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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

Thursday 19 March 2009


[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
AS 22 Eileen Richardson (SouthBank Training Ltd)
AS 23 Lilian Mains (Zodiac Training)
9 am
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Chope. On Tuesday, the Government tabled 89 amendments. There were 94 Government amendments on the amendment paper before that. I am concerned that just 22 days after Second Reading, the Bill is very different from the one that was agreed by our colleagues. Those amendments have not come from the Opposition, but from the Government. This is not a good way of putting legislation through the House.
The timetable for consideration of the Bill was agreed on the basis of there being 256 clauses and certain assumptions were made about the number of amendments that would be tabled for debate by the Opposition. We even took into account the erudition of my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings in calculating the number of sittings that would be needed to scrutinise the Bill properly. We now discover that we have almost 200 Government amendments to scrutinise and debate between now and 31 March. That is not a satisfactory way to conduct business. Will you advise us, Mr. Chope, on what procedures we can adopt to ensure that the Bill and the Government amendments receive the scrutiny that they require?
The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): Further to that point of order, Mr. Chope. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I say simply that we have sought to give the Opposition reasonable time to scrutinise the amendments by tabling them in good time before they reach scrutiny in Committee. Very few of them are substantial amendments. The complicated nature of the Bill means that there are many individual amendments, but the substantive changes are few and most of the amendments are consequential.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Chope. Given the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, is it possible for the Committee to come back for a few sittings after the Easter recess to consider the new amendments?
The Chairman: Most of the points that have been made are essentially about the wisdom of the Government tabling so many amendments. There is nothing novel about that. If there is a substantive issue about the shortage of time available for proper scrutiny of the Bill, it is a matter for the Programming Sub-Committee. It is for the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and the Minister to discuss whether it should reconvene to change the programme. It is not a matter for the Chair.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Chope. You will recall that at our last sitting there was an extensive debate about the information made available to the Committee on the costs of the reorganisation that is at the heart of the Bill. Have you had notice of any further information on that? The Minister was invited to make that available to the Committee in written form to supplement the information we have already received. If you have not had notice of that, Mr. Chope, by what means can diligent Committee members obtain the information that is necessary to ensure proper scrutiny of the Bill? If we cannot obtain it, I do not see how we can continue to debate these matters as fully as we would wish.
Jim Knight: Further to that point of order, Mr. Chope. As I said in the last sitting, I will write to the Committee. I will definitely do so before Report. I will try to do so before we conclude our Committee sittings. I simply repeat what I said last week. If we need more time, I am happy to work late again next Tuesday.
The Chairman: I think that the Minister has answered the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Clause 69

Guidance by YPLA
Jim Knight: I beg to move amendment 316, in clause 69, page 43, line 28, leave out ‘section 15ZA(1)’ and insert ‘sections 15ZA(1) and 18A(1)’.
This amendment requires the YPLA to issue guidance about LEAs’ performance of their duties under section 18A of the Education Act 1996 to secure education for persons subject to youth detention.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment 317.
Jim Knight: The clause requires the Young People’s Learning Agency to issue guidance to local authorities about the performance of their functions under proposed new section 15ZA of the Education Act 1996. Amendments 316 and 317 will extend that requirement to include local authorities’ functions in relation to securing education and training for those subject to youth detention.
Amendment 238 would remove the requirement placed on the YPLA to issue guidance to local authorities about the performance of their duties and replace it with a requirement to issue guidance to providers. It would also remove the ability of the YPLA to issue any other guidance about any other of its functions.
The Chairman: Order. Amendments 396 and 238 have not been selected for debate.
Jim Knight: In which case, I apologise to the Committee.
Mr. Hayes: It is not easy to contribute to the debate when we have had too few words of introduction to the amendments. Perhaps I can set them in the Committee’s mind more clearly. The amendments broaden the guidance to include young people in detention. As other amendments on detention have been passed, it is difficult to object to these. However, there are questions that should be asked. Perhaps the Minister will deal with them when he replies.
First, will the guidance be clear enough to ensure that those in youth detention have access to a coherent curriculum, and a range of qualifications consistent with that curriculum, when they move from home to host authority? The Committee will remember that we debated the difficulties of a young person being in a host authority away from their local council and the consequent difficulty of transferring information between those two local authorities.
Secondly, will the guidance ensure that a premium is placed on sharing information between those authorities, in the way that I have described? That is, after all, vital to fulfilling local authorities’ duties as set out in the Bill.
Thirdly, will the guidance ensure above all that a premium is placed on the consistency of training and education that is offered to those in detention? They are often young people who have been passed around for their entire lives. If we are to break that cycle of desperation, access to consistent, equitable and coherent education and training is absolutely necessary. I refer the Minister once again to independent and Government analysis, which suggests that a problem with training and education for those in detention—both young people and others—is the provision of a consistent diet of education that leads to qualifications which enable them to change their lives when they are free to do so.
Jim Knight: Clearly, there will be interplay between the guidance referred to in respect of the youth offender clauses. Our aim is to ensure that all young people have the right learning opportunities and support. We have worked with higher education colleges and employers to develop the new diploma. There are issues about the availability of diplomas in young offenders institutions and other youth detention centres, where most young people are detained for an average of three to four months. It will not be practical for them to study for the full diploma, particularly given that we have said that no individual school or college is capable of delivering the whole entitlement. It therefore stands to reason that no individual youth detention centre will be able to do that either.
However, the diploma is a flexible course. We are considering how young offenders might be able to study for some components that can then contribute to a full diploma when they are no longer in custody. For example, a small number of young offenders institutions are involved in pilots on the delivery of functional skills in English, maths and information and communications technology, which would be an integral part of all learning routes.
It is clearly critical that young people in custody have access to high-quality education and training consistent with that available in the mainstream sector. In the guidance to local authorities, we expect education and training in juvenile custody to place a clear focus on the core functional skills of literacy, numeracy and ICT. We had a long debate about the importance of those skills, particularly literacy, for those young people in particular. The guidance will set out how we expect that to be delivered, as well as the elements of the additional diploma entitlements that cannot be delivered, so that there is complete consistency. Where we can achieve that, we want to do so.
Mr. Gibb: The Minister would not expect a comment about reading and literacy to escape an intervention from the Opposition. Will he confirm that the guidance will recommend the use of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading, using programmes such as the toe-by-toe approach, which is a phonics-based programme used in prisons? Will he also confirm that the guidance will be consistent with Government policy and the law as far as children are concerned, and that phonics will be the basis of ensuring that prisoners can read properly?
Jim Knight: Just because the hon. Gentleman talks most about synthetic phonics does not mean that I do not share his passion to ensure that all children and young people are confident readers and achieve their full potential in reading. Naturally, the guidance will be consistent with Government policy and the law—it would be bizarre to suggest otherwise—and, certainly, we want to ensure through that guidance that delivery is based on reading schemes that work. We know from Jim Rose’s work that the consistent application of synthetic phonics is the best way to teach young people to read.
Mr. Hayes: Let us be clear about this. So the guidance will deal with content, methodology, qualifications, and the generation and transmission of information from one agency to another? Is the Minister saying that those are the essential elements of the guidance, following the history of inconsistency and incoherence in the training and education of offenders? With an assurance on that, we would be happy to move on.
Jim Knight: As I said, there is an interplay with guidance relating to the youth offender clauses, but the whole spirit of the changes in the legislation covering young offenders’ education is to achieve coherence, consistency and access to the range of qualifications to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That is what we will seek to deliver, and the guidance will be an important part of doing so.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I have visited New Hall women’s prison and young offenders institution in my constituency. The Minister’s proposals are a massive step forward compared with the days of, perhaps, only 10 or 15 years ago, when there was a farm around the prison and prisoners were expected to do farm labouring jobs, which are disappearing because farming is becoming increasingly mechanised. Before we come to core curriculum issues, we should consider basic life skills, such as getting up in the morning, looking after oneself, communication skills and, particularly for young women in prison who may be mothers, a massive focus on how to care for their children, not just while they are in prison, but when they leave.
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