Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Young: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The point I was making about local authorities was that currently there is a Bill going through your Lordships' House to completely reform local authorities. We are not at all clear how their educational responsibilities will be carried out. I simply drew attention to the fact that both Bills are going through this House in parallel. It is very important that we should be clear as to how one fits into the other.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that there is perfectly good joined-up government thinking going on as regards the different Bills introduced in this House and rather close to each other. However, if I may continue, local authorities will play a very important role. They will be key players represented on the boards of local LSCs or FE college governing bodies, or as members of local learning partnerships. In reply to my noble friend Lady Lockwood, they will not just be deliverers of learning, but key partners. Key players are needed to provide vision and leadership for local communities and to ensure coherence between compulsory education and post-16 learning. That is why, as is set out in the Bill, local authorities will be consulted at a very early stage as the local LSCs draw up their plans. Indeed, provided they secure high quality provision, they will have an opportunity to bid for more funding under these new comprehensive learning arrangements and they will no longer be subject to the artificial distinction imposed by existing legislation about what they can and must fund.

We want all local authorities to adopt a proactive approach towards lifelong learning and to continue to play their central role in adult and community learning. Indeed, we are keen to support those LEAs which produce and effectively implement their lifelong learning plans and intend to maintain their current level of spending in this vital area. To this end, we have announced that such LEAs are guaranteed at least the same funding as they receive now in the first two transitional years of the new arrangement. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is a fair deal which recognises what local authorities are doing now and rewards them accordingly while leaving scope for further development in adult and community learning, both through local authorities and a range of other providers.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. My specific question was whether the expenditure on sixth forms is being sustained per pupil in real terms.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can give that answer immediately, although I was going to address it later in relation to sixth forms, an issue raised by a

17 Jan 2000 : Column 945

number of noble Lords. The answer to the noble Baroness' question is yes, as long as the numbers are maintained in the sixth form concerned.

We have also been questioned about the representation of local authorities on LSC boards. In response, I should like to reiterate and emphasise the statement in the LSC prospectus:

    "We would expect the national and local LSCs to have members who understand the needs of local communities through local authority experience."

Our intention is that membership of each local LSC should include someone with substantial recent experience of local government, and like other members they should serve the interests of the LSC as a whole. All appointments will be made under Nolan principles. For all appointments to the LSC, we want to choose the very best people we can find. Local learning partnerships will also be very important in the new arrangements.

I should like to turn to the issue of sixth forms and the concerns that have been expressed about our provisions in this respect. The Government want a successful and effective sixth form sector. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on that point. We believe that schools with sixth forms have a vital role to play in this respect and in the drive to secure success for all young people.

The new arrangements are not about closing small sixth forms or school sixth forms in rural areas. I may be disappointing my noble friend Lady David in relation to this matter. The new arrangements in the Bill are about achieving a sixth form sector based on coherence, quality and choice. Where pupil numbers do not drop, as I told the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, sixth form budgets will be maintained in real terms. I very strongly agree with the opening comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on this issue.

In regard to coherence, I repeat what I said earlier. The LSC's involvement in funding and planning school sixth forms will ensure a genuinely coherent approach to post-16 learning across the FE schools divide. This was an objective that found very widespread support during the consultation from head teachers, from foundation schools, colleges and many others.

The Bill contains various new arrangements that will help secure the higher standards of school sixth form provision. Our only concern is one that we share with LEAs and schools--to ensure that, wherever it is provided, post-16 education is of the highest possible quality.

In terms of choice, the Bill will enable local authorities or other promoters to propose the creation of LEA maintained 16-to-19 schools. We will regularise the position of existing LEA 16-to-19 set-ups, such as the William Morris Academy. This is an indication of our support for, and the value we place upon, sixth form provision in the schools sector. All of this can only be good news for the sector and for young people.

17 Jan 2000 : Column 946

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about top slicing of local authority funds. The department's consultation paper issued 10 days ago explains that the deduction or top slice of local authority funds will be on the basis of the post-16 block grant of current LEA expenditure. This will not include the money for those services that will not be funded by the LSC, such as LEAs' central administrative costs. We shall be consulting in the spring as to what exactly those services will be and make sure that LEAs are fairly rewarded. The transfer will not take place before 2002-03 at the earliest, and it will be subject to very detailed discussions involving school and LEA representatives.

Noble Lords raised a number of more specific questions about various aspects of sixth form provision. Unfortunately, I shall have to reply in writing.

I turn now to the issue of inspection. We are determined to raise standards and bring poor provision up to the level of the best. No single inspectorate could encompass the enormous scale and variety of post-16 education in England. Our proposals will build upon the success of Ofsted in raising school standards by bringing within its remit provision for young people in FE colleges. For the first time, the provision for young people doing similar courses in schools and FE colleges will be conducted by a single body. The new adult learning inspectorate will be responsible for inspection of all work-based provision and adult provision in FE colleges.

We listened very carefully to the views expressed in response to our White Paper. The common inspection framework will deliver a single transparent framework for inspection for all post-16 providers, and the Bill provides for a proper statutory period of consultation on how the new arrangements will work in practice. The common inspection framework will mean that where the remit from Ofsted and the adult learning inspectorate overlap, as they often will, there will be a single team of inspectors producing a single report, based upon a public document that explains clearly and simply what both inspectorates are looking for. There will be no duplication of activity. Our aim is to raise standards, and nothing is going to get in the way of that. I hope that that statement reassures noble Lords who have raised questions on this issue.

I am unable to answer any more specific questions, due to the constraint of time, because I want to say a few words about learning difficulties and disability issues as well as the youth support service. The needs of disabled people, students with special educational needs, is a subject that I know is of great concern to noble Lords, and it is one shared by the Government. We want to ensure that learners with special needs, learning difficulties or disabilities, are supported to ensure that they can achieve their full potential.

There are several provisions in the Bill that relate in particular to transitional arrangements for those who are moving on at the age of 16 and to the new use of the youth support service. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that the Government are also committed to further reform. As I announced at the opening of the

17 Jan 2000 : Column 947

debate, we will bring forward a Bill later in this Session to provide a comprehensive response to the recommendations for education of the Disability Rights Task Force.

I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was incredibly carping in what she said. A separate Bill offers the best opportunity to secure a coherent approach across Great Britain. It allows time for consultation with the education sector and disability groups which will be important given the issues which the task force raised. It allows noble Lords to give this key area their full attention when the Bill arrives. I look forward to presenting the Government's proposal to the House later in this Session.

Perhaps I may answer the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, about transport for the disabled. Access funds will rise from £47 million this year to £89 million in 2000-01. They will cover transport costs. They must be available to all learners in need, including disabled students.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will forgive me if I write to him on the more specific questions he raised. I shall also write to my noble friend Lady Warwick about links with higher education. She raised a number of important points. I assure the House that the arrangements in the Bill will secure close links between the learning and skills council and the HE sector.

Perhaps I may say a few words about the youth support service. I was grateful for the support of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for what the Government are doing. The proposed new youth support service is an ambitious and, in our view, long overdue piece of joined-up policy at national and local levels. The service will embrace, not replace, existing support services for young people; and it will fill gaps, building on best practice. Consultation evidence indicates that it is widely welcomed by practitioners and young people alike. They, like us, are clear that agencies working together can achieve more for young people, their parents and communities than agencies working in isolation.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Young, and my noble friend Lady David were concerned that services should be available under these arrangements for all young people aged between 13 and 19 years. I reassure them that this service will indeed be for all young people. It will be delivered through a network of personal advisers whose caseloads will ensure that the right level of contact and support is maintained for every young person in their area. They will, of course, work mostly with those who need most help. That is entirely rational, is it not? But they will give appropriate support to all young people including the most able.

I am running out of time. I opened the debate by saying that this Government have a vision of a learning society. We know that education is crucial in offering the right start in life and in allowing people throughout their lives to update their skills and improve their employability, to play an active role in local

17 Jan 2000 : Column 948

communities and to help secure economic prosperity for this country. This Bill will help deliver that vision and secure the structures which will maximise the investment which this Government are committed to make to post-16 learning. In doing so, it will help to secure the skills and knowledge needed for all our futures. I commend the Bill to the House.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page