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Subsection (2)(e) of new Section 18A also makes it clear that local authorities must have regard to the desirability of the core entitlement being satisfied when securing suitable provision for young people in custody. This already includes the functional skills of English and maths. The amendment would restrict the flexibility of local authorities to respond to young people's needs. We do not, for example, want to limit young people to eight-week courses where it might be more appropriate for them to study for GCSE maths and English. I stress the words "might be", as that might not be the right path for them. Literacy and numeracy learning might also be embedded in, for example, vocational learning or the arts. Indeed, this often presents a more engaging way of learning.
It is also already the case that the Youth Justice Board requires young people entering custody to be assessed for literacy and numeracy. The YJB reports that, during 2007-08, in young offender institutions 99.4 per cent of young people were assessed, in secure children's homes 98.2 per cent were assessed, and in secure training centres 97.1 per cent of young people were assessed.
As my noble friend said in the previous debate, under the new regime we intend to set out in statutory guidance to host authorities that when they are securing the provision of education and training in juvenile custody, authorities should ensure, through the arrangements they make with providers, that a general learning assessment, including assessment of literacy and numeracy skills, is carried out. This should be used, along with educational information from the home local authority, to inform decisions as to how the provision is best tailored to their needs.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked about short courses. We agree with him that they should be available and we certainly endorse their value. However, some young people will need more tuition than others. In terms of getting them back into learning, I come back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made about the value of learning support assistants and volunteers. They are often employed in juvenile custodial establishments to help provide one-to-one support for young people with high levels of literacy and numeracy needs. I do not know how far that scheme extends but I shall try to find that out. That includes the voluntary scheme in Feltham to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly stressed the importance of speech therapy and listening as part of a tailored approach following assessment. We are working with the Communication Trust to help improve services for young people in the youth justice system with speech, language and communication needs. The work will also include awareness-raising activities and supporting practitioners in youth offending teams in the secure estate to recognise and meet the needs of young people with speech, language and communication needs. This includes work with youth offending teams which supervise young people in the community.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised the question of continuity after the sentence and the two halves. We endorse that. As regards the legal entitlement,
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The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked about truancy. We have made great efforts to ensure that school attendance is better than ever and have placed more responsibility and pressure on parents to ensure that they deliver young people to school. However, we are not complacent-I note the noble Baroness's body language-in that area by any means. We understand the importance of the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also referred to the central role of local authorities. As I have said before, we agree that local authorities are well placed to lead a multi-agency approach in supporting young people, particularly as they leave custody and return to the community.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also referred to the curriculum. The guidance will set out our expectations of what should be provided in custody in terms of the curriculum. We will consult on this guidance with relevant partners and interested groups. As I said, we will publish the guidance before Report.
We welcome the opportunity to have this debate on this very important area. We welcome the intentions behind the amendment but we believe that we can satisfy this need much better through statutory guidance for the reasons that I have outlined. I hope that with those reassurances the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord De Mauley: I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her contribution and I can confirm what she has asked, especially about the necessary intensity of the proposed modular courses. My noble friend Lord Lucas also referred to that. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for putting his name to this amendment and for his contribution to the debate. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his graphic example of the benefits of really useful education in these institutions.
My noble friend Lord Elton's word of caution on specifying the length of courses is well taken, as is his point, which was echoed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Howe, about the need to link the education while in detention to what happens when they come out. I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his support, even if he spoke with a somewhat forked tongue. I thank the Minister for his response and we keenly look forward to seeing the guidance, which, as we go on with these debates, becomes ever more important. On that basis, for today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord De Mauley: We have tabled Amendment 124B in order to address the pressing issue of the enormous number of children and young people who enter centres of youth accommodation and cannot read. In the 2004-05 prison education report from the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, Professor David Wilson is quoted as saying that,
Moreover, the same report reminds us that in 2004-05 half of all prisoners are at or below the level expected of an 11 year-old in reading, two-thirds in numeracy and four-fifths in writing. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what the figures would be for this year.
These figures are for all prisoners. Nevertheless, they are galling and illustrate a trend which is also being seen in centres of youth accommodation. This is an area where real help is needed. Sometimes it is the simple solutions which can make the most difference. We would argue therefore that instituting a basic reading assessment for all who enter youth accommodation and a similar assessment when they leave might have a far greater impact on standards of education than might at first be apparent. A simple assessment would mean that no young person was allowed to slip through the net. An ability to read is a crucial part of education, which many of these young people are lacking. An assessment at the beginning of their time in detention would ensure that they were given tuition in this important area and were not subjected to potentially embarrassing situations if they were set to study other courses.
Moreover, without the basic ability to read, many of the other courses would do no good at all, but might have the disastrous effect of damaging a spark
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It is important that a failure of the system does not end up letting down these vulnerable young people. A simple reading assessment could help show which centres of youth accommodation were up to the job and which were not. It seems clear to me that this is a basic improvement in the system that could have manifold beneficial consequences. At the heart of this issue is that these people are in desperate need of effective education. No matter how professional and high quality the education provided within youth accommodation is, it will not achieve the aims it has set out to do without making sure that those who cannot read are identified and remedial action taken. Does the Minister agree that reading is a fundamentally important part of education-a stepping stone to all that comes after? I look forward to his response and beg to move.
I always used to think that in the target and performance indicator-obsessed Prison Service there ought to be a target based on the number of people who came into prison unable to read and the number who left unable to read and that it should be used as an indictment of the prison that had failed to teach them. It never actually happened. But one good thing that has happened, which links back to the previous amendment, is that thanks to the initiative of someone called Christopher Morgan, a reading programme called Toe by Toe, designed by a remedial primary school teacher, has now been introduced into almost every prison in the country through the Shannon Trust, which he founded with the profits he made from a book describing his correspondence with a lifer.
The beauty of the programme is that although it takes six weeks to go through a large book page by page with no more than 20 minutes a day, a prisoner can teach another prisoner to read-so there is a double-whammy in it. It is hugely successful. The beauty of having a manual is that it does not matter whether the person moves from one establishment to another or back into the community, the book can go with them, and provided that there is a mentor, who can be another prisoner or a member of the public, there is no disruption to the programme. If someone is given a six-month detention and training order, three months in and three months out, and they cannot read when they come in, there is no reason why they should not be put on the six-month Toe by Toe course, with the end result that they can read thanks to a number of people being involved in the process rather than just one.
There is another time implication. I have often thought that sentencers ought to be provided with a prospectus of what it is possible for a prison or programmes
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Lord Addington: I have one basic question. The noble Baroness said that there would be an assessment coming through. How will that tie into this basic idea, and where is the meeting of minds between the Government and the Opposition on it? I know that it is an uncomfortable place when you find yourself having to agree in public but I think that we should occasionally bite our tongues and do it.
One thing that is slightly worrying about this is the obsession with reading, when you are dealing with many disabilities that mean that reading words will be that much more difficult. I suggest that we must be very careful about how we do that. Thus, I suggest that although the idea behind the amendment is fine, I do not think that the wording is quite flexible enough to embrace many of those groups. As my noble friend said, preparation for how to cope with conditions such as dyslexia is as important as the acquisition of reading and literacy skills. For instance, with modern technology, you have to acquire enough reading to use the technology to have articles read back to you-text put in something called Clarity, which I have recently discovered and wish that it was there 20 years ago, something that allows you to take text and have it read back to you.
Having enough literacy skill to be able to use it-enough to understand how to use voice-operated activity-may be appropriate to match day-to-day skills, but it may not be the sole aim here. I approve of the aim, but it may not be flexible enough to provide real-life skills or real-life coping strategies for many people with those conditions.
The Earl of Listowel: The amendment prompts me to ask whether the Minister can give some information of the state of libraries in secure accommodation. There was concern some time ago regarding children's homes and there was a big push on that. I imagine that, as the Government have been investing heavily, there should be plenty of magazines and books available. That also makes me think that it is a long time since I have visited a secure facility. The hint from the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was helpful. It is certainly helpful to get out there and see what is happening on the ground. If any of your Lordships are organising visits, I would certainly be very interested to hear about them.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I very much support the amendment for two reasons. First, it gives a clear point when we can assess whether there has been success or failure. It prompts me to think of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, because when one thinks of all the speeches that he has made, above all, he is calling for someone to be accountable-someone who can take the blame rather than pass it on. That is exactly what is being asked for here. I also like another of my noble friend's suggestions: involving a range of people to help to decide whether the time in prison has been a success. I hope that it can be joined to stages in which reading, maths, or whatever, can be seen to be working towards a point at which the individual concerned-as well as the people who have helped them-can feel proud of their achievement.
Baroness Walmsley: It strikes me that we have a meeting of minds here-that the Committee believes that it is a good idea to have an assessment when a young person goes into custody. I have to tell the Committee that that has long been Liberal Democrat policy, so I will sign you all up later. Of course, it must be of quality and delivered by people who can identify problems such as dyslexia. I know that the Minister was assuring us that that could be done.
The amendment is really about added value and raises the question of how we evaluate the success or failure of the education department in any particular custodial setting in helping a young person how to read. I am not sure what is the appropriate authority, but I presume that it must be the host authority commissioning the education in that prison. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is nodding. Perhaps the Minister could tell us a little about how the Government envisage that the quality of education delivered is to be assessed under the new regime.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for introducing another interesting area for exploration. There is no dubiety or equivocation about this. Young people should be assessed for their literacy needs on entering custody, and this should cover the range of literacy skills, not just the ability to read. I was wrestling with the meeting of minds and biting my tongue at the same time-
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I take the point. As I said in my previous contribution and indeed gave the statistics, young people entering custody receive a learning assessment in order to identify their personal needs, and there are already in place a series of requirements about these arrangements. Under the new regime we will set out in guidance that local authorities should ensure in the arrangements they make with providers that young people are assessed for their learning needs, including literacy and numeracy assessments, and that these should inform decisions as to the particular education or training to be provided.
I shall answer the specific points raised. A number of noble Lords asked how we judge success. The statistics related to it are revealed in two examples. The Youth Justice Board reports that in 2007-08, 93.7 per cent of young people under detention and training orders who spend at least three months in a secure children's home improve their literacy and/or numeracy skills by at least one level. In secure training centres, the figure is 93.6 per cent. Some 46.5 per cent of young people under detention and training orders who spend at least six months in young offender institutions improve their literacy and/or numeracy skills by at least one level. We might argue about whether that is satisfactory enough. Finally, before they leave an establishment, every young person goes through what is known as resettlement planning, so there ought to be an assessment within that. However, it may be helpful if we write with specific details about the process. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to evaluation, so we undertake to write on that point.
On the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the availability of books and magazines, we do not have any central data about libraries, but any figures we do have we will make available. Again, there is no difference in the objectives, but on this amendment we believe once again that guidance is the appropriate place. Also, as I have indicated, we will write to noble Lords about one specific area of evaluation. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord De Mauley: I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was, as always, particularly helpful to extending our understanding of what really happens in all of this. I am grateful also to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for their support. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Her comments about added value really are what this is all about.
The Minister suggested that this was an exploration. That suggests to me that he does not appreciate the seriousness with which we make this point. We feel that we will not get anywhere without an assessment at the beginning and an assessment at the end of sentencing. We feel very strongly about this and perhaps it might strengthen the Minister's arm in his internal discussions if, despite the lateness of the hour, we were to test the opinion of the Committee.
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