Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT) (E 03)

1. The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT) is a national charity for children and young people involved with the care system. We are the UK’s largest charity provider of fostering and adoption services. We also campaign on behalf of children and young people in care and on the edge of care.

2. TACT recognises that the Education Bill will put into law further key elements of the education reform policies of the Coalition Government. However we are concerned about the impact of the bill on groups of disadvantaged children and young people. In particular, TACT are concerned on the impact of the already poor educational achievements of children who are looked after under Section 20 of the 1989 Children’s Act (looked after children).

Children and Young People in Care and Education

3. Children end up in the care system through no fault of their own yet are among the most disadvantaged. Currently only the children of travellers have worse educational outcomes. Generally TACT does not have a position on the way that children’s statutory education is organised but we do have considerable concern about the education of looked after children. As a group of children their educational achievements have always been poor when compared with all children in the population. In 2008/9 seven percent of looked after children obtained five GCSEs A*- C. This compares with 49.8% of all children in England. [1] Although in recent years this gap has been narrowing in TACT’s estimation, at the present rate of improvement, it will still take 50 years for them to reach the same level of educational achievement as all other children.

4. It is disappointing therefore that looked after children get such short thrift in this Education Bill and an opportunity to have a positive impact on the education of this vulnerable group has been lost. Indeed the loosening of the inspection regime by creating ‘exempt schools’ (Clauses 39 and 42) reduces the opportunities for identifying schools where looked after children are performing particularly poorly or particularly well.

5. Many children and young people in the care of local authorities obtain high levels of educational achievements and go on to make a success of their lives. However far too many leave care with few or no qualifications and, as such, have poor life chances. The statistics on care leavers outlined by a report by the Centre for Social Justice make uncomfortable reading: 55% of care leavers suffer from depression; a third of care leavers misuse drugs and alcohol within a year of leaving care; around a third of those living on the street have a background in care; and 23% of the adult prison population have previously been in care. [2]

6. There is a high cost to this failure of the education system both to the children and young people (as we see above) and to the tax payer who has to support those who have come through the care system and cannot support themselves [3] . A disproportional number of young people who are ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) are care leavers which demonstrates the negative continuum of poor education outcomes and the poor employment prospects for children in care. Although there has been an increase in the number of young people leaving care and attending university, the percentage is still only seven percent compared with 40% of all young people.

Looked After Children and Young People – Special Consideration

7. TACT is concerned that the Education Bill does not in general terms consider the circumstances under which many looked after children are attending school. As such, many of the provisions within the Bill impact disproportionately on them. This briefing paper will outline some of TACT’s concerns; overall the relatively small (43,000 +) but important population of looked after children who are in statutory education in England do need some form of special consideration. There needs to be a recognition that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to legislation and policy has left looked after children vulnerable to the more punitive side of the education legislation. This Education Bill has the propensity to make their education more, not less, problematic.

8. Many of the issues facing looked after children and young people stem both from the actual experience of been taken into care and being in care as well as from the lack of understanding and, all too often, the negative attitudes shown towards looked after children both in the general public and the school system [4] . Explained below are how some of the key clauses in this Bill will impact on looked after children and young people.

Power of members of staff at schools to search pupils

9. Clause 2: power of members of staff to search pupils. Clause 3: Power of members of staff at further education institutions to search students. These clauses amend section 550ZB(6 and 7) of EA 1996, extending powers allowing teachers and staff at further education institutions to search pupils who they reasonable suspect is in possession of a weapon, alcohol, illegal drugs, stolen property and other items. These powers were originally introduced in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 which amended the Education Act 1996. These powers will now be exercisable for a greater range of items. They also remove the need for another person to be present and for the search to be carried out by a member of the same sex providing the member of staff carrying out the search reasonably believes that there is a risk that serious harm will be caused to a person if they do not conduct the search urgently and that it is not reasonably practicable for the search to be witnessed by another or carried out by a member of the same sex (Subsection 6A).

10. TACT is particularly concerned about these changes. Approximately 60-70 percent of looked after children are likely to be in care due to abuse or neglect. Early traumas often continue to affect the young person throughout childhood and beyond. Unlike police officers, teachers are not trained in appropriate search actions and allowing untrained teachers to conduct searches on vulnerable children alone is inadvisable. Furthermore, searching a pupil without a witness fails to protect both the pupil and the teacher as it makes both parties vulnerable to false claims. Similarly, TACT would question the wisdom of allowing teachers to search a pupil whom they suspect to be carrying a weapon without another person present.

11. Section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) was amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 to allow members of the public to detain persons they believed may cause physical injury to themselves or others. TACT would suggest a similar approach - without the powers of arrest- would be more suitable. This would allow a teacher to detain a pupil until another member of staff (of the appropriate sex, if needed) can arrive to carry out the search.

12. This addition to the powers of persons other than police officers to carry out searches might appear minor but has the potential to be used in a wide range of situations with potentially unfortunate consequences, especially when dealing with vulnerable children such as those in care. TACT believes that before a power of this type is extended, a genuine need for the extension should exist. We hope that during the debate on the bill, the Government will explain why the existing powers of search fall short of what is needed.

Exclusions

13. Clause 4: Exclusion of pupils from schools in England. TACT is particularly concerned about the increased powers for head teachers to exclude children from school. It is well documented that looked after children are disproportionately represented in those children and young people excluded from school. Recent reports argue that a looked after child is nine times as likely to be excluded from school than other children. [5] This shocking fact reinforces the idea that looked after children do not fare well when the punitive side of the education system is enacted.

14. The reasons for this high rate of exclusions is not that looked after children have some innate capacity for behaviour that leads to exclusion, but more often than not that they are likely to have a series of mental health and behavioural conditions that are not fully understood. For example, TACT has identified that Foetal Alcohol Disorder Syndrome is likely to be at a high level of prevalence among looked after children. The management of this condition allows for children’s behaviour to be understood and modified. However, very few health, educational and social care professionals know about such management techniques. [6] High exclusion rates among looked after children will not resolve either the issues of unmet need or untrained education staff. As we see below the proposals in the Education Bill can only make a bad situation worse.

15. Clause 4 allows head teachers of schools and teachers in charge of pupil referral units to exclude pupils for a fixed period or permanently without any process of appeal. Excluded pupils can apply to a review body but that review body can only make recommendations. [7] Thus there is no right of appeal. In consideration of the importance to the pupil for their future education and life chances this seems to run counter to natural justice. TACT believes the lack of an appeal process to be particularly worrying given the government’s stated aim to greatly increase the numbers of free schools and academies. As these schools will be effectively independent they are likely to compete with each other based on academic achievement. It is important that some independent review of exclusion decisions is maintained. Otherwise there is a danger of ‘troublesome’ children being excluded unfairly.

Admissions

16. Clause 34: Duties in relation to school admissions. This clause proposes to remove the ability of the School Adjudicator to investigate specific concerns regarding admission arrangements. For TACT this removes the opportunity for looked after children to be admitted to the appropriate and best school for them. Schools must be held to account for their admissions policies and the way they operate these policies in practice. Looked after children and young people may have little capacity to hold schools to account for their admission arrangements. Where this is the case, the loss of an independent arbiter means that the needs of looked after children may not be fully taken into account. There needs to be some way to seek remedy where there are clear problems with admissions arrangements which the School Adjudicator currently provides.

Teacher Training

17. Clause 14: Abolition of the training and development agency schools. TACT does not have a position on the delivery of training. However we are very concerned that the training of teachers on the understanding of all the circumstances that impact on children and young people when they come into care should be included both as part of initial teacher training and ongoing professional development. Although a quarter of looked after children are statemented and have disabilities the majority do not and therefore not all their needs can be met by SEN training. Also as mentioned, there is a specificity around the behavioural and mental health needs of looked after children. It is TACT’s view that a separate training component is needed for looked after children.

Summary

18. This Education Bill offers nothing in concrete terms to improve the educational outcomes of looked after children. In fact this bill might possibly make their situation worse. It is a missed opportunity to take account of the special circumstances of looked after children and young people’s education and make proper legislative provision. Many looked after children will achieve their full potential in the education system but this will mainly be because of their own resilience and the support of individual teachers, social workers and foster carers. Many more will continue to be failed by the system.

19. Without some form of legislative framework looked after children will be not get the understanding and support they need. Such a framework does not need to cut across the government plans for a successful school system based on the autonomy of individual schools. But it will need to set out and monitor key areas of activity including admissions, exclusions and teacher training, as well as ensuring that local authorities and health services deliver the appropriate support services.

20. There is enough knowledge and understanding about looked after children and their education needs for such a framework to be constructed and implemented. The government have made a positive move in this direction with their proposals for a pupil premium for looked after children. However much more needs to be done to ensure that looked after children and their carers can be confident of a successful time in the reformed education system.

February 2011


[1] GCSE and Equivalent Results in England , 2008/09 (Revised) Department of Children, Schools and Family (now the Department for Education)

[2] Couldn’t Care Less: A Policy Report from the Children in Care Group, Policy for Social Justice 2009 p153

[3] In a report by the DCSF in 2008 on Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care the estimated of the cost of supporting a young person in care with challenging behaviour and complex needs into their 30s is between £500,000 and £2m.

[4] For a more detailed explanation see TACT’s submission to the House of Commons Education Select Committee at http://www.tactcare.org.uk/data/files/resources/26/select_committee_evidence.pdf

[5] Action on Access http://www.actiononaccess.org/index.php?p=14_6

[6] For more information see http://www.tactcare.org.uk/pages/en/foetally_affected_childrens_services.html

[7] Except in any cases where they think that flawed in the laid down procedures then they can, after judicial review, quash the decision.