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Mr. Hayes: Given that the duty is pervasive in the way that the Minister has just described, how would it deal with the needs of particularly disadvantaged groups of young people or individual young people with particular needs? I am thinking specifically of young people with learning difficulties, an issue that was raised last week both on the Floor of the House and in this Committee. The test of reasonableness would have to be sufficiently robust and flexible to deal with all kinds of challenges.
Jim Knight: It would. I am sure that you understand, Mr. Chope, that the next group of amendments specifically addresses that issue. Therefore, to aid the efficiency of the Committee, with the hon. Gentleman’s indulgence I would prefer to discuss it then. I hope that on the basis of my assurances the hon. Lady will feel free to withdraw the amendment.
Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for that clear explanation. His clarification about focusing on the individual learner was helpful and incredibly important, and I take the point. Our next group of amendments considers further conditions for being reasonable, and I look forward to that debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Annette Brooke: I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 40, page 23, line 37, at end insert—
‘(e) barriers to their participation, including caring for a child or a sick family member, being homeless, experiencing mental health problems or being a young offender.’.
The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment 257, in clause 40, page 23, line 37, at end insert—
‘( ) the opportunities for inclusion for learners, taking account of their needs and wishes.’.
Annette Brooke: Our discussion leads rather neatly on to proposed new subsection (3). We have already specified the person’s age, abilities and attitudes, learning difficulties, the quality of education and training, and locations and times at which the education or training is provided. We touched on the Cornish example, which might fall under proposed new subsection (3)(d). These amendments highlight two further important points. Barriers to participation are a great concern, and an example dear to my heart is that of young carers, homeless people, people experiencing mental health problems and so on. Mentioning barriers to participation could be very important because we need to give particular attention to that group of people. They are more likely to have to return to education at a slightly older age.
Amendment 257 arose from a representation made by the Special Educational Needs Consortium and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. I have rewritten it and so I am sure that the Minister will tell me that it is technically incorrect, however I will explain what is behind it. There is genuine concern among organisations that represent the interests of people with special educational needs that perhaps one obvious route is for local education authorities to commission specialist provision for learners with more complex needs. That provision might correspond to the wishes and needs of individuals. However, I do not want us to lose opportunities. For example, it might be appropriate for a young person to spend so many days a week in one setting and so many in a more inclusive setting, or somebody could be placed in an entirely inclusive setting. It is important not to start being dictatorial about inclusion but a genuine wish which fits with needs can flag up something useful in this respect. In Dorset, we are lucky to have the Victoria school. Many pupils spend so many days a week within the highly specialist unit but also have time in other settings. For some young people, such an outcome is a win-win situation. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration especially to the amendment that I wrote myself.
Jim Knight: In speaking to these two amendments, I remind the Committee of what I just said about the four tests set out in clause 40 for considering whether a person’s reasonable needs are being met, including taking into account age, abilities, aptitudes, whether they have learning difficulties, the quality of education and training and the location and times at which it is provided. These amendments have the signature of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole all over them in terms of the concerns she regularly expresses, particularly around young carers. Amendment 4 would require local authorities when securing education and training also to have regard to particular barriers to participation. Obviously we fully support the intention behind this. There are many young people who face barriers to participation in education or training and this amendment lists some but not all. In many ways that is why I would resist the amendment, as I do not want local authorities to focus on just some rather than all barriers.
As drafted, the duty in section 15ZA requires local authorities to ensure suitable education and training is secured to meet the reasonable needs of all those they are responsible for. Subsection (3) provides a broad framework for local authorities to work within but it is not necessary, nor helpful, to prescribe all possible considerations in relation to particular groups of vulnerable people. We are committed to ensuring that all young people have access to education and training opportunities that will enable them to thrive and succeed. Supporting participation and removing barriers is particularly relevant in the context of last year’s legislation to raise the participation age. We are doing much to support and benefit young people in this respect. I have various reams of information on what we are doing and plan to do in respect of young carers, young people estranged from their families, young people in custody, care leavers and teenage parents. I do not propose to delay the Committee by going into detail on all of them. For example, we are extending the September guarantee, expanding the education maintenance allowance and apprenticeship programmes, reforming the 14 to 19 curriculum, while also ensuring that we provide funds—currently through the learning and skills council but that will migrate over—in respect of people with learning difficulties. This was £35 million in 2007-08 and £16 million in 2008-09, ensuring that we can further invest in that provision. We are making good progress in removing barriers for everyone.
Amendment 257 would require local authorities when securing education and training to have regard to
“the opportunities for inclusion for learners, taking account of their needs and wishes.”
Again, we support the intention of this. We would expect the vast majority of learners with a learning difficulty to be enrolled on mainstream further education courses and we will continue to make available the additional learner support funds that I have just referred to. We recognise the benefits to both the learner and the wider community that mainstreaming can bring. Ultimately, though, we want learner decisions to drive the system. So in addition to the requirements in subsection (3) we have made the specific provision in subsection (4) for local authorities to act with a view to increasing diversity in the education and training options available and increasing opportunities for people to exercise choice.
I hope that the Committee will agree that the clause, alongside the wider strategic role that we have given local authorities, will ensure that best provision will continue to be secured and is also responsive, increases learner choice and meets the needs of all young people in their areas. The changes we made in the Education and Skills Act to local authorities’ duties to assess people with learning difficulties post-16 were good steps forward in this area. Collectively, I hope that these provisions will address the particular barriers to participation that we have been debating. I was about to sit down, but both hon. Members wish to intervene. I will go with the proposer of the amendment first.
Annette Brooke: The Minister has put some useful words in Hansard for us, but I am not sure that they will necessarily be accessible to those who will be implementing this policy. Will guidance be issued to local authorities on this?
Jim Knight: I would find it very surprising, given the behaviour that I have witnessed and signed off over the last few years, if guidance did not accompany such legislation. Indeed, I can assure the hon. Lady that we would certainly issue guidance to set out the inclusive nature that we want to achieve and how the local authorities should carry out the duties that we have set out in the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: That deals with the first part of my intervention. The second part is about how the application of learning support funds is measured and monitored. As the Minister of course knows, extra money is made available to FE and HE institutions to support students with particular difficulties and disabilities. But there is some evidence to suggest that the way that that is applied varies immensely from one institution to another. What view do the Government take on that and how are those things monitored?
Jim Knight: Given that we shall issue guidance, I expect that we will address that. This is part of a much wider set of changes that are going on. Connexions is being transferred to local authority responsibility, so the commissioning of education and how local authorities fulfil the duties that we have been discussing will be informed by their Connexions work. They have wider commissioning responsibilities to ensure that they look after the needs of young people from 0 to 19, unless they have learning difficulties in which case it is to 25. We will need to ensure that all these things, including the use of learner support funds, integrate in a way that will achieve the maximum participation that we set out in legislation last year. On that basis I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment.
Annette Brooke: Certainly, I will be happy to do so. We will reflect on the Minister’s words. He has put some very important points on the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 285, in clause 40, page 24, line 8, leave out from ‘resources’ to end of line 10.
The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment 286, in clause 40, page 24, line 11, leave out subsection (5).
Mrs. Hodgson: These are probing amendments which I hope will give the Minister the opportunity to explain how LEAs’ performance of this duty towards learners with learning difficulties will be audited. I am sorry Mr. Chope. I am using the wrong notes. I shall start again. I fully welcome the duty on LEAs to secure a sufficient supply of post-16 provision and to have regard to the needs of learners with learning difficulties. In doing so, however, the duty as laid down in the clause is currently qualified with a potentially unhelpful requirement not to give rise to disproportionate expenditure.
11 am
The duty placed here on local authorities was only to secure “suitable education and training” to meet the “reasonable needs” of people in their areas, so, is this qualification entirely necessary? Without these small amendments the clause could potentially provide a get-out for poor performing local authorities to avoid meeting their duties towards learners with more complex needs. I hope that the relevant words and subsection, as set out in my amendments, can be deleted or that the Minister can clarify why they are needed.
People with SEN face serious challenges finding and retaining paid work, and, therefore, we need to ensure that they have the best possible start to access training and educational support to equip them for the labour market. That will not be possible if clause 40 potentially provides a get-out for poor performing local authorities. We know that young people with SEN can be more expensive but that should not give local authorities the excuse to say that they cannot afford to provide for them or that such costs are disproportionate.
I shall give one example, based on the situation for deaf people, which illustrates the importance of the issue. RNID research shows that one in five deaf people are unemployed and looking for work, compared to one in 20 of the UK labour market. When the research was carried out, 57 per cent. of deaf people had been looking for work for more than 12 months, compared to only 20 per cent. of the unemployed as a whole. Is that because they had not had the same opportunities to train and acquire the skills that employers seek? That is why I am speaking to these amendments, and I should make clear that they probing amendments.
The Chairman: I call the Minister. Sorry, I call Mr. Hayes.
Mr. Hayes: Sorry, Mr. Chope, I was slow getting to my feet—it is early in the day, so there we are.
The hon. Lady’s amendments appear to remove the emphasis on local education authorities to prove value for money in provision. I appreciate that she is anxious that the training provided is appropriate and fits local need, and that local authority provision responds to local circumstances, which vary immensely from area to area, as she mentioned.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that needs vary significantly from individual to individual? One person may need a ratio of one to four, another may need one on one.
Mr. Hayes: Of course, which is why, a few moments ago, I emphasised the importance of tailoring provision to meet the needs of people who face particular challenges or have particular learning difficulties. Yes, provision absolutely needs to be tailored to meet individual requirements. However, it is also true that the economic profile and the sociology of different areas impact on the local skills set and the needs of learners and potential learners. I understand why the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West wants to amend the legislation to create greater local responsiveness, although I appreciate that these are probing amendments.
I will be interested in what the Minister has to say, but Government are also required to ensure that resources are allocated cost effectively. A different amendment may emphasise that. We heard in the debate a few moments ago that a good deal of discretion will be left with LEAs to define “reasonable”. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole attempted to strengthen the legislation to ensure that what was “reasonable” in provision was more precisely defined. We heard that the Minister felt that that was unnecessary at this stage.
I am not absolutely sure that the amendments would square with a test to meet taxpayers’ proper insistence for money to be spent appropriately and wisely. We have the National Audit Office report from only a week or so ago about the failure of children’s services. It might be appropriate for the Minister to mention that report in this short debate because, after all, I have no doubt that he is as concerned as every member of this Committee and the wider public about these failures. However, he will be concerned not just about value for money, because it is the welfare of the young people that we hold close to our hearts.
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