Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

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Tim Loughton: I am a bit disappointed, which I have not been much in the Committee so far. The Minister seems to be moving into a position in which it would be easy for him to accept at least one of the amendments in this small flourish of amendments, as he described it earlier. He made all the right noises and pointed to the problems with the educational achievement gap, which we all know about and which has been widening. He pointed out that the 7 per cent. achievement on the O-level criteria has improved to around 12 or 13 per cent. The achievement by children who are not in care has improved rather more, so that last year the gap worsened. Children in care are being left behind, and more so than their cohort as a whole. That is also an important consideration for children in care, because some 80 per cent. of the 61,000 children in the care system in England and Wales are of school age.
This goes to the heart of what is essential for improving conditions for looked-after children in the education system. It was not therefore a surprise to me that the Minister agreed with everything that we said. He also said that the Government will set out in guidance the role of the designated teacher—I think that he said “teacher” and not “member of staff”. He agreed with the significant role of governors in promoting educational achievement, and said that that there would be regular reports to governors. Everything he said seemed to agree with what we had said, but then he ruined it by saying that the amendments were not necessary because the issues could be set down in guidance. Clearly, the Minister has got confused as to what is a designated member of staff and what is a designated teacher; he slipped seamlessly from one term to the other, without realising that the Bill does not say “designated teacher”. I could not find in any of his comments any downside to putting “designated teacher” rather than “designated member of staff” in the Bill. He gave lots of good reasons why the amendments were well intentioned and appropriate, and no good reasons why the Committee should not adopt them, at least those relating to a designated teacher and a designated governor.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion made some good points in support of his amendment, which is based on the same principle as the amendments in my name and those of my hon. Friends. He showed from his experience how much more attention needs to be given to the issue by teaching staff. As he said, it is not a question of meaningless titles, but of proper titles being given to the right people along with the right tools to do the job, backed up in statute. That is what the amendment is about. He quoted my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, who said that this should not be another job that gets piled automatically on the SENCO—the general repository of all things slightly odd. The job needs to be done by somebody who is focused on looked-after children and who has the appropriate training, overseen by the governors. There will also be a governor with the responsibility of ensuring that that training has taken place, and that reports on the progress of looked-after children and the school’s policy towards such children are discussed at governors’ meetings, that they are not just another little box that you have to get around to ticking. The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the governing body is responsible for overseeing that, but it would be so much better if there was a designated governor who was responsible for ensuring that the governing body was doing everything that it should be—not just the minimum—to ensure that the policy was implemented. It is not the designated teacher who will be responsible for that, but the head and the senior staff severally, on the same basis that it will be the governing body jointly and severally. Again, I could not see a downside to a designated governor in what the Minister said.
I take the Minister’s point that the information that I called for should, under the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005, be made available to every person with parental responsibility for a child. He gave a satisfactory answer on that matter, and also regarding amendment No. 30 on promoting well-being, in that that is catered for elsewhere. The Minister did not make a case for why having a designated teacher and a designated governor would in any way damage the Bill or hamper—beyond what is intended by forthcoming regulations—the role of the school in doing what we want it to do. On that basis and to ensure that the Committee is awake, I will push the amendment to a vote. I ask the Committee to support the lead amendment, which is about having a designated teacher and a designated governor.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 1]
Brooke, Annette
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Loughton, Tim
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Watkinson, Angela
Williams, Mark
Brennan, Kevin
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Hughes, rh Beverley
Kidney, Mr. David
McCarthy, Kerry
Russell, Christine
Southworth, Helen
Waltho, Lynda
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21

Entitlement to payment in respect of higher education
Annette Brooke: I beg to move amendment No. 31, in clause 21, page 17, line 3, after ‘higher education’, insert
‘or further education and training, including apprenticeships’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 32, in clause 21, page 17, line 8, after ‘higher education’, insert
‘or further education and training, including apprenticeships’.
Annette Brooke: I had better say at the outset that this is a probing amendment because I rather suspect that I have applied my thoughts to the wrong clause. However, I hope that the Minister will accept the argument that I put forward even if the amendment is tabled in a highly technically inefficient way.
The amendment is about parity of treatment for care leavers in their future education. I welcome the support that is offered in the clause to previously looked-after people who decide to go to university. Ministers have pointed out that only 6 per cent. of looked-after children go on to university. There is a massive discrepancy between that figure and that for the rest of the population. I therefore appreciate the bursary. However, it is also important to appreciate that 30 per cent. of care leavers aged 19 are not in education, employment or training. While the gap is not quite as large as with the university figure, it is still highly significant that a third of care leavers are not in education, employment or training. When the Children, Schools and Families Committee looked at this issue, it recommended that a broader bursary system be introduced for looked-after children in post-16 education and training.
I recognise that the Government are putting forward support in clause 22 in the way of a personal adviser in certain circumstances. The Government have responded in other arenas by saying that they have measures to support young people who are not in education, employment or training, such as by not charging fees for courses. If we want to ensure that we put as much emphasis on carrying on in training as on going to university, we must give a little more financial assistance to care leavers. I have deliberately included apprenticeships in the amendment because that could be an area where just that little bit of extra support is needed.
I hope that the Minister will respond to the general principle rather than the adequacy of the amendment and say why there should not be more assistance for the important proportion of care leavers who are not in education, employment or training and will not immediately take a university route, but who need support at this vital time.
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Lady is as candid as ever in her charming way on the amendments. I will try to answer in the spirit in which she has invited me to respond. “Care Matters” set out an ambitious and wide-ranging programme of work to support the education and training of looked-after children and to ensure that they are supported in making a successful transition into adult life. Ensuring that they are able to pursue their chosen path post-18 depends on high quality support earlier on. To ensure that they have the best quality education possible, we have given them the highest priority in school admissions, we have put the role of the designated teacher—I am happy to say that again on the record—for looked-after children on a statutory footing, we have introduced an annual personal allowance of up to £500 for looked-after children at risk of not reaching the expected national targets and we are changing the way that local authorities support the education of looked-after children by piloting virtual school heads. There are therefore a lot of initiatives.
Support to enable looked-after children and care leavers to thrive in education goes wider than schools, as the hon. Lady said. That is why we have had the right to be cared for pilots, which give looked-after children greater involvement in deciding when they move to independence. Similarly, as we debated earlier, the “Staying Put” 18-plus family placement pilots give young adults the chance to remain with their former foster carers post-18 to provide additional stability.
We will come to provisions of the Bill that extend the entitlement to a personal adviser up to the age of 25 for all care leavers in education or training, or who want to return to education or training. That will be defined in the widest possible way. Access to a personal adviser will mean that care leavers have access to a pathway plan to set out their education and training needs and how they will be met. The support of the local authority will enable them to meet their ambitions.
We are committed across the piece to enable all care leavers, not just those going to university, to make the choices about education and training that are right for them, as we are for all young people. Leaving care services should ensure that young people are supported in the choices that they make and should help them to maximise the assistance that is available to support their learning, particularly through the provision of the personal adviser and the maintenance of the pathway plan.
The Government have also introduced a range of other support to help young people entering education, including care leavers. It includes fee remission and help with other costs, such as books and travel, for all young people. Tuition costs for first level 2 or 3 qualifications will be met in full for all young people up to the age of 25. Financial help is available through adult learning grants, and learner support is offered based on the needs of the individual. Priority is given to the most disadvantaged, and those in care are identified as one of the priority groups for that learner support. In addition, where a former relevant child is in full-time further or higher education, sections 23C and 24B of the Children Act 1989 enable local authorities to provide suitable accommodation during the vacation or pay the young person enough to enable them to secure their own accommodation.
5 pm
I understand and appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns and the sentiment behind the amendments. I hope that the Committee will understand that the Government are committed to providing support for care leavers in a range of education and training, but we must also recognise the situation regarding care leavers’ access to higher education. Only 6 per cent. of care leavers aged 19, as the hon. Lady said, are in higher education, and that figure has remained largely unchanged for a number of years. I think that we would all agree that that is not acceptable.
The work undertaken on the “Care Matters” Green and White Papers revealed clear evidence that looked-after children face significant additional barriers to higher education. For example, they finish higher education with an average of £2,000 more debt than their peers. During the consultation, children and young people said that many care leavers are put off higher education by the belief that they will not be able to meet the additional costs involved. Some 83 per cent. of young people at consultation events for the National Children’s Bureau “What Makes the Difference?” Green Paper thought that the £2,000 bursary for higher education was a very good idea, and I am sure that Committee members agree. Some 73 per cent. thought that it would encourage more young people in care to go on to higher education.
Although I understand the hon. Lady’s motivation, I hope that she will accept my reassurance that we are committed to supporting care leavers in further education and training, including apprenticeships; and that that she will recognise that the clause acknowledges the unique position of care leavers who enter higher education. The evidence is clear about the specific support that they need to encourage them to take up higher education without incurring additional debt. I hope that she will agree to withdraw her amendment and support the clause.
Annette Brooke: I certainly support the clause. It is important. I am, of course, rather disappointed by the Minister’s reply, because it is important to identify additional areas where care leavers need support. I appreciate the point about the personal adviser. We hope that the many measures to support young people as they go through school will help to improve the situation, and that the percentage of looked-after children who are not in education, employment or training will be monitored. With that comment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 22 and 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24

Extension of power to make payments in cash
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Annette Brooke: I wish to ask the Minister a few questions about the clause. In previous discussions, some of us have voiced our concern that kinship care is not always given enough cash support when it is most needed. The clause is important because it opens the door to more payments. The problem is that I can see that there will be great variation in local authorities’ use of the removal from section 17(6) of the 1989 Act of “in exceptional circumstances”. I would be worried if there were to be no regulations and guidance on the provision, to ensure that we are truly promoting kinship care.
I seem to hear more and more from professionals that there are barriers to kinship care because money is not available at the vital time. Although I appreciate that the clause offers more, I would like an assurance that it will make a difference and will support what everybody wants, which is that that where kinship care is appropriate, it is given every support and encouragement possible.
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