House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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General Committee Debates
Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]
Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chris Shaw, Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerks
attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 1 July 2008
[Mr. Hywel Williams in the Chair]
Visits to children in long-term care
Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question again proposed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I appreciate that we will probably have further discussions about the topics relating to clause 19 when we get to the new clauses. I am sure that no one on the Committee has any particular problem with this clause and, therefore, propose that it stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Designated member of staff at school for pupils looked after by a local authority
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 17, in clause 20, page 16, line 4, leave out from designate to as in line 5 and insert
(i) at least one member of the teaching staff at the school (the designated person); and, additionally and separately,
(ii) at least one member of the governing body who is not a teacher.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 28, in clause 20, page 16, line 5, after school, insert who is a qualified teacher.
No. 18, in clause 20, page 16, line 6, after achievement, insert
, and for reporting the educational progress to the foster carer or other appropriate carer,.
No. 29, in clause 20, page 16, line 6, after achievement, insert and well-being.
No. 30, in clause 20, page 16, line 11, at end insert
( ) The governing body must designate a member of the governing body (the designated governor) as having responsibility for oversight of the provision made under subsection (1).
( ) The governing body must ensure that the designated governor is provided with all relevant information to assist him in the discharge of his functions..
Tim Loughton: Here we are dealing with an old bugbear regarding schooling and the relationship of children in care to their teachers. Many of us have said for some time that there are two main groups of children for whom special provisions need to be made, aside from those who have learning disabilities and obvious requirements like that, and they are children in the care system and young carers. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and I have slaved our way down to the Southampton to the annual young carers festival for some time.
Kevin Brennan: While the hon. Gentleman is on that point he might like to know that last Saturday I went as well.
Tim Loughton: We were delighted to hear that because, as we have pointed out, we had not had a Labour Minister or MP down there for some timeI am not trying to be criticalalthough we used to when the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole I started doing the MPs question time at the childrens request. It was great to hear. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West was appreciated and that he enjoyed it as well because it is always extraordinary. That is entirely out of order, Mr. Williams, because it is not the question in hand.
There are two groups of pupils for whom special attention and recognition by a key member of staff is essential. The group germane to the Bill are looked-after children. Clause 20 includes designating a member of staff to be the key link for looked-after children. My problem is that subsection (1) refers only to
a member of the staff at the school
being the designated person. The intention and direction of the clause is right but it is not good enough because the designated person could be a school caretaker, a games assistant or somebody like thatperfectly worthy individuals though they may be. To take the problems seriously, we think that a properly qualified member of the teaching staff must become the designated person. It needs to be somebody who understands the educational requirements of that child, who can communicate with other teachers, the head teacher and governors on an equal basis and who has authority.
Children in the care system obviously have particular educational needs. As we have heard from the statistics that have been bandied about, they are much more likely to do badly at school, not least because of the lack of continuity in their education. There are also problems with the image of looked-after childrens poor achievement and outcomes, so some schools would prefer not to have them because it may bring down their averages. Those are considerations that looked-after children have to face. It is therefore absolutely right that special provisions be made by a school to ensure that the special needs of looked-after children are recognised and taken on board at the highest level within those schools.
That may mean that the school must chase the responsible social worker, if that responsible social worker is not performing the role of a pushy parent that I would like to see them play. A child who happens to be in the care system is entitled to no lesser degree of attention from the responsible person or body, which could be a social worker, as he or she would get from a responsible
I have mentioned innovative authorities such as Barnet that have introduced a buddy system, whereby an officer of the authority will buddy up with a looked-after child. One of their roles will be to look at their school report and to monitor their educational progress and, if necessary, ring up the school and say What is going wrong here? It would be helpful if there is a designated teacher who will be their first point of call, be that for a social worker or an extended family member whom one wants to encourage to have an interest in the childs progress.
Therefore, the clause is to be welcomed, but it needs to be beefed up, hence amendment No. 17 states that a member of the teaching staff must be the designated person. However, the amendment goes further: the second part of it would provide for a responsible governor. The measure applies to young carers and many of us have argued for it before. Recognising the teacher so that they feel that they have the clout to argue the case for looked-after children would be greatly improved and enhanced by introducing a separate, responsible governor, someone other than the teacheras it stands the designated person could be the teaching representative on the governing bodyto oversee the provisions for looked-after children. They would be the line manager, as it were, for the designated teacher. That would send out a clear signal to schools that the special requirements of looked-after children, which result from the fact that educational outcomes for looked-after children have been a scandal for too many years, are a priority and that schools need to have a structure in place that can cope with that and make it a reality. Amendment No. 17 would ensure that a properly qualified teacher, in partnership with a governor, are directly responsible for overseeing the fortunes of children in the care system who attend their schools.
Amendment No. 18 specifies that there should also be a responsibility for both those individuals to report
the educational progress to the foster carer or other appropriate carer.
Another flaw in the system is that, too often, it is difficult to get information out of the school on how a child is actually doing, particularly foster carers. If a foster carer is doing his or her job properly, as the vast majority of them fortunately do, and if we expect a foster carer to be as close to a natural parent as possible and to play the role of a birth parent, which could include being a pushy parent when it comes to asking questions about whether a child is doing well at school, we should ensure that they automatically have an entitlement to know about the performance of the child at school, receive reports and hold a conversation with the relevant teachers or whoever on an established basis, so that they are fully informed about the childs school progress. They will then be able to ask all the right questions. At the moment that does not happen in many cases.
Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 would require that there be designated teachers who know about the requirements of looked-after children, a governor to oversee that and
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I wish to speak briefly in support of amendments Nos. 17 and 18. The two secondary schools for which I am governor have extremely good pastoral care departments. I have asked a number of head teachers in my constituency how many looked-after children they have on their rolls. Most of them said none, but they did not say they did not know. I am assuming that there is a very good process between social services and education departments so that schools are always aware if they have looked-after children on their rolls.
It is important that somebody is available for a looked-after child. When they arrive in school, they are more likely to be having a crisis day than the average pupil. There are more opportunities for stress and more things that will concern them. If only one teacher is designated to be a friend, adviser and mentor to a looked-after child, it is not possible for them to be available at every moment. It is not possible for them to be available when the child arrives in school every morning. If two teachers are designated, it is more likely that somebody will be available to take control of a crisis. If a governor is also designated, although they are in school only from time to time, there is an extra option for that child.
It is important that children have an adult to whom they can relate. Personality and character come into that. If they relate to one of the three designated people and feel more comfortable opening up and disclosing personal problems to them, they are likely to disclose more than if only one of the other designated people was available. It is therefore a very good idea that there be two or even three people available to a looked-after child if they are having a bad day or if there is an ongoing problem that the school needs to be aware of.
Amendment No. 18 includes reporting educational progress. With most children, parents will come to the school on parents evening, which is an annual occasion. If they have problems in between those events, they will get in contact with the class teacher or the head teacher. With looked-after children, there is more potential for social problems that could affect their educational progress so more frequent access to the school is a huge advantage. More frequent access to school, more discussion and more reporting on their educational progress could head off other social problems that are brewing up in the background that adults are not aware of.
My understanding is that the number of such pupils in any one school will be very small so this will not be an onerous task in addition to the great number of functions that teachers have to perform. Most of my schools had good pastoral care departments and would be only too pleased to take on this role. It will be hugely advantageous to the looked-after children in our schools. It will not only maximise their aspiration and their ambition to succeed, and give them the best possible future and
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I very much want to endorse what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said and the practical case studies highlighted by the hon. Member for Upminster. The first point I want to make concerns clarity. I welcome the thrust of the clause, but, as has already been said, does it go far enough? On Second Reading, the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston said:
Clause 20 will make sure that there is a designated teacher in every school to give children in care the encouragement and personal support they need to realise their talents.[Official Report, 16 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 727.]
Yet, here we are talking about a designated member of staff. That could be the caretaker, a games assistant and a range of individuals who work within the school community. Amendment Nos. 17 and 28 specify that it must be a member of the teaching staff or a qualified teacher. That is essential because it gives status to looked-after children. It is also about the practicalities of delivering those expectations of educational achievement and the needs of pastoral care, the childs well-being, which amendment No. 29 seeks to pursue.
Amendment No. 29 seeks to build into the Bill the obvious point about holistic care and support for looked-after children. The Barnardos 2006 report, Failed By The System, revealed that 79 per cent. of young people who have been in care have no GCSEs or other educational qualifications when they leave school. But academic achievement and pastoral needs within the school community go hand in hand. One cannot separate the two.
Half of the young people in the Barnardos survey revealed that they had been bullied. Half the group had attended six or more schools; 11 per cent had attended more than 10 schools; 39 per cent. said that no one had attended a school parents evening; 48 per cent. said that nobody attended their sports days or school events. Educational achievement and self esteem go hand in hand. With the visitor provisions we talked about this morning, with a designated teacher clearly undertaking that pastoral role and with a link to foster carers, social workers or whoever, we can meet some of those challenges. If we get to the root of the self esteem issue educationally, we can move on and tackle many of the educational challenges.
Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): I agree with everything that has just been said. It is important to emphasise that the partial aspect of the care plays a significant role in the general well-being of looked-after children within educational establishments. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the designated teacher also has the responsibility to ensure that the mental and behavioural well-being of the child in the school is part of their training? A growing number of looked-after children unfortunately suffer from an attachment disorder. Teachers should be aware of that and be trained to ensure that when they are dealing with each individual child they can assess those needs and feed that into their pastoral care. That will then improve their educational outcomes.
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