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I take on board what the Minister says about special schools, because young people attending special schools are often those who have had some history of non-attendance and difficulties with schooling of one sort or another. We have raised those issues with the Minister. He will be coming back with an amendment on the independent special schools.
Lord Adonis: If the noble Baroness will forgive me, perhaps I could add to my remarks in response to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. To be clear, Clause 11 establishes a duty on learning providers as listed in the clause to promote regular attendance of 16 and 17 year-olds. I had assumed that a similar statutory duty existed in respect of pre-16 year-olds, because of course it is expected that they attend and that the institution makes every effort to see that they do. I am told that in fact there is not a strictly comparable legal duty, but the position is very complicated in law and it is best if I write to the noble Lord to set out how it applies
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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: As a general duty is being imposed on institutions, there is all the more reason to include all institutions funded by the state. As I said earlier, it seems appropriate that academies and the like should be included within the duty rather than have a special duty in their funding agreements, and so forth.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: The clause is deeply tied in with the issue of compulsion and, to that end, we oppose the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill. Clause 12, although only half a dozen lines long, has huge implications. It creates a duty on local education authorities to establish the identities of those persons in each area to whom the part applies, but who are not participating in the activities prescribed by the Bill.
I fully accept that that information will not be built up from scratch, as any LEAs will already hold much information on children in their schools. Nevertheless, I seek reassurance from the Minister, as what is being proposed seems rather alarming. A database will presumably need to be set up of every young person to whom the part applies before it can be determined who is not engaging in their duties. What are the cost implications of that? How will the information be collected? How will it be collated? How will LEAs go about maintaining their information details; and for how long will the details be kept? I will be most grateful if the Minister could provide some explanation of how he expects the clause to operate.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I support the noble Baroness in questioning whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. These are extensive powers and there is a real question about how far they extend. For example, must a local authority rely on employers and educational institutions, which have a duty to tell it if a young person has dropped out of a course, or does it have further powers of investigation? Can it use its powers to spy on a young person, just as it can spy on someone whom it thinks is claiming to be in a school's catchment area but it suspects is not, or has only recently moved into that area? Will it have to employ
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Lord Elton: In answering those questions, I hope that the noble Lord will spare time to answer a question which I raised in another form the last time we were in Committee. How will the system cope with cross-border compliance? Where a young person is resident in authority A and claims to be getting an apprenticeship or education in authority B, how will authority A be informed about that? Will there be a duty on authority B to provide the information? Will an employer in authority B have to write to authority A or authority B to inform it of people on its roll? It can get quite complicated with areas and their surrounding areas, all of which make similar provision.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: I wish to underline the point which has just been made. I recently chaired a commission on the organisation of secondary schools in one London borough where a sixth-form college takes students from no fewer than six London boroughs besides its own. Has the Minister any idea of the sort of bureaucracy which would be entailed by authorities if they had to do that kind of chasing up? I am sure that that story is replicated in many other sixth-form and further education colleges, particularly in large conurbations where many boroughs are cheek-by-jowl and children simply do not stay in their own borough for their education.
Lord Adonis: The Connexions service already uses a tracking system to promote participation. This clause would enable local authorities to maintain a similar tracking system. As Connexions transfers to local authorities, unless the existing Connexions database is maintained, it will be impossible to track young people effectively in order to intervene to provide support that is timely and appropriate to their needs. Clause 12 establishes the legal basis for the tracking system, which it does on the basis of a Connexions database that already exists and will be transferred to local authorities.
Lord Elton: Before the noble Lord abandons the existing tracking system, which is national, I understand that it will be valid for one year, because everyone will be on it. But after that there will be, I understand, separate databases in each authority. The problem that my noble friend and I have outlined will thereafter continue to increase year on year as more and more people come on to these separate databases and exchanges have to be made between the authorities to keep the information valid.
Lord Adonis: There will need to be appropriate data sharing in that respect, but I am not sure that I understand the noble Lords point. There needs to be appropriate interchange between existing Connexions areas and the maintenance of their existing databases. Similar arrangements would need to apply when local authorities take on this responsibility.
Lord Adonis: The noble Baroness asked me specific questions, but my response to them is that the situation has not changed for the Connexions database and the duties that will fall in respect of local authorities. Therefore, unless the noble Baroness thinks that we should remove existing powers to enable Connexions as the appropriate authority to track young people, which I assume she is not saying, we do not see any of the threats which she highlighted.
Lord Lucas: I should like to know more about this Connexions database. What sources of data is this based on? Under Clause 12, we are telling local authorities that they have to establish the identities of these people. My impression of the Connexions database, which I admit that I have never gone into in detail, was that it was not a complete database; that it was a best-efforts database; and that therefore it would have a lot of holes in it. Given the points made by my noble friends, one can understand why. Many young people will be quite mobile. There will be no easy way to track them because they are not formally employed. Connexions does its best. If we are giving local authorities an absolute obligation to track these people, we are letting them in for a deal of expense and we are looking to produce something which is much better than is there at the moment without explicitly making the financial provision necessary to do that.
I also question whether the best way of handling this really is to do it through 100-odd separate databases that are meant to communicate with each other. That is a recipe for total chaos. In order to have effective communication between databases, the whole database schema has to be set in advance. For example, you can just about crawl from one police database to another. If the Minister has ever tried to register a firearm, he will know how long it takes to deal with registering a firearm in one county when you are living in another. It can take for ever and it takes for ever for the people on the computer to make the connections and get through.
To have 100 systems scattered around the country that are written and run differently, which are supposed to be working together to track relatively mobile young people, is a recipe for not achieving anything. If we could at least have a national structure for the database with a local view on it, there is a hope of noticing that someone who was supposed to be in Newcastle has turned up in London.
Lord Adonis: I will expand this issue in more detail. But, first, perhaps I may re-emphasise that there is no national tracking system. At the moment, each Connexions service maintains a local database for its area. The issue, of course, is that local authorities will take responsibility for Connexions. Therefore, legally, it is appropriate for local authorities to have responsibility under this new regime. Existing Connexions services are capable of receiving information from each other under existing arrangements. Clause 17 again enables that to happen in respect of local authorities.
As regards the sources of information, which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, there are already duties and powers in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 for learning providers, JobCentre Plus and other public bodies to disclose information in their possession about young people to Connexions. All that information is used by Connexions to track young people effectively through the existing database. With the transfer of the responsibility for Connexions to local authorities, it is local authorities that need to make sure young people are being tracked effectively. Of course, under this Bill, local authorities will gain functions around promoting effective participation of 16 and 17 year-olds.
Under the new regime where Connexions is controlled by local authorities, we want it to have access to exactly the same information about young people as it does at the moment. The information clauses in Part 1 relate to the established system that Connexions uses. It does not change or add to the data that the system holds. I do not think that I could be more categorical.
Baroness Perry of Southwark:I am sure that the Minister is well aware that the list he read out of what is on the Connexions database and where it comes from covers those people who are already caught up in education and training. We are talking about people who are not in education and training, but they are not on that list. They are not caught up at all. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, young people are very mobile. If John Smith moves from Newcastle, where he has not been in education or training, to London, how in the world will he be picked up unless we are talking about a kind of police state in which he is required to register at the local Connexions base? He can simply disappear.
Lord Adonis: The noble Baroness rightly says there will be some people about whom there will not be effective data to enable the local authority to know what is happening in respect of their education and training. The position is no different from the status quo in that respect. Someone who moves from London to Newcastle at the moment is moving between different Connexions databases.
Lord Lucas: We are trying to improve the status quo. By the time the Bill is enacted, we will have an effective database of all schoolchildren in the country, so we will, at a national level, know who we are trying to track as they leave school and pass into this two-year period. To then fragment that database seems perverse. It ought to be the basis of knowing how many children are going on to further education and pinpointing
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Lord Adonis: Again, I seem to be holding the centre ground between two views put to me by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, began by saying that we were in a potential police state, with people having powers to extract information, something which currently does not apply. I pointed out that the tracking system and the database will operate in the same way as the current Connexions tracking system. It is appropriate for that tracking system, which is not national at the moment, to move to local authorities because they will be the responsible bodies for managing Connexions and for promoting participation.
The noble Lord wants to move in the direction of a single national database, which I understood the noble Baroness was particularly opposed to. That might raise wider concerns, but it is not the Governments policy to move in that direction. However, that is emphatically not the status quo. The status quo is a local system of maintaining data through the existing Connexions databases.
Lord Lucas: Then the word possible must be wrong. In a legal sense, to do everything so far as it is possible to do so places no limits on the lengths to which the local authority has to go to establish what young people are in its area. The right word in a legal sense, surely, is practicable.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I hear what he says about Connexions. I said that at the beginning of my remarks, but the Connexions database is not perfect. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, there are holes in it. We are always hearing of things that are wrong but that does not matter because at the moment you cannot criminalise young people if they do not stay on in education or training at 17 or 18. That is effectively what will happen under the Bill, so what is on the database will be very important.
My noble friend Lord Eltons example of the complexities of cross-border education illustrates our practical concerns about the clause. It goes without saying that if you compel someone to do something, there must be an attendant structure to ensure that it happens. It is one thing for existing structures to identify young people who are in danger of drifting and then do everything possible to explain and encourage participation, which is what happens now through the Connexions service, but it is a whole different ball game to identify, track and monitor someone throughout
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Lord Adonis: There is a difference between accuracy and completeness. Of course a local authority can take enforcement action only on the basis of the information it has available. I fully accept that there will be some young people on whom there will not be sufficient information to be able to make those judgments, but that is different from saying that the information that the authority holds, which will have come from the reputable sources we have already described, is accurate. The two are distinct. The logical consequence of the noble Baronesss position is that she would have what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, describedmuch more draconian powers so individuals would have to report to public authorities to say what they are doing. We are not suggesting that. As ever, in these debates, I am holding what I regard as a sensible middle ground between the proper tracking responsibilities of a local authority, using information from the public sources that I have described which is made available to it, and an unduly draconian system where individuals are required to report.
Individuals will not be pursued by public authorities on the basis of inaccurate information. All the protocols and systems by which the Connexions database works at the moment and local authorities will work hereafter will ensure that the information is accurate. There are appeals processes against any enforcement action which a local authority might take that give young people ample opportunity to contest the accuracy of any information if a local authority were to use information on the database that was inaccurate.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I should like some clarification from the Minister. My understanding is that at present the Connexions database is highly selective and not in any sense a comprehensive database of all young people in the neighbourhood who reach the age of 16. It effectively is, above all, a database of those who are vulnerable and are in danger of slipping out of the system. Therefore, the duty being placed on local authorities is far more extensive than is currently placed on the Connexions service.
Lord Elton: There is an odd imbalance in the Bill because while there are duties to collect information, there are no duties to give it. That is where the cross-border difficulty arises. I am not sure whether it would be possible to devise a suitable duty that would not be draconian as a way of catching all the people who need to give information to a neighbouring authority if it employed somebody resident there. Local authorities can only get the information they are given, and people may not want to give it to them.
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