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I have to say to the Minister that I am not convinced that every local government official in the country will make the right decisions as to whether an excuse put forward for non-participation for the time being is an adequate excuse within the meaning of the Bill. We are very keen on the entitlement to level 3 education and training, but we would prefer it to be a lifetime entitlement, like the entitlement to level 2 and basic skills. Forcing people to take education and training at 16 smacks of fiddling the numbers. We heartily applaud the entitlements to a diploma course or an apprenticeship, if qualified, by 2013. However, as your Lordships will hear from my noble friend Lady Sharp, these things and others need to be in place before compulsion is even considered.

All the measures in the Government’s document, Raising Expectations, supporting all young people to participate until 18, will be to no avail if the time is not right. When I was in business, I learnt that it was not enough to make the right decisions; they had to be timely. The right decision at the wrong time is the wrong decision. So it is in education. The two amendments are about one element of compulsion: timing. Perhaps I should say a little more about the principles that underpin our objection to compulsion. It is not because we do not want young people to stay in training until they are 18, but because we should persuade them that it is in their interest to do so, rather than force them. I say that for two reasons. First, it is wrong to put the duty on the child, with civil and criminal penalties if the child does not comply. Secondly, it will not be effective.

Let us take the first point in more detail. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 sets out the duties of parents to ensure that their children go to school until they are 16. The Bill shifts the duty on to the child when they reach 16. I recognise the Government’s good intentions; gaining qualifications is good for the child's life chances and good for the economy and society as a whole. I welcome all measures that encourage providers to provide sufficient training places of a suitable quality, but I fundamentally oppose the creation of a duty on a child.

Education is enshrined as a right in human rights legislation, including Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We in the UK are party to those international agreements, which require states to take positive measures to “enable and assist” individuals and communities to enjoy that right. The only reference to compulsion relates to access, not compulsory participation.

Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the child's best interests to be paramount. The Minister may suggest to me in his reply that it is in the child’s best interests to stay in education until 18, and of course I would agree, but Article 12 gives the child the right to express his views

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in matters that affect him and states that his views must be given due weight. Anyone who has ever met a 16 year-old knows that they are perfectly capable of expressing their views about things that affect them. Thus their decision, if it is so, not to participate should be respected. It should not be superseded by some local government enforcement officer who chooses to decide whether the child’s reasons for not participating are reasonable.

According to the Bill, it is a serious matter not to participate. The young person will receive an attendance notice, failure to comply with which will be a criminal offence. It is no good the Government fobbing us off with claims that the offence will not be revealed in a CRB check and would be on the record for only two and a half years. The position regarding record keeping relating to non-recordable offences such as this is far from clear. They are kept on local police records and there is no guidance about how long they should be kept. Will the Government issue such guidance? In any case, they would be revealed by an enhanced CRB check, and they would have to be revealed in applications for employment or insurance and an application for a visa to enter the United States or other countries. To a visa application officer in a foreign country, an offence is an offence. They cannot be expected to understand the nature of this offence.

The compulsion element is like taking a child to a party and saying to him, “Now you sit down there and you will enjoy yourself”. Nothing could be better designed to ensure that he had a terrible time. This is yet another trap into which the most alienated children can fall and become entangled with the law. We all know that that is rarely a positive experience. It will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and needy and will certainly not guarantee educational success.

Before I end, I take the Minister up on something that he said in the previous debate. He seems to believe that exemption is the same thing as exclusion. It is not. Just because a young person may be exempted, if they so wish, does not prevent or exclude them from taking part in education between the ages of 16 and 18, if they so wish and have suitable support. The crucial words are “if they so wish”. It should be for the authorities to provide courses and support, and to remove barriers, but it should be for the young citizen to decide if it is right for him at that particular moment. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: Given that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has dealt in these two amendments with the issue of compulsion, it would be discourteous of me to wait for the Minister to reply and go through the same arguments, in order for him to reply again. We thought that compulsion would be dealt with in the next group. With the leave of the Committee, I will speak to my amendments that start with Amendment No. 7. These all deal with the issue of compulsion. Amendment No. 7 would make it a condition that the young person must agree to Part 1 applying before it applies to him. We and the Liberal Democrats have also tabled amendments to remove the duty to participate from the person and, instead, to create an entitlement, which they may choose to take up.

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With these amendments, we come to the crux of this Bill. It should come as no surprise that a number of overlapping amendments are tabled to deal with this issue. What they have in common—and what we have in common with the Liberal Democrats and concerned groups outside this House—is the feeling that the Government need to think carefully about the full ramifications of compulsion. It is incumbent on the Government to proceed with caution. We feel strongly that the Government have taken the wrong approach. We should not criminalise those young people who have dropped out of the education system. Instead, we should ask why they have dropped out. It is not simply to spite the authorities, or because there is not yet a law in place which forbids them from leaving. We have to look at young people’s reasons for dropping out of education. It is because they are disaffected with the system and do not see that it has anything further to offer them. It is a sad indictment of those precious years, which should be exciting and fulfilling. Until we can change that, the Bill is simply going to run into trouble.

What is to be gained by forcing teenagers to stay in a system that has already failed them by the time they are 16? In many other respects they are treated as autonomous adults; for example, in the Armed Forces and behind the wheel of a car. Some are married. Unless we sort out the underlying problems, these 16 and 17 year-olds will be sent back into education or training against their will. The Government’s own consultation of young people, Raising Expectations, the DCSF’s 2007 consultation report,says on page 4 that a plurality of young people—47 per cent—were against the duty. Thirty-six per cent were in agreement and 17 per cent were unsure. In many cases, that means that they will ignore the duty that has been imposed. Therefore, they will be liable to sanctions and could end up with a criminal record. Before long, this Bill, which we are responsible for scrutinising and revising, will be regarded less as an education and skills Bill and more as a criminal justice Bill.

The Government have told us that this is the option of last resort and that it will be seldom-used, but we feel that it will be used and will have a devastating effect on those for whom we ought to do most. A criminal record can be a career-wrecking step and that is not where any of us wants to head. We ought not to criminalise those who have been let down by the education system in their early years. Alison Wolf said in a recent paper that one of the best-established findings in educational research is that children who are doing poorly when they leave primary education almost never catch up.

The compulsion element focuses on the wrong place and that is our fundamental problem with it. The Bill, as it stands, would place the onus on the young person to participate. If he or she fails to do so, punishment will follow. The focus of our attention should be what the state and the education system are getting wrong in the years before young people reach the current school-leaving age. If 11 year-olds are leaving primary education with less than basic literacy and numeracy, and if they are failing to catch up by the ages of 14 or 16, why are we surprised that they no longer want to

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engage in education? Why persist with something they cannot do properly, do not enjoy and does not seem to lead them anywhere? At Second Reading I raised the point that if schools are having trouble keeping under-16s in regular attendance, then what are we to expect the results to be for older teenagers. It is all very well threatening to strong arm young people into participating, but is there really much point if mere participation does not achieve very much?

5.45 pm

Through the amendments, we wish to find out from the Minister whether compulsion will truly achieve the objectives of increasing the number of 16 and 17 year-olds in education or training, an objective which, as I have said, we share. We fear that the compulsion element will simply create a whole new series of problems without solving any of the underlying ones and will therefore do nothing to improve learning and skills.

These amendments would, at a stroke, remove one of the biggest obstacles to wide-ranging support for the Bill, which, as I have said, contains much that is worth supporting. We could turn the Bill into an opportunity ready to be grabbed—a declaration of entitlement for young people to engage in education and training—and we could turn our attention to working out the best possible methods to enable them to do so. That is the reasoning behind removing the duty and inserting a right or entitlement. We fear that compulsion will engender resentment and will be flouted. By turning it into an entitlement we are instead opening up an opportunity. Instead of telling young people what they must do—which is not always the most successful route to follow with young people—we would be showing them what they can do.

The Government may say that the current system already is one of entitlement where, under the September guarantee, the LSC has a duty to liaise with schools and course providers to ensure that, come September, any young person who wants it can have a place on a course. We are told that this has an effect on participation rates. It is encouraging, but the system has not been used to its full potential. The framework of support established by the Bill ought to be used to get the maximum effect from the entitlement system. It seems a good idea that we should try to maximise the efficiency of a system based on choice and freedom to participate before we turn to a system of compulsion.

So we will be using the Bill as a tool to enable all those opportunities to happen and as a chance to set out the structural changes, the allocation of funds and the commitment of local authorities, education authorities and others to enable young people to reach their potential without having to resort to criminal sanctions.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I support the spirit of the amendments. It is immensely important not to introduce the element of education as something which is almost a punishment; something which you have got to do whether you want to or not. Education for young people, as opposed to children, should be something that they do voluntarily with joy, pride and pleasure.

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I have spent a great part of my life working with mature students, people who come into higher education at the age of anything from 23 or 24 to 50 or even more. Almost without exception, these people talk about the reasons why they ceased to engage in education at the end of compulsory schooling. They talk about being slow to grow up; about the allure and excitement of adventure; about wanting to go travelling; about falling in love and deciding that they would rather get married or live together, or whatever they decided to do. They talk about a host of reasons. They talk about wanting to earn some money, being independent and showing that they were grown up.

This underlines the point, which has been made several times already in our discussions on the Bill, that young people grow up at different ages. Some people are ready to go on the tramlines—they stay on in school until the age of 18 or 19, go straight to university and go on to take a PhD—and many thousands successfully do that. But many other thousands do not want to do that and, for them, carrots work better than sticks. I have commended the Government many times on the carrots that they have offered so far. Offering some finance to young people to stay on in education is a brilliant idea which has worked very well. Introducing alternative curricula through the diplomas is also a brilliant idea—I hope that it will work well and keep more young people in. However, I beg the Government to think twice about the element of compulsion when, for so many young people, not just a tiny minority, it is simply the wrong time, the wrong age and the wrong kind of opportunity.

Lord Elton: I remind the Minister that we already have compulsion up to the age of 16 and that the Bill moves the compulsion from the parent to the child. Our compulsory system has produced a very large number of truants who have escaped the system. It has not worked—it has resulted in their coming out of education. These young people will compose a large proportion of the group to which this Bill is addressed. I am therefore not encouraged to think that compulsion will have more effect on those in the 16 to 18 age bracket than it has on the five to 16 age bracket.

In my experience of teaching in a variety of secondary schools, I have discovered that the offer of friendship and support works for children much more than the threat of punishment. A Bill that puts the authority delivering education into the position of someone with the power to punish immediately puts that person in the wrong relationship with the pupil. The Bill separates the employer and educator from the local authority, so it may be remediable, but I so sympathise with what my noble friend Lady Perry said about the age at which people mature. We have had examples already quoted of people who flee the system and then come back with enthusiasm when they have matured beyond the age of 18. The Bill does not seem to leave any scope for that rate of maturity. These may be very valuable members of society and great contributors to our economy. A system which does not allow postponement of either an entitlement or a duty—on whichever we come down—seems to be flawed in a very important respect.

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Baroness Morris of Yardley: I should like to make a brief contribution of two or three points to the debate. This is an excellent Bill in terms of its aspirations and the sort of society we could become. However, the noble Baroness was right in saying that the crux of the matter is whether there should be compulsion or entitlement. My noble friend the Minister is aware that I have some concerns that I should like to explore here and I look forward to hearing his response.

Placing in the Bill exemptions to compulsion is the wrong way to go. If we introduce a narrative which says that in certain circumstances you do not have to be educated, we are almost saying to teachers and educators that in certain circumstances you do not have to educate certain groups of children. Whether it is because they are in custody, are pregnant, or are carers, I do not like that list which exempts certain groups within a Bill making education compulsory. If education is going to be compulsory, we must have an education system which turns its mind to meeting the needs of every child and every young person, no matter what their circumstances.

My concerns are a little different. I have three points to put to my noble friend the Minister. Those of us who have been teachers for any length of time will know that the nature of educating 16 to 18 year-olds is different because it is optional. Talk to any teacher and he or she will say that the attraction of taking a sixth form class is, to put it bluntly, because the kids have chosen to be there. One of the great changes in further education came about when the old YOP kids were brought in and it became compulsory. I should like the Minister to reflect on the nature of 16 to 18 education when it becomes compulsory. It is quite a significant point.

I want to relate one story about a sixth form teacher who said to me that the nature of teaching AS level today is different from what it used to be because more children feel that they have to be there. Schools, colleges and workplaces where attendance from 16 to 18 is compulsory takes away from what almost might be described as a young person’s university. If young people are there by choice, it invites a different teaching style from compulsory education. That has huge implications for the organisation of 16 to 18 education.

My second point is that the years from 16 to 18 form a bridge between childhood and adulthood. At 16 there are hardly any legal entitlements to adulthood, but by 18 you have them all. Between 16 and 18, those entitlements come along in dribs and drabs. The Bill causes me a bit of a problem in two respects: first, it makes the decision that the responsibility for education between 16 and 18 lies with the young person. The responsibility to be educated moves from adults to young people aged 16. The Bill gives a clear message that at the age of 16 you take charge of your own education. You make the decisions, and if you make the wrong ones and go against the law, you carry the consequences. In terms of choosing whether to be educated, the Bill makes it clear that the move from childhood to adulthood takes place at 16, not at 17 or 18. The problem is that that rests uneasily with compulsory education. We do not have compulsory work, for heaven’s sake. There are implications if you do not go to work, and rightly so, but we do not impose compulsory

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activity in any sense. Can my noble friend explore further the fact that the decision about education moves to a child at the age of 16 but the state makes it compulsory to take on an activity?

Thirdly, my main objection and concern is this: I see the benefit of the Bill in making education from 16 to 18 compulsory only if it creates a commitment to a lifetime of learning and relearning, skilling and upskilling. I am not interested in compulsion from 16 to 18 if no one goes on learning afterwards. It has to keep people in the system. Does my noble friend not think there is a risk that compulsion at 16 to 18 could turn people off? I taught back in the 1970s when life was a lot different, but I see some elements of that system of education coming back, albeit in another form. My first headmaster was a wise person who would say, “What we should do is make them all leave school at 13 and get them back at 14. Those children would come back wholly committed to learning and we would do better with them”. He did not mean it as a serious suggestion, but there is a lot of truth in what he said. At some point in a young person’s life, a gap in education can commit them to a lifetime of learning. I worry that the compulsory element might mean a lifetime of never wanting to learn again.

As I said in my speech at Second Reading, I am waiting to be persuaded because in every other circumstance the work of the Government and that led by my noble friend is absolutely excellent and can get us to a wondrous place. I hope that in his response my noble friend can spend a few minutes exploring these issues.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: The noble Baroness has said many of the things I wanted to, so I shall begin by explaining why I could not support the earlier amendments. I feel that large categories of young people are generalised although they are the individuals who need real opportunities. That was the point of my question after the Minister’s response. Many young people, when given the right support, like the young mother mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, might well benefit from education, but the support has to be carefully constructed and put in place at the right time.

From a long career of working with severely disaffected families, I know that a young person does not necessarily desire to be in the position they are in and that the whole family has led them to that point. I find it extremely difficult, therefore, that a 16 year-old who has been given very little opportunity fails to go further in education because of difficulties in their family. As I said at one of our consultations with officials, I feel that this is somehow a white middle-class issue. I say that because it is often young people from a steady background, from whatever culture, who have the opportunity to go into further education. That is why I am very keen to see support services developed before we introduce any compulsion.

6 pm

I have a problem to do with exclusions. I ask the Minister what will happen to those young people whom the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was probably referring to: those excluded from school because of

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bad behaviour. Many of the young men and, increasingly, young women I know will find techniques to ensure that they get excluded if they are compelled to attend school. That will create some difficult problems to do with the criminalisation of young people. How will we tackle a situation where we decide that young people should not be in school because of their behaviour but where they are to be criminalised if they are not in school? There are real dilemmas.

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