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Baroness Thornton moved Amendment No. 128:
"Education of detained children and young persons
Education of detained children and young persons
Section 562 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) (Act not to apply to persons detained under order of a court) is repealed."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that children and young people detained in youth justice and mental health settings have the same right to education as all other children and young people.
I apologise to the House for not getting my act together in time for the Committee stage of the Bill in order to have the issue discussed. Section 562 of the Education Act 1996 denies young people who are detained either through criminal justice or mental health legislation the absolute right to an education. While it does not preclude local authorities from making provision, it does not require them to do so.
It seems to me that there are two main bases for repeal of the section and I believe that we should take the opportunity the Bill presents to do so. The legal basis for repeal is Article 2 of the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. It reads:
Although the UK has a reservation in respect of Article 2, it is not in respect to the right to education itself. Further, Article 14 of the European convention prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds, including persons having "other status". That should preclude young people in custody and those detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 being subject to a lesser, and therefore discriminatory, right to education.
In relation to education in detention, the 10th report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded:
"We do not find the arguments presented by the Minister for Children and Young People against giving detained juveniles the same rights to education as other children persuasiveindeed we find them puzzlingly contradictory. He argues that such guarantees are unnecessary because the Government is doing all that is required. The same sorts of arguments were made against the application of the Children Act and the consequence was a judicial finding against the Government. We consider the persistence of the Government's resistance to placing the educational rights of young offenders on a statutory footing is a contravention of the UK's international obligations".
The committee further pointed out that the most effective route out of crime was through better education and training opportunities.
The second case for the repeal is the moral case. The Government are clear on their commitment to education and on the role that education plays in giving life chances to young people who are socially excluded. Young people detained in the under-18 secure estate or under Mental Health Act 1983 powers are among the most vulnerable and face numerous disadvantages. In addition to the stigma and difficulties associated with experiencing mental ill health, the young people most at risk are those living in poverty and poor housing and those with experience of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
In 2002, the Social Exclusion Unit published research on prisoners which clearly illustrated that behind the majority of young people in custody lay a childhood of disadvantage, abuse and loss. Over half the children in custody have been in care or involved with social services; 40 per cent of the girls and 25 per cent of the boys in prison report violence at home; and over half the girl population in prison and two thirds of the boy population had alcohol problems before entering prison. I am sure that your Lordships' House is well aware of the facts and figures.
We know that the Government and my noble friend the Minister have every intention that those children and young people should be properly educated. We also know from the work of the Prison Reform Trust and organisations such as NCH and Barnardo's that the provision of formal education is patchy at best.
I shall look briefly at the education provision in the under-18 secure estate. Although the majority of young people receive some form of education, a report commissioned recently by the Youth Justice Board showed that the provision available, particularly that in young offender institutions, left much to be desired. The staff are mostly part-time, turnover is high and qualification levels are relatively low. There is a serious deficiency of learning support, assisted teaching staff, special needs education co-ordinators and educational psychologists. A broad, balanced curriculum is not on offer, and the response to young people with SEN is a major weakness. The report found that education was not the focus of young offender institutions in the way that it was in local authority security units and secure training centres.
The report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, Juveniles in Custody, found that 34 per cent of young people surveyed in young offender institutions indicated that they required help with reading, maths or writing, and over a quarter of them were not doing any education at all. In 200203, the Youth Justice Board set a target of 30 hours' purposeful activity, including 15 hours of education, each week for children in young offender institutions. However, that target is not being met.
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What about educational provision for those detained under the Mental Health Act 1983? The DfES guidance on access to education for children and young people with medical needs states that,
"pupils who have an illness or diagnosis which indicates prolonged periods of absence from school . . . need to have access to education so far as possible from day one".
It further states that education should be of a similar quality to that available in schools. Further, Standard 9 of the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services states that children and young people with serious mental health disorders require their ongoing education to be provided either in home tuition units or in hospitals. The framework is clear that partnership working with education is essential, pointing out the links between mental health problems and educational failings.
However, I believe that the provision is, at best, patchy. I quote from the NCH's recent research among that cohort of youngsters. A young person from Bury who had been in an institution due to mental illness said, "We are that bored on the ward, and when we all get this stuff out you actually go and do itcraft activities like sticking on bits of cardbecause you're so bored and if you don't do it then you've just got to sit. We've got no kind of access to education in the ward or anything like that".
In its 10th biennial report, the Mental Health Act Commission found that where children and young people had been admitted to adult wards, only 11 per cent of those wards had managed to make arrangements for educational needs. Clearly, although some young people's level of mental disturbance may preclude them from benefiting from education were it provided, it seems unlikely that that is the sole reason underlying the paucity of provision, as only 30 per cent of wards had identified a planned programme of ward activities appropriate to a minor.
It is past time for legislative change. The wrong message will be sent to those managing secure provision, whether in the arena of mental health or juvenile justice, if existing legislation suggests that the education of those whom they are looking after is neither here nor there. It is clear that the Government are committed to providing those young people with an education and are concerned about the quality of that provision. Therefore, it must be time to repeal this outdated legislation and ensure that all young people, especially those most in need, receive the benefit of a decent education.
In conclusion, I would like to thank other noble Lords for their support in this matter and the Minister for listening so carefully. I also thank the Prison Reform Trust, Barnardo's, the Children's Legal Centre, Children's Rights Alliance, National Children's Bureau, National Children's Homes and Voice for the Child in Care for their briefing and their work in this area. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on her amendment. I congratulate her on laying it before the House today and on the way in which she has introduced it. Clearly, in her speech she relied on an enormous amount of
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research that has been carried out. She listed a large number of reputable organisations whose standards of research are beyond reproach. I would add to that list the Forum on Prisoner Education of which I am a patron. It has given us many examples of best practice and of the benefits of high quality education, particularly in the secure estate.
Referring back to a previous amendment, some of the youth offender institutions could be PRUs in their own right as most of the young people who find themselves in them are there partly because of their special educational needs, which need to be addressed while they are within the care of the state. The state has a duty to provide that. It is good not only for the children themselves but also for the state because it helps a great deal towards stopping them committing further offences. For many reasons I strongly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and hope that we shall receive a positive response from the Minister.
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