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The amendment goes on to mention Section 44 of the Education Act 1997, which places a duty on schools and colleges to provide access to careers advisers from
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The noble Baronesss Amendment No. 174 provides that directions, as in Clause 55, shall be issued by the Secretary of State. I hope she will agree, from what I have already said, that we regard these directions as most important to the success of Connexions. We will consult formally on the content of directions when the Bill receives Royal Assent, taking careful account of the views expressed in the debates in your Lordships House.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for his response. I take note of what he has said. Will the Minister copy to us the letter that was sent from the other place? Once again communications do not seem to have been that good, and I regret to say that I have not seen the letter; had we seen it, we would perhaps not have tabled this amendment as it would have been unnecessary.
I am interested in the new quality standards. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister could send us a copy. It would be interesting to see them; as he and others have made clear, the quality of information, advice and guidance services available to these young people is important. There have been some lapses in quality over the past few years. The Connexions service has faced problems by having two different duties cast upon it and insufficient resources to meet those double duties of, on the one hand, providing particular support for the NEET group we have been talking about a great deal and, on the other hand, continuing to provide general advice on careers to all young people in schools. That has been difficult for the service, and there have been occasions when in particular the general advice to young people in schools has been lacking.
I am delighted that the Government have increased resources. It is extremely important that they do so. A great many new developments are in hand, including the web-based advice service which is being set up, and I welcome them all. As we discussed, with the development of the new diplomas and the enhancement of the apprenticeship service, it is extremely important that young people get proper advice and guidance about potential careers. Therefore, it is important that the services should be high quality, and that the Government should make clear the standards they expect to be provided.
I thank the Minister for his reply, which I shall read carefully. I hope that he can provide me with the relevant information, in which case I shall have a chance to study it before we meet again after the Recess.
Baroness Verma: I also thank the Minister for his response, to which I listened carefully. However, I remain unconvinced that these provisions will satisfy the future demands imposed on Connexions, particularly as regards advice for young people with special needs, as my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, highlighted.
I am grateful to the Minister for promising to circulate the new quality standards guidance and regulations. I am sure that noble Lords will read them with great interest. However, he did not fully answer our concerns that an all-age careers service should be set up to sit alongside Connexions. I fear that rather than this being an easily accessible service, it will be overly complicated. We may well find that the very people it needs to help will fall through the net. I shall read the Ministers response carefully, but at this point I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 176A and 181A. I originally tabled Amendment No. 175A to draw attention to the micro-management element of Clause 55. Clause 54 makes it clear that it is the duty of local authorities to provide all-round support, including information, advice and guidance, to vulnerable and ordinary young adults in their care. It is reasonable that, as stated in Clause 54, in fulfilling this duty they should have regard to the directions and guidance issued by the Secretary of State. However, the degree of detail which Clause 55 suggests will be laid down by these directions seems unreasonable. It is symptomatic of the extent to which central government is now micro-managing local government services and removing any discretion from local government. It is no wonder that local democracy is in such a parlous state and that it is difficult to recruit people to stand as councillors and to recruit high-calibre people to work in local government.
Having said that my original motivation for tabling Amendment No. 175A was to draw attention to micro-management, the more I look at Clause 55(2), the less I understand it. Therefore, I ask the Minister to explain what it means. Amendments Nos. 176A and 181A are tabled to highlight the fact that all these directions are being wished on local authorities and that these same local authorities and their service providers often have more expertise in these matters than central government because they provide these services on the ground, and therefore should be consulted about the directions that are issued.
Amendment No. 181A deals with the provision of information, advice and guidance via the internet. As I have mentioned already, I am all in favour of developing these web-based services which, along with others, I see as the future for the information-based services. We must always bear in mind that, besides information, advice and guidance need to be personalised. If local authorities and their service providers are to be the mainstream providers of advice services, they need to play a part in the commissioning of these other services. I beg to move.
Baroness Verma: We have a great deal of sympathy with the intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
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The Bill has created a range of duties between various parties in Clause 54. The duty falls on local education authorities to provide services to support young people or young adults with learning difficulties so that they may participate in education or training. These are serious demands to make of a local education authority. We hope that they can be satisfactorily met but that will inevitably cost money and the prioritising of certain goals. At a time when local authorities are being asked to make more and more services available on tightening budgets, each education authority will have to make its own decisions as to how the needs of young people can be catered for.
I hope the Government can accept that the nature of a local education authority means that different authorities will have different problems and must be allowed to find individual solutions to those problems. More centrally imposed rules and targets would be unhelpful to furthering the goal of providing support services. If the need arises for the Secretary of State to step in and issue directions, he or she is far more likely to achieve a satisfactory result if he or she has first consulted the local authority, found out what its problems are and worked through with the people on the ground how best to solve them. Any directions he or she gives have then been tailored to fit the needs of that local education authority and the people it serves.
Lord Elton: I also cannot resist rising to the bait of the noble Baronesss perplexity at this subsection. Having read it through three times myself I am reminded of that little conundrum where a man standing in front of a picture says:
Lord Adonis: I agree that it is not immediately apparent on reading it what Clause 55(2) is seeking to achieve but I shall explain. I also welcome back to the Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, from her great triumph this afternoon, to which reference has already been made in the debate. I had hoped that the race would take so long that the noble Baroness might not be able to join us. I see that she is in fighting form.
Clause 55(2) is concerned with the effective delivery of a range of important services for young people. The subsection as drafted makes it clear that directions can require a local education authority to ensure that whoever carries out Connexions functions under Clause 54 also provides other services specified in the direction. According to subsection (3), those services need not relate to education but may relate to social security. For example, it is intended that, if necessary, the
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Let me explain why this is important. We believe that it is very much to the advantage of the young people concerned that the Connexions service, which best understands the needs of young people and how best to support them, also conducts work-focused interviews and other relevant social security functions. It is therefore important that we have the power to direct to ensure that that does indeed take place. The practice over the past few years is that the Connexions service carries out those social security functions for the small number of 16 and 17 year-olds who claim benefits. We want to ensure that that sensible practice can continue. Carrying out those functions will take full account of the actual needs of the young people in question as they are carried out local authority by local authority.
Amendment No. 176A would require that, before issuing any directions concerning the Connexions service, the Secretary of State would consult the relevant local authorities and have regard to their views. We are committed to consulting local authorities on the detail of the draft directions and we will do so formally after the Bill receives Royal Assent. We consulted the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Childrens Services before issuing the current specifications for Connexions, to which authorities are currently directed to adhere under the Learning and Skills Act and which are identical to the proposed directions under the clause. The organisations raised no objections about authorities being directed in that way. I do not anticipate new objections being forthcoming but we will, as I say, consult them.
Amendment No. 181A concerns Clause 59. That clausesubsection (3) in particularprovides the power for the department to contract with an appropriate body to deliver national services, such as the present Connexions Direct service. The noble Baronesss amendment would require the department to make such arrangements in conjunction with relevant local authorities and their Connexions providers. I am glad to tell the noble Baroness that the department already consults local authorities as part of the procurement process and that an authority representative sits on the project board. In addition, the contractor is required to work with stakeholders in particular authorities and their Connexions providers. It is therefore already our practice to make arrangements for the services in conjunction with authorities and Connexions providers. I hope that that meets the noble Baronesss concern.
Lord Lucas: I am still a little puzzled about how the provision will work. The Minister said that the direction will say that the local authority or the person exercising functions under Clause 54 must be a person who also exercises other prescribed functions; I understand that. But what if the person who exercises those other
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Lord Adonis: I do not think that there need be that confusion. The functions on which the Secretary of State may make directions under subsection (2) refer to functions that are set out in subsection (1). Those are services of a kind that need to be provided by properly trained and qualified people. I do not think that the services in question could be carried out by, for example, a caretaker; they would need to be carried out by properly trained and qualified people who are employed by the local authority.
Lord Lucas: That runs things one way, but the clause seems to run them the other way. Those things set out in Clause 54(1) that must be done by someone properly qualified must be done by someone who exercises other functions. They must be transferred to somebody who is already exercising those other functions. There is something in the legislation concerning those other functions that allows them to be transferred back to someone who is appropriate to exercise those functions under Clause 54(1). I understand what the Minister is saying, but I do not know that the wording of the clause achieves what he says it does.
Lord Adonis: I am sure that it does, or else we would not have the clause before us. If I was not sufficiently clear in my opening remarks, I am happy to write to the noble Lord and specify with greater clarity how it does so. The alternative would be for me to repeat my opening remarks, but I do not think that the noble Lord would wish me to do that.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister. I was satisfied with his explanation, but I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, says about the literal interpretation of the way in which the subsection is phrased. It would be nice if legal language was not sometimes so obscure. I am grateful to the Minister also for his reassurances in relation to consultation with both service providers and local authorities over these other functions. Although he says that it is normal practice, these points were raised by the LGA in its briefing on the Bill, and therefore it seemed to me appropriate that we should get from the Minister some reassurance that local authorities would be consulted in this way. I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: With diffidence and apprehension, I broach a subject that is even larger than I realised when I approached it. At Second Reading, I expressed my concern about the extent and consequences of dyslexia and related conditions in schoolchildren and young adults. I start by explaining why I am concerned at, and surprised by, this extent.
Official SEN census figures show that only 78,000 children are either statemented or on school action plans for dyslexia. A recent government-funded study, the No to Failure interim report, has shown that 55 per cent of pupils failing SATs at key stages 1 and 2 are at risk of dyslexia. That equates to around one in five pupils, or 2 million children. These children, on the whole, are not developing as they should. They are a reservoir of potential unrealised and talent unfulfilled. We have touched on the proportion of them who finish up in prison. They will also come under the umbrella of this legislation and as such point to a large hole in my amendment, which does not cover them at all. On Report, when we have the information that the Minister will give us about the situation as he sees it and the Governments attitude to it, it will be possible to bring that in. I recognise that this approach is in a way tangential to the approach of the amendments that have just been debated.
I cannot leave prisons there. If we go down the road towards them, there are pupil referral units. A recent study by Xtraordinary Peoplea well named organisationfound that 65 per cent of pupils at a particular London PRU were dyslexic. It is established, under the school census figures from the department,
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The KPMG Foundation, an independent body, reported in 2006 in its Every Child A Reader programme that literacy difficulties cost the nation £2.05 billion a year. I say that slowly and with emphasis, because I hope that it will remain in the Ministers mind and in that of my noble friend on the Front Bench when the cry goes up that this is all very expensive. It would be amazingly cheap, and even cost-positive, if we got it right.
To accelerate things a little, I shall pass over the prison question. I have a whole mass of briefing, which, if I am forced to, I shall deploy on Report. I shall just refer to the Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile. Almost 80 per cent of prison staff state that information accompanying people into prison is unlikely to show that the presence of learning difficulties or learning disabilities had been identified prior to their arrival in prison. Such people are more likely to be victimised than others; they are unable to access prison information routinely; they are likely to receive inadequate levels of support, although I hope that the Bill will put that right; and, because of their impairments, they are excluded from certain activities and opportunities.
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