Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 10

Local education authority to promote fulfilment of duty imposed by section 2
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment No. 165, in clause 10, page 5, line 32, leave out from ‘must’ to ‘persons’ in line 34 and insert
‘secure a sufficient and appropriate supply of provision for’.
We have reached a landmark. We have cleared chapter 1 and raced on to chapter 2. So, all hon. Members can feel reinvigorated that we have passed the first hurdle. The next chapter deals with the duties on local education authorities and educational institutions. Clause 10 is important, establishing the duty on local education authorities to promote the participation of young people in education or training in their area who are subject to the duty to participate. There have been many comments on the clause, which have led to this group of amendments, starting with amendment No. 165.
In a nutshell, most of the people who have made representations to us on the matter are concerned about the imbalance between the responsibilities on young people to comply with the obligations of the Bill, and the rather looser ones on local authorities to ensure an appropriate supply of places in order to allow the education and training option and perhaps other forms of support to be taken up.
The special educational consortium was one of the bodies that made representations to the Committee early on, indicating its concern about the balance of responsibilities between individuals and local education authorities. In a briefing note to the Committee issued jointly with the Royal National Institute for Blind People, on 14 January, it stated that:
“The duty is so general as to be unenforceable”,
and contrasted it unfavourably with the duty on young people, including the penalties and criminal sanctions contained in the Bill.
The amendment seeks to make the duty upon local authorities clearer and more general, in not constraining it only to education and training. The original clause provides a responsibility
“to promote the effective participation in education or training of persons belonging to its area”
to whom the Bill applies.
The amendment ensures that a local education authority is obliged to secure a sufficient and appropriate supply of provisions to those persons. Therefore, it not only provides a stronger requirement on local authorities, but opens up some of those fourth option solutions about which we were talking earlier, to ensure that support services other than education or training are being provided, which might ensure that young people can engage in the future with education and training. Other amendments, tabled by the Conservative party, deal in slightly different ways with the same consideration, including amendments Nos. 14, 84 and 148, to some extent.
However, there have been concerns that the Bill should go even further and the duty should be clearer. Therefore, we have tabled the amendment, which was suggested to us in a representation sent by the Special Educational Consortium, that other members of the Committee may have seen. It places an explicit duty on local authorities to ensure that there are sufficient and appropriate opportunities for young people in their area to participate in education and training. The consortium sets out some of its concerns, in particular that the needs of young people with disabilities are often not met adequately and they often end up leaving the education system at 16. It says:
“The Disability Rights Commission found that non-disabled young people are twice as likely as their disabled peers to transfer to the sixth form or college at 16 plus”.
It said that has a significant impact on life chances, and continued:
“By the age of 19, 9 per cent. of non-disabled young people are not in education, employment or training, but 27 per cent. of disabled young people are in the same category.”
That is a significant concern, particularly for that group of young people, although the amendment would apply to all those who would be caught by the duty. It would impose an obligation on the local authority to ensure a wide range of provision for all those youngsters who need it. We will talk about some of those groups in a moment.
The Special Educational Consortium said:
“We believe there needs to be a stronger duty on local authorities to secure appropriate opportunities for young people in their area. As the Bill is currently drafted, responsibilities fall disproportionately on individual pupils with criminal sanctions for those who are not in appropriate full-time education or training.”
It believes that provision should be better tailored to local needs, particular of young people with special educational needs.
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes the Special Educational Consortium’s case persuasively. I have also heard its case, and I agree that we must put much greater emphasis on local authorities’ obligation to provide support. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that support outside the school for children with special educational needs and disabilities is as crucial as that within it? Does he welcome the investment and initiatives that the Secretary of State and Lord Adonis in the other place have brought forward in the past 12 months to provide support to those families?
Mr. Laws: I certainly agree with the first point that support outside the school or educational setting is as important, and we welcome many of the measures in that area. Our point, and that of many of the bodies that have made representations to us, is that there is still a big gap in reality between the level of support needed and what is available.
In the final part of its representations, the Special Educational Consortium says that it recognises
“that the duties set out in this amendment could not be implemented until the funding and the responsibility are transferred to local authorities”.
That obviously requires further legislation. The consortium wants a commitment from the Minister that when the Government introduce legislative proposals, they will include a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient and appropriate provision.
Other groups that gave evidence to the Committee have made many similar points. TreeHouse, a charity for those with autism, said in its representations that there was a need to strengthen the responsibilities on local authorities.
We received detailed representation from Barnardo’s, which gave oral evidence to the Committee. Sadly, its detailed amendments came to me slightly too late to be included, but they seek a similar effect to amendment No. 165. Barnardo’s approaches the matter from a slightly different perspective from that of Conservative Members because it is more sympathetic than we are to the compulsion and criminalisation elements. However, it agrees strongly that the Bill will work only if there is appropriate provision for those hard-to-reach young people, and that it needs to go beyond education and training.
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The paper from Barnardo’s to the Committee details the four priority areas for expansion of existing services. It refers to the need for more work-based learning— particularly transitional provision to reconnect the most disaffected and disengaged young people and to help them to address barriers. It suggests that at the moment, support services are not adequate for young people, which includes teenage parents, young carers, young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, and those with mental health problems. It also wants to see an expansion in provision, with suitable routes for progression, for young people with learning difficulties, many of whom drop out at 16 or take repeated courses.
There is widespread concern—among both those who do not support the existing compulsion and criminalisation and those who do—that there must be a greater acceptance by local authorities of their duties to provide. There must be adequate funding, not only from central Government but also from local authorities, to provide those services that can often be very expensive.
In earlier sittings, the Minister acknowledged his willingness to open up the possibility of a fourth option that does not restrain us to something that looks like education and training in its narrowest sense. The clause indicates that the obsession with activities to do with what we regard as education and training, is very much there in the Bill. We want to ensure that that is widened out so that young people who need other routes back into education and training can have those routes opened up to them— in exceptional cases, even for long periods of time—and to ensure that there is a realistic pathway back into education and training.
Mr. Hayes: You certainly know, Mr. Bercow, and the Minister may know of my interest in matters to do with special educational needs and disability. Therefore, I will not waste this opportunity to say a word about those interests in relation to the amendment which, I think, does the hon. Member for Yeovil great justice. It is right that at this juncture we should consider the particular challenges facing employers and young people who have disabilities or special educational needs. The two challenges above all others are the attitudes of employers and young people. Many of the barriers associated with getting young people with special educational needs and disabilities into employment are due to people’s belief in their own potential. That can be greatly assisted by the right kind of advice, guidance and support.
I have seen at first hand—as I am sure the Minister and other members of the Committee will have done—how young people with the most profound challenges can be supported in employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster is a doughty champion of young people in her constituency with those challenges. She was kind enough to introduce me to the realistic opportunities for supported employment project, which she never misses an opportunity to champion in the House—I hope that I am not stealing her thunder. That project takes people with very profound difficulties and, using appropriate levels of support, places them in work and gives training opportunities which, until seen, one would scarcely believe possible. That one is an exemplar, but there are projects like that up and down the country that must and will form part of making the Bill a success.
The hon. Member for Yeovil rightly pointed out that the number of young disabled people who are not in education, employment or training is a shockingly high 27 per cent. If we are to place new duties on individuals, employers and local authorities, we must be clear about the support and resources that will be necessary to change attitudes both of young people, who need to be enlivened and have their personal aspirations rejuvenated, and of employers who must know what is expected of them to make those opportunities possible.
The hon. Gentleman quoted a number of organisations, and he could have quoted many more, which support the thrust of what he said. I have had discussions with a number of organisations representing disabled people that share his concern that the Bill should be specific about the duties on local authorities. Knowing your personal commitment and interest in these matters, Mr. Bercow, I know that you will take a great interest, as I do, in this part of our considerations.
The amendment is a useful addition to our consideration and it may be something that the Government want to reflect on further. Again, it concerns sufficient appropriate provision. This word “appropriate” is coming to punctuate our considerations. It seems that “meaningful” and “appropriate” are sometimes more useful ways of expressing this kind of opportunity than “relevant” because, as I said earlier, “relevant” is a rather loaded term.
On that basis, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope that the Bill, for all its faults—we all have our doubts about it—will, at the very least, act as a catalyst for engagement with training and employment on the part of young, challenged, disabled and disadvantaged young people.
Jim Knight: I absolutely agree that the key to the success of this policy will be ensuring that there is an appropriate—the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will be delighted that I use that word—worthwhile and engaging learning place for every young person, including those with special educational needs. The amendment would reduce the duty of the local authority to solely that of securing appropriate provision. While that is clearly an important part of ensuring that all young people participate, the duty set out in clause 10 is currently much wider than that, and is not confined to any one local authority function. It could encompass economic development or regeneration activity, or the local authority’s responsibility for careers guidance for 16 to 19-year-olds, as provided for in the Employment and Training Act 1973, and other activities that are not directly linked to the securing of provision for education and training. Those broader functions are essential for promoting the culture of participation and achievement that Opposition Members are in favour of.
Some interesting points were raised in the debate, particularly about those with special educational needs. The hon. Member for Yeovil said that the legislation was very vague and insufficient in terms of the duties on local authorities. I remind him of some of the other duties contained in the Bill. From Royal Assent, whenever that may be, and subject to the will of Parliament, there will be measures relating to support functions, such as clause 54, on the duty to provide Connexions services. There will be a duty to arrange assessments of the learning difficulties of young people with statements who intend to leave school and access post-16 education or training. From commencement in 2013 there will be functions relating to raising the participation age, such as the duty to promote fulfilment of the duty to participate in clause 10. Clause 12 imposes the duty to make arrangements to identify young people who are not participating. There are also duties in clauses 39 and 41 that relate to attendance notices and in clause 42 concerning attendance panels, and so on. There will be a commissioning provision from 2010-11, which will be transferred to local authorities from the Learning and Skills Council.
In respect of clause 10, I am sure that the Committee has noticed that clause 18 specifies:
“In exercising its functions under this Part, a local education authority must have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State.”
That guidance, which would obviously be statutory guidance that the local authority would have to follow, would include such things as an explanation of how these duties differ from those for children of compulsory school age. It would also include links with the Connexions service, the minimum requirements for the tracking service used by Connexions and, crucially, an explanation of the requirements on young people, parents, learning providers and employers and the local authority’s powers and responsibilities for ensuring that those are met. It is there that we will set out the local authority’s duties with regard to young people with special educational needs.
Mr. Laws: Is there anything in the wording of the amendment that the Minister objects to, and are the Government against placing a responsibility on local authorities to secure a sufficient and appropriate supply of this provision?
Jim Knight: No. As I have set out, I object to the fact that it defines the local authority’s duty more narrowly than we would want. It is vital that the local authority secures a sufficient and appropriate provision of services for young people to ensure that they can fulfil their duty, but I do not want to close it down solely to that, as I have said in my comments. With regard to young people with special educational needs, I argue that raising the participation age will be particularly important in ensuring that they have the opportunities to participate and do so. There is a good instance of us using that as a catalyst—I think that that was the phrase used by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings—to secure better provision.
Mr. Marsden: My hon. Friend puts forward a persuasive argument on how the legislation needs to go hand in hand with a change of attitude and the catalyst that he described. Does he agree with me that it is particularly important that local authorities take up that message as well and take advantage of the various initiatives that are coming forward from the Government, and does he share the concern that some of the support that was given in the past on a ring-fenced basis will no longer be available?
Jim Knight: Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that local authorities continue to deliver for that section of their population, particularly now that we are in common with the local government White Paper on trusting local authorities to respond more flexibly to the needs of their population by removing ring-fencing. However, we will be introducing other things as well, such as the foundation learning tier, which I have mentioned on a number of occasions, and the Learning and Skills Council’s national strategy for improving opportunities for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. Obviously, the Learning and Skills Council’s responsibilities will to some extent be transferred to local authorities.
Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred to the realistic opportunities for supported employment project, which is run from Havering college of further and higher education. What has been so surprising about the success of that course is not the success of the students, which we would all have predicted, but the willingness and even enthusiasm of local employers to become part of the scheme. What started as an outreach from the college to persuade employers to give the students a chance has been completely turned on its head, as the employers are now approaching the college to ask if they have any student replacements. That project is an example of good practice that could be disseminated up and down the country.
Jim Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for continuing to draw our attention of the ROSE project in her constituency. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will not be disappointed that she continues to champion its work, which he described as an exemplar. I am sure that what the hon. Lady says is correct—I have no reason to doubt it. If I ever have an opportunity to visit the project, I shall take it up.
I hope that I have given the Committee enough of an explanation of how we intend the clause to function in its breadth and, through guidance, in its depth.
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Mr. Hayes rose—
Jim Knight: Before I sit down more permanently, I shall of course give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Hayes: To be clear, is the Minister saying that the amendment would narrow the provisions in the Bill?
Jim Knight: Yes.
Mr. Hayes: But I do not see how the words “sufficient and appropriate” could be described as narrow. They seem to me to be rather broad terms. Are they not inherently flexible?
Jim Knight: I repeat for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman what I have already said. The amendment would reduce the duty on the local authority to one of securing appropriate provision. Although that is clearly important, there are other local authority functions that can help to achieve the change to the culture of participation, such as their economic development or careers guidance duties, which I mentioned. Those would be precluded by the amendment. Clause 10 states:
“A local education authority in England must ensure that its functions are...exercised so as to promote the effective participation in education or training”.
The wording, “its functions”, is as wide as that. That is why the measure has breadth.
Mr. Gibb: Does that mean that all other local authority functions must be seen in the light of promoting participation? Will we not have refuse collected because that would not promote effective participation? That is the essence of the Minister’s argument against the amendment. He says that it would narrow every other local authority duty to the one duty, which is an absurd interpretation, just as my tongue-in-cheek remark about clause 10 and refuse collection is absurd.
Jim Knight: For the convenience of the Committee and to save time, I missed out the bracketed text in the clause, which would have dealt with the refuse collection concern. For the sake of clarity, the clause reads:
“A local education authority in England must ensure that its functions are (so far as they are capable of being so exercised) exercised so as to promote the effective participation in education or training”.
I hope that on that basis, the hon. Gentleman and the Committee are satisfied sufficiently.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Listening to this discussion, especially in the context of special educational needs, made me wonder how the measure will work for people with mental health problems. Clearly, not very many people with serious mental health problems get work—as few as 7 per cent. of people with schizophrenia do so. Does the Minister have plans for that in the Bill? We are talking about “sufficient and appropriate” provision, so now might be a suitable time to comment on that point. Has the Minister thought about how young people with mental health needs can be helped into work?
Jim Knight: As I have sought to clarify for the Committee at least every time that we have met, we need to ensure that the opportunities attached to the duty and the galvanising of the system that the duty will create apply to every young person, regardless of their circumstances and needs, including people with mental health difficulties. We signalled in the children’s plan that we are concerned about how well child and adolescent mental health services join up with other services. We will look this year at how we can sharpen CAMHS up. Local authorities and their strategic partners in their localities should ensure that such individuals get sufficient support for them to be able to move into appropriate forms of education or training.
Mr. Heald: One of the reasons why I asked is that CAMHS hand over to adult services at different ages in different parts of the country. In some areas, the handover is at 16. The Minister will need to ensure that the measure works for those who have mental health problems.
Jim Knight: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I shall certainly bear in mind the consistency of the arrangements. We will look at those between now and when the raising of the participation age elements of the Bill come into effect.
I hope that I have given the Committee enough information and that the hon. Member for Yeovil thinks it sufficient to withdraw his amendment. At best, he tends to be mildly reassured. I shall be interested to know at what measure of reassurance I have managed to pitch it on this occasion.
Mr. Laws: I have once been totally reassured by the Minister. I am usually moderately or mildly reassured, but on this occasion I do not feel reassured at all. He has attempted to stamp his ministerial boots on my amendment by suggesting that it would weaken the duties in the Bill and that he is worried that local authorities could not do all the things that they could under clause 10. However, I feel that he rather underlined the weakness of his argument when he cited parts of clause 10 in his response. Let us remind ourselves how vague is the wording that my amendment would remove:
“A local education authority in England must ensure that its functions are (so far as they are capable of being so exercised) exercised so as to promote the effective participation in education or training of persons belonging to its area”.
That is pretty weak and vague. It talks about the generality of local authorities’ responsibilities, but it does not place a duty on local authorities to
“secure a sufficient and appropriate supply of provision”,
which is what amendment No. 165 would require. The Minister said that he had no objection to that duty being in the Bill. I see no reason why he should have a problem with those much firmer words.
Jim Knight: In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, I probably should have made it clear that the Learning and Skills Council has such a duty now. We signalled that we will legislate—perhaps during the next Session—on transfers from the LSC to local authorities, but under section 2 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, the council has a duty to ensure learning provision for 16 to 19-year-olds. In particular, section 2(1) states that the
“Council must secure the provision of proper facilities for”
education, training and so on. It therefore sets out many of things that he is seeking. In correspondence with us, the Special Education Consortium sought reassurance that those duties incumbent on the LSC will be transferred to local authorities.
Mr. Laws: That was very helpful and I shall return to it in a moment.
To finish my earlier points, I think that the Minister was saying that he does not want to displace the existing wording with the new, much clearer and firmer, wording because of the various other duties on local authorities. He cited economic development departments and so on, although it is not entirely clear how effective and powerful the clause will be in relation to those other duties. Then he cited various other clauses under which duties are placed on local authorities, such as clause 54. He also mentioned Connexions and statementing. However, our amendment would not remove any of those requirements under later clauses. It would be an addition and provide a stronger and firmer commitment to
“secure a sufficient and appropriate supply of provision”,
and ensure that that is not restrained to education and training only.
I am inclined to press my amendment to a Division, unless the Minister can reassure us that he is prepared to return and place that duty in the Bill—after all, he said today that he does not disagree with the wording—or provide the reassurance, in clear and unambiguous terms, sought by the Special Education Consortium. I shall make it clear what that would require. In its representation, from which I quoted earlier, the consortium said that it
“recognised that these duties would require the transfer of responsibilities from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities requiring further legislation.”
It said that it would welcome a commitment from the Minister that when the Government introduces legislative proposals they will include a duty on local authorities, which is the first point, to secure sufficient and appropriate provision that those words are important, which is the second point. The third point is that sufficient and appropriate provision must relate to not only education and training, but to provision in its widest sense. If the Minister feels that he is in a position to indicate that the legislation would include a duty, it should be in the form of those words: “sufficient and appropriate...provision”. Such a measure should not simply be constrained to education and training. It would be helpful if the Minister could address that, as it would not then be necessary to press the amendment to a Division.
Jim Knight: I have no wish to divide the Committee unnecessarily. If it helps the hon. Gentleman, we indicated in July last year that, in future, local authorities will have responsibility for funding and commissioning 16-to-19 provision. We will issue proposals for consultation shortly, but our intention is that the provisions in section 2 of the 2000 Act, which places a duty on the Learning and Skills Council to secure learning provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, will transfer to local authorities. If I can beg the patience of the Committee, the relevant sections of the 2000 Act that we seek to transfer include
“The Council must secure the provision of proper facilities for—
(a) education (other than higher education) suitable to the requirements of persons who are above compulsory school age but have not attained the age of 19,
(b) training suitable to the requirements of such persons,
(c) organised leisure-time occupation connected with such education, and
(d) organised leisure-time occupation connected with such training.”
Those are not the specific words that the hon. Gentleman wants, but they are sufficient to reassure the Special Education Consortium. I am pleased to be able to satisfy the consortium, even if the measure is only mildly, moderately or not at all comforting to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Laws: I like to be a man who is easily satisfied and the Minister has gone a long way to doing that. However, an element of uncertainty hangs in the air so I would like to press the amendment to a Division. I hope that as the Bill goes forward, the Minister will decide to introduce his own amendments to clarify the Government’s acceptance of this duty.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.
Division No. 9 ]
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Laws, Mr. David
Watkinson, Angela
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Griffith, Nia
Knight, Jim
Lammy, Mr. David
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Wilson, Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 10, page 5, line 36, at end add—
‘(2) In exercising its functions in subsection (1), a local authority must ensure that it promotes the effective participation of persons belonging to its area to whom this Part applies and who have special educational needs.’.
This amendment also deals with issues about provision in respect of young people with special educational needs. What is the reason for the amendment? There is currently a lack of clarity about who is responsible for ensuring transition to post-16 education and training for SEN students. The Green Paper “Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16”, states:
“We must ensure that there is appropriate provision and support in place to enable those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) to continue in learning. This can be a particular issue at the point of transition. The system of support that has been in place stops when the young person leaves school and sometimes there can be a gap before new arrangements are made in the post-16 provider they transfer to.”
The Green Paper says that the Learning and Skills Council will consult on this issue, but it has no direct responsibility for school-college transition—a point to which the Minister may wish to respond. That responsibility lies with Connexions, as the hon. Gentleman implied in a previous debate when he was trying to persuade us that appropriate and sufficient provision was somehow narrower and weaker than effective participation—curious argument that I did not entirely follow and clearly did not support.
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The Connexions service begins with the section 140 assessment and, where appropriate, a special educational needs transition review. Under the Bill, responsibility for Connexions transfers to local authorities and the amendment provides for local authorities to have a specific obligation to ensure effective participation on the part of SEN students. Essentially, it would further strengthen the circumstances surrounding those young people with special educational needs against a background in which we know that they often do not get the chances that they warrant. I hope that on that basis the Minister will accept the amendment, and we can deal with these matters very briefly.
Jim Knight: I will struggle to add anything to the previous debate, as we are setting out to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to participate and be engaged in education or training. Clause 10 puts the duty on local authorities to promote participation for all 16 and 17-year-olds, including those with special educational needs. It will transfer commissioning responsibilities from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities, which will have a responsibility all the way through to 19. It is precisely to capture the needs of vulnerable young people, especially in respect of the transition, that we want to bring those responsibilities up to the age of 19 into the remit of local authorities.
There is little more I can say to satisfy the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.
Mr. Hayes: Perhaps I can help the Minister. He can say a great deal more, specifically about transition arrangements. He should be able to speak about that for hours.
Jim Knight: As I said, we have the transfer of responsibility to local authorities from the Learning and Skills Council. Section 140 of the 2000 Act becomes, in effect, clause 65 of this Bill, which gives responsibility for section 140 assessments to local authorities. That will help transition because local authorities that currently have responsibility pre-16 will now also have responsibility post-16. We are consulting on the responsibility for provision and the transfer to local authorities so that transition, for the important reasons given by the hon. Gentleman, can be smoothed as part of the local authority’s duty under clause 10 to promote participation for all 16 and 17-year-olds.
Although I have not spoken at great length in response to the interesting points that the hon. Gentleman made, I hope that what I said is sufficient for him to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Hayes: I am not entirely satisfied. I do not want to over-egg this pudding. The hon. Member for Yeovil was unpersuaded by the Minister’s argument.
Angela Watkinson: Does my hon. Friend agree that participation rates among this group of students are likely to be high? They are certainly not difficult to reach. So many of them would otherwise be condemned to a life of inactivity and boredom that they, more than perhaps any other section of the 10 per cent. that we are trying to reach, will welcome these opportunities. Having said that, there will be huge cost implications in making provision for them.
Mr. Hayes: Yes. My hon. Friend is right. I described two challenges earlier: the challenge of persuading young people that they had the opportunity to fulfil their potential and the challenge to employers in persuading them to engage with young people. My hon. Friend is right to point out also that once that process has begun, it accelerates rapidly. Once employers know what can be done, they want to do more. The ROSE project makes that case very powerfully. Once young people have opportunities presented to them, I think that they will accept them with enthusiasm, for the sort of reasons that she gave. That does not make it any less challenging. That is why the amendment strengthens the Bill.
I am surprised that the Minister finds the proposal alarming. The historical record of helping people with disabilities and special educational needs is not an altogether glowing one. I do not speak of this Government; I speak Governments per se. It is not as if we could say with confidence that all young people with disabilities and special educational needs are getting what they are due. The reason for some indignation in my tone is that I could not sanction—I do not suggest that the Minister is guilty of this—any complacency in this regard. As a nation we have a patchy record in special educational needs provision and the treatment of disabled people in employment and learning opportunities. That is not a partisan matter, but it is a matter of real concern to members of the Committee and the House.
Jim Knight: I am sorry if I gave any impression of complacency. We know there is a strong correlation between not being in education or training and other risk factors such as 16 to 19-year-olds with learning difficulties and disabilities. That is why we are currently investing £19 million in a transition support programme for young people with special educational needs. That is why the Learning and Skills Council has been consulting on changes to SEN provision in FE and workplace-based learning, post 16, following the recommendation of the Little review that it should develop a national strategy for the collaborative delivery of provision for this group of learners. My only criticism of the amendment is that it is superfluous. The duty defined in the clause already allows for exactly what the amendment identifies, which I agree is necessary. I hope, on that basis, that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the amendment rather than press it to a Division.
As the hon. Member for Yeovil argued in respect of the previous amendment, I think, that the more insistent that we can be and the Bill can be on these matters, the better. We must not be found wanting in any way, shape or form when it comes to people who are the most challenged. The mark of a civilised society is how it deals with those who are least fortunate. I will not stint from making the case on behalf of those people, in this Committee or elsewhere. If I sound uncharacteristically intemperate, it is only because of my enthusiasm and my fierceness in defence of the gentle.
Jim Knight: We share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for specifying provision in respect of people with learning difficulties. That is why we have a whole clause—clause 65—dealing with assessment for people with learning difficulties. That is why Connexions and local authorities will continue to offer support to young people with learning difficulties until their 25th birthday. However, I would argue that the amendment is superfluous. On the basis of the commitment that I have offered the hon. Gentleman with regard to these young people, I hope that he will not press the amendment to a Division.
Mr. Hayes: I do not doubt the Minister’s integrity on this matter. I would not want to suggest that there are doubts about it. I think that this matter can unite the Committee, as it unites the House. As I said, I do not think that this is a partisan matter.
To put it bluntly, However, I think that the more demanding we can be in respect of the interests of young people with special educational needs, the better. Having been involved with and interested in these matters for more than 20 years, as a county councillor and as an MP, I will take a lot of persuading that any but the most demanding provisions are likely to yield consistently high-quality provision for people with special educational needs.
To that end, I am minded to press the amendment. It might not be perfectly worded because we are imperfect creatures who have fallen from a state of grace. Therefore, it may be that the Minister, if and when we do press it, reflects on it over time to see whether the Government can come back at a later stage of our considerations with a renewed enthusiasm for strengthening the Bill in the way that the hon. Member for Yeovil and I have articulated. I would therefore love—perhaps love is too strong. I would like to press the amendment to a vote.
Mr. Heald: I would like to add a word of support for my hon. Friend. For those with mental health problems, there is a quality of provision that could be available that is not available at present. The Minister might find it of interest if I explain the sort of thing that I have in mind.
In Southend, Rethink Severe Mental Illness has an employment agency on the top floor of a building. Below it is a pet supplies shop and at the back of the building is a warehouse. The organisation trains people with mental health problems upstairs in the employment agency and then starts them on retail in the pet supplies shop. If that goes well, so be it; if it does not, they are given an opportunity in the warehouse. Once they have the frame of mind and the discipline needed for work, they are given placements at businesses in the community, using the same sort of approach that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster talked about in relation to other groups.
Specialist provision such as that, provided by charities or voluntary bodies, is incredibly helpful for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Is there provision in the Bill to put a duty on local authorities to co-operate and consult with charities and voluntary bodies of that sort, to ensure that the sort of provision that is made is not just a college place, which might not be suitable, or a rather feeble work placement, but something solid and sufficient for this sort of group? I support the amendment not because I think that the wording is right, but because I hope that it will galvanise the system not just for the able-bodied and those who are fortunate, but for some of the most vulnerable people in our society—not just those who cannot read, write and add up, but those who have mental health problems.
2.30 pm
Jim Knight: I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Committee once more on this interesting amendment. I have little to add but, in response to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, may I draw his attention to clause 69, which is headed, “Co-operation as regards provision of 14-19 education and training”, and states that
“arrangements made by a children’s services authority in England...must include arrangements within subsection (2) or (3)”.
Subsection (2)(c) applies to
“other persons and bodies (of any nature) who exercise functions, or engage in activities, relevant to the provision of 14-19 education or training in the authority’s area.”
I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman that some thought has been given to co-operation between local authorities and others who are capable of support in that area.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 10 ]
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Laws, Mr. David
Walker, Mr. Charles
Watkinson, Angela
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Griffith, Nia
Knight, Jim
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Wilson, Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 84, in clause 10, page 5, line 36, at end add—
‘(2) Each local authority shall conduct an annual audit into the sufficiency and diversity of educational provision to assess its adequacy for fulfilling its functions in subsection (1).’.
This amendment, too, relates to the sufficiency of provision. I want to refer to comments by my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster and for South Holland and The Deepings about the ROSE project. I responded to the invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster to visit that project, which is run by Havering College of further and higher education. I saw a young woman with severe learning difficulties who was engaged in the project at a branch of Sainsbury’s in the Brewery retail park at Romford. It was inspiring to see her at work, because the challenge of filling shelves was developing her intellect. She was developing in other areas as well, and in time, she would be able to take a bus from home to work by herself. That was absolutely inspiring, but what was particularly impressive was the enthusiasm of the manager of that branch of Sainsbury’s. I met other employers, too, including a franchisee who ran several McDonald’s branches in the area, and was determined to invite more ROSE project participants to do some of the simpler jobs in his franchises. It is a wonderful scheme and I wish them all the best.
Clause 10 is the key clause in the Bill. It imposes a duty on local authorities to promote participation in education and training. In theory, that should mean that local authorities have a duty to ensure that there is sufficient educational provision to help young people to fulfil their duty to participate. That was the essence of the debate on the previous two amendments. Although there are other duty provisions about support services in the Bill, and other duties elsewhere in legislation generally about the provision of education, there is no specific duty linking the provision of educational facilities with the duty of all young people to participate.
There is a danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said in relation to the previous amendment, pf complacency. A local authority might take the view that its education and training provision is just fine, and it will focus on exercising its duty under clause 10 by monitoring 16 and 17-year-olds and pursuing penalties: it will concentrate on the second part of the sentence in clause 10, rather than the first part. I remember the director of education in the local education authority in my constituency telling me that there were no weak schools in his area only a month before two comprehensive schools were put into special measures. Either he did not know what was going on in his area, or he has very low standards regarding adequate provision in that area.
Amendment no. 84 would add to clause 10 a requirement that each local authority should
“conduct an annual audit into the sufficiency and diversity of educational provision in order to assess its adequacy for fulfilling its functions”
when promoting greater participation. The words, “sufficiency and diversity”, were proposed by Barnardo’s, which points out that the 10 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education, training or work—“ETWs” is my new mnemonic, which is more cumbersome than “NEETs”—require provision that is not simply more of the same. It is not just Barnardo’s that has raised concerns. Martin Ward, the deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Committee that
“we will indeed have a larger number of young people for whom it will be difficult to provide the sort of support, per head, that they will need and deserve.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 61, Q154.]
Sue Dutton, the acting chief executive of the Association of Colleges told us:
“We recognise that there will have to be some transformations in the way that colleges currently operate, given the new arrangements.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 33, Q85.]
She also said:
“There will be, and are, occasions when colleges cannot fulfil the personalised service that they would like to.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 31, Q79.]
Similarly, in its briefing, TreeHouse made its concern about the quality of provisions available in colleges for vulnerable young people very clear. It called for further clauses to
“ensure there are appropriate supports for young people with autism and SEN to stay well as reliable monitoring of the supports.”
The Association of School and College Leaders, too, referred to the difficulties facing colleges:
“Re-engaging the last 10 per cent. of young people is a huge challenge that will not be achieved cheaply.”
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People said:
“We would like to see more duties on LEAs to ensure that they provide sufficient and appropriate provision for pupils with SEN”
If we impose a duty on young people of 16 and 17 to participate in education and training, the people whom this duty is most likely to affect—the 16 and 17-year-olds who would not have been going on to further or higher education or a job with training—are likely to have a wider range of needs than the rest of the population of that age. It seems right therefore to impose a duty on local authorities, as part of the requirement to promote participation under clause 10, to look at themselves annually to ensure that the young people on whom this legislation is most likely to impact are catered for by the education and training provision in the local authority area. Amendment No. 84 seeks to do that, and it guards against the public sector’s tendency to be complacent about the quality of services provided.
Jim Knight: I shall seek to address the amendment directly, and not be distracted by new mnemonics for NEETs such as NETWAs and NOTWETs—there are all manner of things we could discuss if we were so minded. The Learning and Skills Council has a duty to ensure 16-to-19 provision. That role includes auditing the provision available in an area, assessing demand from young people, and planning provision to meet that demand. It is clear that the LSC takes its duties very seriously in that regard, and so do local authorities regarding the pre-16 age group. In June last year, we announced that in future the funding and responsibility 16-to-19 provision would be transferred from the LSC to local authorities. In one of our evidence-taking sessions, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said that
“we need to look very coldly and calmly at the provision being made, matching that to the needs of the economy in consultation with employers and employers’ organisations in order to commission, to recomission and, in some cases, to decommission provision to ensure that what we have matches what is needed.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2008; c. 79, Q182.]
The association clearly takes its responsibilities seriously in that regard. However, the fact that the LSC’s duty will be transferred, means that in the future auditing provision will become the role of the local authority.
In many ways, we agree with both the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and Barnardo’s about the importance of that audit. However, it does not make sense to put the duty on local authorities before we have legislated and make them responsible for commissioning the provision—that would put them in a difficult position and we have not even consulted on the best ways of making that transfer. We have always said that we could not require all young people to participate until we believe that there is a suitable route available for everyone in every area of the country. That is why we are not raising the participation age until 2013, when the national entitlement to the new diplomas and the apprenticeship guarantee will be in place, and the foundation learning tier for provision at entry and level 1 will be established. I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that we must go through an important sequencing to deliver by 2013. The auditing that he requires will, by that time, have been put in place by future legislation.
Mr. Gibb: I am more than moderately—perhaps even comfortably—assured by the Minister’s response. On the basis of his assurance that the matters will be tackled and legislated upon once the transfer from the LSC is complete, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 148, in clause 10, page 5, line 36, at end insert—
‘(2) In subsection (2) of section 47 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 (Determination of school’s budget share), after paragraph (g) insert—
“(h) requiring local education authorities to have regard, in determining the resources required for each school and college maintained by them, to the duty imposed on such authorities by section 10 of the Education and Skills Act 2008.”’.
The amendment was inspired by the National Union of Teachers—as so much is. We share its concern about ensuring that there are sufficient resources in place for schools to provide for, and meet, the needs of the 16 and 17-year-olds to whom the duty to participate applies. The Government’s Green Paper says at paragraph 4.37 that
“our modelling suggests the majority of additional learners would be based mainly in the FE sector, although some would be in schools.”
In his evidence, the Minister said in response to his hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield:
“Getting to 100 per cent. averages out at about 100 learners per local authority, or about 50 per cohort.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 217, Q502.]
There are 150 local authorities, so I multiplied 100 by 150 by adding two zeros to 150—it is a formulaic method of multiplication that has served me well throughout my life, including 13 years as an accountant with KPMG—which comes to 15,000 extra students. The Government’s Green Paper says, at paragraph 4.43
“We estimate that if we introduce compulsory participation to age 17 in 2013 there will be around 5,000 more 16 and 17 year olds in schools that year than there will be next year (the 07/08 academic year), and in 2015, when the age would be raised to 18, there will be around 15,000 more in schools than in 07/08. All of this growth is accounted for by the already planned growth in Academies, most of which will have sixth forms.”
That makes 20,000 more school places in sixth forms. Moving on to colleges, the Green Paper says at paragraph 4.45
“And in relation to FE we estimate that if we were to introduce compulsory participation to 17 in 2013, 13,000 additional places would be needed compared to next academic year (07/08), and then on raising the age to 18 in 2015, another 31,000 more would be needed on top of that.”
That is 13,000 plus 31,000, which means 44,000 more college places.
2.45 pm
With regard to new full-time education, the Government predict 20,000 more places in schools and 44,000 more college places. That is 64,000 places in total, of which just under a third would be in schools. When the Government imply that the majority of the new provision will be in FE colleges, they are technically correct, but I think that most people implicitly understand that few of those places would be in schools, because the Government keep emphasising that the Bill is not about raising the school leaving age to 18.
The final part of the jigsaw is the number of 16 and 17-year-olds in work-based learning. According to figure 4.3 on page 31 of the Green Paper, there was an increase in that total from 97,000 in 2007-08 to 141,000 in 2015-16, which is an increase of 44,000. If one adds together the 20,000 school places, the 54,000 college places and the 44,000 work-based learning places, one reaches 128,000, which is just over 10 per cent. of the 16 and 17-year-old cohort and therefore about right. My concern is that 64,000 new college places means 426 places per local authority and 133 school places per local authority, which makes 559 student places per local authority, rather than the 100 referred to by the Minister. I am sure that I have misunderstood either some of those numbers or the Minister’s answer to his hon. Friend’s question, so it would be helpful if he clarified the position.
That leads me on to the question posed by Professor Alison Wolf on page 16 of her book, “Diminished Returns”, in which she says that
“while the Department expects very few of the ‘new’ participants to be taking A-levels, the economic benefits analysis provides for 27 per cent. of the additional 16-year-olds and 34 per cent. of that additional 17-year-olds to do so (with another 13 per cent. of each doing GCSEs.)”
She queries that assumption, because she believes that it exaggerates the economic benefits of the policy, as A-levels bring with them a higher level of economic benefit than other qualifications. She makes points out that
“we know from a variety of...sources that those who are realistically able to take A-levels almost universally do so already.”
It would be helpful if the Minister told the Committee how many of the new 10 per cent. of participants he expects to study A-levels in 2015 as a result of the new duty to participate under the Bill. It is an important question, because it goes to the root both of the economic analysis of the policy and of the likely costs that schools would be expected to incur. That is why the amendment would require local authorities to take into account the new duties imposed by clause 10 in determining the allocation of school budgets.
The NUT’s concerns were shared by the Association of School and College Leaders and the Association of Colleges. Brian Lightman, the president of the ASCL, told the Committee:
“There are certainly additional costs. I think it would be very wrong and naive to assume that you could do this on the cheap, and I do not think that would be practical.”
He also said that
“you are going to need additional staff who can offer specialised support. For example...a youth support worker who provides specialised counselling and mentoring to young people.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 64, Q161.]
Martin Ward, the deputy general secretary of the ASCL, referred to the hardest-to-reach of the 10 per cent. cohort, and said that
“it is not going to be cheap because they are going to need extra support.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 64, Q161.]
Finally, Sue Dutton, the acting chief executive of the Association of Colleges told the Committee:
“There will be extra costs in work force related matters. If you offer a more personalised service to a more difficult cohort of learners, it inevitably must come at a higher price.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 33, Q86.]
An amendment that simply requires local authorities to have regard to the duties imposed on schools by this legislation when they determine budgets is therefore sensible.
Jim Knight: There is a straightforward way in which to address the amendment which is not unrelated to how I addressed the previous one, but to be helpful I shall deal briefly with some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
As for what I said in evidence, having reread the transcript I accept that there is a danger that it would be misleading because I omitted to say that the average of 50 places per cohort per local authority applies only to schools. The hon. Gentleman’s maths is correct that that would become about 15,000 more 16 and 17-year-olds in 2015 than there are this year. In FE in 2013, we estimate that 13,000 additional places will be needed compared with this year and, in 2015, another 31,000 places will be needed. I hope that I have been helpful.
The substantial point remains that the total number of 16 and 17-year-olds in each year group decreases after 2007-08. Although the proportion of young people will increase significantly, the increase in actual numbers will not be that large What I was saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield about now being an opportune time to pursue such a measure remains true.
Mr. Heald: Does that mean that the article that the Minister will remember from T he Times Educational Supplement last November, which said that his Department needed to be build 17 new colleges, was not right and that it would be possible to manage with existing numbers? What is his plan?
Jim Knight: I do not think that we need to build all those new colleges. They certainly do not need to be built overnight or between now and 2015. I have just said that, in FE in 2013, we estimate that 13,000 additional places will be needed compared with this year, and in 2015 another 31,000 places will be needed. In my reckoning, that does not bring to mind that number of colleges. We have not averaged it out throughout local authorities by dividing by 150 because colleges do not tend to relate in the same way to local authorities. Nevertheless, the current capacity of colleges in FE spread throughout the country can cope with the numbers. Obviously, some capital commitments in FE will go towards increasing the capacity.
Mr. Laws: Is it the Government’s intention that some of the extra demand will be soaked up by encouraging more schools to have sixth form provision?
Jim Knight: We expect about 15,000 more 16 and 17-year-olds in school in 2015, so the provision of post-16 sixth forms will require a modest expansion. However, as I set out in evidence, that will be an average per local authority of 50 per cohort. That is extremely modest, and I do not anticipate swathes of new sixth forms or sixth form colleges cropping up throughout the country which we would have to fund.
On the slightly complicated issue of the proportion of additional participants who might be doing A-levels, we have calculated the figures on some of our assumptions of economic benefit by looking at the level of qualification that non-participants achieved at the point at which they stopped participating and what individuals with a similar level of qualification are going on to study. On that basis, about one fifth of 16-year-olds and one quarter of 17-year-olds have reached level 2 at the point of leaving school, when they do not participate. The vast majority—83 per cent.—of those 16 and 17-year-olds who reach level 2 opt to do A-levels, but they are not the only ones who do so. Among 16 and 17-year-olds leaving school with no qualifications, 11 per cent. go on to do A-levels, probably with extra support to reach that level. Similarly, among the 16 and 17-year-olds leaving school with below level 2 qualifications, 23 per cent. make the leap to A-levels. On the basis of that level of prior attainment for non-participants, we have been able to assume that 31 per cent. would go on to do A-levels.
Mr. Gibb: Presumably, the one fifth of 16-year-olds and one quarter of 17-year-olds who go on to do A-levels after they leave school, do that without being compelled to by legislation. Therefore, they are likely to be more motivated, and perhaps more able, than the 10 per cent. of the cohort that we are trying to address in the legislation. Why does the Minister assume that the same proportions of this 10 per cent. will pursue these qualifications as a result of the legislation? That is a cumbersome and long way of asking a simple question. Are those people leaving school at 16 and 17 to go on to sixth form college, and do they therefore count as leaving school? Or have they left school in a more definitive way, and returned to education later on?
Jim Knight: We needed a consistent basis on which to predict future qualification choices, and it was felt that prior attainment provided that, and it is evidence-based. I would certainly argue that this 10 per cent. cohort would be less able. If we know that one fifth of 16-year-olds and one quarter of 17-year-olds who are not participating have achieved level 2, we know that they are of the same ability as other people who have achieved level 2 who are participating. They are certainly capable of going on to do A-levels.
We know that A-levels are deemed to be a strong choice for people who stay on. If we can motivate them by whatever means to carry on in education or training, we think that it is fair to make some assumptions on the basis of the prior attainment of people who are participating.
Mr. Hayes: That is a curious argument, because it presumes that all those who leave at 16 would, if compelled to stay on, welcome that compulsion. Some people who leave school at 16 want to do so. A measure of their attainment at 16 is not the same thing as a measure of their desire to continue learning, is it?
Jim Knight: Either I did not get the point or I was having a Proustian moment of reflection. Would the hon. Gentleman like to ask it again?
Mr. Hayes: I shall explain more simply. Some of the people who currently leave at 16, who will be compelled under the Bill to stay on, leave because they face all kinds of challenges and difficulties. For all sorts of peer group and perhaps family reasons they do not stay on, but would rather like to, given a reasonable amount of encouragement.
Other people who leave at 16 do so because they want to get out and do something else. Differentiating between those groups is critical to the modelling described by the Minister, because the assumption that underpins it is that prior attainment is more significant than desire.
Jim Knight: I accept that the modelling is predicated more on ability than motivation, if that is the hon. Gentleman’s point. But we do not have any better data on which to model. Anything else would be, to use Alison Wolf’s phrase, “a hunch”.
The reality is, before we get too preoccupied by the matter, that the change in the assumption makes very little difference to the overall economic benefit. We have looked at various other ways that are more hunch-like and we did not see massive differences to the economic benefit. Certainly, they would pass the Treasury prescription on legislation, even if we assume that all leavers went on to do vocational qualifications or GCSEs. I hope that that answer satisfies hon. Members.
3 pm
When determining the resources required by schools and colleges, we expect that local authorities will have regard to their duty to promote participation, as they will have regard to all of their duties. The amendment makes assumptions about how the funding system will operate when the transfer of resources from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities is implemented from 2010-11. That is premature, given that the details of the new funding system will be subject to consultation in the spring. These changes should be implemented from the academic year 2010-11, well before plans to raise the participation age, and they will fundamentally change the funding system. Those changes will require primary legislation, which we will bring before the House in due course, including amendments to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. It would be premature to make detailed alterations of primary legislation now, before that comes into place. Yet again, for the sake of proper sequencing, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Gibb: On the last point, I take on board the Minister’s argument, as I did on the previous amendment, and I will withdraw the amendment.
On the substance of the debate, the Minister overestimates the benefits. If the economic benefits have been calculated on the assumption that 27 per cent. of 16-year-olds and 34 per cent.—a third—of 17-year-olds will take A-levels, and if Alison Wolf believes that that assumption would exaggerate the benefits quite substantially, it would be interesting, as the hon. Member for Yeovil said, to call back Professor Wolf to address those points, given the new information and arguments that have been put to us. She says in her pamphlet:
“we know from a variety of...sources that those who are realistically able to take A-levels almost universally do so already.”
The Minister also underestimates the costs. During the evidence-taking sessions the hon. Member for Sedgefield asked:
“do you think you will have enough suitable people by 2013 and 2015 for all the young people who will come on stream then?”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 217, Q502.]
The answer was based on 100 per cohort—I accept that that related to schools only—but we are actually talking about 133 school places per authority and 426 college places per local authority. Those are substantial numbers, and I wonder whether the Government have underestimated the implications for those institutions. I have made that point during the debate, so the Minister need not respond again now, but having tested the arguments and brought these issues to the attention of the Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman: I notice the hon. Member for Yeovil shifting in his seat. I was going to say to members of the Committee that I am of the view that the germane matters contained in the clause have been thoroughly considered and I am not, therefore, minded to facilitate a clause stand part debate. Simply because I am not psychic and cannot anticipate precisely what the hon. Member for Yeovil is going to say, I am willing to allow him briefly to say it. I hope that the Committee understands why I propose to proceed in that way.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Laws: I understand your concern to not go back over other ground, Mr. Bercow. I want to raise a fresh issue that is relevant to the clause and to ask whether it would be reasonable to ask the Minister to respond briefly.
The clause deals with local authority responsibilities in relation to helping young people to be in education, training, and employment with education and training. I want to ask whether any duties will be placed on local authorities in relation to financial support for young people, which is something that we have not considered so far. I cannot see another point in the Bill on which there will be an opportunity to discuss this issue directly.
Some outside organisations have raised concerns about the lack of any specific detail in the Bill on the future of the educational maintenance allowance and the provision of support for fees. We assume that all the courses that we are talking about will be exempt. Later in the Bill, there is provision to deal with the cost of books, equipment and materials for 19-year-olds and above. That could be relevant for people whose parents are not willing to support them financially beyond the age of 16. Issues have been raised about whether local authorities will have hardship grants to deal with such issues. Presumably, some young people will stay in settings beyond the age of 16 where uniforms are required. There are concerns about financial provision in that area. There are issues about the loss of earnings that might result for some young people from sticking to the duties in the Bill.
The Government have indicated that they will have to look in detail at what responsibilities will fall to them and to local government in relation to the educational maintenance allowance. Its original purpose was to support young people and to galvanise them into staying in education post-16. As a consequence of the compulsion in the Bill, they will have to stay on, but the Government have not indicated how they intend to frame the future of the EMA to allow for the change from volunteerism to compulsion. There has been some hint of significant changes, but no further detail from the Government of which I am aware.
We would like to know not only what thinking there is on these issues, but, in relation to the clause, whether local authorities will have responsibilities to fund any of that support, and whether any duties will be imposed on them.
Jim Knight: The EMA is, of course, important. It is referred to in paragraphs 5.39 and 5.40 of the impact assessment, which gives a helpful description of EMAs as
“means tested weekly payments currently made directly to 16-19 year olds in education or unwaged training.”
It is described as a “something for something” incentive. Clearly, there will need to be changes because the EMA was introduced to encourage people to stay in full-time education or training. We are changing the law in that area, so we will have to change the way in which EMAs work to respond to that.
EMAs have been successful in raising participation for 16-year-olds. Between 2003-04 and 2004-05, they increased participation by 3.7 per cent., which is highly significant. EMAs are one of the only things to have worked in addressing the problem NEETs. Given their success, we want them to continue in some form. We will need to look at the structure of financial support to ensure that it continues to be as effective as possible.
Once we have raised the participation age, it will be essential to ensure that financial circumstances are not a barrier to participation. The hon. Member for Yeovil is right about some of the issues, such as learning materials and transport. The EMAs are quite important to some families in securing transport, for example.
Mr. Laws: In dealing with how EMAs could change under the new proposals, does the Minister envisage there being the same level of financial support per young person? Who will administer the EMAs?
Jim Knight: At this point—several years off and in another spending period—it is impossible for me to make commitments on what the level will be. Naturally, we will be mindful of the success of EMAs at the current level. I would not envisage that we would be looking to reduce the financial support to the sorts of people who have been receiving EMAs as they are. Indeed, we have been extending EMAs to people on the entry to employment programme. If anything, we are looking to deepen the benefits of EMAs, rather than dilute them.
We will ensure that the financial constraints are not a barrier. As for who will administer the EMAs, they are currently administered on our behalf by the Learning and Skills Council. When we publish consultations on how we will implement the transfer of commissioning from the LSC to local authorities, we will need to give some indication of how they will be administered. At this stage, I am not in a position to be able to give the hon. Gentleman the sort of answer that would even mildly satisfy him on the Laws scale of satisfaction.
Mr. Heald: Would the clause be justiciable? If I was a person with a special need of some sort or some desire for a particular kind of education, would I be able to sue the council on the basis that it had not exercised its functions to promote my effective participation in education or training?
Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman, as ever, poses a fascinating question around the—what was the word he used?
Mr. Heald: Justiciability—can one sue?
Jim Knight: On the justiciability of the clause, I would liken it more to the current duties on a local authority to provide schooling. It would be treated in law in a similar way as the justiciability of local authorities in respect of the provision of schooling. That is a good example of the general duties elsewhere in law that are similar to those in the clause. I would expect the courts to deal with them in a similar way.
Mr. Laws: I am grateful to you, Mr. Bercow, for your patience and to the Minister for his comments. This short debate highlights the fact that there is little bit of a hole in the Bill in relation to the detail of future financial support for young people. There seems to be uncertainty about how the EMA will survive. In the section of the impact assessment to which the Minister referred, there is a comment about the Government looking at how they can strengthen the link of these payments to behaviour and attainment. I am not sure what that means. I did not pick up any response from the Minister about issues of hardship grants and how young people might be helped with costs that previously would fall quite often to their parents, but that their parents might be less willing to engage with post 16.
Jim Knight: Learner hardship grants are available separately from EMAs, as I recall. They are slightly more flexible than EMAs, which have a particular point of assessment, and I certainly foresee those continuing. Obviously we could have waited a considerable time and changed the sequence in which we legislated to do this. However, we thought that it was important to put the basic legislation in place to raise the participation age now so that the cohort currently in year 6 goes into secondary school with the expectation that they will carry on learning. Undoubtedly, there are unanswered questions and we have to be upfront about those. One of those is around financial support, but we are committed to ensuring not only that there is an engaging choice of worthwhile learning options, but that there will be financial support where it is needed to enable those learners to participate.
3.15 pm
Mr. Laws: It is helpful to understand that there are these unanswered questions. We may come back to them later in the proceedings as we continue to scrutinise the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill
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