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Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I warmly support the amendment. I am very concerned that those most in need can be denied an education. Being particularly interested in special educational needs, I consulted the National Children's Bureau. Apart from what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the bureau said that it is very difficult to access accurate statistical information on the number or proportion of young people in prison custody who have learning difficulties. There are plenty of statistics on the percentage for literacy and numeracy problems, but it is difficult to collate the two. That may be due to the fact that a large number of young people who end up in prison have fallen out of the school system. There is some anecdotal evidence that that is related to their learning difficulties being seen as problem behaviour, and so remaining unidentified and unassessed, which means that they do not enter the SEN statementing process and receive the additional support that they require.

More research is needed in this area. I suggest to the Minister that that would be a very useful thing to do. Certainly, it is known that in such places there are people with learning difficulties, dyslexia and so on. On 14 June last year the Guardian reported on a new study on the proportion of young offenders with dyslexia. The British Dyslexia Association, with a youth offending team in Bradford, undertook local research that suggests that over half of all young offenders are dyslexic as opposed to 10 per cent in the general population. The more serious the offence or the greater number of offences, the higher the likelihood that the offender is dyslexic, which I find scary. A lot can be done for dyslexic people as we know.

Although the education and training provision in custodial establishments is a priority for the Youth Justice Board, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, showed very clearly in her compelling, cogent and comprehensive introduction, serious deficiencies have been found. There is a huge lack of help for children with SEN.

I urge the Minister: if he cannot agree to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, now, he should at least take it away and
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think very seriously about it and see whether there is some other way to ensure that it will no longer be legal for children to be denied an education which is most needed, because it is the basic human right of all their fellow peers.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I will speak very briefly on this amendment. Having listened to what has been said and also having read this very detailed and convincing document from a number of children's charities represented to us by the National Children's Home, I think that the case is overwhelming. Apart from anything else, given the fact that we know how inadequate the education process has been for the children who end up in custody or mental health institutions, we should use the opportunity when we have these children detained. As they are behind closed doors, what better opportunity to concentrate almost the entire time on these issues? We should update their skills and increase their basic education so that they have a better opportunity when returned to ordinary civilian life of leading as normal a life as humanly possible with much better opportunities.

This is a case for using the very best teachers—the very best skilled psychologically and in every other aspect, but above all in communication—so that they can engage the interest of the children. We all know how important it is to have a really good teacher, and it is even more important when we are dealing with children with these kinds of difficulties.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Minister knows my family commitment to prison education so he will not be surprised that I entirely support what noble Lords have said on this occasion. It seems to me crucial that we try to get ourselves into a position where prison education is something to be proud of. We are supposed to be, at heart, a Christian country. Christianity teaches us about the lost sheep being the one to which we should pay attention. That has not been the case in the past—and I am talking about our government's Act so I am not trying to ladle any blame on to the present Government—but this is an area of darkness into which we should shed some light. Light may be pretty zippy—186,000 miles a second—but enlightenment seems to spread much more slowly and these areas of darkness can persist for a long time.

This is a difficult problem to tackle because, as other noble Lords have said, you need top-quality teachers, a quantity of resources in terms of special educational needs provision particularly, and tactics which overcome the fact that most of these kids have failed in education in the past. You cannot just sit them down in front of a standard teacher and expect them to learn. A lot of effort and innovation is required to make it happen. It is not something that wins anybody any votes ever. It will always be right on the political back-burner and potentially requires a lot of money to get right, so it is a difficult thing to make happen. Therefore, I like the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Sometimes, when you want to get old hippopotamuses to canter, the best way is to tie them to the back of a train and blow the whistle. If the
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amendment of the noble Baroness went through, there would be chaos all round. No one would know how to deal with this obligation which had suddenly been imposed, who the responsibility rested with, or how they were going to deal with it. People would have to start rushing around at great speed.

So I suspect it cannot be done this time, but I would recommend the general approach to the Government. Get in there, stick some serious obligations on somebody and then let them cope with it. That way, we might get some action. Wait until everything falls into place and we have a Chancellor whose number one priority is prison education, however, and nothing will ever happen.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, we seem to be having a sequence of rather thoughtful debates at this stage of the Bill, which is not quite what you expect. I do not mean that in any way other than seriously. I shall first of all describe where we are, and then respond more fully to the spirit of the debate, rather than just the literal aspects of the amendment.

First, we think there is progress going on in the Prison Service, Youth Justice Board and the department, together with the Welsh Assembly. They are working closely to ensure effective education is provided for juvenile offenders in custody. The Youth Justice Board has developed a national specification for learning and skills, which requires the Prison Service to deliver a full educational and vocational training programme, with a broad and balanced curriculum appropriate to the age and abilities of each young person.

The ideal education provision for each young offender is meant to be tailored to meet the unusual and specific needs of each young person in custody. Providing an appropriate programme is not a job for education professionals alone. Youth justice teams, incorporating representatives from policy, social services, health, education, drugs and alcohol misuse and housing clearly need to work collectively.

Over the past three years there has been a threefold increase in spending per person for juveniles in prison. We have invested nearly £13 million in new classrooms and workshops. We are also replacing existing prison education contracts in England with a new partnership between the Learning and Skills Council and the Prison Service.

Secondly, there would be practical difficulties if one took the amendment literally, which is why the hippopotamus tied to the end of train would not lead to quite the outcome that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would wish. I am not being dismissive, however. For example, there are around 500 young offenders of compulsory school age in custody. As their number is so few, the provision of young offenders institutions is centrally managed. It is paid for and provided by the Home Office via the Youth Justice Board. Detention is rarely in the child's home local authority.

At present, a single youth offending team is responsible for the transition of each youth offender from community to custody and back to the community,
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chasing historical information in all respects. I can see the sense in that. If it was totally devolved to local authorities, there would be considerable problems in terms of the specialism and how the management of those processes would work.

I put that all to one side, because I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was expecting me simply to say "Yes, we will enact exactly that," although she would have been pleased if I had.

Let me say what we should do. This, too, is on my day job agenda—I am slightly worried by the number of times I have said that this afternoon, it seems to be one of the features of the day—in the sense that offender education, children's mental health and vulnerable children intersect there. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and one or two others may know, a fairly serious review of the objectives of offender education—and how to increase the likelihood that offenders will get into work and be normalised and stabilised—is going on. That has tended to focus on prisons and offenders in the community. The first thing I want to do is bring detained children into that work stream. There is clearly no reason why they should not be there. They are offenders, and therefore the education needs of those children, and how one gets those children into normalisation, stabilisation and employment, must be part of that. I do not think it totally sits within that area, however. There are other issues which need to be addressed.

I also want to look within the department to ensure that there is clear and strong ownership of this issue, both at ministerial and official level. I believe that there is, but I want to make doubly sure. I should like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to let me have the evidence that she has so skilfully amassed from a range of organisations. I should like to peruse it, if I have a few moments, and ensure that my officials are au fait with it, because the noble Baroness made many points and I should like to see the source information.

The last thing that I should like to do—and I shall ask my officials to do it—is at some stage formally to organise a workshop with some of the organisations to which the noble Baroness referred so that we can have a serious discussion. We should probably invite some of the institutions with managerial responsibility for those issues so that we get in the skin of the current state of the system and how it is delivering; see how it is perceived by the specialist organisations; and consider an agenda for change that we might take from that. I am not by that suddenly implying that I shall be able to magic instant change or that we shall manage suddenly to find large amounts of money, but I want to give the matter a clear policy focus over the next year—if I am spared—because it is an important issue. I hope that my remarks are at least helpful, if not ideally what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, would have wanted.

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