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I have just been talking to someone who has worked with children’s services for a long time, and she said that the adult must be at risk, not the child. That should be our mantra. The sensibilities and rights of adults must come second to the rights of the child. The central issue has to be good parenting, and if that is not possible, then good care services, with consistent placements, have to take over. The welfare of the child must be paramount. Bad treatment needs to be reported, picked up and dealt with. If a child's life in the family is destructive, the family has to be consistently supported from the day the child is born or the child should be removed, sooner rather than later, to good care.

Without decisive action, we cannot expect to raise achievement or improve the behaviour of damaged young people. It is a very vicious circle indeed. Violence, crime, drug use, early pregnancy and other cycles of abuse may be set up as a direct result of inadequate parenting. Tackling child poverty is only part of the solution. It helps, of course, but many children brought up in relative poverty succeed in all kinds of ways because they have been nurtured and encouraged.

Children placed with family and friend carers have better overall outcomes than those placed elsewhere, but we do not sufficiently reward those carers. They frequently have to struggle to get paid. The Minister joined me in looking at the plight of grandparent carers and has been very supportive. This issue was raised during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill. Could he briefly update the House on progress with supporting family and friend carers or write to me?

I return to the welfare of the child from birth and issues of parenting and care. Money and support need to be thrown at this end of the child spectrum. Support for families and involvement with them by relevant professionals is important, but where families fail, care for children must be of high quality so that there is less reluctance to place them in suitable care. The future well-being of our children is at stake, and we have a duty to speak up for them.

12.54 pm

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, debates on the Queen’s Speech have to be rather fragmentary because they can cover four departments with four ministerial responsibilities. They can best be described by an old English word that was first coined in the reign of Elizabeth I, “mingle-mangle”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a “confused medley”. It also has a pejorative definition, which has fortunately fallen out of use, as well as meaning food for swine, but that cannot possibly describe the debate in your Lordships’ House. In introducing the debate, the Minister, who has a reputation well beyond this House for his expertise in health, spoke mainly on that subject. He touched on education, but his heart is in health and he is listened

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to with enormous respect. He did the mingle and it falls to me to do the mangle, which is education. I am old enough to know a mangle and have turned one, usually after school on Mondays.

I want to talk on education because over the next 18 months the Government are embarking on huge reforms in education and training. Few people recognise the extent of the reform that we are about to enter into, which will put enormous strain on the system. I support many parts of it. Further education colleges will be moved back into local authority control. Diplomas, which I strongly support, are to be introduced in schools next September. In addition, the Government want to expand the apprenticeship scheme dramatically. At the same time, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is to be split in two, which is how I set it up in the 1980s. The Learning and Skills Council is to be abolished and replaced by two other bodies.

This is an enormous series of changes and quite a few people say that perhaps they should go a bit slower. Barry Sheerman’s committee produced a report last week on how to reconcile apprenticeships with diplomas and encourage more people to go into apprenticeships. Looking through the report, I discovered that the peak year for apprenticeships in employment was when I was Secretary of State for Education. I was not aware that I was responsible for that record, but now I shall claim a lot of credit for it. Since then, it has been decline all the way. The committee said:

“We urge the Government not to assume that the provisions of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill will play a large part in meeting the needs of young people in education and training during a time of economic challenge”.

That is really saying, “Take it slower and try to get it right”.

I removed further education colleges from the control of local education authorities in the 1980s because they were neglected. They were undervalued and underfunded. When a local authority had a choice between capital expenditure on a primary school or an FE college, the primary school won. Councils ensured that the interests of their constituents would win out. FE colleges were undervalued and undercapitalised. In the past 20 years, that has been revolutionised. Under the previous Conservative Government and this Government, expenditure has been dramatically higher. As a result, the Matthew Boulton College in Birmingham is a superb modern building and the FE college in Middlesbrough is even greater. It is going to win an architectural prize as the most distinguished building in Teesside. That may not be too challenging, but it is the most distinguished building in Teesside and finer than any building on the campus of the nearby University of Teesside. No local education authority would ever have found the money for that. FE colleges are going to be sent back to local education authorities in 2010 and 2011, the very years when public expenditure will have to be cut. Irrespective of which Government are in power, it can be guaranteed that 2010 and 2011 will be the beginning of substantial central government and local government expenditure cuts. Will FE colleges get any priority from local education authorities? I think it highly unlikely.

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I hope that the House realises that I am in favour of many of the things that the Government are doing, but it is all coming too quickly. I am in favour of technical vocational diplomas. I have become very familiar with the curriculum of the diplomas in engineering, construction, manufacturing, production and design, IT and agricultural and horticultural services. They will be introduced into schools next September, but no secondary school in the country can deliver diplomas. They have not got the room, the space, the equipment or the teachers for technical education. They do not exist. If a student wants to do a diploma in engineering next September, he will spend two and a half days at a local secondary school doing English, maths, science and IT and another one and a half days at one or two different training institutes, or perhaps an FE college, to which he is taken on a bus. He will spend the last day on day release. That is no way to make the diploma successful.

The Government were absolutely right five years ago to identify the 14 to 19 year-old curriculum. As I was responsible for introducing the curriculum for five to 16 year-olds, I strongly support the curriculum for 14 to 19 year-olds. It has taken five years to work it up. It is central to producing at all levels of education the number of technicians and experts that this country needs. In the next 10 years—again, irrespective of which Government are in office—there will be a massive building programme of nuclear, coal and gas-fired power stations, a huge high-speed rail network, Crossrail and extensive waste treatment plants. We do not have the technicians for this. We simply do not have the element that Germany has in abundance. The education system in our country has failed to produce that degree of technical education and expertise.

What can we do about this? Since Easter, my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and I have been promoting a new type of school. We call them university technical colleges. The idea is that they will be what they say they are—technical vocational schools—for 14 to 19 year-olds. They are revolutionary, because the age for selection will be 14, not 11. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and I happen to agree that that is the best age for selection. That is controversial in the educational world, but as we have gone around talking about it we have been surprised at how many people in the educational world support us.

We approached first Aston University to sponsor a new school. If it did so, it would have to find £2 million under the academies programme. It jumped at it. The vice-chancellor, Julia King, is a professor of engineering, as is the pro-vice-chancellor, Alison Halstead. They said that this is just the sort of school that they want. They want to get involved with the education of children from 14 in their specialism of engineering, as the university has teachers who can help those children and equipment that they can use. We then spoke to the leader of the local education authority, Mike Whitby, who said that Birmingham would want such a school, as it was and would continue to be the heart of industrial life in our country. He provided a site in Aston Science Park. Last Friday, we were able to announce the first university technical college.

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These schools will be for 14 to 19 year-olds and will have 600 to 800 pupils. For those aged 14, there will be two sources of entry: one for apprenticeships and one for students doing diplomas. They are interchangeable. The universities are interested because they see this as a pathway to foundation degrees and even to higher degrees. I am glad to see that the Government fully support them; they certainly have the full support of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and his successor, Jim Knight.

We are speaking to eight or 10 universities, and every university that we go to says, “Yes, please, we want to do this”. The school is new and presents problems for the local education authority because of the selection at 14, not 11, which is difficult to achieve, but we believe that this is the future. It also deals with the problems highlighted by the Barry Sheerman report and another report on apprenticeships in the past four days, which both ask how we get apprentices. We get them by taking in half the intake as apprentices. When we have spoken to local employers, they have been immensely enthusiastic. I have been to see the CBI, local people in Birmingham, chambers of commerce and the Institute of Directors, and we have had meetings with several industrialists. They will back these colleges.

This is the way forward. I say in all seriousness to the Government that I very much support some of their initiatives, but the system does not exist in our country to deliver a curriculum for 14 to 19 year-olds. To have such a curriculum you must have institutions for 14 to 19 year-olds, otherwise you will fail. This is therefore an important initiative. I hope that the colleges that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and I manage to get off the ground in the next year or so will be prototypes like the city technology colleges, which were launched back in 1986 and have now become the city academies. These new university technology colleges will be immensely popular and will be oversubscribed from day one, because they will serve the needs not only of the students but of the nation.

We must improve our technical education. We should have had technical schools since 1870. We have tried. Butler tried. Butler’s great plan was for grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical schools. The first ones to go were the technical schools—infra dig greasy rags. That was a huge mistake. The only country that adopted the Butler scheme was Germany, which has grammar schools, high schools and technical schools. A report published this year in Germany on the whole education system said that the most popular and successful schools in Germany are not the grammar schools—that must please some Members on the Benches opposite—but the technical schools. It is about time that we had such schools here in our country.

1.06 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, in what he referred to as this mingle-mangle of a debate. I offer him an alternative word for a confused mixture and my favourite: gallimaufry. I agree with a good deal of what he said about the diplomas, which, given their content, might be more appropriately called pre-vocational diplomas.

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There is much to say about the Department for Children, Schools and Families portfolio, so I start with the promised children, skills and learning Bill. This catch-all Bill will have many welcome aspects but also others that will cause us some concern. My colleagues in the DIUS team spoke on Monday about the expansion of the apprentices programme, so I will say no more about that. We will return to the matters relating to school improvement and the powers and independence of Ofqual, about which we have some concerns, when the Bill is laid before us. We will look carefully at the proposals for Ofsted. It is key that we eliminate the tick-box mentality, the dangers of which were clearly demonstrated in the inspection of children’s services in Haringey. We also look forward to Professor Rose’s primary review and the broader and more independent Cambridge primary review when those final reports are available for us to comment on.

I welcome the proposal to make children’s trust boards statutory. I hope that this will improve the governance of children’s services. There have been far too many failures to protect the most vulnerable children, so I call on the Government to conduct a full review of the adequacy of our child-safeguarding system. This means reviewing not only the legislation, which is not the salve for all ills, but the resources, the practical implementation, and training and workforce issues.

I have serious concerns about the way in which multidisciplinary working is operating. In particular, the health services are not as joined up with other services as they might be. When a mother has a baby, she always seeks medical help, so medical professionals have a unique opportunity to identify vulnerable babies. I share the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about what has happened to health visitors. If the mother is going to bring the child into an unstable family that does not have the financial resources or parental skills to give that child the life that it deserves, that is when a whole raft of services should be wrapped around that family. Those services should not let go until it is safe for the child.

A great deal is being done for very young mothers, particularly to enable them to continue their education. I approve of that—we all know that education is the best form of contraception—but it does not happen with older serial mothers such as Karen Matthews, who have never worked and who fail their children. Those are the situations in which the state should step in with high-quality care and parental support, for the sake of the next generation.

The Bill also presents an opportunity to improve serious case reviews, 40 per cent of which were recently found by Ofsted to be inadequate, by strengthening the voice of the child. The death of Baby P and other tragic cases have highlighted the need for protection procedures to pay much more attention to seeing and listening to children rather than to deceitful or violent parents. Why have we not learnt that lesson since the Victoria Climbié case? The Bill presents an opportunity to ensure that the local safeguarding children boards have a specific function to ensure that children’s wishes and feelings are obtained and given due consideration. I will seek to add that to the Bill. You have to see a child to get their views.

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Noble Lords will recall that we expressed reservations about the use of restraint in schools for maintaining good order and discipline, which was brought in under Section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Therefore, we welcome the announcement that there will be measures to increase the accountability of schools on this matter. However, perhaps we should look again at this power in the light of the Court of Appeal’s July judgment, which quashed the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007, and the review of restraint commissioned by the Joint Youth Justice Unit.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to privacy, so I ask the Government how they will respond to the recent European Court of Human Rights judgment about the retention of the DNA of innocent children. I am also concerned about the proposals in another Bill to allow police officers on the beat to take fingerprints. I fear that that power will be used disproportionately on children, as the stop-and-search power is already. How will the Government ensure that this does not happen and what rights will children have to ensure that their fingerprints are removed from databases when there are no charges of wrongdoing?

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I welcome the transfer of responsibility for the education of children in prisons to local authorities. However, the Government should go further and meet the recommendation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by ensuring that all children deprived of their liberty have the same rights to education. Section 562 of the Education Act 1996 excludes children detained under a court order from the right to education.

The proposed equality Bill has been welcomed in many quarters but, for me, it is notable for what it does not include. There is nothing to protect children from age discrimination. This Bill could be used to promote children’s active participation in society in a positive way, but the Government are planning to exclude them from these provisions.

Noble Lords will know of my passion for high-quality early years education. Of course, I welcome the proposals about Sure Start. However, progress in this Session, which is one year on from the publication of the Children’s Plan—I look forward to reading its one-year report—will come not so much from new laws but from more resources and more training. Investment in early years, especially during a credit crunch, is one investment that brings enormous returns. There are not too many investments of that sort around at the moment. UNICEF report card 8 is published today. I declare an interest as a member of the board of UNICEF UK. This series of reports compares various aspects of children’s well-being in OECD countries. Today’s report is about early childhood education. Its aim is to recognise what Governments have achieved and to highlight areas where more could be done.

The rising generation in developed countries is the first for whom care is becoming to a significant degree a public sector responsibility rather than solely a private extended family matter. Today, many young children

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spend large parts of their day outside their homes in the care of someone other than their parents, who can then work or train. This presents an enormous challenge and a great opportunity to complement the care of parents by providing experiences that will stimulate the child and help him to grow healthy, strong and lively, and for professionals to work with parents to ensure that they gain the skills and knowledge that they need. I cannot overemphasise how strongly I believe that, if we help and support parents when the children are small, we can avoid a lot of the problems and benefit the whole of society. The children who are failed by their parents are those who will become abused, even murdered, suffer from mental health problems or get in trouble with the law, all of which are difficult and costly for the state to reverse.

We have a terrible attitude to children in this country. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I was distressed recently to read the Barnardo’s opinion survey, which showed how many people in this country believe that “feral” children “infest” our streets and commit 50 per cent of all crime, which is blatantly untrue—they commit about 12 per cent. Early years education is crucial to reducing that figure and to ensuring that all our children reach their full potential. However, if the care is not of good quality, we can do enormous harm instead of good.

Report card 8 shows, as usual, Sweden and the other Nordic countries in the lead, with the UK about halfway down, meeting five of the 10 criteria. The areas that still need attention in the UK are parental leave, the staff-to-pupil ratio, percentage of GDP spent on early years, child poverty and universal outreach of essential child health services. I am pleased to welcome the child poverty Bill announced in the gracious Speech, but I point out that the UN committee recommended that measurable indicators be established to show how the Government’s target is being met. I also welcome the Government’s announcement about extending the rights of parents to ask for flexible working hours, a matter for which I campaigned along with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham two years ago.

As with all UNICEF reports, this one is underpinned by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which the UK has been a signatory since 1989. The 20th anniversary of its signing by this country will be marked in 2010. Yesterday marked a 60th anniversary, apart from that of the NHS: that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was enshrined in UK law 10 years ago. I should like to press the Government to do the same for children’s rights. Children, because of their special vulnerability, need special laws to protect them and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has several times pressed the UK Government to enshrine that convention also into UK law. It is a pity that such a Bill was not among those announced in the gracious Speech.

However, the Government should be applauded for three major steps that they took on 22 September, the day before appearing before the UN committee. They withdrew their two reservations from the convention—on immigrant children and on young people in custody alongside adults—and signed the optional protocol

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on trafficked children. The Government deserve our sincere congratulations, but now the hard work starts in order to implement those three aspects of the convention.

It is outrageous that the level of knowledge about the convention is so low among children and adults in this country, particularly among professionals. It would be easy, for example, to include a unit about the convention in every initial teacher training course. The convention is lived every day to great advantage in many schools under the Rights Respecting Schools programme, for which I know that the Government have great regard. Teachers, children, parents and school governors love it. Will the Minister tell me whether the DCSF has any plans to encourage or enable more schools to take it up? Its benefits have now been demonstrated from early years right up to the end of secondary level, so there is every reason for the Government to take it on as a national initiative. That would do much more good for school discipline than any further powers about restraint or searching of young people, which I believe we are going to get in the next legislation. For me, the gracious Speech was a bit of a curate’s egg for children but, as always, we on these Benches will make all efforts to improve it and to make sure that it is tasty and nutritious in all the parts.

1.18 pm

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his introduction of today’s subjects. In particular, he strayed beyond the brief of health. He emphasised, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the way in which we need to keep our direction clear through this debate so that it does not become a mingle-mangle, but provides a series of packages which come together to support and encourage those in most need in our society.

Within that context, I want to make a point about the proposed education Bill and then move on to issues of poverty and welfare. Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Walmsley, I welcome the emphasis on quality of education for young offenders to be proposed in the Bill. In principle I agree with both noble Baronesses in their support of the proposal to move this education provision over to local authorities. My fear, however, is that it will be underfunded and that because it is hidden away from the general population of those local authorities, not much pressure will be put on them actually to achieve the aims that are to be expressed in the Bill.

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