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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for clarifying the position. It has been a great help. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]
Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 127:
"PUPIL REFERRAL UNITS: SUPPLY AND PUBLICATION OF INFORMATION
The Secretary of State or the Assembly may by regulations require a pupil referral unit maintained by a local education authority to collect and publish data on levels of education achievement and attainment or any other information as may be prescribed."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 127 would allow the Secretary of State or the Assembly in Wales by regulation to authorise a pupil referral unit to collect and publish data on levels of educational achievement or any other such information as may be prescribed. Before I explain the rationale behind the amendment, it might be useful for your Lordships' House if I provided a little background information on the current requirements expected of PRUs.
PRUs are legally both a type of school and a form of education. However, they are not subject to all the legislative requirements that apply to mainstream and special schools. A pupil referral unit must, however, have an SEN policy and appropriate child protection procedures. The number of pupils in a PRU will vary. Grouping of pupils may occur by age and by the nature of their referral. Many pupils in PRUs will have special educational needs, and a significant number will have statements, usually for emotional and behavioural difficulties.
At present, the LEA must have a statement of curriculum policy for PRUs. The teacher in charge should prepare a statement of the curriculum aims of the unit, reflecting the LEA's curriculum statement. The teacher must consider the views of the community, the police and the management committee in drawing up the statement. It is good practice for a PRU to have a curriculum policy that shows how staff will deliver. PRUs should offer a balanced and broadly-based curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and of society, and prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.
PRUs do not have to assess pupils at the end of each key stage. However, the PRU's annual report to the LEA should report a pupil's progress. We believe that PRUs
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should be subject to the same kind of measures in relation to the collection and publication of academic results as their mainstream counterparts. We recognise that a number of pupils may not be able, for a series of reasons, to take standard examinations. In that instance, we can accept their omission. We also accept that such an approach may well have to be value-added, given the complexities of the students involved. However, there is no reason why we should not introduce an element of competitiveness between PRUs.
Providing value-added resultsand I stress "value-added"would allow parents the opportunity to compare the performances of different institutions, both locally and in other local authority areas. I suspect there will be some noble Lords in the House who will balk at such a suggestion, but the publication of exam results has transformed the ability of parents to choose the school best suited to their child's abilities. It should be no different in regard to a PRU. Such a step will boost accountability and transparency in the process. I beg to move.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. I would go a lot further than examination results, because, essentially, the customer for a PRU is the local authority. We have a difficult situation at the moment, with local authorities running PRUs. That is the kind of incestuous relationship that has led to so much difficulty in the past, with children's homes and other institutions run by LEAs. They can become places where no one really cares what the results are. The necessary first step in solving that problem is the publication of detailed, specialist and value-added results. It would do PRUs no harm at all if, on taking a pupil, they had a set of objectives, agreed with the pupil's previous school, against which the pupil's performance was measured when he or she left the PRU, to see how the PRU had performed.
I would like to see a system where PRUs became independent of local authorities, as they seem to me a sector of education ideally suited to being hived off from local authorities. They ought to be a service provided to those authorities by others, so that the local authority, to take the phrase the Minister used early on in the consideration of this Bill, became the friend and adviser of the parent and the family. They would be responsible for choosing the best PRU education from the competing providers in respect of that particular child. That is perhaps further than the Government intend to go at this election, given that not many parents of children in PRUs are regarded as swing voters, but it seems to me to be a jolly good way to go from the point of view of the Government's ultimate ambitions.
Where the purchaser and the provider are one and the same, there is always the danger of the poor old consumer getting done in. The consumer in this case is not only the vulnerable children, but also the rest of us who will suffer the consequences if these children do not receive the education and attention they deserve. I hope the Government will take their underlying philosophy and push it further. A good first step is the
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provision of proper information to enable all of us, not just some little clique within the LEA, to judge how well a PRU is doing.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I shall initially make some points that should be on the record, and then I shall give a reflection.
At the formal level the amendment is unnecessary because the powers already exist. There is a statutory basis for collecting information in this way. Some of the information is already published. The PRU census, which is published each year, collects information on gender, ethnicity, free school meals, the number of pupils with statements of SEN and the number that are dual registered. In addition, PRUs are required to keep an admissions register and an attendance register.
There are several reasons why we do not publish information on achievement and attainment in PRUs. Many pupils passing through PRUs never sit an exam. As the majority of pupils spend fewer than two terms in a PRU, it is not simple to interpret any achievement and attainment data collected.
One of the main ambitions of PRUs is to re-engage the pupil in learning with a view towards his speedy re-integration into mainstream education. For that reason, there is a much more flexible pattern of study and assessment.
Achievement and attainment data are recorded on a pupil's individual learning plan, which goes with the pupil when he returns to mainstream school. That allows the school to see how the pupil progressed while attending the PRU.
A further point is that PRUs are different. A hospital PRU will be different from a PRU for teenage mothers, which will be different again from one catering mainly for excluded pupils. It would, therefore, be difficult and potentially misleading to publish comparative data across all PRUs to capture those different circumstances.
Individual learning plans are focused on the specific needs of each childas they should be. For example, for a pupil with behavioural problems, the focus may be much more on trying to address and shift those behavioural problems than on academic achievement. For good reasonyou are basically trying to get that child's behaviour into some form of conformity to make education in a mainstream setting work. I do not think that any noble Lords who have spoken would want to disturb that.
Those are very good reasons why, first, one does not need a legislative power, and, secondly, why it is not simple to publish performance data. One is still left with the proper examination question about by which process weby which I mean the local authority, central government or parents; any of those stakeholdersappraise the performance of PRUs.
This is not my policy brief. It is not part of my day job, so I will not busk as far as I do on some other areas. While I do not think that this is the time and place to find an answer to that, we should at least reflect on it because
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it is a proper public policy question. I will ensure that the issue is conveyed back to my colleague Ministers for reflection.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thoughtful reply. Yes, it is complex, but that does not mean that we should not still try to capture the information. I thank him for saying that he will take the issue away and think about it. I believe very strongly that just because these children are excluded does not mean that they should be forgotten. We should have just as much ambition for them as we do for all other children. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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