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For very young children, but also as the children get older, learning to deal effectively with relationship development and, yes, with sex education is critical. The schools and local authorities that do that effectively are precisely the schools and local authorities that are
successfully reducing teenage pregnancy rates. We are daft in this place if we simply say, "Oh, we don't like that. We're frightened of that." We must consider such an approach and we must use the programmes that we know work. We should use the experience that is out there and spread the good practice much more effectively around the country.
Mr. Allen: First, may I commend my right hon. Friend for her fantastic work on this issue when she was in the Cabinet Office? Does she accept that in order to spread the good practice around and to ensure that the best policies are more broadly spread, we need something like a national policy assessment centre? Rather than constantly reinventing the wheel and trying to pick up pet projects, we should put forward a series of proven policies which have an evidence base. We can then help local authorities and others to achieve the right early interventions.
Hilary Armstrong: I support that, as my hon. Friend knows, and I have suggested those ideas to the Department over a number of years. An embryo organisation exists for that task, but I do not think that it yet has the power or authority effectively to implement such a process throughout local government. I would like to see that happen.
My second point concerns partnerships with schools. I want to see more examples of the voluntary sector and the outside world working in partnership with schools. If PSHE is being considered as part of the curriculum, the teacher needs to be part of that but including the work of outside bodies, and making relationships with them, is also critical. I want schools and academies to use their commissioning powers to work more effectively with community organisations that have a good track record so that they can be used to improve the educational opportunities of the children in the school.
I am sorry that I am moving from issue to issue without much of a common thread, but I want to pick out particular issues in the Bill. The implementation of the youth crime action plan, a matter on which the Front Benchers did not disagree, is very important. Last week, the Department produced an evaluation of the work so far and it raised some important questions and identified problems with what has been done so far. When anything is implemented in a local area it is critical that the local community should know what is going on-I hope that the Committee will bear that in mind.
I have seen the youth court operating in Washington, and it is incredibly effective. I have also seen the community court operating in Red Hook in Washington. The key thing is that although they set down non-custodial activity, the community knows and understands the action that is being taken and therefore has confidence in it. We do not get all the stories along the lines of, "This one was out painting a wall when they should have been inside," and so on. The approach of those courts has been far more effective in tackling youth crime than many of the things that we have done elsewhere.
I spent much of my life before I came to this place working with young people and trying to divert them from criminal behaviour, but it is critical that if they have engaged in such behaviour we should try not only to divert them from it in the future but to ensure that
there is a structure of punishment. There must be a structure whereby they know that they have done wrong and work out with somebody what to do about it. I cannot understand people who see these two things as being on opposite benches, as it were. They are part and parcel of the same policy and we have to ensure that that is how we proceed in the future. Far too often, the youth offending teams have mixed that up, which has been a problem in local areas.
More than anything else, many of these young people need some structure in their lives. They are growing up in families where they have no sense of right and wrong and no sense of what is acceptable and what is not. An important part of being an adolescent is testing boundaries, but that means that there need to be boundaries that can be tested and that the adolescent needs to understand that there are such boundaries. The way in which we develop the youth offending programme is becoming more and more important in this country because in many communities such offending drains the life and ambition out of the community, meaning that people feel that there is no point in getting together to do anything because of the level of antisocial behaviour and so on. There are things that we can do that will encourage young people but also help them to set those boundaries much more effectively. We have to include the local community in that, although we have been fearful of such an approach in this country, for reasons that I understand. If we are to change the experience of young people, we need to involve the community in a much more effective way.
That brings me to the final point that I want to tackle today, which is another issue about which there was no division between the two Front-Bench spokesmen, although there is a lot of anxiety about how it will be implemented, and it concerns the family proceedings. Everyone accepts that there should be more transparency and openness, but the Bill also affects the level of reporting. In being more open and transparent, we must maintain caution about what is reported and how it is reported. I have worked with far too many families and have been present at far too many cases in which there have been problems despite the Children Act 1989, which put the primacy of children at the forefront. I did not want to intervene on this point earlier, but that primacy remains through all legislation unless it is changed, so it does not need to be restated in this Bill. The primacy of the interests of children is critical but because of the irresponsible way in which some of our newspapers are prepared to report family proceedings, we must continue to exercise caution.
This House has established proceedings whereby Public Bill Committees can talk to outside bodies before they consider legislation in detail. I hope that the Committee will consider doing so, particularly as regards family proceedings. Although, in principle, many organisations want such proceedings to be opened up and reported, they are very anxious about the detail. We should respect that.
Mr. Graham Stuart:
The primacy of the interests of the child are not enshrined in the Bill, and I do not see how the Children Act 1989 could trump that. The Bill says that if a parent has failed to register their child, the quality of the education provided to that child in the home is to be disregarded-the interests of the child are
to be disregarded-and the child must be ordered back to school. I hope that the right hon. Lady will support me in seeking Government changes in that respect.
Hilary Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman is trying very cleverly to get around something that we know is not there, and I shall not be dragged down his route. I could have a lot to say about home education, but I am determined to stick to discussing what we are going to do about the most vulnerable in our communities.
What the Government seek to do overall, in opening up proceedings, is absolutely right, but I am concerned that in doing so we protect sensitive personal information. On my understanding of the Bill, such information could be published unless the court specifically imposes restrictions, but I suspect that any court that imposes such restrictions will be subject to enormous criticism by some members of the press. We need to be clear about what we are licensing and what we are allowing, and we must make absolutely sure that we consider the interests of the child. Family proceedings usually involve children when they are at their most vulnerable, and we must make sure that we do not put them into more danger from, for example, bullying or further abuse. I approve of the principle, but I am concerned that, frequently, because there is no disagreement about the principle, we do not pay enough attention to the level of detail. That might come back to hit us if we do not maintain the clear level of care needed for the most vulnerable children when they are part of family proceedings.
There is much in the Bill that I welcome and much that I would like to talk more about, but I have tried to concentrate on the issues that, for me, are part of how we support the most vulnerable in our society and enable them to grow up to play a full part in it because they have been able to meet their full potential.
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Children, Schools and Families Bill because it adds hugely to the bureaucratic burdens on schools and colleges without improving real opportunities and educational standards for pupils and without genuinely empowering parents; its proposals for the regulation of home education introduce powers which are excessive and risk undermining key freedoms for home educators; it fails to put in place a coherent system for delivering school improvement; its provisions on family proceedings have not been properly consulted on and do not take account of existing reforms; and it does not include much needed policies to introduce a Pupil Premium to support the education of children from disadvantaged homes or to establish a new Educational Standards Authority to restore confidence in educational standards and to reduce the extent of destabilising political interference in English education."
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), and I agree strongly with several of her points about the release of sensitive information in the family court. I hope that we will have the opportunity to consider that issue in some detail in Committee. I appreciate that we are short of time today, and I shall do my best to limit my comments on the Bill, which covers many extremely important areas.
I should like to put on record the sadness of my party at the death of the former hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire, Mr. David Taylor. He was much respected
across the House and he will be fondly remembered not only by Labour Members, but by Opposition Members, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.
Before I come to my substantive comments about the Bill, I have a request for Ministers. Will one of them, when they respond to the debate, clarify a point that got slightly mangled in the exchange between the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) regarding her question about reasonable punishment? She asked about individuals who attend madrassahs and other such quasi-educational settings and whether they should be covered by the existing restrictions on corporal punishment. I thought that the Secretary of State indicated that he was sympathetic to the hon. Lady's point, but that approach appears to contradict both the existing legal position and a letter that Baroness Morgan, a Minister in his Department, sent to a lobby group that is pressuring for a change in the law on this issue. The letter of 6 January to the Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance said that some such educational and quasi-educational settings are currently exempt from the existing restrictions on physical punishment. Unless I got the wrong end of the stick, the Secretary of State showed sympathy for the hon. Lady's point, but his Department's position appears to be that the existing legislation will not be changed.
It is obvious from the Liberal Democrat's amendment that we have considerable concerns about the Bill, and that we hope that the House will do the country a service either by not allowing it through the House before the general election, or by making massive changes to the Bill. It is extraordinary that, on the day on which the Secretary of State has effectively had to boast in the Financial Times that we are going to have the poorest education funding settlement since 1997, the Bill proposes to spend about £1.1 billion, in net present value terms, on additional bureaucracy. That money will not be available to front-line education to go to schools and parents and to assist pupils.
This point relates to the additional money that will be spent on the bureaucracy surrounding home-school agreements and pupil and parent guarantees, which even the Government have been unable to cost in the cost-benefit analysis that comes with the Bill. It also relates to the parental surveys that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) mentioned earlier, and to the cost of school improvement partners and home education and the additional regulation that will arise in that respect. It seems extraordinary, given that educational finance will be so restrained in the coming years, that we will have to spend such a huge amount of money on additional bureaucracy that seems, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said earlier, likely to follow in the tradition of this Secretary of State who believes that he can improve the education system through central direction and legislation.
As the Liberal Democrats mentioned in the Queen's Speech debate, this is the 12th education Bill to come from the Labour Government. It was published only one week after we approved the last education Act, and, unbelievably, amends some of the measures in that Act. That shows the extraordinary tendency of the Labour Government and this Secretary of State to legislate and often to replace legislation before it has even bedded down.
We also have serious concerns about the amount of time that will be available to debate the Bill. When one picks up the Bill, it does not look to be of the size and
scale of the last education Act that we debated, or of some of the larger Bills that we are used to dealing with in the House, but it deals with extraordinarily important and sensitive issues, and the debate that we will need to have on some of those issues will be considerable-yet we will be trying to do that in only two weeks. We need to consider the range of issues that we will be trying to resolve in those two weeks.
We will be trying to debate major new proposals on home education that are extremely controversial and difficult. As the right hon. Member for North-West Durham has said, we will be debating new and controversial plans to allow the release of sensitive information from the family courts. Those proposals are opposed by many outside bodies. We will be debating controversial and important proposals on a new licensing arrangement for teachers. We will also be discussing the introduction of a new school report card, of new arrangements for school improvement partners, of new pupil and parent guarantees and of new arrangements for home-school agreements. Other issues to be discussed include the whole future of the primary school curriculum, which the Bill deals with in one clause, the important issue of personal, social and health education, which has already stirred some debate in this place, and the powers of governing bodies.
Those are only some of the issues to be debated, and the Secretary of State and the usual channels have not allowed anything like enough time properly to scrutinise those issues. He cannot be surprised if the Liberal Democrats indicate that we do not want many of those proposals to go through in a half-baked or half-scrutinised way before the general election before which we know the Government are having to rush this Bill through.
Let me make some brief comments about the parts of the Bill that we support and those that we will be seeking to amend. There are two small but important areas that we support unreservedly. The first is the new status for, and access to, PSHE education, although we are not entirely convinced that the change goes far enough in some areas. Secondly, we support, as I believe the hon. Member for Surrey Heath did, the measures on special educational needs; we think that they are beneficialand helpful
We share some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expressed about bureaucracy in relation to the school report card and the licence to teach, although I do not think that we would put them in as critical a way as he did. We are more optimistic, or more open-minded, than him about the potential for those two matters to lead to improvements, if the measures that the Government introduce address them in the right way. The current mechanisms for school accountability are not particularly effective, and they do not give us a very good measure of the performance of many schools, particularly those that do not have the most challenging catchments and are therefore able to coast along in the league tables without their performance being looked at closely.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned one proposal that seems to have pretty broad support-the extension of PSHE to the national curriculum. It is wonderful that all parties support that. Unfortunately, it appears that most people out there where it matters-on the estates, in the towns, in the rural areas and in the cities-have not got a clue what PSHE is. Will he join
me in making a friendly plea to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we call it something that people understand? I would offer, with all modesty, the term "life skills". Would the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) support that, and would he at some point support an amendment that brought that about, if the ministerial team did not quite find its way to accepting that idea?
Mr. Laws: I agree that it is always helpful when we use language that people understand and that is accessible. There is a problem not only with people not understanding what PSHE means, but with the quality of what currently passes for such education.
The existing school accountability mechanisms are seriously deficient and the school report card has scope for improving the way in which schools are assessed. However, as I said in the debate on the Gracious Speech, there is a real risk that the Government will seek to put too many different measures into the school report card, that it will become a box-ticking exercise, and that as a consequence, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, we will end up with schools simply ticking boxes and with an increasing number of schools appearing to reach the higher grade levels without any change or improvement in performance in the areas that really matter. If that is all that the school report card does, it will be a waste of time and a bureaucratic burden.
We agree that it is quite wrong that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should be the organisation that oversees and produces the report card; there are clearly risks inherent in that. It seems obvious to us that Ofsted or, arguably, local authorities should be charged with that responsibility.
We are somewhat more positive than the hon. Gentleman about the potential of the licence to teach, but there is a great deal of confusion about what the licence to teach is meant to deliver. The Government first spun the idea, when the Bill was published, as a measure to get rid of poor-performing teachers. The Secretary of State knows perfectly well what I mean by "spin". In a lot of the recent documentation that has come from the Government, the presentation has been all about CPD-that is, continuing professional development; the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) would have picked me up on that if I had not been clear about what it was. The Government have to be clear about which of the two they seek to deliver. There is a real risk that the proposals could, if the Government are not careful, become another expensive, bureaucratic burden.
The Government need to focus on the ability of the licensing process to deal with poorly performing teachers, including in circumstances that are not dealt with under the existing performance management regime, such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Head teachers seek to take action against poorly performing teachers by using existing mechanisms, but those teachers leave before they have been put through the performance review. They then simply turn up in other schools, where they are able to teach very poorly. That is a real issue. It raises difficult questions, but those questions are worth exploring.
Our three greatest concerns about the Bill relate to three areas: home education, the pupil and parent guarantees, and the matter that the right hon. Member
for North-West Durham mentioned, the release of sensitive information in the family court. We accept the Government's good intent in seeking to ensure high-quality home education for all children, and we recognise the evidence that was given by the local authorities. Obviously, it is extremely controversial evidence, and it is very difficult to get a reliable data set, but it is argued that 8 per cent. of home-educated children may not be receiving a good education, and that 20 per cent. may be receiving a poor education. We recognise, as I think all Opposition Members do, that local authorities already have a duty to ensure that all children receive a suitable education.
Mr. Graham Stuart: I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech closely. Did he accept those figures? My understanding is that they were as unsound as most of the others that we have suffered in the Badman review, and that the Department is planning to produce another impact assessment because it has had to look again at all its numbers. I do not believe that the numbers that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are correct.
Mr. Laws: I accept that they are highly speculative. None of us can possibly know what the right numbers are, but the hon. Gentleman, who is, I believe, a member of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, signed up to a report that includes a lot of information about the patchy quality of home education. Some parents and families did not see themselves as having a duty to continue home education beyond key stage 2. He also signed up to a report-the Secretary of State quoted this earlier-that said:
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