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At my first school, this was practised very well. I remember one youth who definitely had SEN being led by the hand round the football field by one of the teachers, to get him involved in the game. What struck me was that, at the end of the summer term of his first year, everybody was getting prizes and one thought, “Poor David, he will not get a prize”. However, he had developed an enormous interest in the mowing machine that cut the grass on the playing fields. He became skilled in maintaining the mowing machine; he got a prize for doing so and was promoted back into the body of the school and the esteem of his friends. Similarly today, there are children who will not do mathematics beyond a fairly elementary stage, but if you engage them in building working scale models of Formula 1 racing cars, you get them very quickly discussing the flow characteristics of air and fuel and doing the most advanced calculations because they want to. That is what this Bill ought to be doing: getting the children to want to do what they need to do.

The next thing we have to do is to engage them in the activity of running the school, so that the way the school is run belongs to them and those who disrupt it are actually acting against them. I have seen examples in this country and in Norway that are quite breathtaking. I remember doing this myself when I was leading a youth club. I had a desperately difficult child who was always breaking the rules of indoor football until I made him referee. After that, he became a model. We ought to do more of this. You can carry that into the management of schools. Years ago, a committee that I chaired looking into discipline in schools recommended serious consideration of the use of school councils to engage children in exactly this way.

When the Minister of State for Schools and Learners addressed the Parliamentary All-Party Group for Children, he was minuted as saying that,

I ask the Government to try a bit harder. I know there will be difficult cases. However, to criminalise them, even if it is only for two years, for having failed to complete their duties—how are they going to get jobs? How are they going to build the first slice of their CV if, to every employer, they have to say, “Yes, I have a criminal record, I have been done for truantism”—or whatever it is going to be called. No doubt it will have a more advanced and important name, but that is what it will be. That handicaps them off the starting block. Everybody else is halfway round the first lap before they begin.

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These children are too often those who start with a disadvantage. This brings me to my third and final point, which goes back to the secondary system. Recently, it was discovered by a reliable body—I cannot remember which, but I assure your Lordships that it is a good one—that 55 per cent of the children who fail SATs are dyslexic. In the Bill there is a provision that allows local authorities to provide for the assessment of children in what is now their last year of compulsory full-time education. That is like examining a hospital case just before they go into the mortuary. This should be done at the beginning—the saving would be startling.

I was recently at a seminar and will give the example provided by an organisation called Xtraordinary People of two schoolboys from Southwark. The names, no doubt, are fictitious. Lenny failed key stage 1 SATs at the age of seven. A teacher at his school had just finished training as a dyslexia specialist and picked up that Lenny was dyslexic. Between KS 1 and KS 2, this teacher supported Lenny for just one hour a week and he passed KS 2, scoring the highest level, 5, in English, maths and science. Calculated at an hourly rate, this support would have cost a total of £2,250. Kirk failed KS 1 SATs aged seven, too. He was given a statement for dyslexia, which provided him with 20 hours’ support per week from a learning support assistant. He failed KS 2 SATs despite the support from the statement, which had cost the local authority a total of £27,000. Xtraordinary People provided Kirk with a dyslexia specialist for 20 hours of specialist support when he started at secondary school in Y7. In one term, Kirk improved by two years. This support cost £600.

The mathematics is unanswerable. We must have screening for all children early in their careers, and appropriate support for them—not the blanket of any adult who has goodwill and will help them, but somebody who knows how to treat this condition. It is an increasingly common condition; or at least, it is increasingly commonly diagnosed. Now we have that knowledge, we can act on it. That will feed through the whole school system, because nothing makes pupils more disruptive—and impedes the learning of others, as well as stultifying their own—than frustration at being unable to achieve high academic ability because of dyslexia. This is one way into crime and prison. If your Lordships doubt me, ask the Prison Service what percentage of prisoners are dyslexic. You will be amazed.

We have the cure for two difficulties here: a cure for disruptive behaviour in school and a cure for the rising or unsatisfactory incidence of juvenile offending, and eventually adult offending, too. I do not think that is an exaggerated claim; it is something that we have not picked up on and I hope that, during the Bill’s passage, I will be able to encourage the Government so to do.

5.39 pm

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest, not just as chairman of RNIB but as incoming president of Skill, the national bureau for students with disabilities, which is also much concerned with the issues in the Bill. I take up this position in succession to the late Baroness Darcy de Knayth, whose memorial service many of us attended earlier today. It is of course a great honour to be asked to

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take over from the late Baroness in this work to which she attached so much importance, but your Lordships will understand why it will also be both a poignant charge and a hard act to follow.

The Bill is welcome. It begins to put in place the framework for realising the vision in the Leitch report for up-skilling the UK's workforce so that it can remain competitive in a rapidly changing global economy. The problem to be addressed is deep seated and wide ranging. In 2006, more than one-fifth of 16 to 18 year- olds in England were not in education or training, including one in 10 who were not in education, employment or training. However, in debating the report of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, last year, and also the Further Education and Training Bill, we took particular cognisance of the deep and persistent inequality which continues to dog the lives of many disabled people and the key part played by the education system in both perpetuating and alleviating it. I shall therefore devote my remarks to seeing that the Bill is fit for purpose in this regard.

That is well worth doing. As the Raising our Ambitions report by the Social Market Foundation found last year, improving the skills of disabled people would not only significantly improve their employment prospects, but also realise major economic benefits for the country as a whole, adding up to £35 billion over the next 30 years. There is a raft of statistics to show the close association between disability, employment and skills. At 16, young disabled people are twice as likely to be in no form of education, employment or training as their non-disabled peers. This increases to three times by the age of 19. Disabled people are half as likely to have a degree and 40 per cent have no qualifications at all. Of all those in Britain with no formal qualifications, more than one-third are disabled. It is estimated that, by 2020, there will be only around 600,000 jobs in the economy for people with no qualifications.

As a result of all this, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions face significant disadvantages. They are far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. Their employment rate remains some 25 percentage points below the national average. This global picture masks particular deficits in employment opportunities for people with particular types of impairment: only one in 10 people with severe learning disabilities and two in 10 with mental health problems are in work. Disabled people in work are far less likely to be skilled and are disproportionately in low-paid, low-status jobs.

The compound of low skills and unemployment means that disabled people and those with long-term health conditions are also more likely to be socially excluded and live in poverty. Disabled adults are twice as likely to be living in poverty as non-disabled adults. Young people aged between 16 and 18 who are not in education, employment or training are at a much higher risk of experiencing poor outcomes in adult life and passing on this disadvantage to the next generation. The equalities review set up to identify the deepest and most persistent causes of disadvantage found that not being in education, employment or training for six months between the ages of 16 and 18 was the single most powerful predictor of unemployment at age 21.

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Given that, to raise the age of participation in education or training to 18 makes good sense. It provides a major opportunity to improve provision for the many young people who leave school at 16 with few skills and poor long-term prospects. However, young people who have rejected or been excluded from school do not just want “more of the same”. More vocational pathways for 14 to 19 year-olds are needed, particularly an expansion in work-based learning, including apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships for the many young people who are not motivated by the traditional school environment—work-based learning opportunities have more than halved in the past two decades. Also needed are alternative and transitional provision, including entry to employment and foundation learning tier programmes, funded on a stable basis, to re-engage young people and support their return to mainstream learning; and provision for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, with meaningful opportunities for progression.

Employers are obviously key to delivering these opportunities, but serious questions have been raised as to whether work-related training provision will be up to the job without radical change. First, there is just too little of it to meet demand from young people, and recruitment to the opportunities that exist goes along highly stereotyped lines, with better paid apprenticeships going to the traditional white male client group. A particular effort must therefore be made to ensure that the drive to increase the number of apprenticeships is not at the expense of quality, so that young people at the greatest disadvantage end up in apprenticeships that do little to unlock potential or create a route out of disadvantage.

Similarly, the role of employers in addressing inequality in in-house training provision needs attention, with support for positive-action “train to gain” initiatives, targeting 16 to 18-year olds for non-traditional skills and progression opportunities in traditional jobs. I was reassured by what the Minister said on quality in work-based learning, but the fact that he had to say it indicates the low base from which we start.

To drive expansion, the Bill should be strengthened to require local authorities to audit the sufficiency and diversity of provision, encompassing both learning and support services. Ofsted should report to Parliament on progress towards an appropriate learning place for every young person and provision of appropriate support services. Barnardo’s alternative education and training services work with young people who have been excluded from, or have rejected, school. They report that these young people say that being free to choose is critical to their motivation to attend and achieve. However, Barnardo’s accepts that if steps are taken to find the right course for a young person and to put in place the necessary support, it is reasonable to expect them to participate—through some system of enforcement, if necessary. However, I concede that this is controversial. Safeguards are necessary and I hope that these can be built in as the Bill passes through your Lordships’ House to ensure that the level of the penalty notice is set at an amount reflecting the financial support available to the poorest young people; that a young person can pay in instalments; that the young person can make

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representations to the attendance panel at every stage in the process, not just when it is deciding whether to commence court proceedings; that the young person can nominate someone to speak on their behalf and that advocacy is available where needed, to support those with learning and communication difficulties, for example; that young people failing to participate and receiving a court-ordered fine or subsequent penalty for breach are not left with a criminal record which could jeopardise their future employment prospects; and that breach for failure to pay a court-ordered fine should never, in any circumstances, result in a custodial sentence. I welcome the assurances given by the Minister in the other place on the last two points, but it would be helpful to have them somewhat more firmly anchored in the structure of the legislation.

Some young people face significant barriers to participation in education and training, such as poor basic skills, low self-confidence, financial hardship, early parenthood, mental health problems, substance abuse or homelessness. The Bill needs to make clear that, in assessing whether a young person has a reasonable excuse for not attending, attendance panels must consider the extent of support provided by the LEA. The types of support expected to be available, such as transport, childcare and learning support, should be set out in guidance and take account of existing best practice.

While the Bill places clear duties on young people to participate, it is less clear about the responsibilities of others such as schools, colleges and employers as regards enabling participation. I should like to see the Bill provide for learning and support contracts, particularly for young people whose unmet support needs might constitute a reasonable excuse for not participating. These would constitute a commitment for the young person, and thus an incentive for participation, and would not be just a burden on providers. The Secretary of State gave a commitment on Report in the other place that learning and support contracts would be included in guidance to local authorities. This is welcome but I believe they are of sufficient importance to warrant being placed in the Bill.

The requirement to participate in full-time education or training must not result in any young person living in poverty. Financial incentives are a key lever to encourage participation. Conversely, financial hardship is a key reason why young people drop out. The proposed restructuring of financial support for young people must ensure a minimum income guarantee for those aged 16 to 18 living independently who are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship, parity of financial support across different routes so that learning choices are not influenced by differing levels of benefits and allowances as at present, and more efficient processing and payment of the education maintenance allowance. There are other respects in which the Bill needs further disability proofing but they are of a comparatively detailed and technical nature. I have already spoken about some of them with the Bill team and will be happy to follow that up in writing. For today, it would be helpful if the Minister could give me comfort on some of the more strategic matters that I have raised.

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5.51 pm

Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I join other speakers who have recognised the skill and the clarity with which my noble friend the Minister outlined the Bill. I am not sure that the Bill is ambitious but its direction of travel—where it wants us to go—is extremely ambitious. The goal of having all our young people stay in education or training up to the age of 18 was aspired to in 1917, as we have been told, and we will be the generation which achieves it. However, this Second Reading debate is one of the most unusual that I have come across. I respectfully say that I have never known so many speakers talk about matters that are not included in the Bill. However, I am about to do the same. I say gently that the Minister did exactly the same. For about a third of his speech he talked about things that were not in the Bill. That is what is strange about the Bill; it makes sense only if you look at it in conjunction with all the work that has been done on raising standards, the EMA, the changing curriculum, the diplomas and improved staff skills. If it never passed into law, education for 14 to 19 year-olds would go on improving. It is an unusual Bill but its direction of travel is ambitious when considered in conjunction with other work that is being done in this area.

The Bill’s main provision concerns compulsion. I suspect that if the Government had not decided to make that a central part of their strategy for 14 to 19 year-olds, the Bill would not have been introduced this year. There are two points of view on the matter. Some noble Lords say that enforcement may be the only thing that will work for some people whereas others say that everything may work apart from enforcement. Therefore, the debate on enforcement is very polarised. Both arguments have merit. There is no doubt that persuasion is better than compulsion. However, imposing criminal sanctions on 16, 17 and 18 year-olds who do not attend school is a strange notion. It is nonsensical to introduce a law without providing a means of enforcing it. However, if people do not engage with this measure despite all we have done and you want to keep 16 to 18 year-olds in school, the administrative solution is to introduce compulsion. Therefore, I can see both sides of the argument and why people arrive at the conclusions that they do.

I am not convinced that easy answers can be found by changing the curriculum. I do not think that an easy solution can be found as regards vocational work, diplomas, the quality of teaching or anything else. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that the matter is far more complicated than that. However, I have concerns about the details of compulsion. I am concerned not so much about whether this is an illiberal Bill but about whether it is workable. I am concerned about the shift from attendance being the parent’s responsibility at the end of year 11 to it being the student’s responsibility at the start of year 12. That is a huge shift in a six-week period. I am not sure how you prepare the type of young people we are talking about to face up to and come to terms with that responsibility.

I am in favour of criminal sanctions being imposed on people who do not send their children to school. Your actions should not jeopardise your child’s ability

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and right to succeed. However, I am less convinced about the imposition of criminal sanctions on people when their actions affect only their own chances. That is a confusing issue but the thing that causes me most concern is the procedure for enforcing this measure. If we wish to be fair, to impose a sanction as a last resort, and, we hope, never to have to impose it at all, there should be opportunities to get the young person back on board at every stage of the process. We are dependent on teachers informing the Connexions service if there is a problem. That service informs the local authority and therein lies a story and possible delay. The child has to be warned, notice has to be given about attendance and an appeal panel has to be set up. If that does not resolve the issue, notice has to be given that a penalty may be imposed. Then notice has to be given for an appeal. At the end of that process the Youth Court may become involved. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a perfectly respectable process whereby we ensure that the measure is implemented. However, my difficulty is that the aim of staying in education or training between the ages of 16 and 18 should be to route a young person into lifelong learning. It is not just about education and training between the ages of 16 and 18 but about not letting young people drop out in those years and never getting back throughout their adult lives. However, as regards the robustness of the enforcement process, I am not sure that if you get young people back into education or training between the ages of 16 and 18 you will necessarily help them to commit themselves to lifelong learning beyond the age of 18.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I am very undecided on the matter. The Minister said that if you want the end you have to will the means, but both sides of the argument that have been put forward have strengths and weaknesses. However, we might look at two or three other matters before we make a decision on which avenue we go down. I wonder whether we fully understand what goes on in the minds of 16 to 18 year-olds who choose to disengage with learning. It has been said that in the past few years we have made tremendous progress in encouraging people to stay on in education or training beyond the age of 16. However, we are still nearly at the bottom of the OECD table so there is nothing to boast about. The NEET tables show striking regional variations. In the south-east 5.6 per cent of 16 to 18 year-olds are NEET. In Yorkshire and Humber the figure is 9.2 per cent. In the north-east, which has the highest percentage of NEETs, the figure is 10.5 per cent. In the north-east twice as many young people are NEET than in the south-east. If the performance of the worst-performing region could be made to match that of the best-performing region, 6,000 fewer students in the north-east would be in the NEET category. Nationally that would mean a rate of something like 94 or 95 per cent, which on my calculation puts us in the top 10 to 15 per cent of the OECD range. So, if we could get the worst performing region to be at the level of the best, we would have a take-up rate of 95 per cent.

On the difference between the south-east and the north-east, I do not for a minute think that teachers are better in the south-east than in the north-east, that there are better and more motivated 16 to 18 year-olds,

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or that there is a more exciting curriculum or a more engaging support system. The difference is that in the north-east there is a higher level of unemployment, more jobs with fewer skills and more parents and adults who have not been to university. Surely that has something to do with it. In the north-east you are not surrounded by people who talk about jobs needing a high level of skill; people in the north-east, Yorkshire and Humberside are more recently in touch through their parents with the death of the old manufacturing industries and less in touch with the birth, growth and expansion of the new industries that need a high skill. I should like the Government to look at that.

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