Education and Skills Bill

[back to previous text]

Clause 60

Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 99, in clause 60, page 32, line 24, after ‘State’, insert
‘or on request by at least 50 pupils, students or parents resident in the local authority area’.
Clause 60 places a duty on the chief inspector to inspect and report on Connexions services
“when requested to do so by the Secretary of State”.
As the House of Lords inquiry into the apprenticeship system found last year, Ofsted, which previously inspected Connexions partnerships, has not had the power to inspect Connexions since 2004 except as part of a wider joint area review. In previous debates, I have quoted the report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs entitled “Apprenticeship: a key route to skill”, which acknowledged that there had been no proper oversight of Connexions by Ofsted since 2004.
Amendment 99 would ensure that, if local people are concerned about the quality of the Connexions service in their area, they can trigger an inspection by the Chief inspector. It would make the process of inspection responsive to local needs. In responding to the amendment, will the Minister explain the process which would lead the Secretary of State to insist on an inspection under the Bill as drafted? Doubts about the inspection machinery for Connexions underlie the amendment. The Minister has spoken a great deal about advice and guidance this morning, because that is the area of the Bill with which we are dealing. Indeed, he has spoken confidently about the role of Connexions in giving that advice and guidance. However, if that role is to be assured, an appropriate inspections regime must be in place, and we are not confident that that is the case.
Jim Knight: The clause provides that Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills must inspect and report on matters concerning Connexions services if requested to do so by the Secretary of State or at any other time she thinks fit. The amendment proposes that if at least 50 pupils, students or parents resident in a local authority request an investigation, the chief inspector would be under a duty to conduct one. I reassure the Committee that individuals or groups are free to petition the Secretary of State or Her Majesty’s chief inspector to undertake inspections. Such petitions are taken very seriously by both parties. Indeed, one complaint that identifies a significant risk to the well-being of young people is all that is needed under the current regime.
Mr. Hayes: Why is the current regime not working? According to the House of Lords inquiry, an inspection of Connexions has not taken place since 2004. Is that right?
Jim Knight: Between autumn 2002 and autumn 2004, Ofsted carried out full inspections of 28 Connexions partnerships. It is worth saying that of those partnerships, 89 per cent. were rated as satisfactory or better, and 60 per cent. as good or better. There have been no further inspections focused solely on Connexions partnerships. Instead, from September 2005, Ofsted, along with other inspectorates, has undertaken holistic joint area reviews—known in the trade as JARs—of services for children and young people in a local authority area. JARs replace the separate inspections of local education authorities, social services, Connexions services and the provision for students aged 14 to 19.
The programme of JARs will end in late 2008, and from next year, most inspections of area-level services will be bespoke to an area and triggered by a multi-inspectorate annual comprehensive area assessment—CAA—led by the Audit Commission and including Ofsted. Inspectorates are currently working up arrangements for the CAA. The first consultation on principles will end this month, and the inspectorates plan to consult on details in summer 2008. That is the normal scenario that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings asked about in respect of how the Secretary of State will instruct the chief inspector to carry out inspections of Connexions. That will be rolled into the CAA process.
The clause provides for a flexible and responsive system that allows the views of service users to be taken into account and that can target inspections to the level of risk. I do not believe that using a fixed number of requests as a trigger for an inspection is the best way to use inspection resources. More importantly, that would risk sending the message that the receipt of fewer than 50 requests, however serious they are, is not significant. I hope that in the light of that compelling reasoning, the reasonable hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will withdraw the amendment.
12.15 pm
Mr. Hayes: I am not sure that the Minister’s reasoning was as compelling as he would have us believe, but I will not press the amendment. I have no wish to inconvenience the Committee unduly, but we must get the issue of inspection right. I am not sure that JARs are the best mechanism for dealing with Connexions inspections, and I hope that the Minister will reflect again on how we can build a better, more responsive protocol for the inspection of careers advice and guidance in particular, as that will be critical to the working of the Bill. Nevertheless, the Minister’s reasoning was just compelling enough to encourage me, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 43, in clause 60, page 32, line 27, at end insert—
‘(1A) Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector must, in exercising his functions in subsection (1), inspect any support services provided and make an assessment of whether such services facilitate the effective participation of persons belonging in a local authority area to whom this Part applies and who have special educational needs.’.
The Connexions service plays a vital role in helping young people with special educational needs to make the transition from education to employment. I have emphasised how significant we believe the challenge is. There are certainly problems with how many young people with special educational needs secure appropriate employment. There are some great success stories, which need to be championed and trumpeted. However, as an academic study in 2003 found, there are significant problems with the service. That report concluded:
“The findings from this project are consistent with other studies in highlighting the unsatisfactory nature of much transition planning for young people with learning difficulties...we remain concerned that, despite efforts to stimulate interest, work and employment hardly featured. Raising expectations and belief in young people and their families about work must become much more central to the educational and the Connexions task. This must be matched by close working between PAs and Careers Advisors in the Connexions service plus the development links with local supported employment agencies—where they exist.”
Amendment No. 43 specifies that inspection of the Connexions service should include the inspection of facilities and services for young people with special educational needs. It therefore allows a broader consideration than my previous amendment, which applied only to people with visual impairment. That academic report—“Connecting with Connexions: the role of the Personal Adviser with young people with special educational and support needs”, by Bob Grove PhD and Alison Giraud-Saunders—highlighted examples of good practice. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster and I have both mentioned the ROSE project, the supported employment project in her area that does exactly the job—described as vital in the report I quoted—on the transition from education to employment with appropriate advice and, where necessary, support.
The situation that prevails in my hon. Friend’s area is not, however, universally enjoyed. There are insufficient high-quality supported employment opportunities for young people with special educational needs. As that academic study identified, that is partly because employment is not given sufficient priority in the guidance that young people with SEN are offered. To guarantee that it is given greater priority, the Bill must state that the Connexions inspection should look closely at the service’s success in providing such advice to people with SEN. This is another matter about which members on both sides of the Committee have strong feelings, and I feel particularly strongly about it. The Minister will know that people with SEN figure largely in the group he is determined to bring back into learning, and thus employment, because people with such needs clearly do not always do best under the system at the moment. At the age of 16, they are often virtually abandoned as far as their employment opportunities are concerned. I do not want to exaggerate the difference between us, but I urge the Minister to pay appropriate attention to this issue by demonstrating in his response to the amendment that the Government are determined that SEN young people should have just the same opportunities as their contemporaries whenever possible.
Jim Knight: I should like to reassure the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that we, too, take very seriously the provision of appropriate Connexions services for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. The duty on a local education authority proposed in clause 54 is to make services available to all young people between 13 and 19, and for young people with special educational needs between 13 and 24. Young people with special educational needs are therefore implicitly and explicitly included.
The quality standards for information, advice and guidance will be the centrepiece of the guidance on Connexions services that we will issue to local education authorities under clause 54(4)(b). They require that additional and sustained guidance and support is provided to young people with special needs or learning difficulties or disabilities. Clause 60 allows Her Majesty’s chief inspector to target an inspection on the provision of services for a particular part of the Connexions client group. The clause also allows the Secretary of State to target a request for an inspection in a similar fashion. Crucially—I know that the hon. Gentleman would not be satisfied with the word, “allows”, as he wants something more concrete than a power and closer to a duty—all assessments and inspections of children’s services are governed by the statutory framework for inspection of children’s services, under section 21 of the Children Act 2004.
The framework sets out 36 judgments which inspectors will seek to make. Five of the 36 judgments relate to children and young people with learning difficulties or disabilities. The framework will apply to local authority Connexions services inspected under clause 60. That being the case, I do not consider that we need to make an additional specific reference in the clause to make that possible.
Mr. Gibb: The Minister needs to give an assurance to outside bodies as well as the Committee. For example, TreeHouse has written to the Committee:
“In order to ensure that there is effective monitoring of the provisions for those young people with SEN we would like to see a requirement for Her Majesty’ have available SEN specialist inspectors...We believe that such a focus would help to drive up standards.”
The Minister needs to give an assurance to TreeHouse, as well as to Committee members.
Jim Knight: Certainly, in the words that I have just uttered I sought to reassure organisations such as TreeHouse about the provision. I take seriously its request that people with specialist skills should undertake SEN inspections, although I do not think that that is the subject of the amendment.
Mr. Hayes: Will the Minister offer further reassurance to the Opposition and interested agencies by providing an assessment of how many NEETs are people with special educational needs? Will he give us a feel for the modelling that the Government have done as to how the Bill will apply specifically to people with SEN? Encouraging people to participate is one thing, but dealing with their needs is another. Unless they both happen, we are not going to deal with concerns such as those that my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton raised.
Jim Knight: I do not have to hand or to the forefront of my mind the proportion of NEETs who learning difficulties or disabilities. However, if that information comes to me at any point, obviously I will pass it on to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee.
It is Government policy that inspection activities should be proportionate to risk. Specifying the focus of an inspection in that way would act against the policy and against our aims of reducing the regulatory burden. Clearly, there are circumstances when we might want Ofsted to carry out a specific inspection, and we have the powers to do that. Those inspections would be based on risk attached to information or to concerns about a particular service. However, to have the attitude that there is a general risk is contrary to the approach of specifying such matters through the overarching framework, which is the right way forward. May I tell the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that what he proposes in the amendment is already possible, as it is addressed in the overarching framework of children’s services? Therefore, while I agree with the sentiment of the amendment, it is not necessary and I hope that he will withdraw it.
Mr. Hayes: I am not entirely happy with what the Minister told us. The truth is that Ofsted does not inspect Connexions, or at least not very often—not since 2004. The notion that the existing regime is adequate in that regard is, at best, questionable. Similarly, I am not sure that the Government have given sufficient consideration in the Bill to people with special educational needs, not just in terms of inspection, but more generally. The Minister would do the Committee a service if he came back with an analysis of SEN in relation to NEETs and another detailed analysis of SEN in relation to the Bill’s provisions. The challenge is to bring into training and employment a much greater of proportion of people with special educational needs than are there at the moment. Such a challenge will only be met if we put the right advice and support in place. It is out there, in some places, as I said, but there are massive gaps in provision.
12.30 pm
Mr. Hayes: I acknowledge that the Minister has made it clear that he wants everyone to participate—he would hardly introduce a Bill that insisted on universal participation if he did not want everyone to be involved. However, I am arguing that to get everyone to participate, particularly those with special educational needs, will be a very big mountain. To climb it, we have to put into place high-quality advice and support for people with the greatest needs, including those with learning difficulties and other disabilities.
Jim Knight: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. If he wishes to know how seriously we take this, it might help him to know that the annual destination survey by Connexions on the activities of young people on 1 November of the year in which they completed year 11 shows that in 2005, about 25 per cent. of young people with special educational needs whose destinations were known were not in education or training, 9.2 per cent of them being employed, and 15.2 per cent. being unemployed. Support for transition was one of the issues highlighted in the “Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families” report of 2006, and there is a £19 million transition support programme for those young people.
Mr. Hayes: That is a helpful addition to our considerations. I will not press the matter to a vote, but I urge the Minister to look again at the issue of inspection, particularly with regard to special educational needs. I think that we underestimate at our peril the scale of the peak that we must surmount. We will short-change people with special educational needs unless we put the right systems in place to allow them to achieve their potential, just like other young people. I am determined to continue to make that case during the passage of the Bill by defending and advancing those young people’s interests, but at this juncture I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 101, in clause 60, page 32, line 34, at end insert ‘and the quality of such services.’.
It is a pleasure to take a full part in the Committee’s proceedings, having been the bag man for my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings for the past two hours. Clause 60 requires the inspector to conduct an inspection of Connexions when she thinks fit and when the Secretary of State requires her to do so. Subsection (3) states:
“A reference in subsection (1) to the provision of services includes a reference to the management and use of resources in providing services.”
It does not say anything about the quality of the service, or that the inspector should inspect the services in relation to quality, so the amendment would add the phrase,
“and the quality of such services”,
to the end of subsection (3). The Government want Connexions to be a high-quality service, but there are problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings has highlighted, given that there has not been an inspection of Connexions by Ofsted since 2004. “Quality Standards for Young People’s Information Advice and Guidance”, which has been published by the Minister’s Department, states:
“Staff providing information, advice and guidance services”
should be
“appropriately qualified, work to relevant professional standards and receive continuing professional development.”
It states that staff should have the
“skills, knowledge and qualifications to deliver a high quality service”.
They should be able to
“deliver information, advice and guidance to diverse client groups”
“know where to access impartial specialist advice.”
Guidance has therefore been published requiring quality services to be provided. It is important that the legislation require the chief inspector to have regard to the quality of the service, given the problems that have arisen in the past, and that there is a specific requirement that she have regard to the quality of provision set out in the legislation.
Jim Knight: As we have heard, the amendment seeks to include in the clause the words, “quality”, as that applies to the scope of inspections. I can understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, because one does not see the word, “quality”, when one reads the clause. However, as I will explain, the amendment is unnecessary because quality is specified in other pieces of legislation.
The hon. Gentleman has repeated the notion that there has been no inspection of Connexions since 2004. As I think I have set out to the Committee, there have been inspections of Connexions services since 2004, but not a specific inspection, as those inspections have been wrapped up in other local authority inspections. However, it would be wrong for anyone reading the record to be led into thinking that there has been no inspection since 2004. Section 118 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that the chief inspector has the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about the quality of services within her remit, as well as improvements in the quality of such services. Additionally, section 119 of the 2006 Act sets out that the chief inspector is to perform her functions for general purposes. That includes encouraging the improvement of activities within the chief inspector’s remit, and the carrying on of such activities in a user-focused fashion, both of which are measures of the quality of services.
Those purposes will apply to inspections under clause 60 in the same way that they do to all the chief inspector’s existing functions. The amendment could have the undesirable consequence of bringing into question the issue whether other inspections should focus on the quality of services being inspected if that function is specified. Accordingly, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Gibb: I am assured by those words, Mr. Bayley. It is good to have them on record, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 63 and 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 27 February 2008