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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley): I begin as usual by reminding your Lordships that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
(2) During a child's foundation years, the English local authority area of the area in which the child lives is responsible for working with that child's parents or carers and with relevant services to promote the child's healthy, physical, social, emotional and cognitive readiness to enter school on reaching school age."
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, it is fairly apparent that the amendments which we are discussing are probing amendments. They are couched in terms around the importance of school readiness; that is to say children, when they reach compulsory school age, being socially, physically, emotionally and cognitively ready to move into the environment of a primary school. My amendments are intended to raise an important issue: what authority or public body has overall responsibility for providing and for co-ordinating help and support for disadvantaged families and their children during the children's foundation stage? That is a question to which I hope the Minister may be able to give us an answer because it is far from being clear in the legislation. It is an important question in the context of the Government's policy to increase equality and social mobility in our schools. I hope that these amendments will provide an opportunity for the Government to outline their policy on this issue for the Committee so that, if necessary, more substantive amendments can be tabled at Report.
There is overwhelming evidence that a child's parents or carers have a powerful influence on educational attainment and that the foundation years may have more influence on education even than the quality of the child's school. To improve educational attainment for all we need to improve support for parents in the early years, particularly those experiencing difficulty or bringing up their children in challenging circumstances. Support for families is the task of a generation involving all the agencies which work with children and parents. Local authorities are in the right position to lead and should have, in my view, an explicit duty to do so.
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Recent reports by Frank Field and Graham Allen entitled respectively The Foundation Years and The Next Steps present compelling evidence that investment in early intervention and the foundation years can significantly improve life chances, reduce poverty and at the same time generate potential cash savings which have been estimated at £24 billion or more a year.
The existing legislation contains awfully little about working with parents, but all good schools should do that; where a school does not, pupils' chances of success are prejudiced. Parents and Parliament have a right to know which schools are or are not doing their best to harness the contribution which parents can make to their children's progress. It is interesting to note in this context that a government report that I was reading referred specifically to the success of Chinese children. We all know that Chinese parents are very pushy. They believe in their children, and the results are consequentially very satisfactory.
My proposed new clause addresses the preparation of young people in school, not only for work but for life in the family and in the community. It is intended to ensure that, in partnership with parents, schools pursue active policies so that, as far as possible, pupils have the opportunity at all stages of their school career, in an age-appropriate way, to learn about the exciting opportunities and important responsibilities that will open up to them as they grow up. That includes, of course, at an appropriate age, the joys and responsibilities of parenthood.
The Frank Field report has proposed-I strongly agree-that those issues should be sensitively addressed all through the time of growing up in school. From research he did with pupils in his constituency, he found a strong demand among young people themselves for more help and understanding of the problems that they will encounter as they grow up. Will that recommendation, which to some extent I have encapsulated in the amendment, become part of the Government's policy or will they sweep it under the carpet?
Lord Peston: I have come specially to support the noble Lord on this. He refers to his amendment as a probing amendment, but in fact he puts his finger on what I regard as the single most important issue of education in our country at this time, particularly with his emphasis on the child's parents or carers. He referred to the Chinese as pushy, but others of us were certainly pushy when we brought up our children. We were there for them all the time and taught them to read; we read to them first, of course. I am sure that many other parents in this Room have done the same sort of thing, but in this area we really are two nations, because other children's parents are not like that at all-assuming that their parents or carers are there for them at all. Education is obviously overwhelmingly
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I hope very much to hear a positive response from the Government. The Government cannot take over the role of the parent-I do not suggest that we live in a society where that would even be remotely contemplated-but they must judge all their policies at least as being supportive in this area of activity. The noble Lord said that he was not going to divide us-of course, we do not divide on such matters in this Room-but we need something rather more substantial in the Bill that corresponds to the spirit of what he said, and that I, and I am sure all my colleagues, would support.
Baroness Warnock: I very much support the amendment for two reasons. I endorse all the things that have been said. First, I hope very much that "foundation years" can be incorporated in the Bill, because it would be useful to have a way of referring to children between nought and school age. Therefore, we might usefully take over that phrase and use it in the Bill. Secondly, and probably much more importantly, the amendment would give a chance for parents and local authorities to make contact with one another. If the local authorities have the duty imposed on them that the amendment suggests, they will know from the outset the position of each child and will be able to co-operate much later on. If the Bill is anything like what it is now, there is a danger that the influence of local authorities will be fragmented, but the amendment would be a start for a local authority to get involved right from the beginning.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we on these Benches very much support the principles of what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is trying to achieve. I am quite sure that this Government will not sweep under the carpet the most important and powerful arguments made by Graham Allen and Frank Field in their excellent reports. I very much look forward to hearing the department's response to the need for much more early intervention, which I believe will come along the track before very long. Indeed, the Government may decide that another legislative vehicle, which may be before us next year, might be more appropriate for putting forward what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is seeking to do. I absolutely agree with him about the vital importance of the early years, about parents as first teachers and as carers of the child, and the importance of supporting those parents in doing what we all know is the most difficult job in the world.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in this very important amendment. I also support his suggestion that this will be followed by more substantive amendments on Report.
Clause 1 is more about who things should be done to than what should be done. Here I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on communication and language skills, which has been campaigning for
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I would like to see guidance in the Bill on what assessment should be received by each child to ensure that they are ready and who is responsible for doing it. One problem I have found when trying to get this assessment done is who pays. The people who do the assessment come from the Department of Health, but it is the Department for Education which is putting this through. Some people at the Department for Communities and Local Government are involved, while some are from the Ministry of Justice. Who is going to do this?
The best advice is contained in the excellent report published the other day by Dame Clare Tickell. In paragraph 3.22 of chapter 3, which is entitled "Equipped for life, ready for school", she recommends strongly,
at age two to two and a half. That is excellent advice, which I hope will be taken up. Armed with that, then the work can be done to see what needs to be done to make certain that people are ready to back up the tone and the good sense of my noble friend's amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, the amendment is crucial for everything that follows in education. Frank Field and Graham Allen have set the scene; the sadness is that it has been accepted by all parties that this is the way forward. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who, under the previous Government, was at the forefront of pushing for the early assessment of children to make sure that those who had particular needs, whether special needs or needs related to background, had support. So we have agreement, but we do not have the resources that have been agreed for allocation.
The point that I tried to make in my Second Reading speech is that we must test the effectiveness of this-I do not mean a pilot; it is far too important for that. It must have the back-up of our belief that this is the way forward for such a huge proportion of our young people. The balancing, the nurture groups, and all the things that have been experimented with over the years can be brought into play in this area. We must work on that.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I make one or two comments following up what other noble Lords have said. First, on the Graham Allen report, what struck me was that it talked not just about emotional support, which of course is necessary, but about brain development. We must tackle that issue. Children's brain development happens very early, from the day they are born. If we do not get in there early with interventions, the child's brain will suffer as well as its emotional development. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the assessment, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about resources. I believe that the second part of the Graham Allen report will be launched shortly-so the Minister keeps
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I also want to make a point about stepping back. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has often talked about the need for parenthood education-not just developing children when they are born but stepping back to the generation before and teaching them how to be good parents. That is something that we may pick up on when we talk later about personal, social and health education, or whatever we are calling it. Parenthood education has to be borne in mind when we talk about early intervention for children.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I think we are united on all sides about the importance of the early years. I congratulate the noble Lord on suggesting the designation of the foundation years; that is particularly welcome.
However, I must express considerable concern about subsection (2) of Amendment 1, which puts massive responsibility on local authorities. That is a responsibility for every child born in that the local authority area, including children of parents who are more than competent and motivated to provide all that is necessary for their child, with,
The resources required for a local authority to be able to do that for every child are enormous. Surely those resources should be targeted on children where there is inability-for good or ill reasons-in the family to provide that readiness.
Perhaps it is a matter of wording, but I do not think that we should give responsibility to the local authority for every child born in its area. For every family, every time a baby is born, to have the local authority and its various agencies move to intervene in the raising of that child is neither feasible nor desirable. Let us concentrate our attention where it is needed and not impose those blanket requirements on a local authority.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. It is absolutely fitting and appropriate that the first topic that we are discussing today is support for parents. That is particularly the case given that, in the rest of the Bill, parents are notable only by their absence. Some measures take power and responsibility away from parents. The noble Lord asks which public body has the duty and authority to support parents to ensure that children, especially those from a disadvantaged background, are school-ready, as he said.
The reason that this is so important has just been referred to. Note, for instance, the work of Leon Feinstein: he has shown clearly that a child born with competent potential in terms of both cognitive abilities and development but who grows up in an impoverished environment without enrichment or the stimulation and support from their parents can, before the age of two years, actually fall behind children who are perhaps
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How we support parents is critical in this. While good nursery and early-years provision-we will go on to talk about that-can help to address that imbalance, you cannot sustain those benefits unless you also work with parents to ensure that they understand how children develop and continue in the home what good early education pre-school provision would be doing. In my experience of going round a lot of Sure Start children's centres, most parents really want both to do this and the support to enable them to do it well. Very few parents do not care about it. Even though parents may not have much understanding or ability, they can be helped to help their children.
At the moment that responsibility to work with parents lies in the mutual co-operation among the children's services in the children's trust in each local authority. That is a statutory duty to co-operate. The Sure Start children's centres in deprived areas have an explicit responsibility to develop services for parents. Many have done groundbreaking work, not only with mothers, which is the normal first port of call, but particularly with fathers as well-that is very important. Local authorities were also given resources and responsibility for developing parental support services and for co-ordinating health and everybody else.
My concern is that all that current apparatus for supporting authorities in developing services is under jeopardy because of both a number of things that have happened and a number of measures in the Bill. In the children's trust in the Bill, the duty to co-operate by schools from those arrangements is proposed to go. We are all concerned about the future for Sure Start children's centres, particularly in deprived areas. With the reduction in funding, many local authorities are cutting those services. I do not know what the situation is with local authorities in terms of the parenting support co-ordinators that they were providing resources for. Can the Minister help us today to understand where the duty to support parents will lie following the Government's measures-those that they have already taken and those that they propose in the Bill? What will be the impact on parenting support of, for example, taking away the duty to co-operate or the reduction in Sure Start children's centre funding? What commitment do the Government specifically have to support parents and how do they propose to do that? Those are the questions that all noble Lords around the Committee Room today are interested in.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am not sure that this wagon really needs much more impetus but would like to put in a couple of words. First, on the coat-tails of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham: we both of us looked at prisons-he in much greater and closer detail, I with a much wider scope and rather more briefly. I did three years as Minister for Prisons, among other things. He was Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons. We got a binocular view of children when they go wrong, who we saw in vast numbers. It became very clear to both of us that the causes of this come early in life.
I also taught for a time in a slum clearance comprehensive school where I saw dramatically illustrated the effect of lack of love on children in deprived families-not only in deprived ones, as it happens in many families. It is evident that children who do not get enough love early in life do not grow into the people that they ought to be. There can be remedies in a sort of pauline way, but it is a handicap for the rest of most people's lives. These earliest years are the most crucial.
We then come to mechanisms, which I think are dealt with later. We also come to resources. As many of your Lordships have pointed out, this is going to be expensive as well as complicated. I would like to strengthen the arm of my noble friend Lord Hill for the debates that lie ahead of him-not in Parliament but in Whitehall-and warn him that unless Ministers, and more particularly Ministers' advisers, can see absolutely, irrefutably demonstrated a cause and effect between a policy and its saving, they are not going to rally to anything which is not already popularly accepted. I found this, first, in running the intermediate treatment fund and then when funding a charity to keep children out of crime. It was at the moment they asked "How much is this going to save?" that we had to say, "It is subjectively perfectly obvious: where this is being done the crime rate has gone down; where it has not been done it has gone up"-and we had many instances of that. However, they can always say, "Ah, but there are other factors that you have not taken into account".
My noble friend Lord Hill will also meet a local difficulty on which I have great sympathy with him. I can best illustrate it from my experience at the Department of Health and Social Security, as it then was, when I was responsible for the welfare of children other than their health, which meant children in local authority secure accommodation. At that time I had seen a wonderful scheme called the Norfolk Trail, where children who were deprived of love were taken into an organisation and given the close, loving supervision of one adult between four, I think it was, throughout a period of several days and several months. The local justices' juvenile Bench decided that it would divide into two groups the children who came before them and were convicted of custodial offences: like for like, half would go on to the Norfolk Trail and half would go into custody. At the end of the first year it was evident that there was a considerable reduction in reoffending among those who went into the trail as opposed to those who went into custody.
I took this policy to the Department of Health and said that we should pursue it, and I was asked about the savings. It was pointed out that by the time the savings matured these children would have grown to an age when they were the responsibility of the Home Office and therefore there was no political incentive within the machine for implementing the policy there.
It must be got across to my noble friend and others in government that we must look at this issue entirely holistically and philanthropically, not only in the ordinary world but also in the political world, because the
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Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I warm to the spirit of both amendments-who would not? That being said, I want to distinguish between the two. The first amendment is intended to plug a gap that may well develop because of the degree of independence that many more schools will have and the significant risk, therefore, of regarding themselves as islands and apart from other schools and whatever else there is in the community. In those circumstances, it is reasonable to look for where the responsibility will lie for providing what a school reasonably cannot always do, especially before the children come to the school. There is a real issue about where the responsibility lies for this very important prolegomenon to school education.
The second amendment contains three proposed paragraphs about which I have reservations. The amendment relates to what should be inspected and I ask whether we know what we want the Ofsted inspectors to look for in schools. In schools with good middle-class backgrounds, you can do all this; you can see it happening and write your report, and it will be to the benefit of the school. However, in a number of primary schools that I have some association with, which are in very deprived areas of this city and beyond, the head teachers and teachers tell me regularly that one of the main problems is working with parents. That is an intention, a motive and something that they see the need for, but actually doing it is another matter.
For example, one head teacher told me that he had tried everything to get the parents inside the school doors. Inadvertently he succeeded by changing the school diet for a healthy diet at lunchtime; he told the children not to bring Kit-Kats, fizzy pop and so on, and the parents came down to the school in droves to protest. That was the only occasion when he got a significant turnout of parents. In that sort of context, the process of inspection would produce short statements against a series of regulated intentions that were not favourable to the school and would not be helpful to it. If we are going to inspect, we need to do so in a different way.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I support the principles behind my noble friend's amendments. I pay tribute to the Government for the carefully thought through process that they have begun and for beginning the various reviews-the Tickell review, the Frank Field review, the Graham Allen review-that are proving so helpful now. They highlight and raise the status of early intervention. We have talked for many years, thanks to my noble friend Lord Northbourne, about the importance of early intervention, yet people working
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I wanted to ask the Minister about the workforce around the child more generally. The previous Government developed a children's workforce strategy, which was led by Maggie Atkinson, now the Children's Commissioner. My concern is that for children in their early years, unless one thinks through very carefully what support they and their parents need, one may miss out important branches. For instance, the previous Government were very keen to support children in their early development; they introduced Sure Start and various other measures such as the family nurse partnerships, which this Government are carrying on. These are very welcome, but I spoke with a health visitor in north London who told me, "We haven't been able to fund our general service for health visitors because the money has been going into family nurse partnerships and Sure Start centres". So, if one does not have a strategy, the danger is that one can have some very good ideas but Peter ends up robbing Paul. One needs to have some sort of overarching strategy, particularly with regard to the workforce because that takes time to train and develop. I would appreciate a note from the Minister at some point on the Government's strategy for the children's workforce.
On the matter of parents and parental support, I am reminded of a visit to a primary school in a deprived area of Windsor, more in the Slough area, that had a large number of children from Traveller families, many of whose parents could not read. The head teacher asked the parents to make a little mark to show that their child had spent half an hour at home doing their homework; the parents did not have to read or help the child, but they ensured that the child sat down and did some work. It is absolutely right that we do all that we can to enable schools to work with parents. Probably the most important thing in my education was the fact that my father sat down and read stories to me, my brother and sister sitting together. That is crucial.
I wonder whether inspection is the best way through. I welcome the push that the Government are making to develop the teaching workforce. The head teacher at Lent Rise, whom I mentioned, was so ingenious in what she did. If we recruit the best people into teaching and give them the best possible training and continual professional development, perhaps they will come up with methods of ensuring that they work with parents-as difficult as that often is.
Lord Laming: My Lords, I will not detain the Committee for more than a moment. I will speak in support of the first part of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Over the years, we have received report after report-mention has been made of the latest reports by Clare Tickell, Graham Allen and Frank Field-about the importance of early years. Mention has been made of the development of the child's brain. While all the reports are welcome, our record of putting in place the wherewithal to implement the lessons from these reports has not always been good.
The previous Government deserve great credit for the Sure Start scheme. I hope that the Minister will say something encouraging about the continuation of schemes of that kind. The great thing about those schemes is that they are without stigma. Local authorities organised a variety of ways of helping young families. Some of those arrangements were very stigmatised because they were only for children from problem families. Sure Start broke the mould and encouraged all parents to develop their parental skills, learn the benefits of education through play and recognise the importance of child development. I hope that in the spirit of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the Minister will say something encouraging about where the Government hope to go in making a practical response to the importance of a child's early years.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, it is fitting that the first amendment to the Bill relates to the first years of a child's life-and it is doubly fitting that it should be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who has done so much to champion the importance of early years and the role of parents and families. I think that he will be very pleased with the support that he has had for his basic contention from all sides of the Committee. I will do my best to assure him that the Government share his view that the years from birth to starting school are key to a child's life chances.
The term "foundation years" that he uses in his amendment is used by both Graham Allen and Frank Field, and we all recognise the importance of getting children ready for school and ready to learn. So far as concerns the amendment, we do not think it necessary to designate the period afresh in primary legislation because the phrase "early years foundation stage", established by the Childcare Act 2006, has gained considerable currency in recognition among parents, teachers and other professionals, and we think that we should stick with that.
What would be helpful to parents and to professionals is, I am afraid, another document-this one setting out the entitlement that children and their parents should expect at this crucial stage of development. I say to all noble Lords who raised the point that we will publish such a document in a foundation years statement in the summer. It will build on the Tickell, Allen and Field reviews that a number of noble Lords mentioned. It will set out a clearer strategy, including for workforce development, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, requested. I hope that it will provide and bring together a framework and sense of direction that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will welcome. On the question about the second report from Graham Allen, the timing of that is a matter for Mr Allen.
I turn to the second part of the first amendment. As was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, Section 1 of the Childcare Act 2006 already sets out the general duties on local authorities in respect of children in the early years. Local authorities have to "improve the well-being" of all young children in their area and reduce the inequalities between them in relation to,
The statutory early-years foundation stage framework sets out the standards of learning, development and care that childcare providers have to make available to all young children in their setting. That framework covers the areas that the noble Lord has identified in his amendment. The Tickell review of the framework has also made some helpful recommendations about how we can improve on its delivery, focusing on the key learning to get children ready for school. The Government have welcomed those recommendations and will publish our full response to them and consult on changes to that soon.
It is right for individual providers to support children and their parents through the early-years foundation stage framework rather than local authorities themselves being required to work with individual children and their parents. The existing duties on local authorities, supported by statutory guidance and including duties to support and develop the early-years workforce, are about right. However, it is not just early-years education that affects children's outcomes. We know that the role of parents and what they do with their children at home in the earliest years is one of the biggest influences on a child's development; a number of noble Lords have made that point. That is partly why the early-years foundation stage specifies that early-years practitioners must engage with parents and report to them on the child's progress and achievements. We know from evidence that early-years practitioners find that emphasis in the early-years foundation stage useful for building partnerships with parents and other carers.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has also tabled an amendment to Clause 40 to raise the important issue of inspection. We will obviously come back to Clause 40 later to debate-I confidently predict-the point around preparation for parenthood and adult life as part of the discussion that we will have on PSHE, so I will keep my remarks on that amendment relatively brief. Noble Lords will know that we are trying in the Bill to sharpen the focus of inspection, to give inspectors the opportunity to look more at some of the core issues-particularly those around the quality of teaching and learning-and to make sure that parents get more meaningful reports. Clause 40 sets out high-level reporting areas and requirements, but beneath that will sit the new inspection framework that Ofsted is developing. Much of the detail will be set out in that document and the guidance to inspectors.
I shall pick up a couple of specific points relating to the noble Lord's concerns about parental engagement with inspection. Parents will continue to be involved in the inspection process. I assure him that how well the school engages with parents and carers will be an important consideration within the new inspection framework. That will inform the key judgment on the quality of leadership and will take account of engagement with parents on all aspects, including academic and social development. Ofsted is exploring options for gathering views of parents on a continuing basis.
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I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the importance of supporting parents' roles in the educational development of their children. We will be pulling together our responses to these important reviews later in the summer in work led by my honourable friend Sarah Teather. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned, there is the possibility of further action in future legislation. Through funding for the early intervention grant, increased support for health visitors and doubling the size of the family nurse partnership, we are showing some important financial support in this area.
I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord of the importance that the Government attach to this area. Given the existing statutory framework and the definitions we already have in place, I hope that he feels able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, may I remind the Minister that it takes two to tango? Some parents will co-operate-indeed, they may have to be deterred from co-operating-but there are others who, sadly, show no inclination to do so. I hope that in his remarks in subsequent sittings, he will address the question of what, if anything, legislation can do in that area. The co-operation of parents is absent in many cases, difficult to achieve but fundamentally important.
Lord Elton: I urge my noble friend to bear it in mind, and particularly to have it borne in the minds of those drafting the document he promises for telling parents what they can expect in the way of help, that the parents of children we are most urgently wanting to help will have a reading age not much above that of the children. The document must be drafted with an expert eye on the comprehension of the reader.
The Earl of Listowel: Before my noble friend replies, I thank him for the news of the statement this summer and I join the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in asking whether the draftsmen might keep a couple of points in mind. One is the importance of midwives, whom I omitted to mention. In my experience, if a midwife can make a relationship with a mother, particularly a vulnerable mother, there can be many beneficial results in terms of breastfeeding, for example. I am afraid that midwives often feel almost as if they are working in a factory; there is a very mixed experience across this country of what it is to be a midwife.
There is also concern about family support workers because of the cuts in funding to local authorities. I understand that local authorities are living up to their requirements with regard to child protection; they are focusing on the area that is most critical, but there is concern that funding for family support workers is being cut back. It would be good to have information on how that role is being impacted by the recession. Family support workers provide a crucial service for the most vulnerable families, as I am sure your Lordships will agree. I am sure that this will be a part of the statement in any case.
Lord Northbourne: I will not take more than a moment. The Minister said that the Childcare Act 2006 had all the answers, but it does not mention school readiness anywhere. That is what my amendments are about. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, raised the question of inspections. I agree that inspections can be traumatic, but if you do not have them, how do you know which schools are and which are not, which local authorities are and which are not, which healthcare services are and which are not? That is a question which needs to be answered.
Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for her intervention on the burden that the Bill would place on local authorities. I have to admit that I was tempted to put down a rather wicked amendment that would have suggested that the whole of the foundation years should become the responsibility of the Department for Education-which will benefit whether it is done well or not. On that note, I will of course read what the Minister has said and see whether I want to come back to it.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, after the debate that we have just had and the unanimous support across all sides of the House from your Lordships for good quality early education, I am sure that the
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These amendments seek to do three things. First, since the entitlement for three and four year-olds was first established, we have now reached a benchmark, as noble Lords know, of funding for 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year. We believe, in the interests of both parents and certainty, that that level of provision can now be consolidated in primary legislation for the avoidance of any doubt that it could disappear. We also believe that any future changes to the level of provision or to the children who can access it should only be in the direction of improving the provision-unless a future Government want to come back to the House and change primary legislation. Amendments 4 and 5 simply seek to do that.
Amendment 5 would enshrine in the Bill the current level of universal provision-the entitlement of three and four year-olds to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year-so that parents who access it and all the professionals working in that sector know that the Government are absolutely committed to it. This issue was of course raised in the other House. Ministers there gave assurances that they do not intend to reduce that commitment. I accept their word absolutely but they cannot speak for any future Ministers or Governments. In enshrining in primary legislation now this level of provision as the benchmark, we make that commitment clear for parents. If any future Government wanted to reduce that level of provision for three and four year-olds, they would have to come back to the full scrutiny of changing primary legislation. I hope that the Minister will accept that and that other noble Lords can see the logic of what we are trying to do.
Amendment 4 will ensure that any changes in scope to the regulation-making power that the Government have put into the Bill-which will enable provision for two year-olds to be built on-will be progressive. In other words, they will be built on as resources allow. If any changes are proposed that would reduce them, again the Government would have to come back and do so by means of primary legislation.
Those two amendments are important for parents in terms of certainty. They put in statute the direction that the Government have said that they want to proceed in-which I very much welcome. They also start to build an appreciation of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and other noble Lords used in the previous debate that the foundation years are equally important. Parents can now expect at least that free entitlement for three and four year-olds, together with anything further for two year-olds, as part of the process of free education. It is not compulsory before the age of five but it is an opportunity-a free entitlement for youngsters below that age.
Amendments 2 and 7 seek to maximise the impact that this excellent entitlement will have on such youngsters. Amendment 2 seeks to impose a duty on local authorities to maximise the take-up of the free entitlement among groups of disadvantaged children. Noble Lords will
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In order to improve the impact, particularly on disadvantaged groups-this will have to be done for two year-olds anyway; at the moment, it is a targeted provision-local authorities should be under a duty to maximise the take-up among disadvantaged children whether they are three, four or two years old. In so doing they should make sure that they reach the children who most need it and will benefit most from it but who, at the moment, are least likely to access the entitlement.
Amendment 7 relates to the second big issue that maximises the impact of good early-years education-the quality of provision and the flexibility with which parents can use it. If they are being helped into employment, they should be able to use it in ways that fit in with that employment. However, quality is the main issue. I am concerned that the Government have recently relaxed some of the standards on quality-for instance, the qualifications required by people working in Sure Start children's centres and the dropping of the qualified teacher status, early-years professional status, and so on.
Amendment 10 seeks to reinstate both the qualification requirements and the ring-fencing of funding for Sure Start children's centres. This is particularly important and will send a strong signal to local authorities and their partners-in health and elsewhere-that the Sure Start children's centres will be the bulkhead of the progress that we need to make in early years. It is where some of the best practice has been generated, for example, on multi-agency working, targeting the most disadvantaged children, engaging parents and making a real difference. At the moment the relaxation of the qualification requirement is confusing for providers and the lack of ring-fencing on funding has meant that everything is lumped together in the early intervention grant.
As I have said, we are seeing a great threat to the level of Sure Start provision. This provision is particularly important for the pilots and the development of the offer for disadvantaged two year-olds. Such children require a considerable outreach effort and an engagement with parents-this was funded by the previous Government-because it is not only a provision for getting children into good early-years education but for persuading parents to go along with that. It allows work with parents to continue to enable them to learn good practice in parenting-for example, the importance of reading and singing and all the other things that we have said and understand are important for young children.
Does the funding the Government have set out for the build-up of the entitlement for disadvantaged two year-olds include the cost of the work that was being
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Lord Laming: My Lords, there is only one thing that I want to ask the Minister about this. Everything in the Bill is to be welcomed and I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, has been saying to the Committee. I just wonder what mechanisms the Government are going to employ to ensure that the benefits are going to be felt by those children who come from homes where the parents are least motivated to take advantage of what is in the Bill. In other words, I do not think that we need to worry too much about the highly motivated parents but we need to worry a great deal about the children of the families where the parents have not seen the value of taking advantage of what is in the Bill.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 10 in this group, on Sure Start children's centres. I share the view of all your Lordships, I am sure, about the importance of quality of staff, especially when working with vulnerable children in these important early formative years. I look forward to hearing reassurances from the Minister on that point.
I have a wider point about the qualifications of those working with children in the early years, especially if we are encouraging parents to give their two year-old children to these settings. These are very young children at a formative stage of their development. Visiting a children's centre recently, I was introduced to two young women who had just started. They may well make great Sure Start workers but one of things that the manager had to do, and said that she would be doing, was teach them to speak English. Their accents were so strong-they had not had the best of educations; I think that that is what I am trying to communicate. Because of the low status of the work, women who are attracted to it-and it normally is women-quite often may have had bad life experiences themselves. They need to be carefully chosen and very well supported in these settings
I am led to think about recent reports about care of the elderly, residential care and the care of adults with learning difficulties in residential care. I may be wrong, but we seem to have a problem in this country with giving priority to the workforce working with vulnerable adults or children. I do not know how we manage to do it, but somehow we seem to miss the point that this is the most important job in this society, and we need to attract the best people and reward them correctly. In those cases that related to residential care for the elderly and adult learning, we saw some of the difficulties of relying on inspections, which we rely on heavily to ensure quality. Inspection has an important role, but I
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I was speaking on Friday to the manager of a residential care setting for young people. She said that in her experience there was such pressure to cut costs that she was always having to pay people less and reduce the amount of training that she could give them. I understand that the market of early-years provision and nurseries is predominantly a private one. While there are many wonderful private foster care providers, for instance-run perhaps by people who are disillusioned from working in social services by the way that their discretion was fettered and have set up their own company to give a better service for vulnerable young people-it is also the case that some of these companies come to be run by people who have a very close focus on what profit can be made and do not give enough regard to the practitioners and their advice on what direction should be taken.
I am going some way from the amendments, for which I apologise, but this whole issue of quality and the qualifications of the workforce is, to my mind, vital, as is stability. If one has a workforce whose members are not well paid and are not properly trained, it is hardly surprising that there is a high turnover of staff. The key principle that we all recognise young children need, especially very young children, is stability and stable relationships with carers.
My noble friend Lady Massey talked about the impact on children's emotional development and brain development of not having a stable relationship in their early years. Evidence from research shows that where staff are poorly paid and poorly funded, and there is a high turnover of these young women, the children do not get the opportunity to build a relationship with their carers. In each nursery there is supposed to be a key person for each child. That key person is supposed to carry forward a relationship with that child when the parent is absent and keep that child in mind, perhaps change the child's nappies and give the child food; that is, pay particular attention to that child. However, given that workers work shifts it is difficult to make that emotional investment in young children; if they do, staff feel distraught when the children leave.
A foster carer who works with young babies recently told me that she cares for young babies who are addicted to heroin, sees them through the first year or so and then has to pass them on to somebody else. It breaks her heart each time she does it. We are asking workers in these settings to act as parents for several hours a day for a long period and they become attached to these children. Unless one supports them in that, they will avoid that attachment. They will sit down with their friends and talk about what they did on a Saturday night, but they will not be thinking about these children.
This is such an important issue that we should insist on entry thresholds that are as high as possible and support the staff working in early years, especially as we are now encouraging parents to put their two year-olds into such care. We should set good clear minimum qualification standards, particularly in Sure Start centres.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I want to pick up the point about staff qualifications. Many of your Lordships will be aware of the EPI report, which was a very rigorous piece of research on the quality of early-years education and its effect on young children. It clearly found that high-quality early-years provision can have enormous personal and financial benefits all the way through the lives of the young people concerned but that very poor-quality early-years provision does not produce any benefit at all and may even have the opposite effect. I am very keen on evidence-based policy-making. That is why we on these Benches have always promoted high-quality early-years provision. Even if the Minister is not prepared to accept any of the amendments that we are discussing, I hope that he will be kind enough to say something about what the Government propose to do to increase the quality of this provision, particularly as regards the qualifications of staff working in early years.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendments, I note-whether with glee or cynicism, I am not sure-her desire to include this provision in the Bill. I have been in this House for 25 years and if I had a tenner for every time this matter had come up I would be a very rich man indeed. I am sure that the Minister has the word "Resist" on a piece of paper in front of him, and that that was done independently of party considerations because we know that all Governments are perfect and never get anything wrong when drafting legislation. However, I still naively believe that one can improve legislation in your Lordships' House so I totally support my noble friend's desire to include this provision in the Bill.
Leaving my cynicism mode and getting on to more substantive matters, I note that the word "disadvantaged" appears here. We are not going to remove disadvantage from our society via an education Bill, but I firmly believe-that is why I became an adviser and a politician-that one can improve the society in which one lives via one's contribution to your Lordships' House. That does not mean that all the disadvantaged will suddenly cease to be disadvantaged, but if we go down this path some of them will cease to be so, and that will be highly productive, both socially and economically, because to the extent that we can improve some young people's lives, they will become the parents of the future and will in turn improve their children's lives. One should not assume that this matter is just about using up resources; we should take a longer view and realise that we will be creating resources by going down this path.
It is broadly my view that if we can achieve anything, it will be a step forward. Although we can nitpick-I am an expert at that if I am in the mood-that is not what we are here for. We are here to make a contribution so that the Bill can be made better and, more importantly, so that the world in which we live can be made a little better.
Lord True: My Lords, I intervene not to spoil the party but to declare an interest as leader of a local authority, so I have an interest in the way in which the amendments are framed. As I declared at Second Reading, my wife is principal of a Montessori nursery
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I apologise to the Committee: I want to take a great interest in the Bill but am involved also in the Localism Bill. If I disappear suddenly after debating the amendments that I am involved with, it will be not because I am uninterested in the clauses that we are discussing but simply because I have tabled amendments to another Bill.
I agree with a lot that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said about the amendments. We cannot save the world but one should start every day as optimistic as one can be, provided that one does not set oneself unrealistic goals. I am not sure that I would accept the wording that local authorities have an absolute duty, which seems to carry with it a range of potentially legalistic issues. However, of course a local authority will recognise, as we all do, the importance of the early years-that must be common ground here-and will wish to maximise as far as possible the take-up of groups that are defined as disadvantaged. I am sure that most local authorities will voluntarily accept that. The noble Earl referred to Traveller people, who are one example.
I cannot support some amendments so warmly. My problem with Amendments 4 and 5-we will discuss this matter when we come to a later group-is that they are potentially too rigid. Good law should be realistic. As regards so-called pre-entitlement, neither this nor the previous Government willed the resources to make it a reality, and certain consequences have followed which we will discuss later. I see in the financial memorandum to the Bill that the Government are setting aside £308 million to extend provision to the two year-old age group, which all noble Lords in the Committee will welcome. However, the reality is that the country is plunging into debt at a rate of £16 million per hour and we should not set out in legislation things that we are incapable of delivering. That would come outside the definition of optimism that I put earlier.
I agree with what the noble Baroness has set down in Amendment 7. Local authorities will wish to secure high standards and-I have underlined this-flexible organisation. Some other amendments that the noble Baroness tabled seem to be rather inflexible in their constraints: no Government shall ever again change anything that is set down in law. Surely the reality of good early-years provision and good educational provision generally should be flexibility, diversity and a range of provision. So I found a slight conflict in those amendments, but I could welcome the noble Baroness's amendment if she looked equally kindly on my Amendment 8 in the next group.
The aspiration is welcome but realities on the ground, the speed at which we can go and, frankly, the issues that could potentially be raised by the rigidity of some of the amendments mean that I could not support them in the main.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on his astonishing mindreading powers. We have been here only an hour and already he knows my innermost thoughts and what my briefing is likely to tell me.
It is clear that all sides of the House recognise the crucial importance of investing in the early years. We all know what difference high-quality early education can make in the long term to social mobility and the life chances of all children. That is why I was struck at Second Reading by the widespread welcome that there was for Clause 1, a clause that builds on the legacy that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, established through the Childcare Act 2006. Because of her experience in this area I listened to what she had to say with a great deal of care. I was also pleased to see that the JCHR welcomed the extension of free early-years provision as a human-rights-enhancing provision.
I think that noble Lords accept the Government's commitment to improving opportunity for all our children but particularly for the most disadvantaged. I argue that we have shown that in a number of ways-in difficult economic circumstances, as my noble friend Lord True has reminded us. My right honourable friend the Chancellor managed to protect funding for the three and four year-old entitlement and provide additional funding for disadvantaged two year-olds. That additional funding amounts to £64 million in 2011-12, £223 million in 2012-13, £331 million in 2013-14 and £380 million in 2014-15.
In response to the specific question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, we have put some additional funding in for 2011-12 through an early intervention grant to 15 local authorities to help prepare for the new entitlement for two year-olds and for helping us to test various approaches to the expansion of places in readiness, with the entitlement to be rolled out in 2013.
We have also seen the introduction of the pupil premium, building up to £2.5 billion by 2014-15. I should also say that the Department for Education-with the Department of Health, as I have mentioned-will be publishing a policy statement in the summer that will set out our joint vision. Part of that will look at the important issue of outreach and family support through Sure Start children's centres.
Amendment 2 would place a duty on local authorities to maximise the take-up of the free entitlement to early-years education by groups defined in regulations as disadvantaged. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, alluded to, there is already a high level of take-up of the current free early-years provision. The most recent statistics, released last week, show that last January 95 per cent of all three and four year-olds were benefiting from some free early-years education-I think that it is 97 per cent for four year-olds and 93 per cent for three year-olds. That is nearly 1.25 million children, a high figure. However, I agree that we must not forget the small minority of children who are still not receiving that entitlement, particularly since, almost by definition, they are the ones likely to be the most disadvantaged.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: Does the Minister agree with my point that underneath that figure of 93 per cent for three year-olds there is considerable variance, and that the lowest take-up is in the areas of the greatest disadvantage?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I suspect that that is true. I do not know the precise figures, but that sounds as though it could be true, which is why it is extremely important that we do all we can to make every effort to reach out to those families and to encourage them to take advantage of that entitlement. I will come to that.
We know that children who achieve a good level of development at age five go on to do much better at school. I do not need to rehearse the argument why that is important. There is wide acceptance that extending that entitlement to disadvantaged two year-olds and engaging their parents earlier is a key part of our strategy for taking up entitlement at the age of three and four. If we can do better at the age of two, that will help, in part, to address the noble Baroness's point about take-up at three.
With that same goal in mind, we are committed to retaining a network of Sure Start children's centres, but with a greater focus on identifying and supporting the most disadvantaged. I completely accept that children's centre outreach workers play a critical part in reaching the most vulnerable families and are well placed to make them aware of all the support available. As was mentioned in our earlier debate, we have invested funds to create another 4,200 health visitors. I hope that that will also help to spread the message.
We are taking a range of measures to help disadvantaged young children, with the goal of increasing the take-up of free early education and their readiness when they start at school. On the additional duty that the amendment proposes, I believe that the existing legislative framework provides for what the noble Baroness seeks. Section 3 of the Childcare Act 2006 already requires local authorities to take steps to,
Amendment 4 is intended to ensure that the existing offer of free early education for three and four year-olds and the new offer for disadvantaged two year-olds continue at least at their current level. The amendment would make the current entitlement the baseline, which is an aim that I understand. We decided to implement the extension of the number of hours per week from 12.5 to 15 hours from September 2010. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, was kind enough to recognise, we have made clear our commitment to continue to fund the enhanced three and four year-old offer and to build to the new two year-old offer during the rest of the spending review period until 2015. I hope that noble Lords will accept that the Government have given absolutely explicit assurances about those priorities.
I appreciate what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve by her amendment, but it could restrict our aspirations, or those of a future Government, to improve
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I now come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I believe that we should try to avoid that degree of prescription in the Bill. The Childcare Act 2006 provided for the entitlement for three and four year-olds-both the amounts and their ages-to be set out in regulations. That has worked very well. The original regulations, which I think were signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, came into force in 2008. I argue that now, as then, we should continue to set out the principles in primary legislation and details in regulations.
Amendment 5 would require that regulations made under new Section 7 set out that all children are eligible for free provision from the start of the term following their third birthday. That position is set out in the current regulations.
I will make it as clear as I can that the Government have no intention of removing free provision for every three and four year-old. That commitment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, said, was made during the passage of the Bill in another place, and I am happy to confirm it today. I am also glad on behalf of the Government to have the chance to build on the current free offer of entitlement by extending it to the most disadvantaged two year-olds. Current legislation would not allow us to target that provision; that is why we need Clause 1.
Amendment 7 deals with the important issue of the quality and flexibility of the early-education settings that offer the free entitlement. I hope that I will be able to assure noble Lords that we take seriously the issue of quality in the early years. Clause 1 provides that, in discharging their duties, local authorities must have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State. That mirrors existing legislation under which local authorities must have regard to the code of practice on delivery of free early-years provision. The current code was published in September 2010 and includes sections on flexibility and quality.
We plan to consult in the autumn on revisions to the code of practice on free entitlement, including on provision for disadvantaged two year-olds. The consultation will make proposals and invite views on the issues both of flexibility and quality. We want to hear the sector's views on what we can do to ensure that children can access the free entitlement in a high-quality setting and in increasingly flexible ways that will work for parents and providers. Therefore, it is right that matters such as this are included in the code of practice, where they can be set out more fully and can allow for departure from guidance where local or individual circumstances mean that there is good reason for this, rather than in legislation. That approach has served us well to date.
Local authorities are funded through the early intervention grant to provide, among other things, advice and support to early-years providers to help them to improve their quality. The Department for
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In response to the question of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, I say that we are committed to a high-quality early-years workforce. The Children's Workforce Development Council will continue to deliver the early-years professional status and the new leaders in early-years programmes. We are also considering recommendations made in Dame Clare Tickell's review and have set up the group chaired jointly by Bernadette Duffy, who is head of Thomas Coram Children's Centre, and Jane Haywood, chief executive of the CWDC. The group will take forward recommendations, including those about improving quality in the workforce.
Amendment 10 concerns children's centres: their sufficiency to meet local needs and the qualifications of staff working in them. There is broad agreement on the importance of Sure Start children's centres as a way of providing parents of young children with access to services that include family support and healthcare, early-years education, childcare and advice on training and employment. These are the main way in which local authorities bring together these services to improve results for young children and their families. We know that overall there have been improvements in early-years foundation stage outcomes and that children's centres form an important part of that landscape.
Section 5A(1) of the Childcare Act 2006 requires local authorities to ensure sufficient children's centres to meet local need so far as is reasonably practicable. This relates to the points made by my noble friend Lord True. Local authorities must be able to determine local priorities in the context of their many responsibilities and available resources. As the previous Government recognised when they proposed this provision in 2009, "so far as is reasonably practicable" should be included in the wording because local authorities need to be given flexibility. In any financial climate there are always constraints on the resources of those responsible for commissioning services and there are always competing priorities. It was got right back in 2009 and that is where one should rest.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, raised Sure Start funding. As she knows, that is not ring-fenced because we want local authorities to have flexibility. There is enough money in the early intervention grant to retain a network of Sure Start children's centres. We have been clear that the money should go directly to front-line services and that spending decisions should involve local professionals and communities.
The sufficiency duty is placed on local authorities in the context of the other important duties that they also have-for example, duties to improve the well-being of young children in their area, reduce inequalities between young children in relation to their well-being, make arrangements for early childhood services to be integrated and take steps to encourage parents to take
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On minimum qualifications of staff working in children's centres, there are of course some roles in children's centres where there are either already qualification requirements in place or we are taking action to build on training available to practitioners. My department has asked the National College for School Leadership to take a number of steps to build on its current support for the training and development of children's centre leaders, to enable the best leaders to lead the system and support professionals outside their own centres. In addition, the national college will train up to 400 children's centre leaders in the National Professional Qualification in Integrated Centre Leadership this year. The national college is reviewing that qualification to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of children's centres. Further detail on that and how the national college is developing it will appear in the foundation years Statement that I referred to earlier and that we will publish later this summer.
As we know, health services are delivered through some children's centres and those can of course only be provided by suitably qualified and experienced professionals because of other statutory requirements that are already in place. Where maintained nursery schools form the basis of a children's centre, they are also bound by statutory requirements on employing qualified teachers.
The way in which children's centres and services provided through them are organised varies between local areas because of varying local needs and different provision of various services. Significant practical difficulties would arise in trying to specify minimum qualification levels for all the different roles and functions that are performed across such a wide variety of settings. They would need to be extremely lengthy, detailed and burdensome if they were to cover all the different kinds of work undertaken in children's centres. In our view, local authorities should be able to determine local priorities in the context of their many responsibilities and available resources.
In responding at some length to the points raised, I hope that I have been able to reassure noble Lords that the Government are committed to the early years, continuing the maintenance of the universal offer to three and four year-olds. Through that offer and our continued commitment to Sure Start children's centres, we will make progress. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
The Earl of Listowel: Before the noble Baroness replies, can I pick up two or three points in what the Minister said? To begin, I again warmly welcome the Government's commitment to recruit more health visitors. That just seems so vital and may well answer some of the noble Baroness's concerns.
I mentioned recently a visit to Walthamstow where a health visitor saw a mother with a young infant. She tried to persuade the mother to go to the local children's centre but only had one bite at the cherry to do so. She had a statutory responsibility to see families something like five times before the age of five. She only had a
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I may be wrong about my concern with regard to private providers; I reiterate that there are many outstanding private providers in many areas. However, when we discussed the Childcare Act, some of the evidence appeared to indicate a higher staff turnover among some of the private providers. Can the Minister provide information about staff turnover in early-years nursery provision as that seems to me the crucial piece of data? If we can see how private providers compare with local authority providers and voluntary providers, we can get a sense of their performance. Although that information obviously needs to be put in context, I think we all agree that the most important thing for any infant is a stable relationship with their carer. A high turnover of staff in a setting certainly gives cause for concern. I have had the privilege of speaking with a manager of a Montessori centre on a number of occasions and have great admiration for that approach. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support for the other comments that I have made today.
I understand the Government's concern not to be overly prescriptive and to avoid rigidity as far as possible as regards setting minimum standards. However, the noble Lord spoke about the health service setting certain minimum standards for its practitioners. If we all agree that the early years are the most vital point in a child's life and that this measure is a very important way of breaking the cycle of disadvantage, perhaps we need to think a bit more about whether, given the current enormous financial pressures on local authorities, we might do more to assist them to make the best decisions for children in these circumstances. I am sure that we will discuss this further.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: I thank the Minister for a very detailed response to these amendments. I also thank other noble Lords for their contributions, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on disengaged parents, the importance of qualifications, how that relates very clearly to quality, and how quality is the key factor that makes the biggest difference to children's experience of a setting. That is all very positive and I am grateful to them for their comments.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord True, felt that there was a conflict between the various amendments in the group; perhaps I did not explain them well enough. I did not perceive that conflict, but perhaps when we return to the amendments on Report-I think that we will do so-I can iron that out for him.
I want to comment specifically only on the Minister's response on Amendment 5, which would enshrine in legislation current provision for three and four year-olds. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston for his comments in that regard. Including this provision
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Baroness Hughes of Stretford: No. I made it very clear that I do not doubt the commitments that have been expressed both here and in the other place. I said in my opening remarks that while these Ministers and this Government can speak for themselves, clearly they cannot speak for any future Government. Therefore, to capture this entitlement for parents and children in legislation would protect it and send a signal to both parents and the private and public sector providers that it will take any future Government something other than the diktat of the Secretary of State through the negative procedure of secondary legislation to remove it, which would be allowed under the Bill as currently drafted.
The Minister said that he felt the current wording of our amendment might be too restrictive and would not allow the Government the enormous flexibility they would need if parents were unable to accept the offer of 15 hours over 38 weeks. However, it should not be beyond our wit to find a formulation which would allow us to put the offer in the Bill and make it subject to any subsequent provisions for increasing flexibility. I should like to talk to the Minister between now and Report to see if we can find a way of achieving the spirit of the amendment in a way that does not restrain any future thoughts on flexibility.
The Earl of Listowel: I omitted to ask the Minister whether he could remind the Committee of the present situation on the requirement for a graduate lead provision in early-years settings. I think the Government have introduced some exceptions; can he remind me of the situation or perhaps drop me a line?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I think the absolute requirement that there should be such a provision was removed at the end of last year. However, we expect that there would be at least one early-years professional or a qualified teacher to provide leadership in centres. There would be more local judgment on which people would be appropriate in the setting. However, we will speak further with the noble Earl.
Lord True: My Lords, I do not share remotely the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who I see leaving. I do not wish to stay him; I merely wish to say that having seen a great deal of legislation coming and going, both in government and Parliament, I expect that "resist" will be on the file for these amendments, too. However, I shall speak to them none the less.
I spoke at Second Reading about the problems faced by many private and voluntary nursery settings as a result of the operation of the free entitlement and the injustice and, to some degree, dishonesty that results from it. I shall not repeat those arguments in Committee.
The reality is that we rely, and will continue to rely, on private and voluntary settings to provide much of the nursery education that people freely choose and that successive Governments have held to be desirable. I wish to see no change in that situation and I hope that that is also the position of the Government. I take as my text a letter written by the Secretary of State, Mr Gove, to a nursery provider when he was an opposition spokesman. He wrote as follows:
He called in the letter for the code of practice to be suspended to allow nurseries to charge supplementary fees to parents as a temporary solution. I agree with what the Secretary of State, as he is now, said then about the importance of the private and voluntary sector, but there is still no level playing field. There is still financial pressure on smaller providers and it is disappointing that there is not more recognition of the value and viability of those small, diverse, and, I submit, outstanding settings.
It is a very confusing world out there. We speak of free entitlement, but a lot of ducking and weaving is going on. I looked at the websites of two neighbouring county councils. The first offers £53.55 a week-that is, £2,020 for the 38-week period referred to in the free entitlement. My maths says that that is a total of £60,000 a year for a 30-child setting, which might be typical. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about low pay in the sector, and there is low pay in both the maintained and the private sectors. How, with the cost of premises, finance, training, equipment and all the other things that schools provide, can that sum be
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"You cannot charge a parent a fee for their child's free part time entitlement. The National Code of Practice states: 'Parents cannot be charged for any part of the free entitlement either directly or indirectly'. Please take this into account when working out invoices/bills and so on, as you must not charge any top up fees".
"The entitlement is free. However early years providers can set the session times when you can claim the entitlement. This means that they can charge you for any time taken outside of the free sessions and for any additional services".
It may surprise the Committee to hear that I do not criticise that local authority, because it recognises that the price controls-they are effectively price controls if you say that you cannot charge for so many hours-set under government direction are not sufficient to cover the cost of settings. The authority is trying to protect the diversity and choice that the Secretary of State, when in opposition, praised. However, it illustrates graphically that the controls operating, if enforced, would rapidly shut even more private and voluntary settings in great swathes of the country. That is what I meant when I spoke at Second Reading of the climate of dishonesty.
The fiction of the 38 free hours with no top-up fees, when the reality is that something else is happening, weighs most heavily on small, specialist, sessional settings, the kind that offer most diversity and choice, particularly to working mothers-ironically, often part-time teachers and carers-who want to leave their children during a morning or afternoon. In those cases, under the theory of the code of practice, those settings must charge nothing for three hours of the morning and then pile all their costs-perhaps £1,500 a term, probably more-on a notional extra 15 minutes or half an hour for which they cannot legally enforce payment. I question whether that can be sustained without legal challenge. It bears most heavily on smaller, vulnerable settings, which all Governments say that they want to preserve.
In a recent survey, 48 per cent of settings admitted that they were not complying with the funding requirements in the code of practice, either because they were charging registration fees or because they were not providing uniforms, lunch clubs or extra hours. They were finding ways of getting round the law. Even though almost half said that the local authority was helping them to find ways round the code, the majority said that the LEA was now bearing down on them more heavily. Forty-six per cent said that, as a
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Assuming that pouring in resources to buy out the diversity of private and voluntary provision or to raise the level of funding to something that would be adequate to meet the real costs of these settings is neither affordable nor desirable, there must be other ways forward. At Second Reading I said that I would prefer the original policy approach, which was to give parents the sum that the Government deemed sufficient to buy free education and to let them choose. It could be done through the child benefit system. However, that is not within the scope of this legislation. The second option is in line with what the Bill proposes for two year-olds: namely, to limit free entitlement for all ages by some form of means-testing or relation to disadvantage. I do not find much attraction in that. The third option would be to accept the present system but to render it honest and lift the fear of legal regulatory challenge from those authorities and providers that are trying to find a way round the present system and protect diversity.
The amendments offer three potential ways of looking at this. I do not claim that they are either perfect or perhaps even right, but I ask the Minister to think about them with his colleagues. Amendments 3 and 9 would require local authorities simply to fund a free place for those parents who want one. It would prevent the fear of the operation of price controls and would effectively allow consenting adults to pay more if they wanted to. Why not, in a free society? Amendment 6 would make clear beyond doubt that price controls could not be extended across the total fee charged by settings to parents in receipt of the NEG, otherwise it would admit that what is going on has to go on if we are going to preserve some diversity in the sector. It is what is happening now behind closed doors.
I referred to Amendment 8 when I spoke to Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, which I could have supported. It simply asks the Secretary of State, in framing guidance, to have regard to the sustainability and viability of the private and voluntary sectors, and to make good his commitment to those providers when he was the opposition spokesman. Surely that is not too much to ask of a Government who back small business and believe in educational diversity.
I conclude by saying to my noble friends that, when in the previous Parliament an Early Day Motion was laid in the other place calling for a relaxation of the code of practice and for flexibility to enable providers to charge necessary, sustainable fees for those who could afford them above the free entitlement, it was signed by half the present Cabinet, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. I do not know what has changed since then-I suspect that some in the private and voluntary sectors would like to know-and I beg to move.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, my name is on these amendments as I very much support their purpose and agree wholeheartedly with the views so
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In my Second Reading speech, I welcomed the extension of the free provision to disadvantaged two year-olds but sought reassurance from my noble friend the Minister on whether nursery providers had been consulted regarding their ability to deliver the Government's ambitions. I asked this because under the previous Government-although I genuinely believe that this was never their intention-good, long established, private, voluntary and independent providers either went out of business or reluctantly shut their doors to free provision. They simply could not reconcile the service that they provided with the changing dynamics brought by free provision. That is a tragedy because parental choice should be central to nursery education. Without the diversity that a strong and resilient private and voluntary sector provides, there is no real choice. These amendments seek to redress the unforeseen consequences of free provision. I hope that they will find favour with my noble friend.
The Earl of Listowel: I support my noble friend Lord True in what he said about allowing providers flexibility in what they charge parents. I had a discussion with a manager of a children's centre-in fact, she had responsibility for 10 children's centres across London. She said that we need innovative ways of finding the money to keep these services going in the current recession. In particular, she highlighted that we should encourage parents who can pay to pay, so that parents who cannot can get a service. That seemed to be line with what the noble Lord, Lord True, said. It seems sensible. I will perhaps need to look more carefully at his proposal but hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to what he said.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: I will make a few brief remarks on these amendments. First, in terms of Amendment 8 and the principle of having a diverse sector, I have personally always strongly supported that-as did the previous Government. It is in the interests of parents and children for us to maintain that diversity and to try to raise the quality right across all parts of that sector. There is no difficulty there.
My problem with Amendment 6 and Amendment 9 is that they would basically allow individual nurseries to charge top-up fees to parents in one way or another. They would either say, "You can bring your children for the 15 hours but then you have to pay an extra X pounds per hour because that is our charge", or they would apply a condition that the parent had to take more than 15 hours. There would be a very high charge for the hours over 15 so as to cross-subsidise. As the noble Lord, Lord True, alluded to, there are other kinds of conditions as well, such as parents having to pay for certain facilities or other items. This is just a way of getting extra funding in.
I appreciate some of the problems that nurseries have had. In discussing this, we have to recognise what the impact of allowing it would be. Instead of an
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Having said that, I also investigated this at some length. I have long relationships with some of the private providers and great respect for many of them for the work that they do. We commissioned a report to try and understand why some but not all private nurseries were having this kind of problem. That independent report identified two main factors. One was that not all local authorities were distributing the funding allocation quite fairly, and that some were supporting public sector provision, particularly nursery classes in schools-there is a higher cost there-more than the private sector. We introduced, and I think that the current Government are going to proceed with this, a proposal that each area has to agree a single formula for the allocation of funding so that there is parity across private, voluntary and public sector providers.
The second factor that our independent consultants discovered was that not all nurseries are equally good at managing the finances behind their business. Many are, and they have no difficulty providing for entitlement at the level funded, subject to what the local authority was doing, but there are others that are not so adept at managing the financial side of their business, and they were the ones that were struggling.
Because we want a diverse sector, we need to support the private sector when that is necessary. However, the proposal here is the wrong way to do it because it is through parents' pockets. The way to support private sector providers is to give them that kind of expertise in financial management but also-this is still happening through the current Government-support in terms of subsidising the training of their staff, support in giving them resources to buy replacement staff for the times when staff have been released on training, and support for the networks of private providers in various ways in a locality. That kind of support costs money, but it is going in. Supporting the nurseries having problems in that regard through the parents' pockets is not the right way forward.
I cannot support the amendments that would allow an entitlement. The principle here would be inequitable for parents, and there are other ways in which we could support what we want to achieve, which is diversity in the sector.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I was not going to speak on this but I think I will. I am reminded of what happened under the previous Government regarding diversity and the range of provision. I declare an interest: at this precise moment I have a granddaughter at a Montessori school who is enjoying it very much
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Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, like a number of noble Lords who have spoken, the Government are sensitive to concerns about the sustainability of private, voluntary and independent provision. I agree with my noble friend Lord True that we want the early-years sector to remain diverse and to continue to provide parents with a range of options for their children. We know that something like 37,000 different providers currently offer free entitlement, and it is good that we have that range and diversity. The PVI sector plays a significant part in that provision and we want to see that continue.
I understand the points that the noble Lord made; as always, he makes his case forcefully and clearly, but I find myself in the same position. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, set out her concerns about the amendment clearly, and I was interested to hear some of the history of the independent review to which she alluded. The current Government have gone ahead with the early-years single funding formula introduced in April this year. I hope that that will provide greater transparency in how funding for three and four year-olds' early education is distributed. Greater transparency should help flush out some of these issues.
The noble Baroness recognised that, in the past, there was concern that private providers were not getting a fair crack of the whip compared with maintained sector providers. The single funding formula will help. It will mean that parents and providers should be able to hold local authorities more to account. That formula is based on a common set of principles to ensure that funding is distributed to providers based on clear and common criteria. To increase efficiency and fairness, that funding will be participation-led-it is based on children actually participating-rather than place-led, as it was in the past, whether or not the place was filled. That will also help.
My noble friend's amendments raise the question of whether providers should be able to charge top-up fees. The Government have considered the issue carefully, but we are clear, as were the previous Government, that provision guaranteed by the statutory entitlement must be free to parents. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, who is responsible for this area, is clear that she does not see top-up fees as an answer to the concerns that some providers have expressed.
Local authorities have a statutory duty under Section 7 of the Childcare Act to secure a prescribed amount of early education free of charge for eligible three and
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Amendment 8 would ensure that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 addresses the issues of sustainability and viability. As I said, we have the early-years single funding formula. The Government's commitment to the free entitlement does not prevent providers charging fees for hours outside the 15 free early education hours per week. We take the view that additional hours and services outside those for which the provider receives funding from the local authority are a private matter between the provider and the parent, and it is perfectly reasonable for providers to charge for additional hours or optional extras, provided that access to a free place is not conditional on taking those options.
Funding for free entitlement places is one part of a broader package of support to which providers have access. Many receive training and other assistance to support improvements in quality and to secure sufficient childcare provision. We want to work with the sector on issues such as this. I recognise the points that my noble friend raised. As he knows, I always listen to what he says with particular care. We have invited sector representatives, including the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the National Day Nurseries Association, the Daycare Trust and the National Childminders Association, as well as local authorities, to discuss with the department some of the issues that he raised.
At bottom, as my noble friend suspected when he rose to move the amendment, we do not want to run the risk of placing barriers in the way of our most disadvantaged families. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.
The Earl of Listowel: I am sorry for tiring the Committee, but just to help me understand better how sufficient the funding is that the Government are providing to providers, could the Minister break it down a little further? I think I missed the figure per hour. How much would an early-years worker get funded to work in a setting? If we strip out the training, how much would we expect them to get paid per hour? How does that compare with someone working at a cash desk in Tesco or a teacher? I recognise that this may be down to the discretion of the setting. Maybe this is something that the Minister would be kind enough to write to me about. How much would one expect the person working on the ground to get out of the sum that is being paid to providers?
Lord True: My Lords, my noble friend will not be surprised that I am immensely disappointed by his response. That will be shared by the many people who
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The only crumb of comfort is the suggestion that the fiction that goes on around the edge-that people can go on charging outside the so-called free entitlement -should go on and we should go on nodding and winking at that. That is very disappointing.
We heard a lot of talk about certainty. There is no certainty in this. The free entitlement is not fully resourced-it never has been-and public policy should not be based on something that is essentially not true. As someone who loyally went through the Lobbies to support top-up fees in universities and would do so again, there is a certain irony in being told that top-up fees in a non-maintained sector like nursery schools would bring the United Kingdom to its knees.
I will reflect on what has been said. I cannot promise my noble friend that I will not return to this matter on Report, but in the interim I am grateful to him for elements of his response and to other noble Lords who spoke. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Secretary of State may issue directions to the Child Workforce Development Council in relation to the training and qualifications of teachers of children under 5 in Montessori-accredited nursery schools, and shall in particular ensure that recognition continues to be given to Montessori qualifications and Montessori training courses, where these are provided by practitioners qualified and experienced in that approach, and use recognised Montessori accredited schools for practical training experience."
Lord True: My Lords, Amendments 11 and 70 relate to nursery education and are intended to apply pari passu to Steiner schools as well as to Montessori schools. If these amendments or something like them are brought back on Report, they will include protections for the specific training required by Steiner schools. I have made that clear to representatives of Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. They in turn have made it clear to me that they welcome, and feel the need for, the protection offered by amendments such as these.
Both the Montessori and Steiner systems of pedagogy are proven in action, much trusted by the parents who choose them and are undeniably diverse compared with the approaches to learning offered in other settings. Each system has its own set of qualifications; each system polices its own settings; and each system requires that schools purporting to be Montessori or Steiner should reflect their values and approaches.
Most Steiner qualifications are levels 4 or 5. Almost all Montessori qualifications are level 4. They are administered by Montessori colleges, but the Montessori Centre International has an independent board that advises on academic standards and meets three times a year to validate all diplomas. The Montessori Centre International is one of the largest training organisations in the world in its sector. It has around 400 graduates every year. The other three colleges have between them 80 to 100 graduates going into nursery provision. The majority of these graduates are UK or EU-based, although more than 100 come from outside the UK. There are some 800 Montessori schools in the United Kingdom, with approximately 6,000 teachers. Therefore, there is a clear requirement for specific training. I believe that the system works: 88 per cent of Montessori schools have received the highest ratings in Ofsted inspections, which is far higher than the average for early-years settings.
So why change it; why interfere with the training system that is delivering a perfectly satisfactory position; and why do we need the amendments? There is a large quango called the Children's Workforce Development Council, which has a budget in excess of £100 million and a turnover that is larger than all the excellent Montessori schools combined-I definitely prefer the private to the public here. The body advises the noble Lord's department. For a reason that I am not entirely clear about-although the early-years foundation stage document published in 2008 stated that Ofsted would recognise qualifications recognised in turn by the CWDC-the body set out to create a new, generic qualification at level 3 only, which is intended as the one and only qualification that will be used by everyone working in settings with children.
I understand and share the aspirations of noble Lords who spoke on earlier amendments for high-quality provision and good training. However, the general aspiration should not squeeze out a particular good that is proven. The CWDC says that it has undertaken extensive consultation. This was claimed again at the conference of the National Day Nurseries Association that took place earlier this month. In fact, many at the conference said that they had not been consulted at all, and there was severe criticism of the CWDC, which was reported in the professional press. The
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The proposed CWDC qualification is at a lower level than the existing Montessori and Steiner qualifications. It is very basic and focuses as much on policy as on practice-perhaps more. It is considered by many early-years practitioners, certainly in the Montessori and Steiner sectors, as not fit for purpose. However, if Montessori qualifications are not included on a recognised list, Montessori colleges will not be able to train teachers, and Montessori schools will not be able to fulfil their quota need for Montessori-qualified teachers. The same goes for Steiner schools. I submit that that would be absurd. Representatives of Montessori bodies twice sought meetings with the CWDC and asked for exemption from its level 3 course in recognition of Montessori's unique pedagogy, philosophy and proven excellence. So far, Montessori has had no concrete response except a demand to map its qualifications against the lower-level qualification proposed by CWDC.
Now, I thought that this Government believed in excellence and diversity, which we have all subscribed to today. I thought that they were seeking, as the Bill does, to rein back the influence of quangos and reduce bureaucracy. Will my noble friend consider positively the idea put forward in these amendments to protect both Steiner and Montessori schools and lift from them the fear that is now widespread in those sectors as a result of the unwelcome attentions of the CWDC? In short, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
If my noble friend is not ready to incorporate this into the Bill, it need not be there but it needs to be in black and white somewhere. It needs to be done soon and in a form that leaves no room for doubt that these excellent colleges and schools with their excellent qualifications will continue to be part of our education landscape. I beg to move.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to acknowledge the excellent work of Montessori practitioners by putting my name to this amendment. As my noble friend Lord True explained, that goes for Steiner schools too. Montessori schools have provided solid teaching for the nursery and school workforce for almost 100 years. In the early-years foundation stage, as my noble friend told us, 88 per cent of Montessori schools were judged to be outstanding or good-so much so that the Department for Children, Schools and Families, as it was then called, paid for a booklet saying how good the Montessori method was.
The national framework of accredited qualifications fully recognised the Montessori and Steiner qualifications but, as my noble friend Lord True explained, the Children's Workforce Development Council appears to want to change this. I am sure that that is not what the Minister would want.
We must ensure that Montessori and Steiner schools, which provide parents with real choice and children with an excellent education, are allowed to flourish. We should celebrate their difference and ensure that a creeping bureaucracy, with its attendant craving to fit everyone in the same box, does not prevail.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I support what has been proposed. I put my name to this amendment because I have spoken on a number of occasions with the manager of a Montessori nursery and been impressed with what I have heard from her about her work. Indeed, she is a very impressive individual, having worked in the private business sector before coming into nursery teaching. Recently she was telling me about her experience of continuing professional development, where she had a senior practitioner observe her in the course of a whole day's teaching, taking careful notes of what she and the children were doing and of the interactions between the teacher and the children. She learnt from this. The senior practitioner said, "Very good, but you do tend to lift your finger a bit too much". She said, "Yes, this is what my mother did to me. Aha; I am bringing it into the nursery classroom". That is the sort of model that I think the Government are proposing more widely in schools generally in their White Paper: classroom-based learning. I would regret if anything were done to the detriment of such a good approach, so I hope that the Minister can be reassuring in his response.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I support the amendments. We are not talking here about some new provider on the block with bright ideas. Montessori is an established, tried and true, long-lasting provider of education. It is of a high quality. In days long ago when it was inspected regularly by HMI, inspectors always came back with very high-standard reports of what was going on. Montessori also has its own system for training its own teachers and staff, which again is of a very high quality and thorough, and produces people who are well versed in the Montessori way. There are many people of all ages, some probably now in their 80s and 90s, who have been through the Montessori experience and can testify to its importance in their own lives. I hope, as others have said, that the Minister will at least give a warm response to the amendments.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I was not able to support the last group of amendments of the noble Lord, Lord True, because I tended to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, about the danger of a two-tier system. However, I am very pleased to be able to support this group of amendments enthusiastically.
My knowledge of Montessori is that my grandchildren went to a Montessori nursery. Indeed, my daughter-in-law, their mother, herself already highly qualified with a PhD in biochemistry, was so impressed by the system that she started to train as a Montessori teacher. This delighted me. We need highly intelligent and highly qualified people in the nursery sector and I thought that was excellent.
If we want to offer parents a wide choice of early-years provision we ought to do everything that we can to encourage proven, high-quality systems such as Montessori and Steiner and, if necessary, make them special cases.
Lord Elton: My Lords, what my noble friend's amendments seek to do is not only desirable but in line with the Government's policy. The Minister's problem
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Baroness Massey of Darwen: I, too, have had grandchildren at a Montessori school and I have a great regard for the system. Why are we suddenly throwing in Steiner schools when they are not mentioned in the amendment? I understand that there are good reliable figures to show the effectiveness of the Montessori system; are there such figures for the Steiner system? I simply do not know.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I support the amendment. I, too, have great admiration for the Montessori system because my daughter went to a Montessori school and it got the best out of her. I believe that young children need to be excited by learning, by discovering who they are, by play and by forming their own self-opinion and doing things that are beyond them. The Montessori system is one of the best ways of getting children to understand who they truly are, especially if they then go on to conventional education in schools. It broadens their outlook, it makes them excited about learning and the amendment should be supported by everyone in the Room.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: I also agree that Montessori offers a high-quality experience for children and one would want to support it. In talking about Montessori and supporting it, I was very keen that more children from disadvantaged backgrounds should be able to access this high-quality provision. What progress has been made in the proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds who now attend?
I would not have thought that mapping the qualification is an insuperable problem. I am sure the Children's Workforce Development Council will be positive in resolving the issue. When the Minister replies, will he enlighten us as to what is going on in the CWDC? It has been doing good work in raising the level of qualifications and ability of early-years professionals, in improving the infrastructure of qualifications and in supporting all parts of the sector going forward. I understand that the Children's Workforce Development Council is going to be brought in-house and that its annual grant of £110 million has been taken away, as has its non-departmental body status. What are the implications of that for the progress that has already been made in early years and for continuing that progress in raising the level of qualifications and so on which we are all so concerned about?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, Amendments 11 and 70 relate to Montessori nursery schools and qualifications of Montessori teachers. I hear what my noble friend also said about Steiner schools and the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, as to whether it is legitimate to add these in to the amendment when they have not already been mentioned. Perhaps we can discuss that at a later stage.
I am grateful to my noble friend for moving the amendment because it gives me the chance to say that we fully understand, as has been reflected in the comments from noble Lords today, that for many parents the Montessori ethos is valued and reflects the early education that they want for their children. The Government are committed to maintaining and supporting a diverse early-years sector and I welcome the continued role of Montessori nurseries within that sector.
As my noble friend Lord True will be aware, Montessori organisations opted out of becoming part of a national qualifications framework which was part of the previous Government's efforts to raise the quality of the early-years sector. Montessori qualifications would have gone unrecognised by the Child Workforce Development Council as relevant qualifications under the early-years foundations stage if it were not for the previous Government's decision to give temporary recognition to those qualifications while discussions with the relevant bodies were continuing. This was due to expire in January 2010. These conversations are continuing and Montessori qualifications will be recognised on a temporary basis until January 2012.
The position beyond that point is the subject of discussions between representatives of Montessori organisations, officials at the CWDC and officials at the department. I am sure that they can also include Steiner organisations. I can assure my noble friends that we have not ruled out extending the period of recognition beyond January 2012 and that we are clear that we will not do anything that may disadvantage those who take Montessori qualifications. I am sorry to hear from my noble friend Lord True of what appears to have been poor communication. I understand that the CWDC carried out a wide-ranging communications exercise with local authorities, employer settings and the workforce. The thrust of this was information sent to local authorities tailored for different audiences that should have been sent on to providers including Steiner and Montessori settings. Further discussions need to take place on that.
Amendment 70 concerns Montessori education and qualifications and would require teachers in Montessori schools to have served their induction period in a Montessori-accredited school or any other school approved by a Montessori training body. Later in the Committee's deliberations, we will consider teachers' induction periods in more depth but I take this opportunity to provide my noble friend with some assurances on induction for Montessori teachers.
Independent schools, including Montessori schools, can offer statutory induction if they so wish, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so. Should they choose to offer statutory induction, the teacher must hold qualified teacher status-QTS-before they start their induction. The post must of course be suitable and include the necessary support mechanisms. The conditions under which a teacher is employed in any independent school are contractual matters between the employer and the employee. I can assure my noble friend that if a Montessori school wished to employ only teachers who have served statutory induction in a Montessori school or a Montessori-approved institution then that would be a matter for that school, not for
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Briefly, on the future of the Children's Workforce Development Council, the CWDC will cease to be a Department for Education NDPB as the department will withdraw its investment in the council. The department is now in the process of carefully considering all the current functions of the CWDC in light of the spending review before deciding what will end, what will continue and where responsibilities will lie in the future. Our expectation is that work transfers will be completed by 2012 and that the CWDC as a company and employer lead body will be free to seek alternative funding.
Lord True: My Lords, I am rather happier with that response than with the response to the previous group. I am very grateful to my noble friend for her comments. I apologise to the Committee for discussing Steiner schools when they are not mentioned in the amendments that we are discussing. However, I am sure that they will be grateful to my noble friend for her comments and will pursue the matter separately. Montessori schools will be grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the Committee for their firm support. I am very grateful to all those noble Lords who warmly support this excellent system and these excellent schools.
I note that my noble friend extended the invitation to these schools to continue in existence until 2012. I have sought to express that positively as opposed to describing it as a stay of execution. I hope that as discussions continue, the temporary nature of that arrangement can be lifted and that-
Lord Elton: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is trembling on the edge of withdrawing the amendment. However, I remain rather anxious about the extension to 2012 and a possible extension after that. I would like to hear from one end of this Bench or the other what the effect of that would be on recruiting people for training in this area of teaching if there is a possibility that the railway will end a mile or two down the line.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I cannot understand why there has been such consultation given that we are still in a temporary situation. I cannot understand why it cannot be put on a firm footing-I hope before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House.
Lord True: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for those interventions. Having veered away from using the phrase "stay of execution", I think my noble friend will understand where I am coming from. As there seems to be such universal recognition of the
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Clause 2 extends the power of teachers and heads to search pupils and repeals some of the safeguards in legislation regarding searches in schools. These searches constitute a significant intrusion into children's privacy which is protected under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and under the Human Rights Act. Therefore, there is an enormous onus on the Government to justify them.
I welcome the Government's commitment to give due consideration to the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when making new policy and legislation. I urge the Minister to ensure that when this Bill leaves your Lordships' House it complies fully with this important convention. I am particularly concerned with regard to Article 28(2) of the convention which states that we must,
When the powers to search were extended in 2009 to include alcohol, drugs and stolen property, they went ahead without any published evaluation of how the previous powers were working. This is happening again, which causes me great concern. We need a thorough review of these powers with sufficient detail for us to determine whether any particular groups of children are being searched more frequently than others. It is essential to avoid any possible discrimination in the use of these powers.
The first group of amendments concern appropriate training. Amendments 12 and 19 seek to ensure that any member of school staff expected to search a pupil has had appropriate training before attempting to do so. My intention is to highlight the importance of proper training in such matters. When I was a teacher, I would not have dreamt of attempting such a thing without proper training, and I am sure that your Lordships would have felt the same in my position. Many teachers are currently reluctant to use the powers that they already have to search pupils, and would not have the confidence to do so even in the circumstances where it may seem necessary to prevent imminent
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Training is essential, particularly in delicate situations where the pupil has special educational needs or has particular cultural or religious concerns or is of the opposite gender from the person carrying out the search, or there is no other member of staff present-although noble Lords will know that I do not approve of either of those last two situations.
It is not just about training. Information about the child is important too. How is a child who has been touched inappropriately or even abused going to react if someone approaches to search their person? That could escalate a fairly low-level problem into something violent and critical. Training should ensure that searches are conducted in such a way as to avoid harm to the child being searched, as well as to avoid unfounded allegations of improper behaviour by the teacher or lecturer.
Amendments 27 and 32 cover the same matters relating to searches in FE colleges. It is true, however, that most colleges have specially designated and trained security staff who would probably be called in to conduct a search if necessary. There are particular issues in colleges that may need to be addressed differently from searches conducted in schools, as many of the students may well be over 18. The current DfE guidance that was published in 2007, called Screening and Searching of Pupils for Weapons: Guidance for School Staff, mentions colleges only briefly, on page 4, which is insufficient.
Further training and advice are essential in order for staff to understand the powers under this clause. Such training should ensure that searches are conducted in such a way as to avoid harm to the child being searched, as well as to avoid unfounded allegations of improper behaviour by the teacher or lecturer. In colleges there may be only a very few years between the searcher and the searched. Such training could also usefully include managing potentially inflamed situations, identifying particular cultural or religious sensitivities, de-escalation techniques and risk assessment.
I know that the Association of Colleges is not keen on my idea of statutory training; it has said so. It says that unqualified cowboy operations will be set up to provide so-called training and might give teachers and lecturers an unfounded sense of confidence. My answer to that is that the college principal has a duty to ensure that all CPD is of good quality by getting recommendations and feedback and by checking qualifications. The association suggests that bad things can happen if people have been inappropriately trained. My opinion is that bad things can happen if people are not trained at all. We should put this requirement in the Bill. I beg to move.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, as a number of amendments are in our names, I thought that it would be sensible to get up at this stage and speak on Amendments 15, 18, 26, 29, 30 and 31. In introducing these amendments, I should make it clear
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Our concern with what is being proposed today is that, although on the face of it the Bill seems to build on the legislation, it takes away the important checks and balances that had been built in to protect both pupils and teachers. It remains unclear why proposals to extend those powers have been put before us.
Many of our comments echo those of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Amendment 15 seeks to ensure that staff undertaking searches are appropriately trained to search all pupils, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities, in a way that maintains the dignity and rights to privacy of everybody, in order to foster a school environment of mutual respect. Amendment 18 also makes it clear that searches should be carried out by a member of the senior management team. In the Commons evidence that we read, this was described as good practice by a number of head teachers.
The Children's Society and the NUT, among others, made a compelling case for staff doing searches to be trained and given advice on the effect of searches on young people, including the effect on their self-esteem and confidence. In addition-I am sure that we will hear more about this-Ambitious about Autism told us that staff require proper training to carry out safe searches on children with autism so that they understand the children's potential issues, for example around physical contact. The Children's Rights Alliance for England reminded us that searches can be very invasive and unpleasant experiences, causing children embarrassment, anxiety and humiliation. In addition, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, children with a history of physical or sexual abuse have a very different experience of searches; there is a need for training in that respect. It is also vital that staff carrying out searches on children with special educational needs and disabilities have an awareness of those issues and make reasonable adjustments for those needs.
We are concerned also that the new powers could put staff undertaking searches at risk. For example, the NUT highlighted a concern that, without training, teachers could be vulnerable to unfounded allegations of "improper behaviour". Again, this underlines the case that we made earlier for searches to be carried out by someone of sufficient seniority that their intention and authority cannot be brought into question when the searches are carried out. This may be best practice in many schools, but the amendments build in safeguards for all pupils, particularly the most vulnerable, to ensure that their needs are recognised and that they are treated with respect.
Finally, Amendment 26 would require schools to keep a written record of all searches, including equalities information on the SEN, ethnicity and disabilities of the pupils being searched. Just as the police powers of stop and search were found to be disproportionately targeting certain ethnic groups, there is a risk that the
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"Runnymede is concerned that this power could result in disproportionate numbers of Black children being searched. If Black pupils are searched more than other pupils or feel unfairly targeted, trust may be undermined, potentially leading to more negative behaviour in the classroom".
The amendment will enable that record to be kept and research to be pursued to follow up on it, both within the school and more widely, to make sure that unintended consequences do not arise. It will enable us to ensure that minority ethnic groups are not disproportionately targeted, and that groups such as pupils with SEN or disabilities are also not disproportionately targeted unintentionally. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the sense of the amendments and the comfort that they might bring by protecting the interests of vulnerable groups who are concerned about how the new powers will operate.
Other amendments to Clause 3 in this group-Amendments 29, 30 and 31-mirror the amendments that we laid to Clause 2 but relate to further education. The same arguments apply in terms of checks and balances, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, because of the potential narrowing of the age gap it is particularly important that teachers are trained to treat the students with respect and be aware of their vulnerabilities.
I have one final quick comment. I am aware that a guidance note is in full consultation from the department at the moment on the powers to search without consent. I am sure that the Minister will say, "Do not worry, because this document is being consulted on", but it increasingly gives us concern that we are being asked to make legislation now, not further down the line when some consultations will come to fruition. It is asking a lot of us to trust that those consultations will come out with the right answer. We need to ensure that we get the legislation correct now, when we have the chance to do so.
Baroness Jolly: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 20, which is narrow in scope but concerns an area that has been completely missed out. It is for those schools-I suspect that they will be predominantly secondary schools-which have security staff on the premises who will be employed, appropriately trained and well fitted to carry out such searches.
One of the most difficult relationships to keep nurtured is one between a teacher and a child. I taught for 15 years. You work really hard, and when they are good they are very good and when they are bad, something such as searching a child cannot help. The amendment suggests that where there is a security member of staff, no other member of staff should be asked to search a child. It would be the role of the security staff to do that. They are appropriately trained; they know what they are doing. That will also help to keep the relationship between the teacher and the child. It will give clarity to all concerned. The
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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I have real concerns about this part of the Bill. If ever I saw a can of worms-I do not see them very often-this is it. It is contentious and sensitive. Obviously, ideally, we do not want young people to be searched at all, but I want to get over negative and punitive provisions and move on to more positive ones. I will give a couple of examples to illustrate that in a moment.
This part of the Bill is likely to result in a lack of dignity for both pupil and teacher or a security person-the person who is doing the searching. Some amendments about boundaries for examination, issuing rules about items for which a search may be made, training of staff and the search being carried out by a senior member of staff, may mitigate all that, but consider the chaos that may ensue.
Many years ago, I went to school as a pupil in Darwen, Lancashire, a sleepy little town in the foothills of the Pennines. It was in the news about two months ago because teachers had gone on strike due to a breakdown in discipline because of confiscated articles. As I said, the town is very sedate, and I could not believe what was going on. They had gone on strike because of discipline issues about confiscating mobile phones, I think. It was about who confiscated what-it was highly subjective-and why they were confiscated. One minute, something was confiscated; the next minute, it was restored. It was absolute chaos.
The other example that I recall from when I was teaching was of a male teacher grabbing a 15 year-old girl's handbag. A nasty fight broke out, which I could hear from down the corridor. I heard her yelling, "Get your hands off a lady's handbag". I had to intervene, being her head of year. I said, "What is in the handbag?" She said, "My hairbrush and some personal items". I merely use that example to show the inappropriateness of a male teacher being seen to interfere with what a girl pupil sees as her private items.
Imagine what that means. It could set up conflicts between pupils and teachers, staff and senior management, staff and parents, pupils and parents, pupils and pupils. All kinds of things could go on. There is the same-sex issue. There are cultural issues, abuse issues and special educational needs issues.
I accept that pupils should not be bringing into school items that can harm others, which are illegal or which can cause chaos in the classroom-for example, mobile phones-but, and it is a big "but", surely a school must have rules and contracts which do not
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I know many schools where searching is not an issue. A head teacher at a school in east London said to me recently, "We have no tolerance of mobile phones, not an issue about searching at all. Pupils understand this; parents understand this". Much of the provision is heavy-handed and can give rise to real negative, personal, contentious issues arising. Surely an amendment can be thought of which gives schools the power to ban certain items and make that clear to pupils and parents.
Educating to encourage respect for people and property is a must. No doubt we shall come on to that when we discuss personal, social and health education. Discipline in schools is not just about punishment; that does not work. This part of the Bill is about punishment and creating difficulty for parents, teachers, pupils-the lot. I plead with the Minister to look carefully at it again. Otherwise, in searching pupils, schools will provide the catalyst for conflict for young people in any context.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, always talks a great deal of sense, and I absolutely agree with her about the can of worms. The whole issue is a can of worms, not just what the amendments address.
It would be wonderful if we could assure ourselves that every school in the country had such excellent discipline that rules about what can and cannot be brought into the school would be instantly obeyed, that children who have been told that they had to put things in lockers would do so, and so on. Unfortunately, in many schools, that is not the reality. There are crisis incidents where a teacher will suddenly become aware that not a child but a large, hulking teenage boy is carrying a knife and bringing it into the classroom at the end of a fight or row outside and there is every chance that he may intend to use it. At that point, a teacher has to take action. Whatever legislation and whatever framework the House or Parliament can produce has to allow for such a crisis for teachers.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: Does not that particular scenario-which is obviously a real and concerning one for teachers in some schools-of a large physical presence with a knife underline the need for proper training? Without proper training, the danger into which the teacher might be putting himself or herself by using force, however reasonable, to try to confiscate the knife could be profound, however great the crisis may be there and then.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: I was about to move on to training. With great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I do not think it could be only one person who is trained because the scenario I was describing could happen to any teacher. It could happen to a very small female teacher like me-I have taught in some tough schools in my time, with some very tough, studded-black-leather-jacket chaps in my classes-and so every teacher needs to be trained. They need to understand how to deal with someone who is carrying
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However, that is not to make them think that they should therefore be doing searches all the time. Rather than training in how to do a search-although that must be an element-there should be much better training for teachers in when a search is or is not appropriate. I would keep it very much to the crisis situation and to previously known offenders who have tried before to smuggle things into the school and classroom. That is where a teacher's judgment is the most important thing of all. We are imagining helpless, innocent pupils with aggressive teachers; however, as I have said, it can be exactly the opposite way round. The training needs to give teachers the ability to make the judgment as to when a search is or is not appropriate.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I particularly support Amendments 26 and 31 which deal with the keeping of records. It is immensely important that in such situations proper records are kept with the kinds of information specified in the amendments-we could perhaps look at them again-and that these records are available to Ofsted and the governing body. This is quite fundamental and will enable the school to know what is going on and what the balance of activities amounts to.
I certainly support the importance of training but I think that it should be school-wide. Any teacher could run into such a difficulty and be faced with a problem that could be both threatening and frightening if they had not had to formally think about it before.
On Amendment 20 and the reference to security staff, I was left uncertain about how this would apply in small primary schools. If we press ahead with the amendment, small primary schools probably would not have the capacity to have someone specially trained. It would be useful to hear what the intention of the amendment is because there seems to be some variation.
I accept what my noble friend Lady Perry says is critical: there are crisis situations and legislation must allow for dealing with these. A last, doubtless very naive, thought: could some of the problems of intimacy and same sex be dealt with if schools had electronic scanning devices available? These would probably be as cheap as specialist training courses and would pick up electronic implements-phones and so on, which can be a source of great trouble-and weapons. They would not pick up drugs-I accept that-but electronic implements and weapons cause crises which have to be dealt with very quickly. Regulation is very important but the threat that you will be scanned then makes an issue of it. It could be a practical, simple way of taking some of the sting out of this.
Baroness Walmsley: It may be convenient for the Committee if I answer the question just posed by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about Amendment 20.
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Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I support several of the amendments in this group but would like to focus on black and ethnic minority children. If you ask any black young man how many times he has been stopped and searched in the streets, you will find that it has been more times than his white equivalent. In some cases, there is a just reason to do so and some young people warrant the action of being searched. This does not mean that everyone should be categorised in the same way. Sometimes there needs to be a sympathetic approach towards young people who have what can perhaps be described as a "street attitude" or come from backgrounds where there is little or no parental or family support or guidance. There needs to be understanding of what might be going on in that young person's life to make them behave in a certain way.
The same can be said about young people in schools today. Stop and search has become an accepted attitude towards many young black children and young people. Sadly, many of them will most likely grow up having to face the same ordeals and indignities as generations before them. This leads to young people feeling worthless, disillusioned and having an anti-social attitude-they act in the way that they believe they are expected to by society. Many look to gang culture to feel safe, accepted and important. It is a case of safety in numbers in order to survive. Those misguided young people need our help and understanding. They do not need to be condemned and vilified.
As touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, earlier, many are concerned that the power of members of staff to search pupils could result in disproportionate numbers of black children being searched. If black pupils are searched more than other pupils or feel unfairly targeted, trust may be undermined, potentially leading to more negative behaviour in the classroom. Evidence shows that black Caribbean boys in particular are disproportionately excluded from school and routinely punished more harshly, praised less and told off more. Explanations for this cannot be attributed solely to things like culture, class background or home life, and government research concluded that teacher's attitudes-sometimes subconsciously-towards black children can be a contributing factor.
Given the overrepresentation of black Caribbean children in other areas of discipline, it is likely that they will be disproportionately searched under this new power. As the Runnymede Trust and others have argued elsewhere, institutions are required by law to assess the impact of their policies upon individuals from different ethnic backgrounds under the Equality Act. Given this legal requirement, I plead with the Minister to make sure that careful monitoring takes place of those searched in schools and action is taken to decrease any arising disproportion.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I echo something that the noble Baroness just said. The carrying of a weapon is often an essential part of a person's sense of security.
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Searching is preventive. It is not to discover something in an emergency but to prevent the emergency arising by applying the search before the weapon can be used. One way is if the whole school is searched when everybody goes in, as you are at an airport. Another is if the whole class is searched because there is known to be a problem there. But to search individuals can produce exactly the difficulties to which the noble Baroness referred. This needs a good deal more practical thought about what happens on the ground, rather than just legislative thoughts about how easily it could be provided from an administrative point of view. We have not yet got to a point where we should legislate. There needs to be much more discussion, perhaps outside this Room as well as inside it.
I do not want to stray too far into anecdote, but I visited a school perhaps two years ago where a woman teacher told me that the previous day she had been in a classroom when a boy had stabbed another pupil with a small penknife, luckily not doing much harm, and had then put it back in his pocket. There was no one else around, so she searched him and took the penknife away from him. She did absolutely the right thing for that particular occurrence.
This brings to mind something terribly important: there were no male teachers in that school at all. We have to remind ourselves that recent statistics suggest that the percentage of male teachers in primary schools has now reached something like 15 per cent, and in secondary schools the figure is around 20 per cent. A large number of primary schools have no male teachers at all. That teacher would therefore have fallen outside the current legislation. As I understand it, the Bill is meant to repair that. Of course training is hugely important, and in that school the teachers had received training-although it was of what you might call the informal kind, as so much training in schools is.
I would not support putting into the Bill a training programme or qualification for searching, but I would support the Government giving high priority to ensuring that guidance for schools suggested that training was hugely important in this area. It is vital that we send out a message to teachers that they are going to be backed when faced with serious discipline problems of this kind. We know that many of the children involved have special needs and are particularly vulnerable but
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Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Massey and others who have described this as a bit of a can of worms. With all respect to the Minister and his colleagues, I know how this comes about: you hear of difficult incidents in individual schools, you want to satisfy the perception in certain parts of the media that behaviour in schools is dreadful and you want to be seen to be doing something about it, so you move to legislation. As we have discussed, though, once we start to explore the issue we then see that there is a need for training, be it enforced through guidance or through legislation, and we soon arrive at the notion that there needs to be whole-school training. Once you get into training the whole school workforce, if they are going to use these powers, I imagine that many head teachers looking at their budgets would say, "Well, I probably won't use these powers because I can't afford the training of the whole school", and then the legislation would become largely redundant. There are many other cans of worms that could wriggle out, which we could explore if we had time.
What will the powers do that the current powers do not? Paragraph 61 of the Explanatory Notes explains that the current powers under Section 550ZA of the Education Act 1996 allow other prohibited items to be searched for as specified in regulations. I would be interested to hear what Clause 2 does to extend the list of prohibited items from what would have been prohibited previously under regulations that the Government could have deployed using current powers.
I say in passing that it is easy in this debate to write off mobile phones as things that should be confiscated. However, mobile phones in classrooms can be used as very powerful computing devices. I would not want this debate to pass without standing up for the use of mobile phones as handheld computing devices that need to be managed. When I was at school, the pen was abused by many pupils who wrote nasty things about teachers and other pupils, yet nobody suggested that we ban the pen, because it was an important learning tool. Some electronic devices are also useful learning tools in the current century.
My final question to the Minister is: how will an appeals process work if the powers are used by a school? Will the process be governed by the school rules, with pupils and parents being able to go to the head teacher and then, as a final recourse, to the governing body? Many schools will be academies, so there will be no referral to a local authority if parents are dissatisfied with what the governors say. Will there be an appeal to the Secretary of State, or will the parents have to go to court, if they have the resources to do so? It would be helpful to understand how the appeals process will work.
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