Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

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Mark Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I very much agree. As someone who endured a one-year course for a postgraduate certificate in education, I can testify to the limitations of teacher training in all areas of special needs and some of the behavioural problems that he has identified.
I hesitate to use the phrase “narrow educational achievement”, but I do not want the well-being of the child to be lost in a welter of percentages and academic targets. They go together. It should also be said that the needs of looked-after children are not always special educational needs. Yes, 28 per cent. of looked-after children have SEN statements, compared to 3 per cent. of the population, but we should not automatically assume, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said on Second Reading, that the SENCO should necessarily assume the role of a co-ordinator for looked-after children.
I pay tribute to the fact that the Bill wisely mentions, under clause 20(3), that the governing body will ensure that the designated person—a teacher, I hope—has qualifications and experience, a point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. If that role is to be effective, it requires a full awareness of the child’s background and circumstances as well as the operation of the care system. As a novice to these Committee proceedings, I find that the matter involves a welter of information of which I suspect many teachers are unaware, but which they need to be aware of when working with such children.
Amendment No. 30, in line with the provisions on SENCOs and special needs governors, would give looked-after children the same status by making a governor responsible for them. It is a chain of responsibilities: the teacher is responsible and accountable to the governor, and the governor is also equipped with appropriate training and advice. Although our names are not on amendment No. 18, I support its spirit. It is an acknowledgement that educational achievement cannot be viewed just within the confines of the classroom; it must be extended to the home environment and the person charged with care.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised the spectre of schools summoning social workers to hear about the educational progress or problems of particular children. It is important. Many of us have sat through countless special educational needs consultations with parents who refused to turn up, wishing that we had the capacity to bring them in. The amendment is laudable. It would build dialogue between carers and the children in school.
Above all else, the amendments are not about giving another member of staff or a governor a meaningless title. They are about acknowledging the needs of 60,000 children and young people and giving the school community the structure to support them educationally and—critically—pastorally, so that their educational and social entitlements can be met.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I shall be brief, as my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have made clear points. I refer to the situation discovered by the Education Select Committee. In some schools, SENCOs were teaching assistants. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 or resulting regulations stated that SENCOs should be qualified teachers; personally, I feel that they should also be members of the senior management team.
It is important that we understand why the Bill does not say “a member of the teaching staff”. I suspect that there is a reason for that, but it is important to understand why. I want particularly to specify that it should be a fully qualified teacher. As my hon. Friend explained, it is such an important job. It involves a mix of guiding through academic routes and trying to improve academic performance, but it also involves looking after the welfare of the child and addressing the various other needs that must be addressed before academic achievement can be attained.
I shall refer briefly to some good practice in Dorset. I attended a Dorset awards day for foster carers and children a couple of weeks ago at which I was involved in presenting certificates. It demonstrated a close working between the teachers in school, the local authority and foster carers. The latter were there with the children, and the certificates that I handed out were varied. One was for 100 per cent. attendance at the learning support centre. Another was for 100 per cent. attendance over the previous term. Some were for academic achievements in their GCSEs; others were for behaving well at home and helping around the house. It was a complete mix, but awarding and celebrating progress in the lives of those foster children brought all the services together quite beautifully and skilfully. A good day was had by all, as the rest of the day was a fun day with lots of entertainment. I mention that practice because it is worthy of being adapted by other local authorities.
Tim Loughton: We are heaping praise on Dorset. I seem to recall that Dorset piloted the giving of bursaries to children in the care system for particular education-related studies—for instance, more music lessons. That gave the authority control over its budget that it would not normally have had to allow pupils to pursue a subject in which they showed artistic, musical or educational promise. That was another example of good practice by Dorset.
Annette Brooke: I was very pleased that Dorset was selected for the 18-to-21 pilots. It is obviously is good practice, and we should share it whenever we can. I support all the amendments.
Kevin Brennan: I agree with the hon. Lady on the importance of having fun days, with lots of entertainment —which is obviously what we are having today.
The intention behind this small flourish of amendments to clause 20 is to ensure that the role of the designated person specified for children in a maintained school has the maximum impact. I sympathise with that intention. We should consider our history in trying to improve educational outcomes for looked-after children when discussing the amendments.
The clause goes back to the Quality Protects initiative of 1998, which started our focus on improving the educational outcomes for looked-after children both locally and nationally. We know much more about the subject than we did before introducing the national data collection in 2000. Before that, no one even checked to see how they were doing in school.
At first, we found that only 7 per cent. of looked-after children achieved five good GCSEs; by 2006, that figure had increased to 13 per cent. However, we should not exaggerate. The hon. Member for Ceredigion suggested that 79 per cent. of looked-after children had no GCSEs, but that is not quite true. In 2000, 49 per cent. had one GCSE, and the figure rose to 64 per cent. by 2007. Again, it is not good enough, but we should not exaggerate the problem.
In the Children Act 2004, we introduced a duty for local authorities to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children. Building on that duty, as part of the “Care Matters” agenda, we are introducing an annual personal education allowance of £500 for all looked-after children who are at risk of not reaching the nationally expected standards of attainment. It is intended to meet the costs of the sort of activities or resources needed to support looked-after children’s learning and development, in the same way that a good parent would seek to enrich their child’s education by making extra things available.
As it stands, subsection (1) requires the governing body of a maintained school to designate a member of staff as having a particular role in
“promoting the educational achievement of registered pupils ...who...are looked after by a local authority”.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Upminster about having a significant adult in school whom a young person can turn to, but that will not necessarily be the designated teacher for looked-after children. It might be a trusted subject teacher or form teacher. Specifically, the designated teacher’s job is to promote the educational achievement of registered pupils who are looked after by the local authority.
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As the hon. Lady said, most schools have a small number of looked-after children on their roll, but we know that when there is someone in the school whose job it is to champion the educational needs of looked-after children, that can have a real impact on individual outcomes. Most schools already have a designated teacher for looked-after children, in line with the current good practice guidance, but although we have come quite a long way in raising awareness in schools of the needs of looked-after children, not all schools make specific provision for their needs.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion was right to point out that we should not assume that all looked-after children have special educational needs. I met a young man in Birmingham who told me that he never told anyone that he was in care until quite some time into the acquaintance because he felt that he would be judged immediately in exactly that fashion when in fact he fully intended—and I completely believed him—to qualify as a doctor in the next few years and was obviously a very bright and academically able young man. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should not make such assumptions.
However, because schools do not always make specific provision, it came out quite clearly in the “Care Matters” consultation that we need to take action to put the requirement on a statutory footing and to make it a requirement for all governing bodies of all maintained schools to appoint a designated teacher to ensure that the role is given the status and recognition that it deserves. I say “teacher” because the intention is—I have said this publicly previously—that it should be a teacher. I shall say more about that in a moment. This is a very effective way significantly to improve educational outcomes for looked-after children. We will use the regulation-making power in subsection (3) to require the governing body to ensure that the designated person has the necessary qualifications and experience—in particular, qualified teacher status. There may be examples, which I shall come to, in which that does not necessarily need to be the case, but it will be the norm.
In addition, we will issue statutory guidance to governing bodies, setting out in some detail the role and responsibilities of the designated teacher. I am referring to the role of the designated teacher in assessing the child’s educational needs and in making arrangements for co-operating with the local authority, especially in relation to the development of the child’s personal education plan. Guidance will also stress the sorts of administrative task that could be undertaken by non-teaching staff acting in support, as well as the importance of ensuring that the school’s policy on pastoral care is effective for looked-after children.
Under amendments Nos. 18 and 30, a designated governor would be appointed to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children. That would be in addition to the designated teacher. The amendments would also ensure that the governor had the necessary information to discharge that role effectively. I agree with the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham and for Upminster about the significant role that school governors can and should play. It is right that they pay proper attention to promoting the educational achievement of looked-after children on their roll, and certainly governors and staff need to understand that school can often be a particular haven of consistency and continuity in the lives of looked-after children. That has implications for the way in which schools work to support their educational achievement.
However, clause 20, supported by the appropriate statutory guidance, will ensure that that happens and, indeed, will make it clear that the governing body should expect to receive a regular report on the work of the designated teacher and on outcomes for looked-after children who are pupils at the school. Governing bodies have a legal duty to promote high standards of educational achievement and well-being for all pupils at the school, including looked-after children. The governing body’s role is and should be essentially a strategic one. Of course, there is nothing to prevent a governing body from identifying a link governor to lead on issues relating to looked-after children, but the governing body overall remains responsible for any decisions taken. We will make that absolutely clear when we issue governing bodies with statutory guidance on the role and responsibilities of the designated teacher.
It is encouraging that awareness among school governors of the needs of looked-after children has increased significantly in recent years. We are committed to ensuring that school governors are provided with training to help them understand the needs of looked-after child and effectively hold schools to account. We expect to use the statutory guidance on the role and responsibilities of the designated teacher to set out clearly what governors need to put in place.
The guidance will build on that produced in 2005 by the former Department for Education and Skills, in partnership with the Who Cares? Trust and the Advisory Centre for Education. The 2005 guidance, which was called “Supporting Looked After Learners—A Practical Guide for School Governors”, was designed to help individual governors gain an understanding of the experiences of looked-after children in schools and of the challenges that they need to overcome if they are to succeed.
Amendment No. 18 seeks to ensure that foster carers and others who care for looked-after children are informed of their educational progress. It goes without saying that it is vital that those who are responsible for a looked-after child—whether as a foster carer or in a residential setting—receive regular and comprehensive information about the child’s educational progress. Indeed, we would expect all those who are responsible for the care of a looked-after child to help them meet their full potential. For a number of reasons, however, amendment No. 18 is not necessary to achieve that aim.
Under the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005, schools are already required to provide an annual report to the parent of every child who is a registered pupil at the school, and that includes looked-after children. For the purposes of education law, a parent includes anyone who has parental responsibility or who has care of the child. That includes foster carers and a child’s key residential worker in a children’s home. Schedule 1 of the regulations clearly lists what information the report should contain, including brief particulars of achievements in all subjects and activities that form part of the school curriculum, plus comments on the child’s general progress and details of the arrangements for discussing their reports with their teacher.
The intention behind the duty that clause 20 places on the governing body is very precise. The governing body must appoint a designated person whose specific role it will be to promote the educational achievement of registered pupils at the school who are looked after by a local authority. A key aspect of that role will be to ensure that the school works closely with the child’s carers and the local authority, which will also have a particular duty to promote the child’s educational achievement, as I said.
As I indicated, we will issue statutory guidance to governing bodies setting out in detail what we expect the designated teacher to do to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children at their school. Among other things, the guidance will cover helping the child’s carers to get involved in supporting the child’s education, regularly assessing the child’s progress, identifying any additional needs and participating in the development of the child’s personal education plan and in the regular six-monthly reviews of that plan.
The personal education plan forms part of the child’s care plan, and we have made it clear in statutory guidance that social workers should fully involve the child’s carers and, where appropriate, their parents in drawing up the child’s personal education plan. Social workers should also work in partnership with the designated teacher to ensure that the plan sets clear objectives and targets and clearly identifies the additional support that the child will need to achieve those targets. The regulations that apply to the regular reviews of the child’s case require the child’s educational needs, progress and development to be considered at the six-monthly review. Through statutory guidance, we make it clear that the child’s carers should be involved in that review in addition to the child’s parents.
Amendment No. 28 makes provision for the designated person to be a qualified teacher. We would not disagree with that; indeed we made that intention clear in the “Care Matters” White Paper and in debate on similar amendments in the other place. Although I understand the reasons for wanting to ensure that the role of the designated person is performed by a teacher, the best way of dealing with the issue is to set out in regulations precisely who is qualified for the job. In most cases, we would expect the role to be filled by a teacher with qualified teacher status, but there might be some exceptions to that. Some teachers can practise without qualified teacher status, such as overseas-trained teachers, as members of the Committee will know. Of course, there are also those who started their careers before the current training requirements came into force.
The key point is that it is better to specify that in regulation, rather than doing so rigidly through primary legislation, because that will allow for changes to be made more easily in line with changes in teacher training without the need for further primary legislation. To have the necessary flexibility, it is much better that that is done through regulation. The power to prescribe qualifications through legislation will enable us to update the qualifications of the designated person, if there is any change in the framework of teacher qualifications, without the delay of amending primary legislation.
Amendment No. 29 would make the designated person responsible for promoting the well-being of looked-after children and championing their educational achievement. On Second Reading, the hon. Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and for Ceredigion spoke about the need to ensure that the designated teacher takes sufficient account of pastoral needs as well as academic achievement. Again, we do not disagree that an holistic approach is required. The designated teacher should discharge his or her responsibilities for looked-after children registered in the school in that holistic way, but the amendment is not needed for that to be achieved. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 already places the governing body of a maintained school under a duty to promote the well-being of all pupils in a school, including looked-after children, and that is in addition to their duty under the Education Act 2002 to ensure that they promote the welfare of all the children on their roll. Since 2005, Ofsted has been under a duty to report on the contribution that schools make to their pupils’ well-being. The well-being duty on schools ensures that they focus specifically on the five “Every Child Matters” outcomes, as defined in section 10 of the Children Act 2004—I will not go into the detail because I know that members of the Committee are familiar with them.
The designated teacher will therefore have an important role in championing the well-being of looked-after children and raising awareness of their particular needs. We want the primary focus of that role to be on raising expectations about teaching and learning for looked-after children and supporting them to achieve their full potential. Given the significant attainment gap between looked-after children and children generally, which we all know about, we need make no apology for having that at the forefront I hope that I have offered reassurance on how seriously we take the role of designated teachers and of school governors in ensuring that looked-after children have the support that they need to reach their potential. I hope that hon. Members will, on that basis, feel that they can withdraw their amendments.
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