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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 348A and the consequential Amendments Nos. 379A and 379B. Before doing so I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that while there are obviously difficulties in Hampshire, they appear to be less so in Surrey where we run some joint school buses and are about to introduce an American yellow bus scheme which will link feeder primaries and secondaries. They will be taking a group of children along a feeder route. It will be very interesting to see how it works out.
As regards Amendment No. 348A, it relates to transport of those over the compulsory school age. Section 509 of the Education Act 1996 and its predecessors have long been recognised as inadequate in ensuring that individual learners receive assistance with the transport they need in order to participate in learning after the age of 16. The main reason for this is that the current formulation allows a local education authority to determine whether it thinks that transport is necessary to facilitate attendance. Faced with increasing financial pressures many local education authorities have become increasingly restrictive in their policies for assisting with transport over compulsory school age. That trend accelerated in 1993
As a consequence, many colleges came under pressure to provide assistance with transport. Colleges increasingly found it necessary to provide financial assistance from the resources available for learning delivery. The position eased a little with the introduction of college access funds which provided an additional source of funding for student support. The available data suggest that some 45 per cent of access funds are spent on transport assistance. However, that has done little to improve the overall funding available for student support, since total resources for access and related funds amount only to some £110 million a year. That is excluding the EMA pilot scheme that we discussed earlier.
Clause 193 and Schedule 19 to the Bill offer some acknowledgement of these problems. In doing so, first, they strengthen the obligations on LEAs while not laying on them an absolute duty to secure adequate transport provision. Secondly, they assume that colleges' governing bodies will continue to have to make a direct provision in respect of learners for whom the LEA fails to provide support. Thirdly, they focus only on the 16 to 19 year-olds, leaving the present position in respect of adults unchanged. Lastly, they fail to recognise the additional transport needs which will arise from the development of vocational and work-based learning at key stage 4.
The proposed new clause, which of necessity must be seen as a replacement for rather than a complement to, Clause 193 and Schedule 19 to the current Bill, seeks to address these weaknesses. It gives the LEAs sole responsibility for dealing with student transport matters. It lays a duty on LEAs to secure transport provision, rather than allowing discretion, which can be used to shift the burden on to learners and their families. It ensures that the duty extends to adults as well as the 16 to 19 year-olds. It ensures that the duty can be objectively assessed by integrating the criteria proposed in Schedule 19 for the assessment of transport needs into an expanded duty. It ensures that that duty extends to the provision of transport to colleges and employers' premises where this is required as part of the key stage 4 learning programme. Lastly, it strengthens existing provisions in regard to equity of treatment between school and college students.
Baroness Blatch: I think that it was at Second Reading that I flagged up one of the issues arising from the Government's plans. We know that at this stage they are only proposals. We also know at this stage that there is still consultation to be had about plans for 14 to 19 year-olds. One of the huge issues that needs to be addressedand I suggest that it should be properly addressed by the Governmentis the logistics of creating timetables for individual students from the age of 14 through to 19, particularly in the rural areas
The whole issue of transport will be much greater than even the one described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. One cannot go forward with an exciting proposition for 14 to 19 year-olds without remembering that if this issue is not addressed it will not be an option available to many people in rural areas. They are many villages, including my own, where one bus leaves in the morning and comes back in the afternoon. It does not dovetail with the institution's venues, nor with its starting times. We are talking about people moving about in mid-timetable, spending an afternoon here and a morning there, with one lesson here and another somewhere else. That issue cannot be ignored in consideration of provision for 14 to 19 year-olds. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, saidand, indeed, with my noble friend, who wants to open up the issue to more innovation.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that the issue needs to be addressed and that it gains in complexity against the background of changing educational demands. However, the amendments are not the solution to what I acknowledge is a complex problem.
First, I shall address Amendment No. 347, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Approximately 800,000 children each year benefit from free home-school transport provision. Its removal would hit many families hard. Secondary school children would be the hardest hit because, due to the statutory walking limits, they are currently more likely to be entitled to free home-school transport.
Provision of home-school transport has been around for a long timenearly 60 years. It is an entitlement on which many parents rely in order to get their child to school. If there were no national minimum standards, parents across the country could be treated very differently from one authority area to another. While a low income family in one authority area may be granted subsidised or free transport to their nearest school, a family in a neighbouring authority area on the same income may not.
Straightforward removal of that important provision, as proposed in the amendment, would leave some disadvantaged families much worse off. Any proposal to effect improvement in that area of legislation will, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, need careful consideration and the widest consultation so that we consider closely the implications of change on all children.
Restrictions on local authorities are not as intense as the noble Lord suggested. Some local authorities provide transport for children who live within walking distance. The children then have to pay, because the authority is under no obligation to provide free transport, but LEAs will sometimes provide a larger
Turning to the issue of discipline that the noble Lord raised under Amendment No. 348, the case of Bradford-Smart v West Sussex County Council has already confirmed that in the context of the bullying of a pupil outside of school the head teacher may exercise his disciplinary powers against one pupil who attacks another. In the case, the Court of Appeal also considered that in certain limited circumstances a failure to exercise that power would be a breach of the school's duty of care to the other pupil. That suggests that in certain circumstances a court may be prepared to find that a school has a duty to take disciplinary action against pupils who misbehave outside school. That may extend to transport provided by the school or LEA.
The difficulty, of course, lies where the indiscipline occurs on public service transport over which the LEA or the school has no control. Unless particular factors exist that would make it reasonable and possible for the school to take disciplinary action, it falls to the bus or train operator concerned to deal with any disruptive behaviour. That may include ejecting a pupil during the course of a journey. It is difficult to see how the school would act in such circumstances. It would be unreasonable and impractical to impose a greater duty on schools, which would have no means of monitoring or enforcement.
Indiscipline of that sort outside school is primarily for parents to deal with. That is especially the case where the transport is not the responsibility of the school or the LEA. The amendment would place a duty on schools only in regard to discipline on transport, leaving every other form of indiscipline outside school not covered by the legislation. I hope the noble Lord will accept that, although it is an interesting probing amendment, it is not one that we can accept.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her contribution. She is right that we need to look at the question of the importance of effective transport support to pupils of compulsory school age and, in particular, the needs of those pupils and further education students who also need help. She will recognise, however, that children under the age of 16 are in the compulsory category and have different needs from those in further education. Older students attend FE on a voluntary basis. I agree with the noble Baroness that we should seek to increase that voluntary commitment and we want to give them every encouragement. She will know of the increasing resources being devoted by colleges to give support for transport.
The position for the post-compulsory group is different from that for younger children for the obvious reason that there is an obligation on the parents of those in the compulsory age group to ensure that their children attend school. If the difficulty is one of considerable distance and cost, it is only right to
Clause 192 and Schedule 19 are designed to ensure that these needs are effectively met for students of sixth form age in FE and for students of sixth form age in schools. Neither Schedule 19 nor the proposed amendment are compatible with, or appropriate to, support for pupils of compulsory school age, so we cannot put the two together in quite that way. Education institutions covered by the proposed amendment differ little from those already referred to in Section 509 of the Education Act 1996. In relation to the matters to which an LEA shall have regard, the 1996 Act already places a requirement on the LEA to make arrangements for the provision of suitable education for children of compulsory school age and the right of parents to express preferences for schools.
Such existing provisions alongside the duty on an LEA to provide free transport to a pupil attending his nearest suitable school which is more than two or three miles away make the proposed amendment unnecessary.
Amendment No. 379A would deprive the vast majority of students who are currently eligible for LEA transport of that entitlement. The amendment would repeal the whole of Section 509 of the 1996 Act. Section 509 places a duty on the LEA to make such arrangements as it considers necessary for the transport of a person of compulsory school age, in further or higher education or receiving education, or receiving education or training outside those sectors, to and from his place of learning. Schedule 19 complements Section 509, but makes provision only for a person of sixth form age who is receiving education or trainingsomeone who is over compulsory school age but under 19. The amendment, taken on its own, would remove all legislative provision relating to transport for any person who did not fall under Schedule 19 to the Bill.
I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will recognise that I share with her the concern that we should have to ensure that we build up a better provision of transport if we are to encourage students in their commitment to further education, especially those from more disadvantaged homes. Although the amendments are against a background of appropriate sentiments, they would not work effectively.
Baroness Blatch: As a matter of interest, who is in loco parentis if a child of statutory school age boards a bus at school heading for home?
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