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I wonder whether, when the then Prime Minister proclaimed, “Education, education, education”, this Bill was what he had in mind. While we welcome some of the policies and specific provisions, we are concerned at the apparent convoluted and confusing tangle of institutions and policies, which suggest the creation of a bureaucratic muddle. At Second Reading in another place, my honourable friend David Willetts said that the Bill has no clear or sustained argument. Through 262 clauses and 16 hefty schedules we dash from apprenticeships to academies, from children to complaints, from behaviour to bankruptcy, and even to a small section tucked away on education for those detained in youth accommodation. There remains a fear that perhaps the breadth of this Bill comes at the expense of any depth of conviction or clarity in some of its policies.

My honourable friend also commented that it seemed to demonstrate,

We have to ask ourselves whether this Bill is symptomatic of a Government who are frantically hurling semi-formed policies at problems, desperately trying to legislate for higher standards of education.

A moment ago, I said that there are bits in the Bill that we welcome. We welcome, for example, the incorporation of advice about apprenticeships into more general careers advice in schools and we see the attractions of creating an entitlement to apprenticeships, but we do not see that merely legislating for it will make it happen. Furthermore, at a time of economic crisis, when many businesses are struggling to make ends meet, we foresee difficulties in enforcing a statutory right to an apprenticeship. Will the Minister assure us that provisions will be put in place in order to prevent this right from becoming a lawyers’ charter? The nightmare scenario would be that of employers who cannot afford to do this ending up at an employment tribunal or people ending up on a so-called apprenticeship but not doing anything productive or useful. We need to know how the Government will guard against these sorts of problems.

When it comes to making promises about apprenticeships, the Prime Minister himself does not exactly have a glowing record. In his 2003 Budget as Chancellor, he announced that apprenticeship places

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would increase to 320,000 by 2006. In fact, by 2006-07 there were only 239,000 apprentices in training. In 2007, he announced that he would double the number to 500,000, but by 2008 the number had fallen by 13,000. We now have a new target. At Second Reading of the Bill in another place, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced that there would be 1,000 more apprenticeships by the end of the next financial year—admittedly, a rather more modest target, but a target none the less. Do we believe him? I hope that we can.

Ofsted’s 2008 report, The Impact of Programme-led Apprenticeships, confirmed that many of the apprenticeships created by Labour are only virtual apprenticeships and do not include any proper workplace training. The Adult Learning Inspectorate has noted that,

Furthermore, your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee reported that,

Therefore, while we broadly welcome the Government’s intentions behind the apprenticeship clauses of the Bill, we do not believe that these provisions really get to the heart of the matter. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that we hope to table amendments that will help to address the core problems. We want to create an apprenticeship structure that will increase the availability and take-up of apprenticeship places by reducing the bureaucracy surrounding certification and inspection regimes, increase employer involvement through the sector skills councils and make sure that apprenticeships include real work-based experience.

We also welcome much about the addition of Ofqual, which appears later in the Bill. We are grateful to the Government for at last accepting the proposal made by my right honourable friend David Cameron nearly four years ago for a new independent regulator of exam standards. We welcome its incorporation into statute. At a time when public confidence in exam standards seems to decline year on year—the Minister herself referred to this—it is vital that there should be a public body to ensure that the infamous dumbing-down is stopped and that we have an exam system of which we can be proud and in which we can have confidence.

Nevertheless, we have reservations about the body’s independence—and that independence is fundamentally important. We hope to receive assurances from the Government that they will not allow Ofqual to be viewed as a government agency. This would undermine public confidence in qualification standards. In this vein, it is most concerning that, infamously, one of Ofqual’s earliest interventions was to lower the pass mark in a science GCSE—to 20 per cent for a grade C—to make it easier to pass. For a body charged with restoring public confidence, this seemed to be a backward step. We will look for assurances that the regulator will, from now on, push standards up, rather than down.

The Bill also represents the fourth major transition of the Learning and Skills Council. The body, which was set up only in 2001, had been through two major

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reorganisations by 2005-06 and a further restructuring in 2007. In 2009, we now see that it will finally be abolished. In principle, this might seem sensible. After all, the organisation, which employs over 3,000 staff, churns through £11 billion in its inefficient administration. Nevertheless, the Government propose simply to replace it with three more quangos: the YPLA, the SFA and its sub-quango the NAS. This sounds to us less like “Education, education, education” and more like “Quango, quango, quango”.

The impact assessment issued by the two departments involved points out:

“Administering the new system is expected to be cost neutral for the exchequer”.

I repeat: “cost neutral”. The Explanatory Notes state that staff movements are expected to mean that about 1,000 staff will be transferred from the Learning and Skills Council to local education authorities; some 1,800 will form the Skills Funding Agency, including about 400 in the National Apprenticeship Service; and 500 will travel to the YPLA. If my calculations are correct, the Government are saying that the three new agencies will employ exactly the same number of people as the old, hugely inefficient LSC. They have not cut down on a single penny of budget nor reduced the number of staff, yet they are keen to emphasise the slimline nature of these bodies. One wonders who they are trying to convince.

There are other key areas of the Bill which we very much look forward to addressing as we go into Committee, including specifically the Government’s provision for the education of those detained in youth accommodation, the clauses regarding the complaints procedure and those on careers education in schools. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to hear that we intend to address these issues in a positive and constructive frame of mind. We aim to help the Government to find more substance and concrete policy to underpin these areas and others and to help to construct a Bill based solidly on education, education, education rather than on quangos, bureaucracy and targets.

3.31 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for her introduction to the Bill. The Liberal Democrats, as always, will play a constructive part in the debates on the Bill despite our severe reservations about part of it. Indeed, we believe that large sections are totally unnecessary in primary legislation. We will undoubtedly miss the wisdom and trenchant views of the late, much missed Lord Dearing as we go through the various stages of the Bill.

This portmanteau Bill has neither theme nor vision and appears to us to be from a Government on their last legs, trying to convince the country that they still have good ideas and are very, very busy. There are a number of missed opportunities which we hope to correct as the Bill moves through the House. However, there are things that we support in the Bill and we will try to make it work. In the end, we will judge this legislation on its ability to benefit children and learners, and to help and support all those who work conscientiously with children and young people and whose professionalism is not always appreciated.

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The Bill follows from last year’s Education and Skills Act, which raised the learning leaving age to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015. That was then, and this is now. There are questions to be asked about whether the current economic crisis makes this the right time to make the change mandatory. Are the Government confident that hard-pressed businesses will be able to offer the number of apprenticeships required when they are having to lay off regular staff? Perhaps the reference to programme apprenticeships is an acknowledgement that they are not so confident.

The Bill covers so many issues that I will not have time to cover all of them. I therefore give notice that my noble friend Lady Sharp will be covering apprenticeships and the overcomplicated, burdensome and bureaucratic funding and oversight system for post-16 education and the new role of local authorities; my noble friend Lady Garden will cover the education of young offenders and careers advice in schools; my noble friend Lord Addington will cover disability and SEN issues; and my noble friend Lord Cotter will cover apprenticeships from his experience in business. That leaves me with the issues relating to regulation and assessment, schools, early years and children’s services. There are many things that I will not have time to say anything about, even though I apologise to your Lordships that my speech will be longer than usual.

I start by pointing out that, despite its size and complexity, the Bill does little to tackle the entrenched inequalities of our education system. The enormous gap in performance—indeed, in opportunity—between children living in affluent neighbourhoods and those in poor ones is a sad memorial to an outgoing Government who came into office with such good intentions. It is still the case after 12 years of their administration that 85 per cent of white boys from poor families fail to obtain five good GCSEs and the majority of schools in poor areas fail to get 30 per cent of their pupils to reach that target. This is despite the fact that these figures have been known for years and that we have had 17 Bills, around 70 Green Papers and more than 1,700 regulations. With the Bill we are considering today, the Government have probably now blown their last chance of picking up another good Liberal Democrat idea, the pupil premium. So be it. We now have to debate what they are proposing.

We welcome the Government’s attempt to pull together the organisation of 16 to 19 education; we just do not think they are going about it the right way. My noble friend Lady Sharp will tell the House how she thinks it should be done. However, it is vital that those young people who may benefit from apprenticeships the most—that is, those with disabilities and special educational needs—are not prevented from accessing the programmes. We also welcome the proposal to separate the regulatory powers of the QCA by setting up Ofqual, since there is a clear need to restore confidence in the education system and our qualifications in particular, after some disasters in recent years that have affected young people very badly. I shall return to Ofqual in a moment.

We are disappointed that the Government are still unable to resist meddling by the powers of intervention that they are keeping to themselves. Despite what the

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Minister said about local decision-making, the Secretary of State’s powers to direct are numerous; indeed, there are 116 mentions of the word “direct” in the Bill. I fear that this is a dark omen of things to come, despite reassurances from Ministers in another place that some of the powers will be used only in exceptional circumstances. That may be so, but the very existence of such powers may make those over whose heads they are held behave exactly as the Government wish, for fear that those powers of interference will be invoked. The powers therefore have an effect when they are not used as well as when they are.

So, to Ofqual. It was clear in the debates in another place and from the recommendations of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, that there is wide agreement that Ofqual can make a real difference but only if it is truly independent of government and has the trust of the public. I fail to see how it can be seen as truly independent when the Government appoint the first chairman, chief executive and seven to 12 members of the board. As well as recognising awarding bodies and qualifications, there is wide agreement that it should have the power to carry out standardised sample testing for the purposes of monitoring particular cohorts of students, so that over time we can see what is happening to standards. Clearly, from the Government’s response to that proposal in July 2008, they do not agree. They said:

If I send my car in for servicing, I do not want to be assured just that the spanners used are up to a certain BSI standard—I want to know that the quality of the garage as a whole is up to the job. The Government propose that Ofqual judges only the quality of the spanners.

Besides, the Government show an alarming level of complacency about this issue since, in paragraph 50 of their response to the Select Committee, they have already made up their minds. They say:

“Thanks to ... regulatory scrutiny, we have every confidence that standards are being maintained and that tests are a true measure of learners’ attainment”.

Well, that’s all right then—except that it is not all right at all. Here, though, we have an opportunity, with a truly independent Ofqual with sufficiently wide powers, perhaps to deserve that confidence some time in the future. We will work with others in your Lordships’ House to ensure that we have the Ofqual we need. We will seek a debate about the powers to cap fees and other detailed matters. Alongside Ofqual is the QCDA, and we will be probing the apparently rather blurred edges of the role of the remaining part of the old QCA.

I turn to schools. With regard to academies, it is no surprise that the Government have realised, as we have mentioned so often, that it is impossible—indeed, undesirable—for the DCSF to try to manage hundreds of schools directly. The Government’s ambition to open 400 academies gives them a considerable problem, given the current setup. So the Bill sets up an agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency, which, among other things, has the job of undertaking specified

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academy functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. We understand that it may not undertake funding agreements with academies. The funding agreements, as we have been told so often in this House when asking questions about academies, are crucial, but the Secretary of State is holding on to those. The Secretary of State can grant aid to the YPLA to carry out specified functions and can impose specific conditions on academies that receive the grant aid. The YPLA is clearly a creature of the Government, so there are concerns that in transferring these duties to it, the autonomy of academies will be compromised. From these Benches, we would have preferred to see strategic oversight of academies, their role in the local educational provision mix and their performance handed over to the local authorities, rather than to a new arm of government. If this is arm’s-length, it seems to me that it is a very short arm.

Part 10 of the Bill is about schools causing concern, and here we find new intervention powers for the Secretary of State and new arrangements whereby parents can make complaints about schools. The Government are concerned that some local authorities have not been using the ability to issue warning notices given to them in the Education and Inspections Act 2006. In order to crack this small nut, they have taken their usual large mallet and given the Secretary of State the power to direct them to do so. We will be scrutinising the circumstances under which this power will be used.

The new arrangements for parents to be able to complain to a local government ombudsman about certain prescribed actions of schools has the potential to produce nightmares with numerous vexatious complaints—though I believe that the ombudsmen are usually quite adept at spotting these. However, there is the potential to waste a lot of schools' time dealing with these complaints, and we will be scrutinising this part of the Bill to see whether it is necessary at all and to ensure that it works fairly. I notice that academies are currently excluded from these arrangements, and I ask the Minister whether any further thought has been given to including them since the debates in another place.

Teachers today have a lot of pressures that make it difficult for them to build good relationships with young people, but we must accept that schools have changed a good deal since I was a teacher. I refer here to the extension of the powers of school staff to search for items and the duty to record and report the use of force, both of which will do nothing for teacher-pupil relationships. On the first of these, it is clear from the report published this morning by the Home Affairs Select Committee that children in schools need to be protected from others carrying knives. In my view, the principle of the power to search should always be the safety of the children. Teachers should not be seen as an extra arm of the Ministry of Justice. Therefore, I have serious concerns about the extension of these powers, in particular the onus on the teacher to have reasonable belief that items have been stolen.

However, my main concern is not the extension of the list. My concern is that no teacher should be expected to search a child without good quality training,

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and not just in safe ways of searching that will protect the child from harm and protect the teacher from unfounded allegations of improper behaviour. I believe that teachers who might find themselves having to conduct searches—or to use force, which we will come to in a minute—should have training in managing potentially inflamed situations, de-escalation techniques, risk assessment and how to calm things down, the sort of training that staff in secure children's homes and secure training centres get. No staff in those institutions would be expected to lay a hand on a young person without such training, and teachers should not be expected to do so either. Can the Minister assure me that no teacher will be required to do this without such training?

Can the Minister also say why this extension of the powers is being introduced before there has been a proper review of the existing power to search for weapons? In 2005, Sir Alan Steer's report said that,

I am not aware that such a report has been published, so here we have a case of “legislate first and get the evidence afterwards”. We shall probe these issues in Committee, bearing in mind at all times the rights, dignity and privacy of the child.

The issue of recording and reporting incidents of the use of force is similar, in that training in the interests of both children and teachers is key. I agree with the Government that where it is right to report an incident, both parents should be informed, even if both are not resident with the child. However, I believe that the Government should leave the judgment about which incidents are sufficiently serious to warrant such recording and reporting to the professional judgment of the head teacher. There is already very good guidance on these matters, including from the teacher unions, and it should be adhered to. If it is, this legislation is not necessary. It is good practice that should be disseminated.

We need much clearer definitions from the Government before we will be satisfied about this part of the Bill. However, I welcome this opportunity to consider the use of force in school more generally in the light of recent developments concerning restraint in child custody, in particular the Court of Appeal’s judgment in R(AC) v Secretary of State for Justice [2008]. In the light of this judgment, the power to use force in a school,

is very questionable. The term “good order and discipline” is open to wide interpretation and we would not want teachers falling foul of the law. The use of force should always be a last resort and should be more about protecting children from harm than anything else.

While I am on the subject of parts of the Bill that do not need to be there, I should like to ask the Minister why it is necessary to include the duty to take part in a behaviour partnership, when 98 per cent of secondary schools do so already. The clause does not include primary schools or FE. It really seems very

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perverse. If the Government were bringing in all schools by this duty, I might understand it better. As it is, I do not.

I turn to provision for pupils who have been excluded from school. We on these Benches are happy to accept the new name for pupil referral units as short-stay schools. Let us hope that they are just that—short stay—since their objective should always be reintegration of the pupil. However, we are concerned that this should not mean a reduction in the sort of provision that students often need when things go wrong. It is worth stressing here that we would like to see the Government introducing our concept of pupil premiums so that the percentage of pupils with special needs who are excluded from school falls considerably. Many of these children are excluded simply because their needs have not been met in the mainstream, and that is so wrong.

I turn to Part 9 of the Bill, which relates to children's services and was considerably amended in another place in the light of the important report from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the sad case of Baby Peter. Before I turn to what is in the Bill, I should like to mention another of those missed opportunities. There is considerable evidence that the saddest cases of neglect and abuse, the ones that result in the death of the child, have one simple thing in common—that the child has not been seen alone by the key social worker so that he or she can get to know the child as a person and understand the relationship with the carers from the child's point of view. This was clearly a major part of the problem in the case of Baby Peter, and indeed in the case of Victoria Climbié—a matter which was commented on with great force and anger by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in his first report. When my honourable friend Annette Brooke tried to amend the Bill in another place to introduce a statutory requirement about this, the Secretary of State referred her to guidance and sections of the Children Acts 1989 and 2004. Because of these, he said, her amendment was not necessary. I am not satisfied with his arguments and give notice that I will return to them in Committee.

I welcome the fact that the children's trust boards have been explicitly linked to the well-being of children, but I shall seek clarification on which body or bodies will be responsible for monitoring the exercise of this function. Well-being, in this case, is being defined with reference to the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. The House is probably already aware that I believe the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to be a better and broader expression of children's rights, and regret another missed opportunity to put the convention at the heart of the trust boards’ work. In October last year, in its third report on the UK Government, the UN committee said that,

Since the children and young people's plan, now to be developed by the trust boards, is so central to the well-being of children in each local area, I hope the Government will agree to an explicit link between the plan and local implementation of the convention.

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