a fundamental review following that review. Clearly, the review would be open-minded, and so if things were found that did not work, we would have to set out how we would put them right.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) asked many fundamental questions about the Bill that we debated at appropriate length on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, and equally so in the other place. I am sure that he will excuse me for a relatively brief response because the arguments have been put time and again. The costs to which he referred are in the impact assessment, which was updated after the Bills passage through the other place, so he can read up on them. Although the economic costs of raising the participation age over and above 90 per cent. are about £766 million annually per cohort, the total economic benefit is projected as more than £1.5 billion for each cohort of young people to whom the measure applies. In essence, the calculation of a net economic benefit of £2.4 billion for a £766 million cost is at the heart of why we are introducing the measure: so I reiterate the point, it substantially enhances the life chances of a young
person to carry on learning until the age of 18, and to achieve at least level 2 qualifications, ideally level 3 and beyond, but it is also for the good of the nation. If we are to compete economically with the newly emergent economies, as Sandy Leitch pointed out in his report a couple of years ago, we need to raise the general level of skills in the UK. Keeping people learning is part of our effort to raise the level of skills.
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman and his party, of which he is the only representative in this place, that we have to make the difficult decisionit is not easyof reinforcing with compulsion all the engagement, the new qualifications and everything else we are doing to encourage, cajole and persuade young people to carry on learning until the age of 18. If we do not make that decision, when will we reach the position of close to 100 per cent. participating? That is what young people need. Those who do not participate are the ones who most need to participate. It is a basic issue of social justice that the most disadvantaged are the most unlikely to participate. If we are not serious enough to support compulsion, when will that participation happen? With all due respect, I put it to the hon. Gentleman and to his friend, as he described the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), that unless they are serious about compulsion and unless they support these enforcement measures, it aint gonna happen for the young people about whom the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) spoke so passionately and eloquently on Third Reading and whom the Bill will serve.
I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holdernessthat he regards the Bill as an attack on liberty. Obviously, it is unfortunate that he regards the Bill in that way and I hope it is not the view of the whole of his party, because I think the Bill is an incredibly progressive piece of legislation for all the reasons I have just set out. The hon. Gentleman tried to talk down diplomas, a bit like his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), but we have deliberately started on the basis of quality, not quantity. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness and I had a discussion in the Corridor a couple of weeks ago about whether he had time to see diplomas being taught and learned. At that point, he had not had time to do so. I do not know whether he has had time since then to see how excited young people are and how much teachers enjoy teaching diplomas, but I commend him to do so. We look forward to the numbers studying diplomas expanding on the basis of quality until the entitlement in 2013.
Mr. Graham Stuart: The Minister is right to say that we all aspire for the diploma to be successful. That does not stop us, as responsible Members of Parliament, noticing what is happening with them. There has been very low take-up; in fact, in the East Riding of Yorkshire one would struggle to find many students who are undertaking a diploma. That is the issue. We have to look at the world as it is. We need reassurance from the Minister that he can take steps to rectify the issue.
Certainly, we are taking steps to ensure that diplomas are a good option for young people right from the word go, that they are taught, and will
continue to be taught, on the basis of quality, and that they will continue to be appropriate for young people. When I have visited and talked to people studying for a diploma, and their teachers, I have heard nothing but praise for how well they are working in practice.
Jim Knight: Clearly, one or two individuals will have a different view. The Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), has discussed those comments with representatives of the AOC, with which we continue to have a constructive and helpful relationship.
Turning to the issues of those not in education, employment or training, the Bill clearly seeks to engage young people in their learning. The percentage of NEETS aged 18 to 25 is broadly stable, and has been for the past 10 years. We would like to do better than that. Among 16 to 18-year-olds, whom the Bill particularly addresses, the number of NEETS is falling, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness welcomes that.
We are continuing to expand apprenticeships. I do not think that they should be written off as lightly as he hon. Gentleman likes to do. We discussed them at some length when he questioned me as I gave evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee. He asked about gap years; the Bill is pretty clear on that. The Bill applies to people who are resident in England. If someone spends their gap year in this country, the Bill applies to them. If they go abroad on their gap year, it does not.
Jim Knight: Well, my daughter went on an excellent gap year to Mauritania, and she got an awful lot out of it. She learned a huge amount. I would not want to do anything to prevent people from being able to enjoy such an experience.
Mr. Stuart: The children of Ministers and other people on high incomes will find it much easier to have a gap year abroad. Those on low incomes may find it more difficult. Is the Minister not a little uncomfortable about the fact that a person who wanted to spend a gap year in this country could not do so without risking being criminalised by the Bill?
Jim Knight: Yes, some are, but if a person is under 18 and resident in this country, they will have to comply with the Bill and complete 280 guided learning hours, if they had not got to level 3. Clearly, in most cases, they would have got to level 3 before contemplating a gap year. Given all those scenarios, the hon. Gentlemans point does not feature as a great worry.
Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I regret that due to proceedings on other Government legislation, I was unable to hear my right hon. Friends opening remarks. Some of my constituents combine a gap year with achieving level 3. Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to visit Brighton Swimming Teachers Centre in Portslade. There, I met two young people who had achieved level 3 in swimming instruction, and who intended to go on to level 4 in their gap year, while earning money as swimming instructors.
Jim Knight: Excellent. I am pleased to hear that. I think that it was in Portslade, in my hon. Friends constituency, where I visited one of the most excellent examples of a primary school encouraging young people to read. I would commend it to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), because I know of his passionate interest in the subject. I think that I have responded to the points that have been made. I hope that the House will support the amendments made in the other place, but clearly it is up to those who feel passionately that we are doing the wrong thing to vote against them.
Jim Knight: This group of Government amendments to chapters 1 and 2 of part 4 of the Bill put into effect the commitment made in another place that the Government would no longer seek to move responsibility for the registration, regulation and monitoring of independent educational institutions and non-maintained special schools from the Secretary of State to Ofsted. As Lord Goodlad would put it, it is a case of audi alteram partem, I think. This elegant three-point turn is a demonstration of the desire felt by my noble Friends and me to respond to reasoned argument during the passage of the Bill.
The Government have decided to implement the change to the Bill through a large number of amendments to part 4, rather than by deleting part 4 it in its entirety and relying on the regulatory regime for independent schools set out in chapter 10 of the Education Act 2002, and on the regime for non-maintained special schools set out in section 342 of the Education Act 1996.
It changed in the eloquence with which it was put. The changes are being made because chapter 1 of part 4 of the Bill restates the entire regulatory regime
for independent schools. The change also offers the opportunity to ensure that protections are in place for children in the growing independent part-time sector. As part of that, part 4 makes a number of drafting and policy improvements. To take one example, the Bill introduces new appeal rights for proprietors of independent educational institutions and non-maintained special schools against decisions by the regulator, such as any decision to refuse an application for initial registration from a new institution.
The amendments in this group fall into three broad categories. The vast majority of them affect the three-point manoeuvre in respect of the transfer of functions from the Secretary of State to the chief inspector. Many of them simply replace the words Chief Inspector with the words Secretary of State. Others make consequential changes; amendments Nos. 59 and 60, for example, replace the power for the chief inspector to inspect an institution when an application for approval of a material change is made with a power for the Secretary of State, as the registration authority, to direct the chief inspector to carry out such an inspection.
The second set of changes brought about by the amendments do not relate to commitments made in another place. Amendments Nos. 131, 138, 162, 164 and 196 are minor and technical amendments to change the tribunal that will hear appeals against decisions made by the Secretary of State, and in certain cases, justices of the peace. Clause 110(5) states:
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