House of Commons
Monday 10 February 2014
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Longer School Day
I would like to see state schools offer a school day that is nine or even 10 hours long, enabling schools to provide character building, extra-curricular activities and homework sessions. I look forward to working with schools to ensure that they have access to the resources necessary to provide these activities.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we need to do is close the unacceptable gap in attainment between those who are fortunate enough to have parents who can pay for them to be educated privately and those in the state sector. The very best state schools recognise that a longer school day with additional extra-curricular activities is just one way of ensuring that all our children can succeed.
These plans would strengthen children’s education, ensure time for music, sport and other extra-curricular activities, ease the time pressure on teachers and help out working parents. I urge the Secretary of State not to allow the narrow vested interests of the unions to block the delivery of these plans.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These plans will ensure that a broader range of culturally enriching activities are available to young people. I am sure that the teaching unions will recognise that this is in their interests, and I hope they will embrace and support these changes.
I know the Secretary of State sees himself as a big beast at the Cabinet table championing educational reform, but is he aware that most of us who wish well for our education system want the big beast to be controlled by good information, good research and good evidence? What is the evidence for the longer school day?
The evidence is there in the gap between, for example, the performance of independent fee-paying schools and state schools. If one looks at those children who get the best results at the end of primary school and what happens to those who go on to independent schools and those who stay in the state sector, one sees that at the moment those who go on to independent schools are more likely to get good GCSEs and A-levels. A longer school day is one of the ingredients that we believe will make a difference. Great state school heads—for example, Greg Martin at Durand academy—have already come out and explained why, in their schools, a longer school day definitely helps children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to catch up with their peers.
I support the Secretary of State’s wish that school nurseries extend hours beyond the statutory 15 hours a week. Is he aware, however, that 21 local authorities, including my own in Manchester, already provide full-time nursery provision, but that this is being put at risk by funding changes from his Department? Is this not another example of his actions failing to match his words?
I am delighted that so many schools and local authorities provide additional hours, and I work with schools to ensure that more can do so. Where local authorities experience difficulties in ensuring that parents receive the support they need, I want to ask tough questions about the leadership of those local authorities to make sure that they devote the same amount of care, attention and resource to helping disadvantaged children as my Department does.
On the basis that there is more to education than the classroom, will the Secretary of State tell the House what discussions he has had with various organisations—scouts, guides, cadets and so on—on how a longer school day would impact on the out-of-school activities that our young people undertake?
I would hope that our voluntary organisations will play a part in making sure that more young people can enjoy the sort of character-building activities that those organisations believe in. Many scout troops already work closely with schools, and cadets certainly are an integral part of the success of schools in the independent and state sectors. I want to do everything possible to ensure that children can enjoy those activities, and, in particular, that children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have not had the chance in the past, now have that opportunity.
School Opening (Bad Weather)
Our Department’s clear view is that head teachers should keep schools open during adverse weather conditions unless it is really not possible to do so. Our advice to schools makes it clear that they now have a great deal of flexibility to work creatively; for example, bringing together classes with teachers and volunteers working together.
When schools are closed owing to adverse weather conditions, that has a knock-on effect on other public sector provision, as well as on small businesses, as parents who are unable to arrange alternative child care are unable to go to work themselves. For local authority schools, will the Minister make clear whether it is the responsibility of head teachers or the local authority, or a combination of both, that schools remain open?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s views, and I know that he has taken a keen interest in this issue. It is a responsibility for all individual schools and head teachers to keep their schools open in adverse weather conditions. The Department has issued clear guidance. We are conscious that the unnecessary closure of schools causes disruption to children’s education, and to parents and to the economy.
The new national curriculum sets out high expectations of what teachers should teach, but gives them much more flexibility over how to do it. Teachers have the freedom to try new approaches and do things differently in a way that benefits students. A longer school day would also enable schools to build confidence and resilience, as well as the core academic skills vital to success.
I would like—once again—to thank the Minister for meeting me and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) last Monday to discuss mindfulness in education, and I would also like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister for the measurement of well-being, but what more can the Minister and her Department do to use mindfulness in education to raise educational attainment and improve student well-being?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for our excellent meeting last week, which I thought was very helpful. I have taken the research he put forward, and one of the Department’s education policy advisers is considering it in detail and examining the evidence. I note that 120 schools already participate in mindfulness programmes, and also that several Members of this House are using it to improve their performance.
The early-years foundation stage framework makes it clear that by the time children reach the reception class at primary school, the majority of the school day should be spent in teacher-led activities, rather than child-initiated play. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure that the framework is correctly interpreted by schools and that we do not continue to see the dominance, particularly in weaker primary schools, of so-called free-flow methods, which delay children being taught to read and entrench the attainment gap between those from wealthy and those from poorer backgrounds?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. High-quality, teacher-led early-years education is vital to closing the gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest incomes. At the moment, when those children arrive at school, there is an 18-month vocabulary gap, which is why we are keen, and Ofsted has confirmed, that although there should be no decision about exactly what type of teaching takes place, it should be of a high quality and it should raise the attainment of children and close that gap before they arrive at school.
When the Secretary of State opened the Krishna Avanti Hindu school in Leicester, he saw a room dedicated to yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Unfortunately, it was such a quick visit, he could not take advantage of its benefits. However, there is a proposal to open a secondary school, so would the Minister consider opening that school and perhaps making use of the benefits of such a room in any discussions that she or the Secretary of State might have with Ofsted?
That certainly sounds like an interesting invitation, although I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State is very mindful in the Department for Education. There are a number of free schools pioneering these types of approach, and that is one of the reasons we give schools autonomy over how to teach—so that they can explore new and innovative ideas and new ways of delivering high-quality education.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the new national curriculum is much more flexible over how teachers teach. We want to see high attainment and high expectations. Also, a longer school day gives schools more freedom to explore different activities with children to help raise their resilience and confidence.
Sixth-form Colleges (Funding)
The Government fund sixth-form colleges and school sixth forms using the same national funding formula—meaning that every child is treated the same—with extra support for the most disadvantaged.
Most of the post-16 schooling for my constituents takes place at Prior Pursglove sixth-form college. I welcome the correction of the free school meal anomaly from this September, but will the Minister now correct the further anomaly that despite receiving significantly less funding, according to the Association of Colleges, sixth-form colleges are expected to pay VAT, but schools are not?
Sixth-form colleges are funded on the same per pupil formula as every other school. They do pay VAT, and in return for that they have much more flexibility in their own borrowing. I recognise the campaign. Putting this anomaly right would cost £150 million, money that we do not have because of the enormous deficit left by Labour. I recognise the argument, but at present there is no money.
The resource spending that supports sixth-formers is exactly the same per student in free schools, sixth-form colleges and school sixth forms. We have a national funding formula. Before this Government came to office, we did not have a national funding formula; we had different funding for different pupils. We think it is fairer to have the same funding per pupil for all students, and that is what we are doing.
The funding differential is being accentuated by very significant differences in funding grant around the country, negatively affecting the f40 authorities generally and the Cambridgeshire authority more than any other. How is my hon. Friend planning to put this right?
One of the reasons for differential funding has been students who have experienced less education before they get to the sixth form than other students, perhaps because of illness, absence from school or being refugees, for example. The changes in funding for 18-year-olds in further education are hitting those people. What is the Minister going to do about it?
As part of the per pupil funding, there is extra support for the most disadvantaged—for instance, those with learning difficulties or those who are care leavers. On the changes to funding for 18-year-olds, the evidence is clear that they are on average no more disadvantaged than the totality of 16 to 18-year-olds.
Academies and Free Schools (Performance)
Results continue to improve more quickly in sponsored academies than in local authority maintained schools, at both primary and secondary level. Converter academies continue to outperform other schools and to achieve better inspection outcomes than maintained schools. Of the first wave of 24 free schools, three quarters have been rated outstanding or good.
The introduction of academies, free schools and university technical colleges into challenging areas in my constituency is lifting the performance of all secondary schools in those areas. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these schools perform well precisely because they have autonomy from local education authority control? Will he condemn any attempt to remove those freedoms?
My hon. Friend is right. It is the case that education outcomes are improving in Reading as a result of this Government’s changes. That is why it is so worrying that the spokesman for the Opposition told The Sunday Times this weekend that they would halt the free school programme. It would be a terrible reversal of the improvement in our children’s education.
My hon. Friend is right. The statistics bear him out. It is important, of course, to acknowledge that across the board our schools are improving—local authority schools, academies and free schools—but it is critically important to recognise at the same time that, particularly for disadvantaged children, academies are seeing fantastic results.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me and the many Brighton teachers who have been in touch with me that all sorts of things affect performance in our schools, including pupil-teacher ratios, selection and financial resources? Following his recent announcement that state schools should be more like private schools, if he will not or cannot even up the resources, will he at least summon up the academic rigour to compare like with like? There is plenty of evidence that state schools outperform private schools in many cases.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and had she been fortunate enough to join me at the London Academy of Excellence last week she would have seen a free school that is outperforming an independent school. The next time I have the opportunity to visit an outstanding academy or free school, I hope she will come with me to see what the state sector is capable of achieving to outpace and outperform the private sector.
The Lyndale school in south Wirral is a very small but excellent school. It is not currently an academy and it is under threat of closure. One of the options for saving it involves it becoming an academy, so if parents and I can find a way to keep the school sustainable, will the Secretary of State stand ready to help us?
I have not caught up with last week’s Times Educational Supplement, but I enjoy reading it and I will look at that article. The evidence from PISA—both the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) and I agree on this—is very powerful in favour of greater autonomy for schools, but I shall look at any critique of that evidence in order to weigh it appropriately.
Given that he has previously been chastised by the UK Statistics Authority for abusing data, how confident is the Secretary of State that his claims about the improved performance of converter academies will stand up to independent scrutiny in future?
I rely on the evidence with which I am presented by Ofsted, by league tables and by every possible measure, so I look forward to having the chance, whenever the hon. Gentleman wants to ask me again, to demonstrate how well these schools are doing. However, I note that when he came to the Dispatch Box, he did not disabuse the House of the view that it will have taken following the shadow Secretary of State’s statement to The Sunday Times—that Labour would halt the free school programme. I hope the hon. Gentleman will do so when he has the chance again.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to answer this question in conjunction with Question 22. Over half of the—
Order. The hon. Gentleman ought to be starting to get to grips with parliamentary procedures by now. There is no scope for that grouping and it certainly should not be done on the hoof, as it were. It is a matter of agreement in advance, but the hon. Gentleman will learn and he will know not to make that mistake next time.
“Businesses and the Government need to put their shoulders to the wheel and get our young people job-ready.” So says the CBI head John Cridland. I absolutely agree, but sadly the Secretary of State does not. Is he proud of his record of scrapping work experience and being in complete disarray on careers guidance?
We encourage, and have not scrapped, work experience. We want more work experience and we are putting policies in place to make that happen. For instance, the new study programmes, which started this September, encourage work experience and an all-round education to help people to acquire the skills they need to succeed.
Barclays’ LifeSkills survey found that nine out of 10 young people believe that work experience should be mandatory, yet the number of schools offering placements for 14 to 16-year-olds in England has dropped by around 15% in the past three years. Instead of failing young people, will the Minister support Labour’s proposals to bring back compulsory work experience for 14 to 16-year-olds? Perhaps he could benefit from it himself.
There never was compulsory work experience; there was compulsory work experience or “work-like activity”. As we know, young people can tell the difference very easily between real work experience and something that was cooked up in order to sound like a good headline.
We are making the vocational education system more rigorous and more responsive to employers’ needs, removing thousands of qualifications that are not valued by employers and driving up the quality of apprenticeships.
I welcome the introduction of tech levels and the technical baccalaureate, which will provide a gold standard in vocational qualifications, but what is my hon. Friend doing to promote such courses, and to lift the overall standing of vocational qualifications and practical careers in, for instance, engineering and construction?
We have a huge programme of work for that purpose. In my hon. Friend’s own constituency, for example, the number of apprenticeships has risen by 50% since 2010. By promoting tech levels and the technical baccalaureate, we are driving up standards in vocational qualifications, and supporting progression in order to show the value of vocational and technical education and hence increase support for it.
May I take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) about parity of esteem, which has always been the issue when it comes to vocational qualifications? Does the Minister think it is about time that employers associations, industrial associations, and perhaps even local chambers became involved in selling those qualifications?
Absolutely. Tech levels need to be signed off by employers in order to be recognised by the Department. In the past, there were too many so-called vocational qualifications that did not help people to get on in an occupation. We are changing that by insisting that employers publish support for a qualification before it is recognised by us, so that when people embark on a vocational course they know that they will get something valuable out of it.
Lowestoft college is doing excellent work in providing young people with the necessary vocational skills for the many jobs that will be created in the energy sector, but the cut in funding for 18-year-olds will have a significant impact on that work. I should welcome an update from the Minister on what mitigating measures are being introduced.
I strongly support Lowestoft college, and I particularly welcome the fact that the number of apprenticeships in my hon. Friend’s constituency has almost doubled since 2010. As he knows, we are looking into the allocations to individual colleges, and also looking into measures to mitigate the effects of the change we have had to make.
During our last session of Education questions, I asked the Minister about a survey conducted by The Times Educational Supplement, which found that three quarters of young people had not received information about apprenticeships as part of their careers guidance. Does he still stand by the words of the Secretary of State, who said at a meeting of the Select Committee in December that he had no plans to review careers guidance?
My Big Career is a charity that provides face-to-face careers advice in Hackney schools, and is already making great strides in improving the present position. It has also uncovered the fact that, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), young people are not always pushed enough towards the right vocational training and qualifications. Will the Minister visit Hackney to observe the work that My Big Career is doing in schools, and see for himself the benefit of that face-to-face careers advice?
Absolutely: I should love to visit Hackney with the hon. Lady. What is happening there is part of a wider drive to ensure that it is real employers who mentor and support young people and give them inspiration. It is part of a culture change that is starting to come about, and I look forward to working with the hon. Lady in that connection.
Vocational education ought to be a genuinely dual system. May I invite the Minister never, ever to utter the sentence “It is for those who cannot attend university”? May I also urge him to realise that it is essential to tie in work experience with vocational training?
I think that our minds are as one on this. I only wish that the hon. Lady had managed to convey the same message to her party’s Front Benchers when they were last in government. We strongly believe that it should become the norm in this country for young people to be able to enter either a university or an apprenticeship, that the choice should be theirs, and that our job is to provide excellent opportunities in both.
Last week the Edge Foundation published the results of a survey which showed that just 27% of parents thought that vocational education was a worthwhile route for their children to take. In the light of that, does the Minister agree with me, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), that more needs to be done to promote understanding of the additional rigour that has been brought to vocational qualifications in general, and to apprenticeships in particular, under the present Government?
I think it is not enough simply to exhort that technical and vocational education is important. We have to make sure we show that it is valued, and that it truly is valued by employers in order to change this perceptions gap, but I would also note that on the same day that that report was published evidence was published showing that applications to apprenticeships had gone up sharply again. This shows there is movement in this area—there is a culture change in this country—and support for technical and vocational education is on the rise.
Mathematics and English (Attainment Standards)
We know that English and maths are vital for young people’s life chances and employment prospects. Maths in particular provides the strongest link to future earnings and we are raising standards in both these subjects. It is good news that a record number of students are now taking maths A-level, and by 2020 we want the vast majority of students to be studying maths to 18.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The key to getting more students, and girls in particular, to take maths is the quality of teaching. That is why we are offering the highest bursaries and scholarships in mathematics, and we are also making it clear to girls and their parents that maths is vital whatever career they want to go into; whether it is fashion of farming, maths is important.
Does the Minister accept that when it comes to improving standards of attainment in English and mathematics a strong independent national inspectorate is vital, and that a strong independent national inspectorate has been the anchor of the British school system since the 19th century and the days of Matthew Arnold? Does she further agree that anything that undermines the inspectorate cannot be in the best interests of British schoolchildren?
I completely agree that it is very important to have a strong national inspectorate and that is what we have under Sir Michael Wilshaw, and I am working very closely with Ofsted, in particular on maths education, to make sure that we have the highest possible quality teaching going on in our schools. That is why this Government are establishing 30 maths hubs across the country that will look at the best practice in places such as Singapore and Shanghai and make sure that is in our schools.
Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree with me that one of the best indicators to getting good attainment in maths and English is attendance at school? So what more can be done to ensure communities who do not always have a very good attendance record at school—sometimes the Traveller community, as in my constituency—are encouraged to make sure parents ensure their children attend school in settled fashion?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and under this Government persistent absence has reduced and we have given head teachers and teachers more power to make sure parents are ensuring their children are at school. Furthermore, we are consulting on the rules around the Gypsy-Roma Traveller community to make sure there is every encouragement for all children to get the vital education they need.
I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Lady that we have recruited a record number of physics teachers this year and we have the highest bursaries and scholarships in mathematics and physics. Moreover, we are expanding professional development in maths and physics and technology to make sure all schools have access to the best possible teachers.
Safeguarding Policies (Independent Schools)
Independent schools must follow the independent school standards and statutory guidance on safeguarding, as well as requirements on vetting checks for staff. The inspection and regulatory system is designed to ensure schools meet these standards and any failure to do so triggers a process designed to bring the school up to standard or ultimately be closed.
Local safeguarding children boards are reporting increased problems in getting independent schools to co-operate with the requirements set out in guidance to provide information on their policies. Will the Minister look at this, and when does he plan to issue new guidance in relation to education and child protection issues?
First, may I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who is not standing again at the next election? Throughout her time in Parliament, she has been a real stalwart and a supporter of children in care, particularly the most vulnerable. I know that many families, not only in Sheffield but across the country, will be grateful for the work she has done. We will issue the updated guidance shortly, and I reassure her that we will look specifically at how we can ensure that the information given to local safeguarding children boards by independent schools is provided properly; that will be made as clear as possible in the guidance that is to follow.
I call the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn). [Interruption.] She has had one go; that is enough. May I say, however, that I echo entirely what the Minister has said? This House is losing far too many outstanding Members, and far too many outstanding female Members.
There is a conflict of interest when abuse is alleged in independent and military fee-paying schools, in that the interests of children as possible victims are pitched against those of the schools, which want to protect their reputation in order to maintain fee income. Will the Minister look again at introducing mandatory reporting by staff who become aware of abuse allegations to a designated local authority officer, rather than simply requiring the reporting of abuse to a senior teacher or manager in the school?
The Working Together guidance, which was revised in 2013, makes abundantly clear the responsibility of all professionals who work with children to keep them safe. The evidence, internationally and from experts such as Eileen Munro, makes it clear that mandatory reporting does not necessarily make children safer and that it can have unintended consequences. We continue to look at the arguments, but at the moment the Government are not convinced that mandatory reporting is the way forward.
What causes the Minister greater concern: the inadequate investigations into historical abuse at those schools and the lack of support for the victims, or the worry that the system he has just outlined is so full of holes that it is still possible for a dedicated abuser to carry on victimising children in those schools?
We need to be careful not to conflate the two issues of historical abuse and the robustness of the current system. When there has been abuse in the past, we need to investigate it and take the evidence where it leads. I am clear, however, that the Working Together guidance—along with all the other work we are doing to improve social work practice and to free people working on the front line to spend more time with families rather than sitting behind desks—is the way forward. We are building on the Laming and Munro reviews, and that is being reflected in the response not only that Ofsted is having through its inspections but from front-line practitioners themselves, who can see the sense in what we are doing to ensure that all children are kept safe, whatever the circumstances.
I do not accept the hon. Lady’s characterisation of teaching. If it were accurate, we would not see such huge numbers of people applying to become teachers or such an increase in the average university qualifications that teachers are getting. I would also point out that we now have the most generous system ever for funding disadvantaged young people in schools, which is giving teachers the resources to do their job effectively.
Am I correct in thinking that the Government are reforming teachers’ pay so as to give schools greater flexibility to pay the best teachers more and to reward good performance? Could anyone possibly be against teachers having the performance-related pay arrangements that apply in other professions? Can there be any possible justification for teachers taking industrial action in our schools?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that we are reforming teachers’ pay. We are ensuring that there are fair increases in their pay in these times of austerity, and that head teachers have the flexibility to reward good teachers, particularly in the most challenging schools. What the position of the other parties is on this matter I could not possibly say.
The development of a royal college of teaching should rightly be led by teaching professionals, but will the Minister examine which functions from his Department relating to professional matters and standards could transfer to a royal college? Will he consider offering arm’s length financial support to help it get up and running?
My hon. Friend rightly says that it would be a positive development if we were to have a royal college of teaching. Our Department is willing to play a constructive role in any discussions about the functions of such a body, which would particularly be in respect of professional development for teachers. We do not believe it would be right for our Department to seek to run such an organisation; we would want it to be independent of the Department for Education, but we are willing to do all we can to support such an initiative.
On 8 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education issued a written ministerial statement announcing an amendment to the Children and Families Bill. For the first time, all young carers will have the right to an assessment of their needs for support, as part of the consideration of the needs of the whole family. This amendment will help achieve our aim of protecting young people from excessive or inappropriate caring roles.
I very much welcome those measures in the Children and Families Bill. I will meet Norfolk Young Carers Forum next week to, “Get it right in education”, as the forum puts it. These young carers tell me that there needs to be more awareness of young carers at schools and colleges, and in the workplace. What message would the Minister send the NYCF?
I commend my hon. Friend for taking up the challenge on behalf of young carers in her constituency. I know they have been particularly active in helping to design and commission many of the services across the country for young carers. To help raise awareness and to encourage good practice in schools, we are working with the Children’s Society and the Carers Trust to provide teachers with the tools—the training and guidance—they need to recognise and support young carers as early as possible.
Community Primary Schools
I thank the Secretary of State for that succinct answer. The reason I ask is that tonight Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative council is set to vote for the closure of Sulivan primary school in Fulham, which is rated in the top 2% in the country, in order to give its site to a free school. Sulivan’s last hope is the Secretary of State, so will he agree with the London Diocesan Board for Schools, which wants to take Sulivan into its family of schools as an academy, that it is
“unusual to close successful schools with growing rolls”,
and save Sulivan school?
I admire good local authorities, and Hammersmith and Fulham’s is one of the best, so the decisions it quite properly takes outside the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) I would entirely support. As for creating a free school in Hammersmith and Fulham, why should a former public schoolboy such as the hon. Gentleman, who benefited from the independence of a great school such as Latymer upper, wish to deny such high standards to others? Is it that the hypocrisy—forgive me, the double standards—of the Labour Front-Bench team now extends to the Back Benchers, too?
Academies and Free Schools (Accountability)
Academies and free schools are subject to the same rigorous Ofsted inspection framework as maintained schools. Ofsted inspectors examine the impact of leaders at all levels and evaluate how effectively the school is governed and managed. The Education Funding Agency and our Department are also responsible for the oversight of academies and the free schools programme.
I thank the Minister for that response. Where both teaching staff and Ofsted, through these inspections, raise concerns about the management or governance of an academy or free school, what means are available to them to secure any necessary changes to both procedures and personnel?
The first thing staff and others should do in those circumstances is to raise their concerns with the governing body. If they are not satisfied with that, they should not hesitate to raise concerns with either the EFA or our Department. We always take such matters extremely seriously. If my hon. Friend has any concerns about any cases in his constituency, he should feel free to raise them with me or other Ministers.
22. Will the Minister assure the House that when a school that is currently under local authority control has more than one option for moving to academy status, that school and the community will have a genuine choice about which option to take? (902491)
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will seriously consider the local authority’s view, but we will ensure that the best possible sponsor is in place, and that is not always the sponsor identified by the local authority, especially if the authority itself has failed over a long period to raise standards in that school.
Developing Character and Resilience in Young People
Schools play an important role in providing character-building activities for their pupils. Sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadet forces and debating competitions all help to build character and give children opportunities to flourish. Schools are best placed to determine the needs of their pupils and how best to meet them.
Given that welcome emphasis on character building for all, may I commend to the Minister—and subtly plug—a report out tomorrow on character and resilience by the all-party group on social mobility? Will he consider more ways to develop these crucial traits throughout childhood, and in and out of school?
The report has clearly moved to the top of my reading list. I will read it carefully and look at some of the lessons that we can learn from my hon. Friend’s work, to which I pay tribute. We have already spoken about the role that cadet forces can play in state schools, and we are working with the Ministry of Defence to improve that role. We are also removing unnecessary health and safety rules that prevent children from going on expeditions and seeking adventures, which I hope that the whole House will applaud.
Of course one of the ways of building resilience among pupils would be to introduce compulsory sex and relationships education. Fahma Mohamed, a 17-year-old student from Bristol, is spearheading a national campaign to end female genital mutilation. I understand that she has written to the Secretary of State to ask if he is prepared to meet her. Her petition has already attracted 167,000 signatures. Will the Minister ask his colleague whether he is prepared to meet Fahma, who is doing brilliant work through the campaign?
Leadership in Schools
Leadership and management are integral to the success of a school and, as such, feature regularly in my discussions with Her Majesty’s chief inspector.
What was it that brought the Secretary of State to the view that it was time to “refresh” the person in charge of Ofsted, Baroness Morgan, and to bring in a fresh perspective? What specifically concerned him about performance on school improvement to lead him to that conclusion?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to do in this House what I have done on other platforms and underline my debt to Baroness Morgan, who has led the Ofsted board in a superlative fashion. However, it is good corporate practice to ensure that the chair of any body—whether the Surrey Heath Conservative association or Ofsted—is refreshed from time to time.
I had the opportunity last week to congratulate the nation’s teachers on the fantastic GCSE performance recorded in our league tables, which show that the number of students being educated in schools below floor standards at secondary level has diminished dramatically under this Government. I would like to take the opportunity once more to thank the nation’s teachers for the superb work that they do.
I echo the Secretary of State’s comment.
Following a unilateral decision by an academy upper school in my constituency to change the age of transfer from 13 to 11, assuming that the local authorities carry out a feasibility study and full consultation, and demonstrate that pupil outcomes will be improved, what assistance can the Government give towards capital expenditure for any reorganisation of the feeder schools, as that clearly is not in any plans?
My hon. Friend raises a very specific case, although I understand why she has brought it to my attention. I hope that we will have the opportunity to talk afterwards so that I can ensure that the Dorset local authority is provided with all the support it needs to make sure that children’s educational standards improve.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Halton (Derek Twigg) have shown, the Opposition recognise the essential role that Ofsted plays in driving up standards in schools. I want to place on the record our continued support for Sir Michael Wilshaw. However, since we last met, the Secretary of State has, in the words of Sir Michael, unleashed a “smear campaign” against the chief inspector. He has also sacked Baroness Morgan as chair of Ofsted, despite the fact that the Minister for Schools thinks that she has done a “fantastic job”. Why is the Secretary of State so intent on undermining England’s independent school inspectorate system?
I am sure that the chief inspector will be touched to hear the hon. Gentleman’s words of support, but I think that he will also be disturbed to hear that he is alleged to have uttered words that he did not utter. This is not the first time that the hon. Gentleman has sallied forth without being in secure possession of the facts. It has been the case beforehand that his facts have been wrong about the situation in the South Leeds academy, and it has been the case that his facts have been wrong, on broadcast, about the number of unqualified teachers in our schools. His facts are wrong again in the allegations he makes about the chief inspector. I hope that he will take this opportunity to ensure that the House knows that he has unfairly and wrongly put words in the chief inspector’s mouth that he did not utter.
We see that the Secretary of State has refused to condemn the campaign against the chief inspector. Is not the truth of the matter this: Ofsted is inspecting his free schools without fear or favour, and he does not like it? The chief inspector wants to inspect academy chains, and he does not like it. On Friday the Al-Madinah secondary school closed, and on Sunday we learned of a new Ofsted purge. Surely the Secretary of State should focus on raising standards, not politicising our school inspectorate system.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to be taken seriously, he must pay close attention to the facts. The facts are these: I have been zealous in ensuring that we apply a tighter and more rigorous inspection framework to all schools—free schools, academies and maintained schools—and in so doing I appointed Sir Michael Wilshaw and I appointed Sally Morgan. I have been the person who has been leading change in our schools. I have been the person who has been insistent that we hold our education system to the highest standards. I am the person now demanding once again that the hon. Gentleman withdraw his earlier statement when he put words into the mouth of Sir Michael Wilshaw that he did not utter. If he does not, we will draw the appropriate conclusion, as the New Statesman already has, which is that his policies are both “timid” and “incoherent”.
T3. I recently visited Havering college in my constituency and Barking and Dagenham college just outside it. The Secretary of State will be pleased to know that we have excellent standards there, but one thing that is lacking is the importance of teaching our young people about the British constitution, our history, political affairs and so on. What do the Government intend to do to ensure greater awareness of those subjects among young people? (902496)
From September, the new history curriculum will ensure that children understand the history of these islands as well as a coherent chronological narrative. In citizenship, they will learn about the United Kingdom’s constitution, about the precious liberties enjoyed by citizens of our country and about their role as citizens and how they can participate.
T2. Given the well documented problems that whistle- blowers encountered in reporting their experiences at Barnfield Federation to the Department for Education, will the Secretary of State commit to publishing all inquiry reports in full, including all the versions that have circulated outside the Departments involved? (902494)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that case. As we both know, very serious allegations have been made in connection with the Barnfield Federation. They are currently being investigated, and nothing I say, do or publish should prejudice those investigations. However, as has always been the case, whenever there is information that it is right we should share with those affected and with the public, we will share it in due course.
T4. What action is the Minister taking to support parents and children in deprived areas, particular those in temporary accommodation and without access to IT facilities, to access and retain permanent school places, and is he willing to look at the system in place at Barnfield primary school in my constituency, with a view to seeing how the Government might encourage effective support in other schools? (902497)
I would be delighted to look at the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency to see what we can learn from it. During this Parliament we have more than doubled the capital budget for basic need compared with the budget under the previous Labour Government, and that is helping us to deal with such pressures across the country.
T5. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your earlier kind comments, and the Children’s Minister for the same. Given such warmth towards me today, perhaps the Secretary of State will tell me why, given that in 2007 the Prime Minister spoke of a new generation of Co-operative schools and said that they had been welcomed across the board, not one of the Ministers will agree to meet me to discuss these issues and the Bill that I put forward which would put Co-operative schools on a firmer footing. (902498)
T6. Will the Secretary of State make it 100% clear that he is totally supportive of teachers who want to use their judgment and common sense to apply discipline and punishments that are sensible and proportionate? (902499)
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. A third of teachers do not feel they know exactly which sanctions they are able to use. That is why the Secretary of State outlined sanctions such as writing lines, running around the school playing field and picking up litter, so that proper discipline can be imposed. It is vital that students are able to learn and that there is an end to low-level disruption in the classroom.
The hon. Lady is right to be concerned about some of the ever-changing risks, as well as opportunities, for young people through the internet. That is why we have brought in the teaching of online safety at every key stage so that from the earliest opportunity children are getting the benefit of sound advice. It is also important that parents play their role so that children are getting a consistent message both at school and at home.
T7. The 17.5% cuts in spending for 18-plus learning announced last year by the Education Funding Agency, the changes in the 16-to-19 funding formula and the unfair treatment of sixth-form colleges compared with schools regarding VAT have put sixth-form colleges under serious strain, with cuts to courses and staff. Will the Minister, or even the Secretary of State, meet me and the principal of the excellent Barton Peveril college in Eastleigh to discuss the impact of these cuts? (902500)
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the principal of his local sixth-form college to discuss how to make sure that in these tight spending times, which we all know exist, sixth-form colleges can maximise the flexibilities at their command in order to continue the excellent education that most deliver.
Many children who are entitled to free school meals do not receive that benefit, often because parental embarrassment or a lack of English mean that the application is not made. Will the Minister ensure that those children are passported through on the basis of benefit assessments already made in respect of those families?
This is a very important issue, because take-up of free school meals is quite low in some parts of the country. We are working with local authorities to improve the identification of the children who are so entitled, with some considerable success. As we introduce universal infant free meals, we will also look at ways in which we can make this more automatic for all the pupils who are entitled to extra funding for free school meals and the pupil premium.
T8. I have recently had to deal with a number of bullying cases in my local schools. The root cause of that bullying appears to be very poor discipline. Too often, this indiscipline is caused not by bad teaching but by bad parenting. Will my right hon. Friend do something to improve the situation? (902501)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that parents and teachers need to work together in order to ensure very high standards of behaviour. It is often the case that what happens before children ever attend school—in the earliest years—matters. That is why the programme of work that the Government are undertaking, led by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions and for Communities and Local Government to help troubled families is so important.
University technical colleges are an increasingly important and positive part of our education system. Do Ministers share my dismay that, despite the Baker Dearing Trust making it very clear that one would be welcome in Leeds, Leeds city council refused to put one together for the important West Park centre site, which is now a pile of rubble?
Contrary to the information given earlier, the Secretary of State is well aware that the attainment gap between the wealthiest and the poorest children in this country grew in every region apart from London last year. Does he accept any responsibility for that?
I absolutely do, but I think the hon. Lady is in error. As has been pointed out by Dr Becky Francis, among others, the attainment gap actually narrowed in primary schools, where our reforms have had more of an opportunity to have an effect on a percentage of children’s lives. At secondary level, of course the problem remains. That is why it is so disappointing that the Labour party is opposed to initiatives such as the free schools programme, which Andrew Adonis has greeted so warmly, but which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) would halt.
I and parents, teachers and local councils in my constituency are supporting a bid for a studio school at the site of the Grange school in Warmley. Will departmental representatives agree to meet me and a delegation to discuss the bid, which will be absolutely vital for raising standards in my constituency?
At a time when there is overwhelming evidence about the value of physical activity to improving health outcomes and learning in classrooms, why on earth is the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), defending the right of teachers to use running around the playground as a punishment, rather than using the bully pulpit of the Dispatch Box to condemn such outmoded practices?
As a great admirer of Teddy Roosevelt, I am happy to use whatever bully pulpits are available. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), on securing a sports premium in our primary schools, which ensures that more physical activity is available than ever before. I also thank the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) for the work he has undertaken with me to bring an independent school into the state sector—using the free school programme—in order to give more children opportunities I am afraid his Front-Bench colleagues would, for ideological reasons, deny them. He is a good Blairite; they are the bad ones.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a very acute point. One of the flexibilities we have given—not least to academies and free schools—is the ability to vary school holidays in order to make sure that holidays can be cheaper and parents can take them off-peak. That is another school freedom that, for ideological reasons, I am afraid Labour Front Benchers would deny. I do not understand why they are so keen to make holidays more expensive for hard-working families.
I am rather perplexed. Are Government Front Benchers able to help me? A written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) said that there was no idea how much it cost to create 138 new sixth forms in schools. Given that we want value for money, I found that very difficult to understand.
The point I was making is that the amount of resource spending for each pupil aged 16 to 19 is the same, with an additional amount for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those studying more high-cost programmes like engineering, our support for which is vital for our national economy.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the sentence handed out in Amersham Crown court last week to the former head teacher of the Caldicott preparatory school after years of abuse of children in his care. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to my constituent Mr Tom Perry, who was brave enough to speak out about his own abuse? Will he agree to meet Mr Perry and me to discuss the possibility of mandatory reporting, as Mr Perry believes it would better protect our children in the future?
Before Clause 1
Contact Between Prescribed Persons and Adopted Person’s Relatives
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 2 to 42.
Lords amendment 43, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 44 to 72.
Lords amendment 73, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 74 to 120, 126 to 149 and 151 to 157.
Lords amendment 158, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 159 to 176.
It is a pleasure to set out to the House a number of Lords amendments. The changes will improve our reforms, and make a real and lasting difference for children and families. I hope Members will support them. I will try to be as succinct as possible in explaining each set of amendments.
As the House will recall, part 1 of the Bill covers adoption, and we have made Lords amendments 1 to 11 to this part. Through Lords amendment 1, we have added a clause that will enable us, by regulation, to ensure that those with a prescribed relationship to people adopted before 30 December 2005 can apply to access intermediary services to facilitate contact with the adopted person’s birth relatives.
Will the Minister please say whether there will be a presumption in favour of disclosure to children and grandchildren? Specifically, if an adopted person does not wish to have contact with the birth parents, does the amendment state that prescribed persons can go against those wishes?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his continued interest in this important matter. The whole basis of the amendment is to extend the provisions that already exist, so that anyone who wants to make further inquiries, about accessing information or making contact, has to do so through the intermediary services. There is not a presumption, therefore, in that sense. We are looking to go beyond the direct line of descendants from the adopted person, who obviously fall within the prescribed relationship category, and consult on whether we should widen that to others. The provision certainly does not work on the basis that if someone does not want to have contact there is a presumption that that will take place.
The intermediary service is there to ensure that anyone who seeks access does so in a way that does not compromise the position of the person they are seeking either to gain access to or make contact with. That is in line with the approach that already exists, and which works well and successfully. What I can say on the record to reassure my hon. Friend is that this will not force anybody to have contact if they do not wish to do so. Clearly, there will be lots of reasons why people will either want to make contact or have access to records. For example, someone may want to understand the genetic history of direct descendants to see whether there is a prevalent hereditary disease to which they are more prone.
At this juncture, may I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) for his tireless campaigning on this issue, as well as to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), who has continued his personal interest in pursuing these important changes? I believe that the changes will ensure, where it is appropriate to do so and through the intermediary services, a greater prospect for those who want to establish contact or have access to information, to be able to do so without compromising those who may be also involved.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for his generous words. I put on record that many of my constituents, and many people from outside my constituency, have contacted me on this matter. I have been able to say to them that this has been Parliament at its best, working with Ministers on this subject. I am grateful to him for the advice and support of his office in moving towards an acceptable solution.
I thank my hon. Friend for those words. As he knows, this has been a long-standing issue on which we have sought the advice of the Law Commission and others to establish a way forward. The fact that we can now legislate and implement these provisions represents a good outcome for many people, including his constituents.
In amendment 2, we have clarified the point at which the fostering for adoption scheme must be considered for a child and established that before a local authority considers placing a child in this way, it must first have considered kinship care and decided that it was not the most appropriate placement. Also in part 1, through amendments 7 to 10, we have introduced an affirmative resolution procedure in relation to the Secretary of State’s powers to direct local authorities to outsource adoption functions, in relation to the use of personal budgets and in relation to allowing approved prospective adopters to search and inspect the Adoption and Children Act 2002 register in pilot areas.
On part 2 and family justice, many hon. Members will be pleased that the noble Lords accepted the principle and purpose of clause 11. However, we have accepted amendment 12 to clause 11 from the noble and learned Baroness Butler-Sloss. As hon. Members will also be aware, clause 11 introduces a presumption that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each parent, where this is safe and subject to the overarching principle that the child’s welfare must be paramount. Baroness Butler-Sloss’s amendment addresses concerns raised that the clause could be misinterpreted as giving a parent a right to a certain amount of time with a child. That was never the intention, as I have said several times during the Bill’s passage. The amendment addresses those concerns by clarifying that “involvement” does not mean a particular amount of time.
Importantly, the amendment does not change the effect of clause 11, as it will remain for courts to determine what arrangements are right for each child in the light of the evidence before it. I want to put on the record my gratitude to my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley) and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has championed this change in the law for many years. I have no doubt that had he not done so, we would not have made the significant progress we now have.
I thank the Minister for his comments. I understand the logic of Baroness Butler-Sloss’s amendment in not referring to a particular division of a child’s time. Despite being at loggerheads with her over many years, I can see the logic of that. Will he explain, though, why her amendment refers to “direct or indirect” contact? What does that add to the Bill?
As I said in Committee, I did not feel it was necessary to add anything more to the clause in order to explain its function, but that was not the view of their lordships. The reference to “direct or indirect” contact makes it clear what we mean by “contact”. As I know from my time practising in the family courts, many orders are set out in those same terms. It does not mean, however, that indirect contact, in itself, fulfils the presumption that we have now set in law; it simply makes it clear what we mean by “contact”.
I thank the Minister for establishing the important principle that children’s rights include knowing, and having contact with, both their parents, but for the benefit of the House and those outside, will he confirm that “indirect” contact will not be interpreted as meaning just a phone call at Christmas or a book of photographs, and that it will be meaningful contact, even if indirect?
Once again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his persistence in pushing this issue. I cannot prescribe exactly the outcome of every case before the courts or the view of a judge concerning the correct order to make. However, the clause seeks to make it abundantly clear that, where it is safe to do so and in the child’s best interests, the child should have meaningful contact with both parents. How that contact takes place is then for the judge to determine according to the usual criteria. I was trying to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that indirect contact, on its own, could not, in every case, fulfil the presumption. It is important to put that on the record, and I wrote to him today about that to put—I hope—his mind at rest.
On contact, will the Minister clarify the position regarding children’s views and the paramountcy principle? From what he just said, I am slightly concerned about the view of the judge. I know he thinks it important that the needs of the child come first, but how do we ensure that contact is appropriate and avoid inappropriate contact that does more harm than good?
We will do that by ensuring that the paramountcy principle still holds water and that the judge’s discretion is not fettered by this change in the law. We went to great lengths to set out, with the help of parliamentary counsel, exactly how that would operate. Baroness Butler-Sloss, with her esteemed legal mind, was happy to accept it in the terms we set out. So I do not see any conflict. We have been clear from the start that this is about the right of the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, where it is safe for them to do so and in their best interests, and their lordships have agreed to that presumption and principle. The only change that has come, as a consequence of their amendment, is that we are stating in the Bill something that we had already made clear was our intention in both the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and in subsequent stages in the House.
I would like to recognise the considerable contributions by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd)and my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly)to our important reforms of the family justice system. Their expertise and insight have been invaluable. I was a fellow Cestrian member of the Bar and, like him, plied my trade along the north Wales coast, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman’s legal clout will be sorely missed in the next Parliament and beyond.
Part 3 takes forward our fundamental reforms to special educational needs and introduces integrated education, health and care plans for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs, extends comparable rights and protections to 16 to 25-year-olds in further education and training, as found in schools, and introduces a new local offer to ensure that parents, children, young people and those who work with them can see the support that should be available to them.
I welcome the enhanced offer in the Bill as a result of our deliberations in Committee. Earlier today, I had a meeting with senior consultants in social services and charities concerned about the situation of seriously ill children, their families and the social work support they need. How will the incorporation into the Bill of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 help those children, who might be terminally ill, but will certainly be seriously ill, and their families get the social work and educational support they need at a very difficult time?
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will be dealing in more detail later with the social care element, the 1970 Act and how that sits within the Bill. However, during the course of the Bill, I have met hon. Members concerned about children who might be terminally ill, perhaps with cancer, seeking support from elsewhere, outside their educational environment. We have taken that into account in the Bill and in the code of practice, which is still being drafted but will soon be available, so that those who require support through their education receive it when they need it and in a way that makes a difference.
I had the opportunity to meet CLIC Sargent and a Labour Member who has a particular interest in this matter to discuss many of their concerns. That has already resulted in some changes to the draft code of practice, and CLIC Sargent remains involved—as do many other organisations, charities, parent-carer groups, parent partnerships and others—in shaping the SEN code of practice so that it reflects what we know works on the ground. That will continue as we move into the implementation stage, should the Bill become an Act in due course. Given these reforms, for which many families, professionals and charities have been waiting for 30 years, it is fair to say that many of our conversations with CLIC Sargent and other groups—particularly the discussions about the all-important detail, which is ultimately what will matter—have been helpful.
I, too, am particularly pleased that the local offer has been somewhat strengthened, as it will be central to the success or otherwise of the new system of support for children and young people with special educational needs. However, I still do not think it is good enough for the unwritten postcode lottery that we have now just to become a written one. Does the Minister not agree that we need a baseline against which parents can judge whether their local offer is good or even sufficient?
I thank the hon. Lady—for probably the 14th time during the passage of this Bill—for her continued constructive approach to this part of the Bill. I know she has a keen interest from her own family background in ensuring that we produce a system that has children and their families at its heart. We had an interesting and quite long debate in the Commons and another place about the local offer and minimum standards, as well as—from memory—a number of Westminster Hall debates.
It is clear from both the regulation on the local offer that we have set out and the code of practice that having a national framework not only provides some of the stability in provision that the hon. Lady is looking for, but allows the local offer to be truly local, so that people have a genuine reflection of what their local authority expects to be available and deliverable for children and families in that area. Therefore, although I hear her continued call—which I think is for national minimum standards—I think we have got the balance right between having a national framework and giving parents and young people the opportunity to be consulted on the local offer and comment on it as it is developed, and also, given the addition to the Bill and the code since the Commons stages, ensuring that local authorities respond to the queries and concerns raised by families.
As the hon. Lady knows, we have to use the affirmative resolution procedure in this House for the code of practice and that will provide an opportunity to look at some of these issues. The other thing we have done to ensure that implementation is as successful as it can be across the country is to carry out a local authority readiness survey. We are working with local authorities that are perhaps not as well advanced as others in starting to prepare for the changes, which includes looking at the local offer and what steps they have taken so far to involve families in its evolution. That will continue as these reforms become a reality from September.
I appreciate the Minister’s giving way. Things will vary around the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said. Will he look at sharing good practice, and does he think it wise for the Government to be saying, “This is what we consider to be best practice,” in order to give local authorities that do not have best practice an indication of what they should be doing?
We have already provided local authorities with a raft of good practice and data to help them not only to improve their understanding of what is required of them, but to do better at the earlier end of the process —in commissioning, planning and assessment. We can learn a huge amount from many of the voluntary organisations that are out there in the field, working closely with families and statutory agencies to ensure that they get the best possible outcomes. We have a number of grants and contracts with those voluntary organisations to support them in doing that. That will be a key part of ensuring that our reforms start to bite in the way that we have already started to see in many of the pathfinder areas.
We have also extended the scope of a number of significant clauses to children and young people who are disabled, but do not have special educational needs, through Lords amendments 14 to 39, 41 to 46, 48 to 51, 62 to 65, 67 and 118. I am pleased that we were able to make that change, which has been widely welcomed. For example, Julie Jennings, a board member of Every Disabled Child Matters, has said:
“The changes announced today mean that all disabled children and young people, will benefit from the Children and Families Bill when it is introduced. This is very welcome news, indeed.”
To reflect that, Lords amendment 176 would amend the long title of the Bill to include children and young people with disabilities. We have also made it clear, in clause 21, that health care and social care provision that educates or trains a child or young person is to be treated as special educational provision. That relates to an understandable concern of many Members of this House, so I hope the change in Lords amendment 13 is welcome.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. We had many arguments about the “wholly or mainly” provision in the original draft of the Bill, and I am grateful to him and the noble Lord Nash for listening to the case that many of us made against it. We now have clarity, which we hope will prevent the sort of damaging litigation that has plagued special educational needs provision over the years.
My hon. Friend speaks with great wisdom and force, as he has done throughout the passage of the Bill, particularly on this part. To hear him utter those words gives me great confidence that we have done the right thing and ended up with both clarity and a sense of what is now required as we move forward.
The local offer was discussed at some length in this House. We have amended part 3 further to improve accountability and the responsiveness of the local offer. I do not think it would be right to make the changes sought by amendment (a) to Lords amendment 43 in the way proposed. These issues have been debated at length in both Houses, both of which accepted the Government’s arguments, which I will briefly explain again.
The local offer will contain provision made by a wide range of organisations, including small voluntary sector groups or informal arrangements—for example, a circle of friends group for disabled young people set up by local young people. The services may be expected to be available, but this cannot be guaranteed. Requiring local authorities to publish what is available might deter them from including such provision in the first place, and children and young people will miss out. In publishing what it expects to be available, the local authority cannot say, “Well, we think this might be available one day, so we’ll put it in.” For the avoidance of any doubt, we will make it clear in the SEN code of practice that the duty on the local authority to set out what it expects to be available is not about what it would like to be available, but about what it actually expects to be available.
We have also made a set of amendments that will shift the focus from explicit consideration of age when assessing education, health and care plans for 19 to 25-year-olds, and that instead require local authorities to consider whether a young person requires more time to complete their education or training, and whether the specified outcomes have been achieved before the plan can cease.
Lords amendments 72 and 73 build on the health duty introduced in Committee in the Commons by including in the Bill provision made under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, under which there is an existing duty to provide social care services to disabled children. Those amendments were welcomed by the Special Educational Consortium and a number of peers on Third Reading in the other place. Lord Rix said:
“The government amendments move us closer to the holy grail of integrated education, health and social care,”
“undoubtedly aid children and young people with a learning disability and their families.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 2014; Vol. 752, c. 209.]
Well remembered, Minister!
I think that there is much that we can support in the Bill, but I wanted to ask about the single point of appeal and the reviews and pilots that are taking place. Will the Minister explain how the findings will be used in the further development of the appeal process?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for returning us to the important issue of redress. I shall go into a little more detail in due course, but I can say now that I was conscious from the outset that we should do all that we can to integrate education, health and social care throughout the system, including in the areas where there was disagreement. I think that we have gone a long way towards achieving that during the passage of the Bill so far, but if the hon. Lady will bear with me for a few moments, I shall wax lyrical for her and the House’s benefit.
I understand the intention behind amendment (a) to Lords amendment 73. It is, of course, vital for parents and practitioners to understand the duties to deliver the social care services specified in the education, health and care plan. However, let me reiterate the points made by Baroness Northover when she spoke to Lords amendments 72 and 73.
The Government amendments mean that when a local authority decides that it is necessary to make provision for a disabled child under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 following an EHC assessment, the authority must—I emphasise “must”—identify which provision is made under section 2 of the Act, specify that provision clearly in the EHC plan, and deliver the provision. Furthermore—I hope that this is helpful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)—we will ensure that the SEN code of practice specifies the services under section 2 that must be included in the EHC plan and explains the existing duty to provide those services, in order to provide clarity and reassurance for parents and practitioners.
The code of practice will clearly specify the other social care services that must be included in the EHC plan and relevant local authority duties, including services provided for children and young people under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 that are not covered by the 1970 Act, such as residential short breaks, and adult social care services for young people aged 18 to 25, where a care plan is drawn up under provisions in the Care Bill. Given those reassurances, I do not think it is necessary to legislate for a further requirement to identify existing duties in the EHC plan.
Lords amendments 86 to 97 and 113 constitute a strong package to improve the join-up between education, health and social care when parents and young people wish to complain or seek redress. That includes extending mediation and establishing a review of appeals and redress in the new SEN system. Following a commitment that I gave on Report, we tabled a meaty group of amendments that will strengthen protections and support for young offenders with SEN. They require local authorities and relevant health commissioners to arrange appropriate special education and health provision for young offenders in custody, enable EHC assessments to take place while a child or young person is in custody, and require secure youth institutions to co-operate with local authorities and to have regard to the SEN code of practice.
The package also includes amendment 114, which would remove clause 70. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) for his involvement in and guidance on the issue, and on many of the changes I have just outlined. As he knows, I was as uncomfortable as he was about clause 70. Although it was a legal necessity at the beginning of our deliberations, it did not really reflect the ambition that we shared, and I hope that he is as pleased as I am to see the back of it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he worked with the Ministry of Justice and, in particular, with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who was as committed as we were to ensuring that this was an ambitious Bill that covered all the right areas. I pay tribute to both Ministers for ensuring that children and young people who need rehabilitation as much as punishment can be assisted, and we can reduce reoffending. That is very important too.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. Perhaps I should also put on record the important contribution of Lord Ramsbotham, who, having worked at the top of the Prison Service, has continued his work in Parliament and enabled us to make the inroads that we have made in the Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart)— whose continued scrutiny of and interest in the Bill have been extremely welcome—and all the other members of the Education Committee. I thank the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) for all the challenge and support that they have given to this part of the Bill. Let me also put on record my deep gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) for doing so much of the groundwork, without which the Bill might never have become a reality.
Part 4 contains a number of important measures that will help to make more high-quality, affordable child care available to parents. It addresses the long-term decline in childminder numbers by establishing childminder agencies, removes the requirement for local authorities to produce a bureaucratic three-yearly assessment of child care in their areas, and introduces paving legislation for tax-free child care.
On Report in another place, we were pleased to introduce Lords amendments 157 to 160, which contain a clear requirement for Ofsted to report on the arrangements whereby childminder agencies assure the quality of the early education and care offered by their childminders. I note that amendment (a) to Lords amendment 158 relates to that subject, and I can confirm that our intention is for Ofsted to conduct sample inspections to secure that assurance. Ofsted recently published its consultation paper on childminder agency inspections, which includes details of its proposal to carry out sample inspections of early years providers, so we do not agree that such a provision is needed in the Bill. I am happy to discuss the matter with both the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), and the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) as we try to proceed with these important changes.
We also introduced technical amendments, Lords amendments 161 to 175 to schedule 4, to clarify the arrangements for childminders to appeal against suspensions by their childminder agencies and to clarify the disqualification regime for staff running or working in a childminder agency. Lords amendment 119 allows regulations to be made setting out the arrangements whereby local authorities fund early years providers delivering the free child care offer, and limiting any unnecessary conditions that local authorities could place on providers. I am pleased that we were able to introduce new policy to the Bill, which, if accepted, would create a new part 5 entitled “Welfare of Children”.
Lords amendment 120 removes the restriction on the types of performance in which a child under 14 can be licensed to take part, which will enable children to take part in a wider range of performances. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for his admirable persistence in keeping that issue to the fore. I know from the correspondence that I have subsequently received from a range of organisations and individuals who are vexed by the issue how warmly those changes have been received. Let me put on record my thanks to Sarah Thane, whose work ensured that the issues were properly examined and have resulted in important legislative and non-legislative changes. I am continuing to work with the Local Government Association to enable local authorities to gain as much information as possible on how they can streamline their own procedures so that many more children, as well as being safe and having their welfare taken into consideration, have the opportunity to participate in what can be extremely valuable additions to their early lives.
Lords amendment 126 adds an important new clause to improve the assessment of the needs of young carers. I thank the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and the National Young Carers Coalition for their constructive and patient approach and interest in this subject. Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, welcomed the amendment, saying:
“We applaud the Government for taking a huge leap to support often incredibly vulnerable young carers who are slipping through the net, undetected by the support services they desperately need.”
Lords amendment 127 adds a new clause which consolidates and streamlines existing legislation for individuals with parental responsibility for a disabled child, under which they have the right to an assessment of their needs by a local authority.
On amendment 126 in respect of young carers as well as parent carers, may I thank the Minister very much for the way in which he has engaged with carers organisations, me and many other hon. Members? These issues first surfaced in the Joint Committee’s scrutiny of the Care Bill, and I thank the Minister for care and support, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), for the way he has engaged with these issues, too. Will the Minister here tonight now give some consideration to the following? Now that we have these two parts of the Bill and we complete the range of improvements for carers, can we make sure we have joint guidance from both Departments covering all carers?
May I first pay particular thanks to my right hon. Friend and also to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) for their dedicated work and interest on behalf of parent carers? That was clearly on display at the meeting I had with them both not too long ago. My right hon. Friend will see that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for care is sitting alongside me, and we both heard that constructive and sensible suggestion, and we will both take it up and discuss it in more detail and see whether we can make some important cross-Government changes so that those who are looking at the guidance that is relevant to them find it easier to access and understand it, rather than trying to find information in a host of different places.
It is helpful to get these points clarified. I think my suggestion would be helpful, in particular because this welcome new provision for parent carers makes specific reference to the well-being principle in the Care Bill; and making sure that guidance is co-ordinated will ensure that there is no difference in application, regardless of whether someone is in a children’s service or an adult service.
My right hon. Friend makes a sensible and logical suggestion; we will go away and consider it and come back to him in due course.
Amendment 128 added a new clause enabling any young person who was in care immediately before their 18th birthday as an eligible child to continue to reside with their former foster carer once they turn 18. The local authority will be under a duty to support such arrangements, commonly known as “staying put” arrangements, until the young person reaches the age of 21. This is an issue on which many of us with a background in fostering and adoption and those involved with the all-party group on looked after children and care leavers from both sides of this House and in another place have worked for many years. I am delighted that we have been able to find the funding to do it, and I would like to thank the Earl of Listowel and my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) for their work on this area. I am very sad that the late and much missed Paul Goggins is not with us today to celebrate this important step forward for young people leaving care. As was typical of Paul, I suspect he would have shied away from taking any of the plaudits, a trait that set him apart and from which we could all learn. We owe him a huge debt.
In welcoming this new clause, Janet Rich of The Care Leavers’ Foundation said:
“Step by step this Government has demonstrated that it truly understands the difficulties which face care leavers as they set out on the journey towards adulthood. Today’s announcement is another positive step on the journey towards State-as-parent acknowledging the duty they owe to this uniquely vulnerable group of young adults”.
I agree with the move the Minister is proposing. I think it is very good news. I also welcome what he said about Paul Goggins. Is this the start of a move to raise the age for care-leaving, given that many adult children stay at home much longer than this? Will the Minister say something about the potential for extending the care-leaving age for children in residential homes as well, as it is my understanding that that is staying at 18?
I share what I think is the hon. Gentleman’s ambition, and that of many others, to move away from seeing age as the sole indicator of whether a young person is ready to move on when they are in the care of the state, and, as we have done in the Care Bill and elsewhere in this Bill, to move towards looking at it as more of a continuum of care, trying to shape what is necessary for the young person around that young person, rather than simply using the blunt instrument of a birthday to decide their future.
This is an important step in relation to the three-quarters of children who are in foster care and securing their future into adulthood, but of course, as I made clear in an Adjournment debate only a week or so ago, I want to see us move towards this as a norm rather than an exception. That is why, although we have some much needed wide-reaching reforms to the residential care system, I see that as part of addressing how we can use residential care in a much better way than we have in the past, not simply seeing it as a last resort, which has too often been the default position. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman that I very much desire to see what we have done with the “staying put” arrangements for foster children spread more widely at the right time and when we have confidence that it will do what we want it to do, which is to improve the lives of those who are moving on from care and into independent living.
We worked closely with a number of organisations to bring about amendment 129, which introduces a new duty requiring maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units to support pupils with medical conditions. This issue was first raised in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders). We are currently consulting on draft statutory guidance and advice that will support the duty, but it is encouraging that the likes of Diabetes UK had this to say about the change:
“The Government’s announcement that it will amend the Children and Families Bill so that schools have a legal duty to support children with health needs has the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of around a million children.”
Amendment 130 adds a new clause to clarify the law in relation to the Secretary of State’s power to intervene when a local authority is failing to deliver children’s services to an adequate standard. Amendments 131 to 134 seek to improve the quality of children’s homes, and particularly to enable us to develop a regulation and inspection framework for children’s homes that sets high standards for children in residential care and offers them the support required to achieve positive outcomes. This has been a significant piece of policy development, founded on the formidable efforts of the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who is in her place tonight and whose own all-party group report and continued close involvement have been of huge assistance. As she knows, this is part of a wider reform package that is already under way and I have no intention of shying away from the necessary changes required to ensure that children who are in residential care get the best possible care based on the best possible decisions.
Amendment 135 introduces a new clause to require state-funded schools, including academies, to offer a free school meal to all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2. Giving every infant pupil a healthy and nutritious lunch will bring educational, health and social benefits, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Amendments 136 to 138, which cover the provisions on the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, will require the Children’s Commissioner to have “particular regard” to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and to give an account in his or her annual report of the steps taken to involve children and how their views were taken into account in the discharge of his or her functions.
Amendments 139 to 142 are minor and technical amendments relating to the part of the Bill that deals with the introduction of shared parental leave. They would give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to allow for a notice to curtail statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or statutory adoption pay to be revoked subject to restrictions and conditions. Finally, consequential amendments 144 to 151 would make commencement dates clear in the Bill where necessary.
I commend these changes to all hon. Members. I firmly believe that they have improved our legislation and that, more important, they will make a profound and tangible difference to the lives of children and families.