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The Government's own assessment of their progress in respect of the education of people in detention suggests that a lack of consistency and coherence is not only a feature but a problem with much of what is done in attempting to train, educate and skill those in detention. We share that analysis, but we understand the difficulties, particularly in respect of young people who might not be in one place for long. Indeed, they might be moved around, might not be taught by one person for long and
might move between courses. Trying to build greater consistency and coherence into the system that we employ to give people, while in detention, the necessary skills to do better later depends on a good analysis of their needs, and these amendments essentially focus on that process.
A key part of the Bill is to raise standards in youth offender institutions, helping to educate and skill young people in those institutions, so that they have a second chance and an incentive to turn towards a career away from crime and other deviant behaviour. Aspiration is vital in that respect. Ensuring that education matches an assessment is important in feeding aspiration. We are glad that the Government are finally on the same page as us on this matter. It would be less than generous, and certainly less than courteous, to quote Edmund Burke, who said that
"the concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear".
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): We, too, welcome the amendments greatly. The proportion of young people in custody with low standards in literacy and numeracy and-often-with speech impediments has long been known, so it makes sense finally to address the situation. I note the Minister's reference to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, the 20th anniversary of which is coming up. It might have taken us a long time to get to this point, but I sincerely hope that we can now move rapidly on what should be enormously important changes.
There are two aspects to the assessments. We will be identifying young people who might have just missed schooling and others with specific educational needs, and both processes need a proper plan and checks on progress. We are all concerned about the enormously high rate of reoffending. I said in Committee that we have the right divide between the home authority and the host authority, but it is important to ensure that we have information sharing and full responsibility in respect of both authorities. The amendment passed on Third Reading will make a big contribution to that.
I note the firm commitments given by the Minister on Third Reading that the services of the Communication Trust will be brought into play. That is really important and is welcomed. In particular, it must be recognised that many of the young people will have some form of dyslexia, so the employment of specialist teachers was an important move forward.
With the leave of the House, I thank the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke). As I was trying to say, none of us wants there to be difficulties in prison in educating young people. Admittedly, they are in prison because they have offended, but as everybody points out, one cannot help but be moved when visiting young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children's
homes by the fact that so many young people there have learning difficulties or low levels of numeracy and literacy.
"Nearly all children and young people enter institutions with levels of literacy and numeracy well below those found nationally for their ages. There has been an appropriate emphasis on improving basic skills and children make very good progress when opportunities for improving literacy and numeracy are linked to subjects across the curriculum. Most young people leave custody with some form of accreditation in these essential skills and, more generally, levels of accreditation are now at least satisfactory in most of the institutions inspected."
However, the fact that there will now be both a numeracy and literacy assessment of young people going into custody and the sharing of information on young people leaving custody and returning to their home authorities will make a considerable difference. We have worked with a large range of stakeholders, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, and the proposals will be a tremendous step forward.
I recently visited Feltham, Hassockfield in the north-east and Huntercombe, which is a young offenders institution near Henley. Notwithstanding the improvements that we are trying to make through the Bill, which have been generally welcomed, I want to put on record my tribute to the people who work in education in our young offenders institutions, secure training centres and secure children's homes. Whatever we say, it would be remiss of us not to point out that things are difficult and that there are challenges, irrespective of the changes that we are making. At the end of the day, we should also remark on the quality of those people and their determination to try to help the young people in such places.
Mr. Hayes: I would want to be associated with the Minister's remarks on behalf of the Opposition. The Bill deals with young people, but it is important that the lessons that we learn about such matters are consistently applied. How will the measures in the Bill dealing with young people be mirrored for other offenders? As the Minister knows, the analysis of how the Government are doing that I mentioned earlier suggests that some problems repeat themselves across young offenders institutions and prisons.
Mr. Coaker: Some of the provisions in the Bill dealing with the sharing of information on young offenders are about improving the information that is shared between somebody leaving custody and their returning to their home authority, because sometimes that sharing has not been of a standard that we would want. That will help those young people and perhaps tackle some of the repeat problems that we have seen.
To look briefly at the adult world, part of the problem is that many of the people in adult prison were previously in young offenders institutions. If we can deal with some of the literacy and numeracy issues that arise in youth custody, it will help to prevent reoffending and, I hope, prevent people from going into adult prison. We always look to improve what we do, whether in youth custody or the adult sector. Many additional measures have been taken to try to improve the quality and quantity not only of basic literacy and numeracy, but of the skills training available.
Annette Brooke: I concur with the Minister's previous comments, in which he congratulated staff, but I would also like to recognise the voluntary sector. When I visited Feltham, I was incredibly impressed with the volunteers working with the young people there.
Mr. Coaker: I am grateful for the remarks of the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, and for their association with my thanks to those staff working in difficult situations. Literacy and numeracy assessments are also made of those entering adult prisons, so both sectors need to learn from each other.
Mr. Hayes: I was asking a slightly more technical question. In as much as the legislation establishes a set of protocols, assumptions and structures, can the Minister give us an assurance that they are consistent with legislation that deals with other areas of custody? We need to know that we are learning the lessons and that they are being applied consistently.
Mr. Coaker: Yes, they are consistent, which is why I said that an assessment is made of those entering adult prison. The fact that we are saying that we all want to ensure, in a Bill in 2009, that education is properly applied with respect to young offenders and that it complies with the UN convention on the rights of the child shows that progress is sometimes a bit slower than we would all want. We are taking a major step forward, with a major piece of reform that will improve the education entitlement of some of the most vulnerable young people in our society and our communities.
The original Bill as drafted contained new measures dealing with complaints in relation to the sixth-form transport duty. We introduced a new clause on Report in another place to replicate those complaints measures for adult learners aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities. It has always been our intention that the new complaints measures, designed to ensure improved responsiveness, should apply to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. The new clause introduced by Lords amendment 56 ensures that that intention is clear in the Bill.
We have amended the Bill to introduce a power to issue statutory guidance to accompany the adult transport duty. The Bill already included a new guidance-making power to cover the new transport policy statement for
learners aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities. Government amendments extended the scope of the guidance, so that it would cover the adult transport duty as well. That will support local authorities in carrying out their transport duties in respect of adult learners and ensure that they are absolutely clear about their responsibilities under the duty, including for those with learning difficulties and disabilities.
We brought forward Government amendments to link the adult transport duty in clause 55 and the new local authority commissioning duty in clause 40. Those links will ensure that local authorities do not carry out their transport duties without considering what they have to do under the commissioning duties, including with respect to the location of the education and training provision that is commissioned.
"In section 509AB(3) of the Education Act 1996 (provision of transport etc for persons of sixth form age in England: matters to which LEAs must have regard)...insert...what they are required to do under section 15ZA(1) in relation to persons of sixth form age".
In other words, the Bill places a new duty on local education authorities to set out in a transport policy statement the arrangements that they will make for those learners aged 19 to 24 inclusive who may have a learning difficulty. The amendments will allow the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to cover not only the new transport policy statement for learners aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities, which is introduced in proposed new section 508G of the 1996 Act, but the wider adult transport duty to which the Minister referred.
The amendments are also intended to make a link between the local authority commissioning duty outlined in the Bill and the sixth-form and adult transport duties, so that local authorities do not consider their transport arrangements-particularly their arrangements for those aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities-in isolation from their new responsibilities for commissioning education and training provision. In essence, this is about linking transport to the rest of the provision, and that is critically important. When the Bill was first discussed in Committee here, we felt that that link had not been sufficiently well made, and we argued-here and in the Lords-that the Bill needed strengthening in that regard. We are happy that the Government have accepted the Lords amendments to ensure that students with disabilities have the same rights of complaint about transport issues as 16 to 18-year-olds. That is a practical and sensible change to the Bill. It is not a matter for partisan debate or a matter of contention, so I shall not detain the House any longer.
Stephen Williams: I have a couple of questions about the operation of the provisions in Lords amendment 64, which will give the young adult learners that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) has just mentioned-as well as their parents and, presumably, carers-the right to complain. Will the Minister explain in what circumstances he or his successor would seek to intervene to direct a local authority to amend its transport provision? As I understand it, the amendment does not mention a mechanism by which the learner, or their parent or carer, can appeal if the local authority does not respond in a positive way to their concerns. How does the Minister envisage the amendment working in practice, if it is accepted?
Mr. Iain Wright: With the leave of the House, may I say that I am pleased with the tone of the responses from the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams)? The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings rightly said that he wanted to see the linking of transport with other provision, and we absolutely agree with him. That was always the intention, as I think he knows, but we just needed to make it explicit in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West made an important point about complaints. We want to become more responsive to local complaints, in relation not only to transport duty but to a whole range of other local authority activities, in order to ensure that local authorities improve the services that they offer to the people they serve. We think that that is best achieved by going through a local process before going to the Secretary of State.
Clause 54 creates a new power for local authorities to amend their transport policy statements in-year, in response to complaints or direction by the Secretary of State, and to publish updated statements and a description of the change. However, we shall require complaints to go through a local complaints process first, before they can be considered further. During the passage of the Bill, we were lobbied by the Association of Colleges and by Skill, and we think that the amendments will help to address their concerns. The key point is to ensure that local authorities are accountable to the people they represent, and we believe that it is important for these complaints to go through a local process, so that the authority has an opportunity to respond to them and to react to any concerns. If the person concerned-either the person with learning difficulties or disabilities, or the person charged with their care-is not satisfied, however, the escalation process, which should be a common feature of all complaints procedures, will give them recourse to the Secretary of State. To give the hon. Member for Bristol, West a direct answer to his question, we do not want to dictate the point at which any escalation takes place; we want to give people the opportunity to resolve any problems locally, as that is the best way to ensure that services are better locally on the ground.
I assume that what the Minister has just said will be set out in guidance. Will he make a commitment to the House on that? The point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) clearly resonates, not least with the Minister himself. Also, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of
these measures on different kinds of local authority? I represent a rural constituency in a very rural county, and the impact of this legislation will be quite different there from the impact on an urban area. I am always very concerned for my constituents' welfare, particularly those who are most vulnerable. What assessment has he made of that impact, and what representations has he received on it?
Mr. Wright: The hon. Gentleman has raised two important points. I can certainly make a commitment that the Secretary of State will issue guidance on the complaints procedure and on the escalation of complaints to the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman also made an incredibly important point about different locations having different needs and transport requirements. The most obvious difference is that between rural and urban communities.
With regard to the new 14-to-19 offer-including people with learning difficulties and disabilities-and particularly with regard to diplomas, which are sometimes not taught in a single place and might involve students going to different places and work-based providers, the collaborative approach that we are trying to achieve must be taken into account. The hon. Gentleman is making my point for me: local authorities are the best placed to ensure that their local circumstances are best served by their own strategic proposals and operational arrangements. In that way, local authorities in rural areas will know what the concerns are, and will be the best placed to deal with them locally on the ground. I hope that I have addressed the concerns that hon. Members have raised, and on that basis, I hope that they will support these important amendments.
Mr. Coaker: Although we are all in agreement that it is not sustainable for a Government Department to continue to support and fund an increasing number of academies, there has been some concern about placing this duty within the Young People's Learning Agency, which will carry out academies functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. We have heard what the House has said, and we have also been talking to sponsors. We will continue to consult sponsors and principals, as well as the Independent Academies Association, on the proposed arrangements through the academies reference group that will look at how this new way of working can be developed.
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