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The third and, for me, key point is that the trick will be to keep individual professional skills and not lose them in a soup where the view is, “Let’s integrate everything”. The trick will be to develop an ability to work together. We do not want teachers being social workers again in the way that they were in the 1970s and we do not want social workers pretending that they know about teaching. We need each person to enhance his or her professional skills but also to learn a new skill—that of working together. That has not been the case but perhaps this new structure provides the opportunity for it to happen.

My next point is that evidence of successful practice is all around us, and children’s services and the Department for Children, Schools and Families must become evidence-informed. We do not have to reinvent things. Just because something is given a new name, that does not mean that it needs to do new things. Any director of children’s services who thinks that he has to go out and discover new practices is starting from the wrong end; he should seek out the people with a proven record of success. The challenge to leaders is to see how effectively they can move throughout the system.

I conclude with my fifth point, which is to remind the House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and others have done, that this is a marriage of professions at different stages of their development. By raising teachers’ morale, their standing in society and the levels of their pay and training, this Government have helped to raise standards. I give credit to the previous Government for setting the accountability framework for schools. Both Governments have concentrated on teachers and the results are there to see in terms of time, money and priority. However, that has not happened with social workers.

I should like the Minister to reflect on what we can learn from what has been done with teachers in relation to raising the status of social workers. I have some questions. Where is the equivalent of the academies programme for social workers? Academies are a brilliant way of attracting some, although not all, of our best teachers and leaders to the areas of greatest need. There was the £10,000 incentive for teaching maths but where is the offer of £10,000 more for becoming a social worker in Haringey? It is great that two people were made knights in the recent Honours List, but how many heads of social services were at that senior level in the Honours List as a sign that society is beginning to recognise their work? Teach First is a brilliant initiative but where is “Social Work First”?

All those initiatives and the resources that have been put into them, which have helped to raise the status of teachers and to get our best teachers into the most difficult schools, now need to be repeated for social workers. It is doable but the challenge is immense. I hope that today’s comments will assist the Minister in taking this vital agenda further forward.

12.57 pm

Lord Harris of Peckham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Shephard for asking me to speak today on education and social services. The Harris

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Federation has seven academies: three in Peckham, three in Croydon and one in Bexleyheath. One academy is shared with the Church of England, six special schools and four primary schools. These account for 18,500 children in south London sponsored by the Harris family.

I should like, first, to talk about a school that was failing in 1992. It was one of the worst schools in the country. Then, its pass rate of five A to C grades stood at 9 per cent; today, the figure is 93 per cent. Back then, the number of applications for 180 places at the school was 45; this year, the number is 1,920. Attendance in 1992 was 70 per cent; today, it is 96 per cent. This school has changed to become one of the top 100 state schools in the country. People say to me that the principal picks only the best pupils, but that is not the case. Fifty-six per cent of our pupils come from the ethnic society and 25 per cent from the Caribbean society, and they are the most difficult children to teach. Their pass rate over the past four years has been between 85 and 90 per cent.

I am dyslexic, and every year at this school we take 20 per cent of the pupils to the dyslexic centre. The same woman, Dorothy Hart, has taught these children for the past 18 years, and her pass rate last year was 84 per cent.

We are very proud of our sixth form. Last year, out of 92 students, we got 81 to university. We had two of the top 10 students in art and design out of 6,000 pupils throughout the country. In modern languages—noble Lords should remember that we are teaching pupils from all over the country with different first languages—over the past four years we have had a 100 per cent pass rate.

Our vision for all our academies is to have the best principal and back them 100 per cent, the best teachers—we use Teach First, which supplies us with very good teachers—and, more important, the right support staff, who never get talked about. They help the schools very much and can tell the teacher and heads what is going on.

Every pupil from our school has to wear a uniform, which we pay for when we take over the school from the state. The uniforms have to be worn from the time the pupils leave home in the morning until they get back in the evening. We have pretty strong discipline records. People are not allowed to fetch telephones in; phones are confiscated until the end of term. We are very strong on attendance and seeing that children get to school on time. Children who are not in school within half an hour of opening time are phoned at home or at their carers’. Motivation is one of the most important things in schools and we are motivated by the belief that all can achieve. It is not only about work; it is about wanting to work and wanting to come to school and do well. Sport plays a very important part in our academies.

Attendance in all our academies is 94 per cent. Across the federation the average increase in the number of students gaining five A to Cs including maths and English was 7.5 per cent. This is more than eight times

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the improvement made on average by other schools in the country last year. The applications for 1,290 places was 5,686, so on average our schools were four and a half times oversubscribed.

I shall refer to two schools that we have taken over in the past two years. Since becoming an academy in 2006, Harris Academy Merton has improved its added value from the bottom 72 per cent in the country to the top 3 per cent. That has happened in less than two years. The school has 29 per cent of its students on free meals, 68 per cent ethnics and 24 per cent with special needs. In the past two years, the proportion of students receiving five A to C grades has gone from 29 per cent to 74 per cent, and in English and maths from 23 per cent to 38 per cent. The average attendance has gone up from 78 per cent to 95 per cent.

Children want to be motivated to go to school and will do better if they are so motivated. There were 682 applicants for 180 places this year. Last November we were classed as “outstanding” in the Ofsted report and the school became the fastest ever to go from special needs to outstanding. We congratulate the head, teachers and staff on changing the lives of many children in the Merton area.

The Bermondsey academy is an all-girls school. It has a first-class principal, excellent staff and teachers. Sixty per cent of its students are on free meals, 74 per cent are ethnics, 36 per cent have special needs, 148 are known to social services and a large number are under police protection. Many of the students live with people other than their parents. We monitor students’ behaviour; should it suddenly change, we have people to step in, as it usually means that there are outside problems. In the past two years, the achievement of five A to Cs has gone up from 47 per cent to 58 per cent; in English and maths, the change has been from 26 per cent to 41 per cent. Attendance is now 93 per cent. This year the school had 453 applicants for 180 places and was the top school in Southwark as parents’ first choice. In the past year the academy in Bermondsey has created a special centre, the Apple Centre, where students receive a bespoke education programme tailored to their needs.

The Harris Academy Merton now offers a full-support education special needs department, which provides a range of support and evening classes. Local crime figures show that burglaries have reduced in the area now that the academy offers after-school community activities. Four of our academies provide safer school police officers, who are welcomed and respected by the staff, parents and students and who provide a confidential link for reporting matters of concern. In the next 12 months, we will be opening two new academies—another one in Peckham and one in Croydon—which we hope will be as successful as the others. We believe that every child deserves the best possible education.

1.05 pm

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, we have had an extraordinarily well informed debate with many speakers who have enormous knowledge of the inside workings of children’s services. I regret that I cannot compete and can only call in aid the fact that I am chairman of the All-Party Group on Families and Children as an

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excuse for talking a little bit about the role of families in working alongside professional workers from the social services and education departments.

We all recognise that the number of problem families has increased in recent years and is still growing. Children’s services departments are overloaded and even present levels of service may not be sustainable without major injections of long-term funding. We all know that the welfare of children is not well served when staff are overstretched. Many previous speakers have referred to staff being overstretched and stressed. Lack of experience and good leadership are also real problems, which the Government will not solve by tinkering only with structure and procedures. Either children’s services will need a great deal more money in order to be able to train the right people and have the right ratios or we must find creative new solutions.

One such solution must be to reduce the demand for social services. There is a case for doing more to encourage and empower families to do the job that they can do best—to provide their children with a secure and supportive family life. If more families were providing their children with the family life that they need, it would relieve the current pressure on social services and allow them to concentrate more on the difficult cases. We need to rebuild commitment to stable family life for this nation’s children. It is high time that we as a society took a long hard look at the state of families in our society.

The majority of families give their children the family life they need, and they deserve more help and encouragement than they sometimes get today. At the other end of the spectrum a relatively small number of disadvantaged families will never succeed in delivering family life unaided. They are the ones for whom children’s services are essential. In the middle is a group of families who might be persuaded to do more if they received more encouragement and recognition. Let us look a little more closely at that group.

Modern research increasingly shows that some kinds of family structures are more likely than others to lead to relationships within the family that are advantageous for children. We should be doing more to recognise, encourage and empower, and less to discourage those parents and families who try to provide the kind of family life that their children need. Such families are providing, or potentially could provide, an important service to the nation.

The Government’s policies on families are ambivalent. On the one hand they urge parents to do more to accept their responsibilities, and rightly so, but on the other they fail to state clearly what those responsibilities are or to offer much encouragement to those who accept them. For example, government policies on tax and benefits are seen as penalising young parents with a child who want to live together. If a parent decides to leave full-time work to provide childcare for their child they are disadvantaged. Housing policies, too, are unfriendly to couples who want to build a family life together when they have their first child and government policies largely ignore grandparents.

In the past 50 years, major changes have taken place in our society's perception of the responsibilities of parenthood. In particular, there has been a change

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in our perception of the importance of parental commitment. Fifty years ago, parental commitment was usually expressed in the commitment of marriage. Today we are in the 21st century, and it may be right that marriage may not be the most appropriate structure for committed parenthood for everyone. For those who reject marriage for whatever reason, there ought to be alternative ways for parents to make a public commitment to their child and to one another. What matters from the child’s point of view is the long-term loving commitment of, preferably two, adults, the adults who are going to care for him. Parental commitment should not be regarded just as a moral value, as it used to be 50 years ago; it is a social issue of the greatest importance.

The Government have stated from the Dispatch Box on many occasions that they do not believe that it is the job of Governments to interfere in the way that adults choose to live their lives. I do not believe that that is a tenable position for any Government today, now that research shows clearly that parental commitment and quality of family life can seriously affect a child's chances in school and in later life.

I hasten to say that I am not suggesting that this or any other Government should try to lay down all the ways in which families should be run. Fortunately, today there is a growing body of research showing that prohibitions and punishments may not anyway be the most effective way to change public behaviour. It seems that the establishment of positive social norms, linked to recognition of those who comply with those norms, can often be more effective. If our society were to place a higher value on stable, supportive family life, more parents and more families would be likely to make the sacrifices involved in giving their children the kind of family life that they need.

We as a society perhaps need a change of heart. There is a strong case for some sort of contract between parents, families and the state. Frank Field recently suggested that that might take the form of a sort of Highway Code for parenting, a guide to be studied, learnt and respected by all parents and by all those involved in supporting them. In a perfect world—I speak from the Cross Benches—I should like cross-party agreement to promote stable family life and to encourage long-term commitment to their children by both parents and families.

1.12 pm

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Shephard on initiating this important debate. In the time available, I shall raise two points. The first reinforces what several noble Lords have already said, albeit with an eloquence that I cannot match; as the noble Lord just mentioned, we have heard some very powerful speeches in the debate today.

There are clearly problems with the structure and operation of children's services departments. As we have heard, recent tragic cases have highlighted serious problems. I do not propose to go over those. Other problems, which do not make the headlines, derive from the incapacity of departments to cope with the responsibilities placed on them. They go down to the

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level of basic routine functions. The Ofsted annual performance assessments of last year showed that, although there were councils that were outstanding in the provision of children's services, in most cases, there was the capacity to improve.

There have already been various proposals for changes, coming not least from the Audit Commission and the Government. Those changes focus primarily on improving the overall structure and processes in respect of child welfare. A particular problem has been identified with interagency co-operation. I do not want to take issue with the proposals but rather to reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady Shephard that although they may be necessary, they are not sufficient. As the noble Lord, Lord Laming, identified, structures and processes are dependent for their effectiveness on the people who operate or work within them. One can create processes that look splendid on paper but which are useless if those responsible for them are not prepared or not able to make them work.

As we have heard, children services departments are large bodies. As my noble friend Lady Perry so eloquently described, they are also extremely disparate in nature. They require strong leadership as well as highly qualified staff to deliver services. The problem was well expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, in her article in the Guardian last November, when she noted that some of those who work with our most vulnerable children are the least qualified and the most poorly rewarded. We need to acknowledge the relationship between those two points.

The problem cannot be tackled solely by revising structures. There has to be investment to ensure that we have highly able and well motivated professionals dealing with the welfare of children, professionals who are sufficiently well motivated to remain in post. Retention is crucial; that is clear from several of the speeches that we have heard today. There must be leadership in depth; I very much endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said. I also endorse the observation of the General Social Care Council that more needs to be done to encourage employers to offer their staff opportunities to undertake post-qualifying training.

I emphasise, reinforcing what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was arguing, the need to recognise that the need for professional development applies across the board, encompassing not only children's care services but those responsible for education. Local government now finds itself in a difficult situation. It has to cope with a range of responsibilities, some of them—as in this case—allied with structural change, at a time when the resources available to fulfil those responsibilities are declining. My fear is that, given limited resources, the focus will be principally, possibly exclusively, on those services that are the cause of controversy and hit the headlines. The danger is that services that are essential to the development of young people, but which are less contentious, may be neglected, or at least not receive the same attention and requisite level of support.

I therefore contend that while we must respond to immediate and obvious concerns of the sort that have arisen in places such as Haringey and now Doncaster,

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we should not lose sight of the problems that result from failing to ensure adequate leadership and professionalism in delivering services in all parts of what now constitute extremely large departments. The enormous challenge that that poses is clear from the speeches that we have heard today.

My second point is different and concerns evaluation. There have, quite rightly, been calls for inquiries into how the child protection system is working. I put the need for review in a somewhat broader context.

The Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House, in its 2004 report, Parliament and the Legislative Process, recommended that there should be systematic post-legislative scrutiny. In response to the report, the Government invited the Law Commission to examine the proposal. As a result of the commission's report, published in 2006, in March last year the Government published their proposals in Post-Legislative Scrutiny—The Government's Approach. They accepted the need for reviewing Acts, typically three to five years after enactment, to ensure that they had fulfilled their purpose. I understand that reviews are now under way and that the first has just been completed and submitted to the relevant departmental Select Committee in the other place.

The Children Act was enacted in 2004. Its provisions have been subject to commencement at different points. Those that we have been discussing today took effect in 2006. I therefore presume that a review of the Act will be undertaken in the not too distant future. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case? When the review is undertaken, it is important both that it is not too narrow and that it is published. I gather that the first post-legislative review to be submitted is rather legalistic in approach and has been submitted as an unpublished paper, rather than as a Command Paper, as envisaged in the Government’s 2008 paper. It is essential that reviews are thorough, not overly narrow and legalistic. It is also important that they are published, or at least made available to Members in both Houses. There is a danger that if they are sent solely to the appropriate Select Committee in the other place—which may be extremely busy and not able to pursue the matter further—others, including Members of your Lordships' House, may not be aware of it.

My point has applicability that goes beyond the Children Act but has particular force in relation to that Act. One particular aspect that will be important is that relating to reviews undertaken under the provisions of Sections 20 to 24. When the Constitution Committee published its report The Regulatory State: Ensuring its Accountability, it drew attention to the need to review those who engage in regulation. In essence, it raised the question of who regulates the regulators—or, in this case, who reviews the reviewers. Ofsted, as we have heard, assumed a new existence on 1 April 2007, bringing together in one body four previously separate inspectorates. As has already been mentioned, it is a remarkable burden. In its first year, it carried out more than 45,000 inspections and regulatory visits.

The annual report of the Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills draws together the results of Ofsted’s work but is not in itself an evaluation of Ofsted. Ofsted cannot be expected to review its own performance. There is a need for external evaluation

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of its work. Post-legislative review of the Act may be sufficient for this purpose, but I put in the Minister’s mind the possibility of a separate evaluation of how well the new review arrangements are working. I am less concerned with the mechanism and more concerned with establishing the principle that a review is desirable.

To conclude, the 2004 Act created new structures, the rationale for which is clear, but structures have created the problems that have been clearly adumbrated this afternoon. We should focus not just on individual cases and generalise from those; we need to look at the new structures holistically. We also need to bear in mind the need to ensure high standards throughout and that delivering such standards has resource implications. Saying, “Do this, do that”, will not by itself be sufficient.

1.21 pm

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for calling this timely and important debate. I recall us sitting together some years ago in a room in Portcullis House, listening to my noble friend Lord Laming announce his findings on the Climbié case. At that meeting, I recall the contribution from Debra Shipley MP: she made the passionate and persuasive case that that incident highlighted the immediate and critical need to raise the status of social work and to invest further in it—to do all the things that we have been discussing today.

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