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The noble Lord said that in his experience local education authorities are beginning to lay down the law. That is not my experience. Many local education authorities are only just beginning to wake up to the responsibilities they are going to have under this Bill.
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I am interested that the noble Lord feels that they are already adopting a very heavy-handed approach. There are, I know, among the colleges fears of going back to the days when local education authorities ran them. That has been echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. However, the colleges are quite clearly established now as corporations in their own right. Most of them have strong corporations and capable chairs and capable principals. I am interested that he feels that already we are seeing signs of local authorities wanting to extend their empires. We probably also come from, so to speak, a slightly different standpoint. On these Benches our vision is of local education authorities having more of these responsibilities and having a good deal of discretion to run the show and do things and do their own thing rather than being told by the YPLA or the SFA what they ought to be doing.
Our great fear is that these two new authorities, particularly the YPLA, far from being light-touch authorities, are actually going to be strong second-guessing authorities. From reading some of the briefings we have received, it seems that local education authorities are going to have to go cap in hand to the YPLA and show it their plans and get their plans approved. Then they are going to have to go to their sub-regional groupings and regional groupings and so forth. A lot of bureaucracy is still involved.
Does he understand the concerns regarding the devolution of the powers and duty of education of those within the 16-to-19 age group to local authorities? Does he accept that concern is felt that some local authorities will struggle to cope sufficiently to ensure that all receive the high standards of education to which they are entitled?
The Minister will doubtless attempt to reassure us that the student is given the right to travel to a different local authority for education and that the funding follows the student. I would welcome such assurances, but the key problem, highlighted by my noble friend's amendments, is not so much that we dispute the principle of education and training being provided by a functional and co-operating group of local authorities where the funding will follow the student wherever he wishes to go as the question how the Goverment intend to give effect to this proposal.
Can he tell us precisely how he envisages ensuring that local authorities co-operate in such a way that the best education is available to all and that the communication lines between transport, funding and other local services combine to ensure that people are encouraged to go to the area or education establishment which best suits their needs? It would be very useful to hear from the Minister how he envisages this working in practice.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): I apologise in advance for what will probably be quite a lengthy contribution, because I want to place on record a range of key principles that have been addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and, to some extent, by other noble Lords. Although I echo the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the belated nature of the amendments, we welcome them because they give us an opportunity to air some important issues.
Before I look in depth at the intention of the amendments, I reiterate why we are making these changes. They are driven by our desire to see a single, integrated service for children and young people from nought to 19-somebody from our group said "from cradle to college", which I thought was quite nice-to ensure that all young people get the best possible start in life and the best preparation to succeed and achieve as they get older. We are making sure that every young person will be entitled to a new curriculum and qualifications. We are making sure that even the most vulnerable of our young people have an offer of a suitable place in education and training, including provision for young offenders and effective progression into learning for ex-offenders, and that young people with learning difficulties or disabilities will have consistency of support from nought to 25.
The historic step to raise the participation age to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015 demonstrated how far this country's sights have been raised. Through the Bill, we are making sure we have a system in place that achieves this aspiration and can continue to build on the highest-ever levels of participation that were seen for 16 and 17 year-olds this year.
All these changes put the young learner at the heart of a system which must make sure that the learning offer across an area and throughout a region is well planned, of high quality and responsive to meeting the needs of all our young people, irrespective of their age, ability or location. By transferring the duty to secure such a system to local authorities, we will provide the framework and impetus for these changes. Young people will benefit from having a single body which will be responsible for securing sufficient provision alongside information, advice and guidance services, and youth services. These amendments seek reassurance, first, on the ability of local authorities to take on these new responsibilities, and secondly, that they will always commission provision in the best interests of the learner.
I would like to address the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about what he described as the dirigiste approach to FE colleges. This is not what we expect, nor, I must concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, what we have experienced, but if the
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Let me look first at the ability and capacity of local authorities to carry out these new duties. Local authorities are uniquely well placed to take on the crucial leadership to continue and increase improvements in participation and achievement. They will have access to detailed intelligence about the needs and aspirations of their communities, through their responsibility for commissioning pre-16 education and through their ownership of Connexions. This intelligence will enable them to commission the 16 to 19 provision which their learners want and need. Local authorities will work together to plan and commission provision, including for our most vulnerable young people, in the full recognition, as noble Lords have already said, that many young people travel outside the local authority area in which they live to their local college or to their employer-based training place.
Immediate capacity will be provided by the transfer of around 950 LSC staff to all 152 local authorities to ensure that they have staff with the appropriate skills. These will be spread proportionately, depending on the size of the local authority. They will be supported by the Young People's Learning Agency which will use its resources to provide efficient and economic services to local authorities. I realise we will have to go a long way to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that this will be a light touch, rather than the firm smack of dictatorship. We share her view that the partnership between the YPLA and the local authorities should be supportive and collaborative.
Services will include the provision of data analysis to support planning and commissioning, which means, crucially, that the college and school need provide information only once, to be used many times. The YPLA will also have powers to commission provision directly, which we expect to be used where it is sensible to do so, for example, where specialist provision should be commissioned nationally. There are some examples of where there are particular national requirements. I think there is one dealing with veterinary education. I may not have got that right, but there are examples of where we need national commissioning, such as where a local authority is struggling to take on its new role.
Local authorities also have their own pre-existing expertise on which they will build. They have already shown that they can rise to the challenge of improving services for young people through developing their commissioning expertise and we have the success stories to show just how effective giving power to locally accountable councils can be. For example, Bournemouth, by reviewing its services for children in care, developing a planned commissioning approach and redeploying resources to more preventive services, has achieved a reduction in its number of looked-after children from 204 in 2003 to 150 in 2007 and a marked improvement in outcomes for children in care. The authority now scores in the top 25 per cent on indicators for stability of placements and educational outcomes. Surely that is a very welcome improvement and an example of the benefits of the greater involvement of local authorities.
Our performance management structures for local authorities will ensure that we continue to see such improvements in commissioning. From April 2009, local authorities are being assessed and reported on through the new comprehensive area assessment-CAA-undertaken by six inspectorates including Ofsted. There will be an annual CAA report for each local authority area, in November each year. The report will include a rating by Ofsted of the local authority's performance on children's services. This will be a key driver for improvement at a local level, helping to develop high-quality services for children, young people and their families.
At a local level, government offices will work with local authorities to improve their performance through identifying and sharing best practice, using knowledge and data to improve performance, negotiating and supporting the new statutory local area agreements and reviewing how local and national priorities, set out in the national indicator set, are being delivered. Nor are these changes imposed on unwilling local authorities. Local authorities have been involved in shaping the system, and are now all enthusiastic about the opportunities that this gives them to improve outcomes for young people in their area.
"The transfer of both commissioning and funding provides a very real opportunity for continuity of support for learners with special needs, and it's one we need to grasp. It will be the first time we have been able to plan for the needs of learners in the round, which can only be good for young people".
We are building on this existing expertise and enthusiasm as local authorities prepare for their new duties, and have invested in relevant support through both the React-Raising Expectations Action-programme, which has been developed with the Association of Directors of Children's Services and the Local Government Association. Launched in September 2008, it provides a package of support for local authorities, including a specific strand focused on pre-19 commissioning.
I turn to the vital matter of how the system will ensure that local authorities will always commission in the best interests of the learner, which is after all a shared objective of all of us. I sympathise with the noble Lord's concerns, and agree that we must make sure that a young person can access the most suitable learning for them-a point that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, focused on-no matter whether it lies within or outside a local authority boundary. We all know that young people will travel to learn, often across local authority boundaries, because it makes sense in their circumstances. We are making sure that young people will continue to access that same choice of learning.
The Bill provides that local authorities must secure enough suitable education and training opportunities to meet the reasonable needs of young people and that they cannot constrain the choices of the learner. This will be achieved because the funding will follow the learner; the provider chosen by the young person will get the funding for that young person.
I turn to the importance of the sub-regional group with regard to co-operation between authorities to enable some of this to take place. The sub-regional group will agree a lead commissioner for each institution, which will normally be the local authority in which the institution is based. The local authority will plan and commission provision from those providers in its own area. This commissioning will include provision for young people who travel into the local authority area to study. Each local authority will have an interest in other local authority plans to ensure that all its resident learners are being catered for. To ensure that this happens, local authorities will be required to co-operate with each other when carrying out their new functions. We will expect this duty to be fulfilled largely through coming together in sub-regional groups, which we know broadly reflect travel-to-learn patterns. Forty-three sub-regional groups have now come together and data show that around 90 per cent of learners within each grouping are likely to travel to local authorities within their sub-regional group to learn. I think that takes a lot of account of travel between local authority boundaries.
The key role of sub-regional groups is for the local authorities to work together to build a picture of demand, including the flow of young people across the individual and sub-regional borders, and to make sure that the individual local authority commissioning plans are coherent with each other. I give an example in which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, might have a particular interest. Greenhead sixth-form college is an excellent college, which in 2007-08 took 16 per cent of learners from outside its home local authority of Kirklees. Kirklees local authority will be expected to reflect this proportion of learners in its commissioning plan, as this is where the young people are choosing to study. If the figure changed substantially in future commissioning plans, the sub-regional group will challenge this decision, as will the college. In that respect, this is similar to the ability of colleges to challenge commissioning plans by the LSC.
We know that sub-regional structures enable local authorities to work together to improve the outcomes for young people. For example, Devon, Cornwall and Torbay, by developing a sub-regional approach to the commissioning of residential placements for children in care, experienced a 450 per cent increase in placement choice as well as improvements in the quality of service received from providers. The sub-regional groupings will also serve to provide peer support and challenge. All local authorities within a sub-regional group will have an interest in ensuring commissioning is working in other local authorities in that group, and this will manifest itself in stronger collaboration.
As I have touched upon, it is even more likely that learners who have learning difficulties or disabilities that require specialist support may need to attend provision that is outside their area. There are additional safeguards in place to ensure these needs are met, and we will go on to consider these in more detail in further amendments, but I wanted to cover them briefly as I know this group of learners is of particular concern to the noble Lord.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I cannot argue with the maths. We would say that on that basis we are picking up a huge amount. There may well be other cases. We would say that we are picking up most of the requirements in that 90 per cent. I will come back to the noble Lord on that 10 per cent.
The learning difficulty assessment, which is undertaken by the resident local authority as part of a wider person-centred planning process, should identify the support and the provision, including the provider and the programme. The local authority will need to have regard to the outcome of the assessment when securing provision. Therefore, if the assessment identifies, for example, a specialist provider that is outside the local authority's area, this information will be fed into national and regional planning processes so that a place can be commissioned as appropriate.
I want to make sure that I have picked up on all the points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, expressed a concern about why a local authority should be concerned about the timing and location of provision and whether that was about college timetables. To support participation by all young people, we must ensure that education is accessible. We recognise that people need and want to learn through different methods at different locations-for example, part-time working to satisfy raising participation age requirements around a job to support the worker and their families. Our colleges are used to providing flexible timetables. This is absolutely not a licence for local authorities to dictate college timetables. They will remain a matter for colleges.
On the independence of colleges, colleges will own the land and the buildings. They will remain incorporated bodies, employing their own staff and setting their own vision and direction. In sort, colleges will remain autonomous. It is about getting the right touch and collaboration and co-operation.
As to what happens to the other 10 per cent, they will be commissioned through the YPLA as a support to local authorities. The explicit assurance is-the noble Lord is right to ask-that nobody will lose out. We do have to ensure that.
I apologise once again for the length of the contribution. However, it was necessary, given the importance and complexity of some of these issues. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the system is designed to ensure that young learners are able to access the most suitable provision for them, and not the other way around. This will not lead to parochial commissioning practices within local authorities and will ensure that the best 16-to-19 providers, of whatever form, flourish and expand.
Lord Lucas: I cannot say I find myself much reassured by that. We seem to be replacing a system that has relied on the expressed wishes of the individual learners
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I do not begin to understand how local education authorities are going to be capable of planning on that scale and in relation to that complexity. Can the noble Lord start by telling me what is meant by "commissioning"? If the local authority decides that it needs another 20 places for people to study hairdressing, say, how will it go about securing that? Will it issue an instruction to one of its local colleges to provide them? If it does, what happens if all those places are taken up by someone from a neighbouring local authority? How does commissioning and securing work in practice? Can the noble Lord give us an example?
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thought I had endeavoured to cover that. I am happy, however, to return to the issue again. Local authorities are uniquely well placed to take on the crucial leadership to continue and increase the improvements in participation and achievement. They will have access to detailed intelligence about the needs and aspirations of their communities through their responsibility for commissioning pre-16 education and through their ownership of Connexions. That intelligence will enable them to commission the 16-to-19 provision their learners want and need. They have also agreed that they want to work together in sub-regional groupings. They have seen the advantage of that. They already know that they cannot possibly provide every facility in each local authority. A degree of co-operation is required already. Working in sub-regional groupings, which have been agreed to, and supported by, local authorities, ought to enable them to ensure that, when they are commissioning, they are commissioning to meet the needs not just within their local authorities but across the whole of the sub-regional grouping.
The noble Lord dismissed the transfer of LSC staff but we see it as being important; they are people with the appropriate skills. There may be circumstances in which local authorities may need additional help in the commissioning process. Again, the YPLA will have resources to provide efficient and economic services to local authorities. This will include the provision of data analysis to support planning and commissioning, which crucially means that the college and school need provide information only once to be used many times. I can see the importance of getting clarity on the commissioning process, so perhaps there is some value in writing to the noble Lord to give him further details. However, we believe that because of the way in which it has been structured, with the sub-regional groupings and the support of the YPLA, it will be a collaborative process that ensures that commissioning does what it needs to do-to meet the needs of learners.
Lord Lucas: I am not sure that I am much wiser at the end of that. I agree with the noble Lord that local
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The noble Lord talks about commissioning in relation to school places and then in relation to colleges. To the extent that a local authority commissions school places, it merely makes sure that places are available without specifying in any way what should be taught. You just commission a school, which acquires a board of governors and a headmaster and then goes off and decides what A-levels and GCSEs it will offer and whether it will have a diploma or vocational qualifications. They are decided entirely by the school. But as I understand it-I am sure that the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong-commissioning in the sense employed in Clause 40 means specifying what particular courses should be taught and available, because otherwise the word "suitable" becomes quite difficult to parse.
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