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We strongly agree that young people up to the age of 25 and beyond should also have entitlements to continue studying and acquire new skills that will help them to gain employment and once employed to progress in the work place, but we believe that these needs are properly served by specific non-statutory, funded entitlements which are already in place for young people up to age 25. I accept that by their nature, being non-statutory, they are less binding than statutory entitlements, but I equally believe that our commitment to them has been demonstrated not only by what we have said but by the substantial funding that we have put in place to enable the entitlements to be delivered.

The entitlements are for all adults to study towards a level 2 qualification and for young people up to the age of 25 to study towards their first level 3 qualification. From 2007-08, to fund this first full level 3 entitlement my right honourable friend the Chancellor made an extra £25 million available in the Budget this year specifically to ensure that there was proper funding behind that entitlement, so that it could actually be delivered. The existing entitlements give young people the opportunities that they need and deserve to prepare themselves for success in life. Although they are not statutory and do not have the absolute enduring binding force of those that are in the Bill, we none the less stand by them and they will be a first call on resources in our next spending review.

I turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, about placing a duty on local authorities to make arrangements for the provision of transport for qualifying disabled young learners in the further education sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, I wrote to her on 10 October setting out our view on this. I must say that this is not my area of direct ministerial expertise. I shall give the House the response I have, but it may be useful if I arrange for the noble Baronesses to meet my honourable friend the Minister for Further Education, who I think would be happy to discuss these issues and take up some of the more detailed points that the noble Baronesses raised.

In my letter, I outlined our intention to strengthen the role of the Learning and Skills Council in transport partnerships locally. We look to the Learning and Skills Council to work closely with each partnership to help them fulfil their shared aim of improving the prospects of young people by encouraging participation in learning to enhance their skills. This builds on measures already in place to support young people and adults to access further education. For example,

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the DfES provides additional support to those who need it most via the learner support fund, which is delivered by the Learning and Skills Council. It is a discretionary fund targeted at local provision to assist learners in financial hardship to continue in learning. It is particularly targeted at disadvantaged groups such as those from low income families to help with learning-related expenses, such as contributions to costs of transport or books and equipment. Around one-third of the learner support fund for young people is used to help with transport costs for disadvantaged students.

In 2005-06, the learner support fund was funded to a total of £123 million. In this financial year, 2006-07, it is funded to a total of £122 million, of which£86 million is for adult learner support and £36 million for young people aged 16 to 19. The fund is awarded to learners on the basis of need. Colleges have to prioritise use of the funds within a framework that clearly identifies disadvantaged groups as a priority for funding. As I say, the fund can help with transport costs.

I hope that that goes some way to meeting the points raised by the noble Baronesses, but I would be happy to facilitate a further meeting with my honourable friend the Minister for Further Education if they would like to take advantage of that.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I understand the distinction between the two sets of entitlement that we have discussed under the first set of amendments. I take on board what he said. We will probably not pursue the matter further.

On the second set of amendments, it would be useful to take up his offer of a meeting and perhaps bring along our friends from Skill and Guide Dogs for the Blind, who are concerned about these issues and have a number of practical examples, which could be discussed at the meeting. I should be very grateful to the Minister for a meeting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 106 and 107 not moved.]

Clause 74 [LEAs in England: provision of travel arrangements etc for children]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 108:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving government Amendment No. 108, I wish to speak also to government Amendments Nos. 109 to 112. These amendments extend the provisions for free school travel for low-income groups to include secondary-aged children attending the nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief within a 15 mile radius.

The intention of these amendments is to further promote two of the principles that run through this entire Bill: diversity and fairness. The amendments will play an important part in ensuring that disadvantaged parents make a genuine, informed choice when expressing preferences for their child’s secondary school.

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Evidence suggests that choice of school, particularly for low-income groups, is often restricted by parental concerns about the cost and availability of transport. Some 41 per cent of parents living in social housing cite travel convenience as the most important reason for choosing a school, compared with only 33 per cent of owner-occupiers. There is also real inequity in how far children travel to school—only around 10 per cent of children entitled to free school meals travel more than three miles to school, compared with 18 per cent of children not entitled to free school meals.

To create equity in the system, it is therefore crucial that lack of affordable transport is removed as a barrier to choice. The existing proposals to extend rights to free transport for low-income groups to one of their three nearest schools will do this. However, we believe that lack of affordable transport should not stand as a barrier to parents exercising a choice based on their religion or belief—such as a parent with strong religious beliefs expressing a preference for a more distant faith school than is available within their three nearest schools; or a parent of no faith expressing a preference for a more distant community school where they do not have a choice of such a school within their three nearest. I refer to the distance requirements currently set out in the Bill.

Amendment No. 109 will apply where a child of secondary school age from a low-income family attends a school because his or her parent has expressed a wish for them to attend that school, and that wish is based on their religion or belief. Amendment No. 110 provides that “religion” or “belief” for these purposes have the same meaning as in the rest of the school travel provisions—that is, it covers all religions, religious or philosophical beliefs and a lack of religion or belief. Amendments Nos. 108, 111 and 112 are consequential amendments arising from Amendment No. 109. The amendments follow extensive consultation with interested groups, including, but not restricted to, the faith communities. I believe that these proposals will be welcomed by them. I beg to move.

7.15 pm

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the Minister for these amendments, which, as he said, address issues that we raised in Committee and which have been discussed subsequently.

Sadly, I think that I am not the only bishop with responsibility for a diocese where a local authority has reduced parental choice by withdrawing support for denominational transport. Indeed, I received a letter this week from the parents of a child in one of our church secondary schools who were having to consider withdrawing their child from the school because of the increasing cost of transport.

We therefore welcome these amendments, which, as the Minister said, will ensure that more disadvantaged children will continue to have access to church schools, particularly in rural areas where distance can be a significant problem. That will not only improve parental choice but help to ensure that

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church and other faith schools continue to be socially inclusive and represent the breadth of the communities that they serve. While I speak principally on behalf of Church of England schools, I know that other denominations will share our welcome for these amendments.

Baroness David: My Lords, how many schoolsare likely to fall within the two but not morethan 15 miles provision? I am told that an area of700 square miles is covered. How many schools are involved?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, alas, I do not have that information in my briefing, but I shall get back to my noble friend with it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Travel to schools etc: meaning of “eligible child”]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendments Nos. 109 and 110:

(a) he has attained the age of 11, (b) he is a registered pupil at a qualifying school which is more than two miles, but not more than fifteen miles, from his home, (c) his parent has expressed a wish, based on the parent's religion or belief, for him to be provided with education at that school, (d) having regard to the religion or belief on which the parent's wish is based, there is no suitable qualifying school which is nearer to the child's home, and (e) the appropriate condition is met in relation to him.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 9 [School travel schemes]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendments Nos. 111 and 112:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 78 [LEAs in England: provision of transport etc for certain adult learners]:

[Amendments Nos. 113 to 115 not moved.]

Clause 85 [Responsibility of governing body for discipline]:

[Amendment No. 115A not moved.]

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 116:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 86 [Determination by head teacher of behaviour policy]:

[Amendment No. 116A not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 117 and 117A not moved.]

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Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 118:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 118 is a return to the issue of bullying, which we debated in Committee. On that occasion, our amendment required a school to develop a policy on homophobic bullying. We had enormous support from across the House, including from the Minister, about the importance of this matter and the need for it to be addressed by all schools. All noble Lords agreed that it is unacceptable that a child should be bullied on the basis of his sexual orientation, or any other characteristic, come to that. However, many noble Lords encouraged us to come back with an amendment that was wider in its scope and addressed the whole issue of bullying. That is what we have done.

On 25 July, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said:

She went on to say:

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, in the same column of Hansard:

The noble Lord asked whether I would consider withdrawing my amendment and coming back with one that addressed the strategic issues. Support for such an approach also came from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

In his reply, the Minister agreed that,

However, it became clear that he thought that the Bill confronted the matter adequately without the benefit of my amendment when he said later in his speech:

He told us:

and so on.

The problem is that, when I looked at the Minister’s words, I realised that that responsibility is only in one direction. It relates to action that the head must take to affect the behaviour of the pupils. But

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pupil behaviour is only part of the picture. We need schools to have a policy that addresses the behaviour of everyone in the school community: pupils, teachers, support staff, caretakers and everyone who might come into the school as part of its extended school format. The clause quoted by the Minister does not do that; our amendment does. It would ensure that policies are in place to prevent bullying from wherever it came or on whatever basis it lies. The school would need to foster a culture of mutual respect among all members of its community—both adults and children.

Noble Lords may remember that we had an amendment along those lines in Committee. Without Amendment No. 118, the job is only half-done by the Bill. The Minister assured us,

He went on to say:

We quite agree with that. That is what we want to do, but we feel that the Bill as it stands only does half the job. The guidance is not quite enough. Without our amendment, the school may see the matter only as a part of its policy on the behaviour of pupils, without all the positive, mutually respectful things that we all want to see in the whole school community. In other words, it addresses the negatives without putting in the positives. We would like to put the positives in, too. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, though we had considerable reassurance from the Minister, there really is a case for making this rather more specifically a duty. We seem to hear the word “bullying” coming from so many different directions. If it was specifically a duty—not just of the headmistress but also of the governing body—to see that the whole culture of the school was addressing this worrying aspect that has been identified so often, that would be a help. Having a regular item on the governing body’s agenda when it met at least once a year might be one way of concentrating people’s minds. I hope that further consideration can be given to the matter.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the issue of bullying in schools is immensely important, and we accept that a great deal more needs to be done, as the leaders of the school community accept that a great deal more needs to be done, to tackle it school by school and community by community. I am entirely with the noble Baroness in all that she said about its importance, including the issue of homophobic bullying, on which we are looking to publish specific guidance early next year. We are consulting interested parties on that at the moment. We also have our main bullying guidance toolkit, Don’t Suffer in Silence, which has been very warmly received and has made a big difference to the capacity of schools to deal with the issue. It is currently being updated, and we are looking to see that it reflects best practice in this area.

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When it comes to the law, though, I am straining my powers of understanding to understand what the noble Baroness thinks that we could do that we are not doing. I will go through it so that my understanding is clear, and it may be that we can have a further dialogue on this.

Clause 86 sets out requirements on the head teacher, which must include, as Clause 86(1)(c) states,

Also, Clause 86(1)(b) requires,

I do not see that as purely restricted to bullying. It says,

so it is not just about bullying. It goes on to say,

so it goes from the general to bullying as the specific. I do not see it as couched in any way in terms of negatives as opposed to positives. I find it inconceivable that a head teacher could encourage good behaviour and respect for others if they did not have positive measures to promote respect and rewards for good behaviour in school, and if they did not have those properly recognised, as opposed to simply using sanctions or punitive measures. I hope that the noble Baroness is with me so far on the fact that I do not see this as negative.

In undertaking to meet those requirements in Clause 86(1), the head teacher must,

and the governing body, under Clause 85, must,

Again, this is not just restricted to cracking down on bullying; it is about promoting good behaviour and discipline, although cracking down on bullying is one element of it. The points made by the noble Baroness are largely, if not entirely, met, but I am happy to have further discussion with her if there are specific issues.

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