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Session 2008 - 09
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General Committee Debates
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, Mrs. Joan Humble
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Simon, Mr. Siôn (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Chris Shaw, James Davies, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 17 March 2009


[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Clause 46

Work experience for persons over compulsory school age
4 pm
Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): As I was saying before lunch, clause 46 is a classic example of the top-down prescription so loathed by those who value their professional autonomy. The clause requires local authorities to encourage the participation in work experience of those still in education between the ages of 18 and 19.
If I understand the clause correctly, it will force sixth formers studying A-levels to take time out from their studies and sporting or voluntary community activities to spend time doing work experience. I should have thought that whether that is beneficial would be a matter for the student’s teacher and for the student to assess. Although the wording is “encourage participation”, such a clause will come to be seen by schools as compulsory because they will consider what Ofsted’s response would be to compliance with the clause.
Such an experience might be valuable for many 16 to 19-year-old students. However, surely that should be left to the discretion and judgment of professionals, rather than imposed by the diktat of this small group of Ministers. It is a one-size-fits-all approach. Is this what the Government mean by personalised learning? The clause does not seem to be very personalised.
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): It is good to be back after a break, Mr. Chope.
The clause will give local authorities the power to secure the provision of work experience for young learners over compulsory school leaving age. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton should read line 15:
“A local education authority in England may secure the provision of work experience”.
It does not say “must”, there is no prescription, they are not forced to do it; they may do it. The clause goes on to say that a local authority in England must “encourage participation” and “encourage employers”. Again, there is no prescription.
Almost all young people participate in work experience in the final two years of compulsory education. The clause will help to ensure that they can continue to do so beyond that stage of their education and obtain further benefits, but it does not require them to do so.
Mr. Gibb: Proposed new section 560A(2) says that a local authority “must”. That is the prescription that I am talking about.
Jim Knight: I encourage the Committee to support the clause because it says simply that local authorities must encourage participation and encourage employers. That is an entirely progressive thing to do.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 46, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 47

Provision of education for persons subject to youth detention
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I beg to move amendment 127, in clause 47,page 29, line 32, leave out ‘A local education authority’ and insert
‘The Young People’s Learning Agency’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 378, in clause 47, page 29, line 32, leave out ‘education’.
Amendment 128, in clause 47, page 30, line 2, leave out ‘a local education authority’ and insert
‘the Young People’s Learning Agency’.
Amendment 212, in clause 47, page 30, line 5, after ‘learning’, insert ‘or language’.
Amendment 129, in clause 47, page 30, line 7, leave out ‘a local education authority’ and insert
‘the Young People’s Learning Agency’.
Amendment 130, in clause 47, page 30, line 9, leave out ‘a local education authority’ and insert
‘the Young People’s Learning Agency’.
Amendment 131, in clause 47, page 30, line 11, leave out ‘a local education authority in’ and insert
‘the Young People’s Learning Agency’.
Amendment 132, in clause 49, page 31, line 11, leave out ‘home authority’ and insert ‘Young People’s Learning Agency’.
Amendment 232, in clause 49, page 31, line 14, at end insert—
‘(2A) In carrying out the duty imposed by subsection (2) the home authority must have regard to any special educational needs or learning difficulties (within the meaning of section 15ZA(7) and (8)) the persons may have.’.
Amendment 133, in clause 49, page 31, line 15, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 379, in clause 49, page 31, line 16, leave out ‘education’.
Amendment 134, in clause 49, page 31, line 27, leave out ‘a local authority’ and insert
‘the Young People’s Learning Agency’.
Mr. Hayes: It is good to be back after a splendid lunch. I had a glass of champagne. I do not know what you had, Mr. Chope, but I am sure that the Minister is equally fortified and ready for this afternoon.
Having accused the Minister for Schools and Learners of being limacine in respect of the progress towards self-regulation in further education, I fear I will now be rather slow myself. We are about to deal with a large group of amendments on an important clause, and there is much to be said in the interests of improving the legislation and representing the interests of learners and others.
Clause 47 inserts new section 18A into the Education Act 1996. The new section will affect the local education authorities for England and Wales in respect of the relevant use of accommodation in their area. Hosting authorities will be required to secure that
“enough suitable education and training is provided to meet the reasonable needs”
of children and young people in the youth justice system who are held in those establishments.
Amendments 127 to 129 and 132 to 134 probe the reason for provision through local authorities in new section 18A, questioning why the responsibility cannot be transferred to the Young People’s Learning Agency. A theme emerged before lunch, before the hon. Member for Yeovil joined us, and I feel that it is necessary to acquaint him with that theme so that he can better do his job here. In essence the theme was about the Opposition challenging the new involvement of local education authorities through this legislation and Government resolutely defending that backwards step.
In a sense, the group of amendments continues that theme. As I have argued—I thought pretty persuasively but clearly I did not persuade Ministers earlier—it seems that by involving more agencies in the management and funding of skills and training we are likely to end up with a system that is less cost-effective, more insensitive, less responsive to need, more bureaucratic and more opaque. Once again in this part of the Bill, we see that opacity in a new role for LEAs in dealing with youth detention, which is currently the responsibility of the Learning and Skills Council. We believe that it would cause the least disruption and have maximum effect if those young people who are already disengaged are not put through the upheaval of being passed from and between different local education authorities.
Bear in mind that many of the young people will not have had a happy experience of education earlier in their lives. Often they have been failed by the system the first time round and deserve better. The Young People’s Learning Agency would be a better place to deal with young offenders serving their sentence outside their own local authority area.
Mr. Hayes: That is a good argument. There is indeed a case for a holistic approach. The difficulties are that some of the matters concerning young people will not be dealt with by local authorities anyway, if there are health issues, for example, associated with those young people’s welfare and circumstances. Clearly there will be issues involving matters of justice, and they might face other challenges that are outside the competence of local authorities. It is clear that the local authorities will have to interface with a wide variety of agencies in the same way that the Young People’s Learning Agency would if our amendment were passed.
The real problem is that people may be moving between institutions. Indeed, they may be well outside their own local authority area. There is no guarantee that they will be in custody in the place where their family is based, where they have a history and where information about them is easily accessed. It would be better for the sake of clarity and lack of complexity and possible bureaucracy to channel the work through one agency rather than a multiplicity of local authorities.
While we welcome a statutory responsibility for the education of those in detention—one of the points made by the hon. Lady—there is a big gap in how we deal with the education and training of people who are detained in that way, particularly so for young people. Indeed, much of the evidence from independent reports as well as from the Government’s own analysis suggests that there is a long way to go to get the education and training of offenders right. We therefore welcome a new focus on the subject.
It seems that the provisions under proposed subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) are likely to lead to some confusion and to a lack of a joined-up approach to the provision to which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole referred and which Opposition Members want. We feel in particular that proposed subsection (1)(b)(ii) and proposed subsection (4) might cause problems due to the transitory nature of the detention of many of the young people concerned. In essence, a young person might be the responsibility of one LEA at home, but another in youth detention.
With a movement between LEAs, those in detention could find themselves passed from pillar to post and subject to the arguments of different funding authorities. The impact of that would be felt most negatively in respect of the progression of the young people. Let me support that argument by referring to what happens in much prison education at the moment. The Minister might want to comment on what is a significant problem that is founded on the lack of consistency of provision for those in custody. People often start one course with one tutor, but are then moved to a different institution and, unable to complete the course, the relationship formed between teacher and learner is broken. There is a lack of follow-through of what people have started so they have to begin all over again. Thus there is a real lack of consistency in how we make opportunities available to those in custody, yet we know that recidivism is linked closely to a lack of skills and education. In a sense, the Bill is part of a bigger issue: how we train and educate those in custody and our mission, which the Government probably share, of improving that provision, particularly in respect of greater consistency.
The movement to LEAs should in the eyes of the Government create the greater focus that we seek, but that can work only if LEAs are ready and quick to do the job and there are doubts about that. It is an important new responsibility for local education authorities and we want firm assurances that they are indeed tooled up in resources and skills. Thus far, not much evidence has been brought to that effect. As the Special Educational Consortium argues, the drafting of the clauses leaves some questions unanswered regarding the provision for people with special educational needs who are detained, the prevalence of which is sadly significant.
Reports from the Youth Justice Board found that about 150,000 children and young people under the age of 18 enter the youth justice system each year, of which about 70,000 are of compulsory school age. It has been found that 33 per cent. need help with reading and writing and 15 per cent. have SEN statements compared with about 3 per cent. of the general population. Some 83 per cent. of boys in custody have been excluded from school and 41 per cent. of boys and girls in custody were aged 14 or younger when they were last in school.
4.15 pm
Those young people face multifaceted problems and need to be provided with opportunities through a more consistent, more coherent package of measures to deal with both their core skills and their aspirations to achieve more. I think that Members across the Committee will understand that unless we do that, we are likely to exacerbate a cycle of disengagement. It is vital to get the Bill right.
The interim report of the Bercow review of services for those with speech, language and communication needs indicates that at least 60 per cent. of the 11,000 people passing through young offender institutions each year have difficulties with speech, language and communication. A recent Department of Health report highlighted that a quarter of children in contact with youth justice have learning disabilities. Offenders fall into three main categories: those with learning disabilities, the wider group with learning difficulties, and the largest group with some kind of borderline problem. There are few young people in those circumstances who do not require an entirely fresh approach to education and training. As I said earlier, they have often failed the first time around.
There are three other worries, however, about the clauses, which have been highlighted by the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. First, among all the other funding priorities that LEAs have, how will the provision for those in detention centres be ensured? How will we build on the support for those young people? What priority are LEAs likely to give them? I was a member of a local authority. You, Mr. Chope, served in a distinguished fashion in such a capacity and other members of the Committee may have done so too. How will a local authority respond to demands on its resources from that quarter, when many of the young people concerned will not necessarily be from its locality—merely residing there temporarily—and when there are other demands on resources from schools and other places that are strongly supported by the local community? We are handing local education authorities a poisoned chalice, and it would be much better for an agency that did not face those pressures to have responsibility for this important area. These young people need second chances to put things right, not inadequate provision and closed doors.
Secondly, have the Government considered whether some LEAs will be disproportionately burdened by youth detention centres in their area? Clearly, those that have many young people in custody in their locality will bear a much greater responsibility—in quantitative terms—than those that do not. How will the Government deal with that, in terms of funding, resources, support and so on, and how dynamic is that support likely to be? These are rapidly changing circumstances. Fortunately, many people who pass through youth custody are there relatively briefly. I guess that is the nature of youth custody. How responsive will the system be to change? Will the funding follow the learner or will it have to come from the same budget as funding for all other provision? Will the funding be ring-fenced? If so, how, and how will that work in the context of local authority finance, which is difficult to understand? I remember that when I was a member of Nottinghamshire county council I proposed or seconded amendments to the budget. For a fleeting period I understood local government finance but then the moment passed and I forgot about it. My current understanding of it is about as great as that of most Members of Parliament and most members of local authorities, but the Minister will have a clearer, more comprehensive and more incisive view about those things and we look forward to benefiting from her knowledge and insight.
Thirdly, what provision will there be for information sharing and joint curriculum development, not just across local authorities but—further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole—across a variety of agencies? As I said, although some of the responsibilities of local government are such that they would be able to provide a semi-holistic service—it would be honed in some regard—there is no guarantee that local authorities would be good at accessing information from other agencies or relevant sources, or indeed passing that information on. It is not just about gathering information; it is about how that information is stored, handled and how it would be passed on as a legacy of knowledge to the people who might be dealing with that young person as they move through the system. What use is it to the young person concerned if they move from one LEA to another and that second authority has little or no information about them and so attempts to approach them in a different way, offering them a different educational diet unaware of their progression? That is not fanciful, given what I said earlier about the record on education, skills and training of offenders generally, which is at best—at my most generous—patchy. That was raised, as the Minister will know, by the Standing Committee on Youth Justice as a distinct worry and should be addressed to minimise the disruption to those learners who have often already suffered so much disruption in their lives.
Clause 92 makes provision for the CEO of the SFA to secure education for those youth offender institutions accommodating 18 to 20-year-olds, raising the question as to why 16 to 18-year-olds cannot be dealt with on a national basis, which may eliminate the vagaries of geographical caprice in their treatment.
Amendment 99 is reasonably self-explanatory in that it aims to ensure that learners in youth detention receive a minimum of 30 hours per week of education or training. This ensures that learners have a maximum chance while in detention to engage in education and successfully as a result gain skills which enable them to re-engage in employment and—
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