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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I sponsored the meeting last night that has been referred to in so many speeches this evening. I was immensely impressed by the meeting. There were teachers, parents, children and people who had themselves been refugees. They spoke with one voice about the amendment. Noble Lords have heard already how the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth got a standing ovation.
I am afraid that the people at the meeting had too many expectations of us. They seemed to think that we could throw the whole Bill out. They seemed to think that we could get rid of the present Home Secretary. There were one or two other things that they wanted us to do, and I had to point out that they were not really on the agenda for today. However, on the subject that we are discussing in the context of the amendment, they were absolutely wholehearted. They spoke with immense authority and told us that accepting the amendment would be for the good of the children in the camps and the children in the schools. They said that it would be to the benefit of the parents of both sets of children and of the teachers in our country. I beg the House to accept the amendment.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I would not like my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Judd to think that they stood alone in saying that the clause is a disgrace. It is a source of shame to us that we should take a Bill that includes such discrimination through the House.
Many have spoken in great detail about the subsections and the way in which they contravene human rights. We should not do this to the children of asylum seekers. It means that the children in our schools will lose out in learning lessons of tolerance and in the transmission of the values that we think matter. The words of my noble friend Lord Judd should be listened to by everyone in the House, but particularly by those on these Benches.
I shall not rehearse the arguments of the educationists who spoke about the desirability of having asylum children in mainstream schooling or about the adaptability of such children. My three sons spent three years in schools and playgroups in two countries outside this one. The eldest boy was four, when he went abroad, and the youngest was a year old. At five, my eldest grandson has just enthusiastically entered a school in the closed society of the Forest of Dean, where the teacher explained to my daughter-in-law that not only had all the children been together in playgroups and nursery school, but they had all known each other since birth. My grandson is, therefore, a total outsider.
I have been consciousin a spirit of which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would approveof the flexibility in which the Government's plans for these children have evolved since the Secretary of State said in February that God forbid anyone should be in an accommodation centre for six months.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised some suspicions about the quality of the teaching. I can only say, having followed the text of these debates, that the Government's position has steadily evolved in a constructive manner in that regard.
I have re-read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, in Committee, and I follow its logic. He reminded us in the final paragraph that there are 62,000 asylum children in London alone. I have never been one to question the motivation of others, but against the universality of adverse educational opinion I am left wondering whether the Government embarked on this project to make the placing of accommodation centres in rural areas more acceptable to the indigenous population of those rural areas. Given the primacy of the children's needs, I hope that my suspicions are misplaced.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Carnegy hit the nail on the head when she said that the Government are in a muddle over this policy. It stems from the fact that they have chosen as a model of policy "one size fits all" or "one policy fits all sizes". Children are not like that.
I was also concerned to learn about the muddle between departments. This had not come to my notice before today. The Refugee Children's Consortium kindly gave me a copy of the extract from the Foreign Office's annual human rights report in 2002. It would be helpful if the Minister, either tonight or at a later stage, could explain why there appears to be a difference of opinion between the FCO and the Home Office on the segregation of the children of asylum
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth argued his case forcefully, as he always does. I shall listen carefully to the Minister. The Government have some deep thinking to do on this series of amendments. It would be helpful to the House to discover whether we can resolve the issue today or whether the Government will take it back and give it deeper thought.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, at the risk of being flippantno pressure then. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Filkin for giving me the opportunity to respond to the education part of your Lordships' deliberations today. I recognise that in the course of what I want to say I need to address many concerns. I need to acknowledge what we can agree on and explain what we are trying to achieve, in what context, based on what evidence. I need to outline the opportunities our plans present and to offer the guarantees your Lordships seek. But, more than anything, from listening to the debate, I need to address the rage your Lordships rightly feel when dealing with what I would classify in part as misunderstandings about the system.
I shall deal with those misunderstandings in detail, but perhaps I may briefly outline some of them. Clause 35 of the Bill enables a child, at the request of those running education, to be educated outside of an accommodation centre. We anticipate that a child with severe special educational needs, who needs a special school education, would be automatically given the right, under a local education authority assessment, to go to a special school. The right could apply to a gifted and talented child for whom provision would best be made elsewhere. It could apply also to a child with an exceptional command of English. The clause allows for that.
The other misunderstanding concerns teachers. We would not allow children in this country to be taught other than by qualified teachers or other teachers allowed to teach in any school. The system must mirror the education outside. I shall deal with the other misunderstandings as we progress, but I wanted to outline those at the start.
I should welcome any opportunity your Lordships may seekeither individually or togetherto address before Third Reading any concerns that I fail to deal with adequately today. Had I or my noble friend Lord Filkin had the privilege of being invited to the meeting last evening, we would happily have spoken to the group of 86 people. The group clearly had the advantage of the eloquence of the right reverend Prelate, but it might have benefited also from the opportunityI certainly would have benefited from itof my addressing the group.
As for Mr Bill Morriswho is not only a member of the Labour Party but one of my dearest friendsI shall, with delight, be talking to him in the next few days about his misunderstandings of what we are seeking to do.
I have had the privilege of meeting with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I hope that I can repeat today some of the matters that he raised with me and which I hope I was able to address, at least in part.
In the Second Reading debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who is not in his place, asked us to look at what is happening through the eyes of a child. It is of course the best and only place to start. I agree with every noble Lord who has said that the needs of our children are paramount. We are all agreed that the children who come to us, often in the most difficult of circumstances, need our help and care. Those who stay will be a huge resource to our country, economically, socially and culturally. They are to be cherished. They are not a burden.
We are all united in our worry for themworry for what they have experienced; for the families lost and torn apart; for the loss of their friends and toys; for the loss of the sights and smells and familiarity of their surroundings; and sometimes for the loss of their childhood. We are all agreed that we must do everything we can to help and support them. Nowhere is that more focused than in education.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the issues of trauma and the concerns about children who may be traumatised being together. There are many schools of thought, but it is very clear that if appropriate and adequate support is provided we can help children to support each other. In education we are all agreed that we want our children to succeedall our childrenand to create successful schools everywhere, supporting our teachers, our staff, our children, our parents and our families.
One of the biggest political challenges we will face in the future arises from the fact that some parts of our planet are on the move. Some 168 million people now live in a country other than the one in which they were born. They form only 2.8 per cent of the world's population, but the figure is rising. When you put that back into our education system, it means that we should prepare the children and their families who arrive here for our education system.
When I look at the issue of ethnic minority attainment in this country, time and again I hear stories of families who simply do not know the expectations of our education system. Families who believe that when a child moves from year eight to year
We must recognise the needs of every child. We must provide the support for new children, who may need specialist advice. Trauma counselling has been mentioned. Language support is another need. Children may be gifted and talented and may need additional support from our education service.
We must make sure, too, that we have a stable education system, schools that are constantly striving to improve and develop standards for all the children in their care, teachers and staff who are able to offer the best to the children in their schools; and we must provide stability for all the children, for the teachers, and for the families.
I believe that the diversity of our country is perhaps our greatest asset. We have a lot more to do in education to support children from ethnic minority communities. Ofsted has recently produced reports on the best primary and secondary schools. They tell us of the characteristics of those schools which are most successful in raising the attainment of all children. There are no hidden formulae. They are about leadership and high expectations for every child. They are about children who say: the teachers look me in the eye; they have made the curriculum relevant.
For some of our schools there are truly great challenges simply in terms of language. In Haringey, 190 languages are spoken; in one school, 45 are spoken. All these challenges are in the context of being responsible for the national languages strategy. All these assets can be to the benefit of all children.
In meeting the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, yesterday, I met also a teacher from a school in London that has a very high reputation. The teacher talked about her work with children from different backgrounds, many from refugee families. She talked about trauma counselling and about the work to celebrate the diversity of these children's families, and much more. It is a school that does well and is one from which we can learn. But it is a school that says that it does not know on Monday quite who will be in the classroom. Many schools that do not have the expertise and experience of that particular school talk of the difficulty, not merely for the school but for the transient children, children who do not know where they will be next week.
This is not about overcrowding; it is about what happens in some of our schools when children are there for a short time and then leave and new children arrive who have different language needs and different requirements and are without that kind of support.
There is no doubt that there are schools that cope well and children who cope well; and there are schools and children who do notnot least because some schools do not have the resources to do so. I do not necessarily mean funding; I mean people and resourcestranslation services, assessments and so on. We know that the new arrivals can be bewildered. They can certainly be bullied and unhappy, and their families can be unsure of how to support them in a strange education system.
The aspiration for accommodation centres has been well set out by my noble friend. I shall not go into areas that are for him to discuss with the House. I want to talk about the opportunity that we might have in piloting the provision of education for the children who may be staying in the centres. I am not talking about an education that will be inferior. I am not talking about anything less than the best that we can offer such children.
My first point is that the children who will be with us in the accommodation centres are those waiting to know whether they will be staying in this country or leaving it. Their lives are in transition. Our job is to support them through that transition and to provide them with education. For those who are to stay, we are all united in the belief that they should be put into the school system and the housing in which they will be living, and be allowed to put down the roots that they need as quickly as possible.
We want children to get the best experience that they can from the education that we shall provide in the accommodation centres and to be prepared for the move to a school that will be local to where they will live. I see it as the way in which I prepared my children to enter school when they were four, as no doubt other noble Lords did. It was not about arriving on one day; it was a process over weeks of learning about the school and what it was like to be at school, in the same way as schools help to prepare children for secondary education and beyond.
So what can be done in the accommodation centres? What are the guarantees? First, we shall be able to learn quickly about the educational attainment of the children and plan for their education for the futurewe can help them to catch up if need be; we can support those who are gifted and talented; we can provide language sessions to support their English.
Secondly, as noble Lords who have studied this matter have pointed out, we can offer education throughout the year. Those who arrive in July will not need to wait until September to start accessing education. Education will be provided for them.
Thirdly, we shall be able to concentrate support on those who need time and space to deal with the trauma that they may have experienced. Their familiesthis is important for reasons that I have statedwill be able to learn about the education system and learn how to support them. We have always said that we want them