Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)|
20 FEBRUARY 2008
Q20 Fiona Mactaggart: So they will
end up like those GPs who do not bother to turn up unless they
Kevin Brennan: What I was about
to say is that we will make it a requirement in futureI
will come back to the existing Academies in a momentas
part of an agreement for any future Academies that they will have
a designated teacher for looked-after children. That will be written
into every agreement with the Academies.
The vast majority of the existing Academieswe
have already scoped this outhave a designated teacher.
We are confident that, without having to legislate to force them
to do that, we can persuade other Academies that the small number
that do notI believe it is a tiny minorityshould
have a designated teacher. My understanding, therefore, is that
it should be possible to achieve that without having to put it
on the face of the Bill.
Q21 Fiona Mactaggart: That is fine
at the moment but one of the things we know about legislation
in this field, such as the 1989 legislation which provided for
advisers on education and training, is that we never bothered
to implement it. When I say "we", I mean consecutive
Governments. One of the things I am uneasy about, therefore, is
that if one sector of education gets a gentleman's agreement and
other sectors of education get legislation, are we confident that
the provision for such children is going to persist? I am sure
it will exist in the early years of the Academy movement; I have
no doubt about this at all. I am quite certain that those people
who are pioneering Academies are keen to provide for such children.
We know, however, how schools evolve and they might become less
keen in future. I am struck by the fact that this legislation
provides no lever to the Government in that regard.
Kevin Brennan: I am receiving
divine inspiration as we speak. First, the agreements by which
Academies are set up are not gentleman's agreementsthey
are legally enforceable agreements and therefore they cannot get
out of them at a later date. All new Academies will fall into
that category. Obviously, if it were the case that we found in
practice that those existing Academies83, I thinkwere
not following the spirit of what we have done, there might be
a case to look at this in future. We do not want to wade in and
undermine the flexibility that is supposed to be part of the model
for freedom to develop within the Academy system. If in practice
they are doing what we want them to do, we will allow that to
continue while making clear to any new Academies that it will
be part of their binding agreement that they will have to have
a designated teacher.
Q22 Fiona Mactaggart: Does this person
have to be a teacher?
Kevin Brennan: Yes, although it
does not say so in the clause on the face of the Bill, we will
be making it clear in regulation that they will have to be a teacher.
The reason for not putting it on the face of the Bill is in relation
toyou will know a lot more about this, Chairman, than I
do, even though I was once in the teaching professionthe
complexity of qualified teacher status and others who are qualified
teachers but may not have qualified teacher status in a technical
sense. I want to make it absolutely clear that the intention is
that we will provide in regulations that the person will be a
Q23 Fiona Mactaggart: At the moment
there is guidance that suggests that every school should have
a designated teacher. Are schools following that? What is the
difference where they are?
Kevin Brennan: I think that in
the vast majority of cases they are, Chairman, which might lead
you to ask why you would bother to put it in the Bill and if it
is a significant step forward. The reasons why we are doing so
are, first, to make sure that everybody does, but, also to enable
us through statutory guidance to be much clearer about the role
of the designated teacher and what would be expected of them and,
obviously, to enforce that in all cases. I think that it sends
a powerful signal to the system as a whole of the importance of
making sure that the interests of looked-after children are central
to a school's work. I can certainly say that in my time as a teacher,
probably to my shame, the role of looked-after children was pretty
low on my radar. I was not very aware of how many there were in
the school, of who they were and they may have had significant
Q24 Fiona Mactaggart: My experience
as a teacher was that I would be concerned about the fact that
looked-after children often did not bring a very good lunch, but
I was not sufficiently concerned about the fact that they were
not succeeding in their learning. I think that that is quite common
among the teaching profession; they are concerned about the welfare
issues, and often those children do not have as nice packed lunches
and so on as other children. I wonder how you are going to help
these designated teachers to drive the achievement of children,
because that has absolutely got to be their priority. One of the
things that we fail as a state to do is to give these children
the kind of qualifications that will enable them to make the most
of their talents and abilities in the future.
Kevin Brennan: Yes, I think that
that is absolutely right. Part of the £300 million, which
will be spent over those four years in addition to previous expenditure
on the Care Matters agenda, will be involved in offering further
training for designated teachers in how to perform that role,
which you quite rightly identified. In addition, there are going
to be other provisions to try and help improve the educational
outcomes of looked-after children in schools. They include having
a £500 annual allowance that can be spent on "enrichment
activities" for the education of looked-after children and
for the sort of things that are not currently provided by local
authorities as a matter of course as a corporate parent. They
are the kind of extras that you would expect a parent to try to
provide for their children. In addition, we are piloting virtual
heads, and I think that one of those is being piloted in Gateshead.
In the virtual head pilot, a designated person with the local
authority will act as a kind of virtual head teacher for all of
the looked-after children within that authority, to give that
kind of leadership across the piece and not just within individual
schools. So, it is very much the intention that that should be
the role of designated teachersto drive and improve performance
and to use these levers to do so.
Q25 Fiona Mactaggart: And if that
works and we get to a situation where looked-after children succeed
in obtaining A-levels and so on, which at the moment they lamentably
tend not to do, and we are going to offer a bursary into higher
education? What about those who do not get to higher education
but are going on to education beyond school? Are they going to
get access to any extra resources?
Kevin Brennan: There is a particular
reason for the bursary, which is the evidence that looked-after
children who do get through to higher education face higher debt.
The estimate of that it is that it is around £2,000 on average,
which is what the bursary will cover when they come out of university.
The purpose and idea behind the bursary is to give a level playing
field, in terms of potential debt, to young people who go through
higher education and have been in care, with the rest of the population.
It serves a specific purpose. Obviously, in the case of young
people in care who are in further education, there is already
quite significant assistance available to them. We will also be
providing things like a personal adviser up to the age of 25 to
help them plan their education and training after the age of 18.
So, there is a particular purpose to that £2,000 bursary,
and a reason for it is based on the evidence that we have. The
assumption behind it, by the way is that, that would lead to a
Q26 Fiona Mactaggart: You said that
it is £2,000, so is it a one-off payment of £2,000?
Kevin Brennan: It will not be
a one-off payment; it will be paid in instalments during the course.
The assumption behind it, if you look at the impact assessment,
is that it will lead to an increase of 10% in the numbers of young
people in care who are able to take up the opportunity to go into
higher education, as well as providing £2,000 to those who
are already do.
Q27 Chairman: What about apprenticeships?
Kevin Brennan: That is a very
pertinent point, and some of the debates and consultation that
have gone on in the other place have led us to wanting to cogitate
a bit further on what more we can do around training to ensure
that that is not missed out in the equation here. Perhaps I will
have an opportunity to say more about that at a later stage of
the Bill. Certainly it is a pertinent point that has been raised,
and one that we are looking further at as we speak.
Q28 Fiona Mactaggart: I was going
to go on to the training point, and that is very helpful, but
one of the things that we know about young people in training
and further education is the degree to which parental support
is often key in sustaining attendance, getting people through
sticky patches and so on. You are proposing a designated staff
member in schools, a local authority personal adviser, and someone
might be in touch with a foster parent, although they are going
to be going past various barriers such as 18 during this period.
I am wondering how all that is going to be co-ordinated. I have
a feeling that the kind of stuff that an ordinary 17 or 18-year-old
has, which is their mum digging them out of bed and making sure
that they have got a clean hoodie and so on, is really critical
to getting qualifications. That might not be so-called education
stuff, but it is the platform out of which learning comes. How
are we going to make sure that that happens, and that it is not
just a bunch of people sending each other memos?
Kevin Brennan: I think that that
is of crucial importance, and there is a big difference between
local authorities and performance around these sorts of practical
things. In some local authorities, the attendance of children
in their care is pretty much the same as for the general populationwell
above 90%. That is done by doing exactly what you are suggesting
should be done, which is having in place the very practical ways
of making sure that young people attend schoolnamely, making
sure that they get out of bed and get to school, making sure that
it is noticed if they are not there, and making sure that it is
followed up very quickly. There may have been in the past a culture
within the system of not being surprised or not caring enough
if the young person in a care home did not turn up for their course
or was not in school. Yes, having a designated teacher is going
to be key to that, because a designated teacher will very much
be, and should be, looking at where that young person is if they
have not turned up to school. Why have they not turned up for
school, and is there a particular problem at home, with a foster
carer, or in the children's home? That is why having people whose
direct responsibility it is to care about these young peoplenot
just to say that they are in care, but that they are cared aboutis
key to the system working. If, with this great complexity that
I have described that there is around children in care, people
do not have those direct responsibilities to undertake that work,
you will be correct in saying that we will get problems. It can
be done, and it is being done, but it is a case of making sure
that it is done more consistently and across the piece.
Q29 Fiona Mactaggart: Thank you for
that: you focused more on school-age children, and I am particularly
interested in the support for young people as they have left school.
We know that this is a period in which this group of young people
are often not thriving. In the Bill, as I understand it, the provisions
on personal advisers on education and training, which were in
the 1989 Act and which have not been implemented, are going to
be extended to provide personal advisers up to the age of 25.
I welcome that, but as far as I can see, we do not have themeven
though we have the legislation for thatfor those up to
the age of 21.
I hope that I have not misunderstood, but since
we are extending the use of personal advisersbetter support
and so onhow do we make sure that they have the power and
connectedness to do other things to help young people to do the
stickability thing? I worry that we designate people, they tick
boxes, they make the odd telephone call and so on, but they do
not actually do the stuff which makes the difference to the young
person at the time in their life when they are becoming an adult
and when it is critical to their success as an adult that they
get qualifications and training.
Kevin Brennan: Young people tell
us that, where they do have this sort of support, it works. That
is why we are extending it. On your earlier point about FE, we
are running pilots to provide further support to people in FE.
Having the extension to 25 is really important; we cannot expect
children in care to hit educational milestones at the same time
as other young people, because of the disruption there has been
in their lives.
The clear evidence that came out of the Green
Paper, the White Paper and the consultations with young people
is that they welcome having had a personal adviser, when they
have had one, but that the transition into adulthood is the big
problem. Most young people do not leave home until they are 24,
whereas in carein the past, not nowthey used to
drop off the cliff edge at 16.
Now, we are doing more to extend that to 18,
we are exploring ways to support young people up to the age of
21 in staying in their foster placements, if that is what both
sides want, and we are recognising that they are unlikely to get
qualifications as early as the general population. Young people
tell us that, when they have a personal adviser and someone to
assist them, it works, but it just runs out too quickly. So it
can workthe young people tell us that it worksbut
we just have not been doing enough of it.
Q30 Chairman: When you talk to young
people, how do you talk to them?
Kevin Brennan: When I talk to
Q31 Chairman: You said, "when
we talk to". Is it official; is it a survey; is it an annual
Kevin Brennan: In terms of consultation
on the Care Matters agenda, things are done in a variety of ways,
both by undertaking surveys, but also by undertaking special activities
where young people are brought in
Q32 Chairman: It is systematically
done by the Department?
Kevin Brennan: Indeed it is, Chairman,
and part of these proposals is that the voice of the young person
should be extended in local authorities as well, so that they
are listened to. As part of Care Matters agenda, we are asking
local authorities to create children-in-care councils and to publish
a pledge themselves on what they can expect.
Q33 Chairman: We have to move on,
but before we leave all the talk of education, in the unlikely
event that there was a looked-after child at the school that George
Osborne sends his children to, in the independent sector, who
looks after people in the independent sector? This does not apply,
Kevin Brennan: In relation to
the designated teacher, as you are probably aware, Chairman, we
are keen to allow the individual child, where it is appropriate
to that child's needs, to make use of boarding provision in schoolsand
not just in the independent sector; there is state boarding provision
as well. I think that I am right in saying that the designated
status does not apply to the independent sector, but that the
local authority would maintain its role as a corporate parent
in that instance and would monitor whether appropriate arrangements
were in place to look after that young person. Speaking to young
people who have been through it, we know that, in some cases,
but by no means a majority, that can be a very good, positive
option for that child, for obvious reasons.
Q34 Chairman: I have always thought
that the selective system, whether independent or grammar, tends
to screen out looked-after children. Am I wrong? Is that prejudice?
Are a number of looked-after children being educated in the independent
Kevin Brennan: There is a small
number within the independent sector. A pilot scheme is in place
to make sure that there are more opportunities for young people
in care to attend boarding school, whether or not in the independent
Q35 Chairman: I am not just talking
about boarding school, but across the piece.
Kevin Brennan: The particular
reason for using boarding schools is that, obviously, the children
are not living with their parents. It can often be a good option
that provides more stability and permanency, as well as being
a suitable option in relation to their relationship with foster
carers and children's homes. It is something on which further
work is being undertaken to see whether we can make it more widely
available. I see it very much not as an ideological matter, but
simply one of what is in the individual interests of that young
person. As you are undoubtedly aware, many young people in care
are extremely talented and have great ability, but having been
moved around schools too often within the system, they have not
had enough permanency of placement. The process can provide them
with stability and permanency that will allow them to fulfil their
potential, which is what all of us want to see.
Chairman: Thank you for that. Annette,
you will take us through the whole reviewing officers issue.
Q36 Annette Brooke: Why have you
thought it necessary to refine the appointment and remit of independent
Kevin Brennan: There is a great
deal of concern within the system that the independent reviewing
officer function is not yet working properly and strongly enough.
There is recognition within the system that we have to make sure
that there is better care planning and that the voice of child
is more effectively represented within the system.
What we chose to do in the Bill is quite unusual,
but it is appropriate in this instance. There is mixed evidence
about whether independent reviewing officers should be completely
taken outside of local authorities or whether they should stay
within local authorities but be given more strength and independence.
We decided in the Bill to leave independent reviewing officers
within the remit of the local authority, although they can swap.
An independent reviewing officer could come from a neighbouring
local authority. The provision could be swapped if we wanted to
strengthen the Chinese wall and the role, which we encourage.
We have done that because children and young people, independent
reviewing officers and local authorities have told us that having
someone within the structure and who is well connected with it
can be more effective at good care planning for the individual
In many cases, local authorities would almost
reconstruct that position if we took it out of their remit and
put it into the remit of some other body, because they see the
value of such a role within the system. However, we have also
said that, if that does not work and we do not have an improvement
in care planning for young people or on the ground in the stability
of care plans and listening to the voice of the child, there is
power under the Bill in future to take independent reviewing officers
out of local authorities completely and put them into a national
body. That could come under the remit of the Children and Family
Court Advisory and Support Service or a completely new body, but
we thought that it was right to continue to make the system work
by strengthening the role of the independent reviewing officer
at this stage.
Q37 Annette Brooke: It all sounds
very theoretical, so can you get down to the individual child
who is desperately unhappy and who probably has issues with expressing
themselves? How will the new process under the Bill help looked-after
children to raise concerns? I can see that you are tackling resolving
them by deciding whether you want it to be done in-house or out
of house. How will the process make the situation better?
Kevin Brennan: The role of the
independent reviewing officer is not to have a vested interest
in a particular child's case, but to co-ordinate and to monitor
what the local authority is doing in relation to the child. You
are quite right that they must have a personal relationship with
the child to ascertain their thoughts and feelings and to feed
that into the process. They must ensure that the local authority
takes that into account in the care planning process and that
proper weight is given to the child's wishes and feelings. In
addition, there is an existing right for a child to access an
independent advocate service where they have a complaint about
what has happened to them. We might come on to that point. The
role of the independent reviewing officer is to represent the
child's wishes and feelings within the care planning process and
ensure that the local authorities reflect on them.
Q38 Annette Brooke: Do you think
that there ought to be a right for a child to ask for an advocate
or for that to be available at the stage of reviewing the care
Kevin Brennan: There is an existing
right to ask for an advocate when the child has a complaint about
what has happened to them.
Q39 Annette Brooke: Yes, I understand
that, but if we want to avoid getting to the complaints part of
the system, would it not be better for the advocacy to be available
at this point?
Kevin Brennan: We wonder whether
that would be the most effective way to improve the service to
the child and to improve the way in which care planning takes
place for that child, in terms of using resources for that purpose.
As I have already said, a huge number of people are involved in
care planning and are around a child in care. Our view is that
we need to strengthen and empower those people who are already
working around the child and ensure that they take into account
much more proactively the wishes and feelings of the young person
in planning for them.
Some local authorities have experimented with
having the children themselves chairing their own care planning
meetings, which I think is a thoroughly good innovation. We have
to empower the people who work around the child and ensure that
they focus on the thoughts, wishes, feelings and the voice of
the young person, rather than creating a national system of advocates,
which some organisations who specialise in advocacy would like
to see. We wonder whether that would really produce what we want:
better outcomes for these young people. The right way to achieve
that is to focus on strengthening the system.