Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp of Guildford and Lady Howe of Idlicote, that I recognise that there are one or two things about the amendment that render it slightly imperfect, and I will take them away to consider them. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for not explaining at the outset that I did carefully think about the point that she raised on Monday, and I endeavoured to put it as a matter of principle and practice in moving the amendment rather than tying myself to the precise detail.

Coming back to the point raised by my noble friends Lord Elton and Lord Lucas, I sense that we are now getting before us very complicated legislation. I know that the Government have been in power for-what is it?-12 years now, and they have a lot to answer for. They keep amending, reamending and creating new bodies here and there, with new emphases. Do they not realise that they are creating more complications and more bureaucracy all the time? There must be a simpler solution and a more streamlined operation.

My spirits were uplifted when the Minister said that she agreed with much of what my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said. I hope that she will read the comments that he made, because I sense that they were echoed right around the Chamber. If she manages to come forward on Report with a series of amendments that present a streamlined, easy-to-understand approach that will make life less complicated, there will be general approval. Will she permit us a little cynicism and scepticism about whether that is likely to happen? As my noble friend pointed out, we are dealing with a number of ministerial responsibilities and a number of different departments, and life is getting too complicated. I am worried about the bureaucracy. Whoever is going to operate the system will need more than just guidance; they will have to simplify the system. Where better to do that than in the legislation itself, before we approve it?

So many points have been raised in what has been a valuable and short debate. I hope that the Minister will do a little bit more. I heard her say "partnership" and mention a "common assessment approach", which I warmly applaud. I hope that she recognises that we

14 Oct 2009 : Column 246

are looking for a little bit more to try to reassure everyone who has to operate in what is going to be a very complicated field. That is the purpose of my amendment. I am delighted that it has had the effect it has, which was to make the Minister think pretty deeply about exactly what she and her ministerial colleagues are creating. Against that background, I have much pleasure in withdrawing the amendment.

Amendment 154 withdrawn.

Amendment 155

Moved by Lord Low of Dalston

155: Clause 61, page 45, line 19, at end insert-

"( ) The YPLA must establish a quality control framework which includes-

(a) learners;

(b) parents;

(c) organisations representing learners."

Lord Low of Dalston: Amendment 155 would require the YPLA to establish a quality control framework which includes learners, parents and organisations representing learners. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 161, which says:

"The YPLA must ensure that learning difficulty assessments are carried out by suitably qualified persons ... within 3 months".

I declare again my interest as president of SKILL, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities. I thank the Government again for their constructive engagement with SKILL over the summer on the guidance for Sections 139A and 140-that is, the guidance under the Act of last year. I cannot emphasise enough how useful it would be if we could see the Government's response to the consultation that has taken place on the guidance before Report. However, even without that, I can say at this stage that, in the light of the engagement over the summer between Ministers and SKILL, it will be possible to withdraw the amendment this evening.

I would like assurances on three points to clear up one or two remaining loose ends. These are matters on which I spoke at some length when we debated Clause 40 earlier in Committee. First, I seek assurance that the YPLA will establish a quality control framework to underpin the assessment process, involving disabled learners, parents and organisations representing disabled learners, as called for by Amendment 155. In other words, the reassurance that I am seeking is that it will be put in place by administrative action if it cannot be written into the Bill. I also hope that a complaints procedure will be put in place.

Secondly, it would be good to know that a senior person will be required to sign off the Section 139A assessments, as a means of providing a framework of accountability-something that was found to be sadly lacking by the court in the case of Alloway v London Borough of Bromley.

Thirdly, I would like to be reassured that the guidance that will be produced on the Bill will indicate that local authorities should arrange an assessment of disabled young people's learning and support needs, including their transport needs as well as wider transition planning, wherever they believe that an assessment would be beneficial, regardless of whether the learner has been

14 Oct 2009 : Column 247

assessed or supported before. In other words, I seek an assurance that all those needing an assessment will receive one. If the Minister will help me on these points, it should be possible to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, my name is attached to this amendment, along with that of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and I heartily endorse what he has said. I will speak briefly about one category of students about whom I am particularly concerned-disabled students who do not have a learning disability assessment to start off with and who are sometimes put at a disadvantage in post-16 provision and support. We know that, quite often, those who drop out of the school system at 16 and move into the college sector are found to have learning disabilities of one sort or another. It is vital, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, that at an early stage in their post-16 career assessments should be made and proper provision and support given to them.

This was brought to my attention by my honourable friend in the other place, Annette Brooke MP. She had a constituent with learning difficulties who, after some time, signed up at a college to do a level 1 course. However, because by that time they were over 19, they got no support whatever. If they had been given a proper learning difficulty assessment at an earlier point, they would have been entitled to support through to the age of 25, but, as no such assessment had been made, no support was forthcoming. They were in some difficulty, although they could appeal to the college. That casework issue was brought to my attention by my honourable friend, as she felt that there was an anomaly. People do not necessarily have learning difficulty assessments but, when they get one later, they are then given the support that they need at that point, including financial support.

5 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, here again is a classic example of where co-operation is needed between ministries. In earlier parts of the Bill, we discussed the problem of those with learning disabilities and learning difficulties who are in custody and what should happen to them. A draft National Standards for Youth Justice Services has recently been published for consultation. It talks about the standards that should be observed in young offender institutions and others. I hope very much that in pursuing what my noble friend Lord Low has recommended, with which I thoroughly agree, the Minister will make certain that, instead of having two separate systems for the same sort of people, the Ministry of Justice will be involved in close liaison with the YPLA, which has the responsibility for this. That should happen not least because, in the future, once these assessments have been carried out, as one hopes, the YPLA will ensure that something that has been identified as needing treatment is continued in custody, just as when something is identified in custody it oversees what happens in the community on the release of that individual.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, show great insight

14 Oct 2009 : Column 248

and consideration for the consequences of the Bill's provisions and reflect the desire that I detected across the Committee to promote the best quality of education. As has been explained, the first amendment would ensure that the views of learners and parents were taken into account regarding the quality of education and possible improvements that could be made. I hope that the Minister will let us know whether there is already a channel for representations from these groups and how it works. Does he acknowledge the importance of receiving the views of those at the receiving end of the new machinery to ensure that the best possible service is provided? The Committee will be aware of the various interests that I have recorded in the register, including, like the noble Lord, Lord Low, association with a number of groups that are keen to see Amendments 155 and 161 accepted.

Quality control is a necessary part of educational provision. Recent evidence from the National Audit Office's survey Supporting People with Autism through Adulthood shows that learning difficulty assessments carried out under new Section 139A of the Education and Skills Act 2008 have been lacking in quality and that statutory obligations have not been met. Does the Minister agree that action must be taken to fix that? The NAO study showed that only 17 per cent of respondents thought that Section 140 assessments were "very useful". That is a very low percentage. Does the Minister agree that a quality framework, informed by the views of parents and learners, might enable that figure to rise? If the Minister cannot support the amendment, it would be interesting to hear his alternative strategy to ensure that learning difficulty assessments are carried out with the utmost regard for quality.

At a recent Skill seminar, it was mooted that perhaps, as has already been mentioned, Section 139A should undergo some form of national auditing in order to ensure quality, or that there should be a system of incentives and penalties to encourage quality. Perhaps the Minister will respond to those recommendations.

We also very much support the second amendment in the group. Amendment 161 specifies that a learning difficulty assessment must be carried out by a suitably qualified person. That sounds like common sense; nevertheless, despite that being a seemingly obvious approach, the National Audit Office report that I mentioned took evidence from a student support co-ordinator at a further education college, who said that,

Can the Minister explain that failing and expand on what he considers "suitably qualified" to mean?

I agree with the request that the YPLA must ensure that it has regard to the timely delivery of learning difficulty assessments. Does the Minister think that three months is an appropriate length of time? Does he have any figures available that might inform the Committee about how long the process normally takes? Finally on these two amendments, can the Minister update the Committee on the results of the consultation regarding draft guidance on Section 139A assessments? Can he, for example, inform us whether Skill's concerns

14 Oct 2009 : Column 249

regarding specific mention of the YPLA, so that the guidance will reflect the agencies introduced by the Bill, have been, or will be, dealt with? I warmly support the amendments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the agencies with whom we have dealt for all their co-operation. We have had a lot of dialogue, as was reflected in the noble Lord's opening contribution.

I entirely agree with the sentiment behind Amendment 155 that the YPLA, when developing schemes for the assessment of the performance of education and training, should be guided by the use of learners, parents and organisations representing learners. I reassure the noble Lord about the arrangements that are already in place and will continue once the YPLA is established to ensure that the views of learners and parents are given the highest priority. The YPLA will adopt and develop the framework for excellence, which will provide a quantitative performance assessment tool with standard indicators against which to assess providers. This will include an annual learner views survey, which will enable all learners to voice their opinions about the quality and effectiveness of the learning that they receive. Consultation is already under way with key stakeholders, including the National Union of Students and Skill. I am advised that we hope to be able to issue the results of the consultation before Report.

I sympathise with the noble Lord's concern about the issue raised in Amendment 161. We have been working closely with Skill to improve the statutory guidance given to local authorities about their duty to carry out learning difficulty assessments. We intend to issue the revised guidance, together with a report on the consultation, in the late autumn. This will be followed up by a further document in early 2010, providing guidance arising from the changes described in the Bill, once enacted.

The guidance to be issued this autumn will reinforce the importance of local authorities having a quality assurance system in place covering Section 139A assessment. In addition, it will emphasise, through the inclusion of good practice case studies, the importance of senior management accountability for the quality of the assessment. Learners and their parents and carers will have access to a local authority's complaints procedure, an issue that was raised in this debate.

We will also ensure that the guidance sets out clearly, based on effective practice, what should be included in a Section 139A assessment, such as transport, which concerned the noble Lord, Lord Low. It will also set out who should be given an assessment. The importance of a multi-agency approach to assessment will be highlighted and examples will demonstrate wider transition planning.

Before I conclude, I shall try to deal with some of the questions raised. The noble Lord, Lord Low, asked whether someone could get a Section 139A assessment if they had not previously been assessed. There is no need for a pre-16 year-old statement. It is right that that should be so-for example, a learning difficulty may be diagnosed only later in life.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 250

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was concerned that young people without an LDA are at a disadvantage in post-16 education. Our view is that that is not the case. We make support available through the additional learning support funds and an LDA is not necessary to qualify for the additional learning support. Our figures are that there are currently 320,000 young people with self-declared learning difficulties or disabilities in FE colleges being helped and supported. I do not think that there is ever room for complacency, but important progress has been made.

One of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was whether the new guidance will reflect the National Audit Office's report on Section 139A assessments. In view of the inconsistent quality of learning difficulty assessments, we have instituted a major review of the system supporting those with additional needs. This will be conducted by Ofsted and will include issues around transition from school, assessment and support services. We will wait until that review has reported before making any changes to the post-16 assessment process, but we see that as an important issue.

I am not sure that I can answer the question about training for Connexions advisers now, but I shall do so in writing. There is training, but I share the concern that we need to have consistency in the quality of the training and advice given, because this is an important group.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked whether the assessment would be the same for those in young offender institutions. I think that it should be, but I shall confirm that in writing. I am looking at the Box and am being told that it is the same assessment, so it looks like I do not have to confirm that.

With those statements and with the assurances given, I trust that the noble Lord will feel that he can withdraw the amendment.

Lord Elton: Before he does so, can the Minister tell us a couple of things about what is going on at the moment? I think he mentioned a national learners' survey in which every learner will be able to express an opinion. Will he tell us what that comprises, how many people contribute to it and what is done with the result? Secondly, the Minister referred to 320,000 students with self-declared learning difficulties in CFEs. What provision is made for them?

5.15 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I think I made it clear that they qualify for the additional learner support funding.

I do not have such a ready answer on the national learner survey and I will have to come back to the noble Lord on exactly how that will work. I think he wants to know exactly who is participating in it and what will happen with the results. We need to come back to him on that point.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: The Minister said that those without a learning difficulty assessment are not at a disadvantage. However, there is free tuition up to the age of 25 if you have a learning difficulty assessment. If you do not have a learning difficulty assessment, when you are 19 you have to start paying tuition fees.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 251

There are substantial financial advantages in having an assessment, and if young people do not get an assessment before they are 19 there can be considerable difficulties.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I have been told that the report on the annual learner survey will form part of the framework for excellence.

I do not want to dispute the noble Baroness's point about the disadvantage of not having an assessment. I will come back to her on the arrangements that we make to ensure the point that we all believe in: that everyone has an assessment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: That reinforces the point of Amendment 155: that it is important, when the student is in the transition phase from 16 onwards and goes on to some sort of post-16 education and training, that there is a high-quality assessment of their capabilities.

Lord Elton: We were told just before the Summer Recess that 7,000 teachers were going to be trained specifically to make these sorts of assessments. May we be told how they are getting on-if not now, then in a letter perhaps?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: We will reply to the noble Lord in writing.

Lord Low of Dalston: I thank all noble Lords for their support for the amendments in this short debate. I also thank the Minister for his very full and, I think, forthcoming and accommodating response. I asked for three assurances and I think that he has met them all. He has indicated that a quality control framework will be established; that senior persons will be involved in these assessments in order to provide a proper structure of accountability; and, perhaps most important of all, that the guidance will indicate who should receive an assessment and that assessments will not just be confined to those who have been supported at an earlier stage. They are all important points, but that may turn out to be one of the most important.

Much will turn on the guidance, and we will want to look at that. I am very glad to learn that the Government hope to make it available before Report so that we can look at it. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, particularly pressed on the need to ensure that those who have not had an assessment but who may still have a learning difficulty are not put at a disadvantage, and can have their needs met and be given the support that they require. As we continue to discuss the Bill, going forward to some amendments later this evening, we will find that is really quite a key issue. Discussions have been continuing on that issue, as well as the ones I have drawn particular attention to with these amendments.

We may have some distance further to travel before we have a complete unity of view between ourselves and the department on that issue-the question of support for the wider, more numerous group of students than those who have had a learning difficulty assessment. We have further to go in discussing that issue. However, regarding the particular issues I have raised with these

14 Oct 2009 : Column 252

amendments, I should like to thank the Minister again; his responses have been very helpful and, with that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 155 withdrawn.

Clause 61 agreed.

Clause 62 agreed.

Clause 63 : Prohibition on charging

Debate on whether Clause 63 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, might I ask a couple of quick questions on Clause 63? I am not necessarily expecting a quick answer. On subsection (1), I am interested to know how the usual sort of charges which hang around education fare under this particular wording. Those are things like charges for musical instruments, trips, the cost of a uniform or other workwear required for particular applications. How will those fare under that wording?

Similarly, I read subsection (4) as saying that if the YPLA is providing any funding to an institution, then all the education provided by that institution is subject to this clause. If I am reading that wrong, I should be grateful for some comfort. I would also be interested to know what is proposed in the regulations under subsection (5).

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I shall do my best to respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. This comes about because of the raising of the participation age and the requirement that post-16 education becomes compulsory as we go forward with that. We therefore have to apply the prohibition on charging to a higher age group; that is what this clause is about.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page