House again in Committee on Clause 40.
Page 30, line 2, at end insert-
“( ) The authority shall ensure the parents of a child for whom a statement is maintained under section 324 of Education Act 1996 are given sufficient advice under subsection (1A) about the possible options open to them, including provision in both mainstream and special schools.”
The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to a number of amendments on children with special educational needs—Amendments Nos. 164, 254 and 255. This cluster of amendments drives straight to the heart of an issue that is close to many of our hearts. We have already debated the broad implications of special needs education. Indeed, we have also touched on the policy of inclusion that seems to have been adopted across the country, whether deliberately or not, but I wish to return to it briefly now as the real on-the-ground effectiveness of special educational needs provision is in serious need of review.
I was saddened but not surprised to read that SEN children are nine times more likely to be excluded than children without statements. The Committee will agree that that is not due to the inherent bad behaviour of children with SEN; rather it is largely due to the lack of provision being made for those children. Across the country there are some truly fantastic schools doing a wonderful job, but there is no way that we can claim that children with special educational needs are being provided for with any consistency.
There are two major problems: first, the complete lack of clarity on inclusion; and, secondly, the statementing process. Inclusion poses one of the great educational quandaries of this century. The number of children with SEN rises year on year. This situation will not disappear. School admissions policies are being confused due to the provisions of the SEND Act 2001. Under that Act, school governors and teachers,
“may be at risk of prosecution if they refuse a school place to children with special educational needs, even if the school does not have sufficient resources to provide an appropriate curriculum”,
according to the Cambridge University paper, The Cost of Inclusion.
There is a clear confusion here between existing legislation and the government policy outlined by the Minister the week before last, where we learnt that the Government have a child-centred policy on SEN. LEAs across the country are under the impression that they are under a duty to enact inclusion in a structural sense by pushing children into the mainstream. Those authorities could be said to have mistaken the concept of inclusion for a structural duty rather than the substantive principle that I take it to mean. For by inclusion we must mean the real day-to-day inclusion of a child in everything occurring at the school. We cannot mean the mere physical inclusion of a child in the classroom. There is far more in question and far more to the equation than that. Amendment No. 164 would ensure that parents are given the appropriate advice about all SEN options open to them. It would provide an interim measure for parents in a thoroughly confusing system.
The next consideration must be for the effective inclusion of those children without special needs. Amendment No. 254 makes no assumption about where a child should go. It does, however, state clearly that children without a statement should ordinarily be placed in a mainstream school. I emphasise that this amendment is tabled in a constructive spirit. We on these Benches, and in the Conservative Party as a whole, have been thinking very seriously about the SEN issue. We have a special needs commission looking into potential solutions for improving statementing, and for somehow separating the allocation of statements from the allocation of resources without having to give any one body unfettered powers to make financial grants. Subsection (3) of the amendment states—along the lines of my party’s SEN interim report published on 29 November last year—that a national funding agency would allocate funds to statemented children on one of a spectrum of categories. A statementing system should not vary from local authority to local authority. Subsections (4) and (5) take into account the wishes of the parent, and subsection (6) confirms the involvement in SEN provision of CTCs and academies.
Amendment No. 255 would replace a provision left removed by this Government from the 1996 Act for reasons that have never been clear to me. This is not a statement of policy; I merely hope that the Minister will take an active part in this debate and perhaps give us an idea of the Government’s plans for SEN in the next few years. There is clearly much more work to be done. Today I hope to achieve not a statement of a new policy on SEN but a commitment from the Minister to reconsider the problem of SEN.
This is a complex issue about which we are thinking hard. I leave the Committee with the following thoughts. The Priory Education Services representation to the Education and Skills Select Committee of 21 June had a pragmatic and commendable approach to SEN students. It says:
“It is not enough for us to describe ourselves as ‘good’ and excuse the lack of measurable outcomes because ‘our students do not have the ability to pass exams or achieve other externally verified results’. We must live in the real world, where education standards do matter and will influence the young person’s subsequent life and achievements”.
That is right. These children must be given the chance to flourish, to participate in and contribute to the real world. I beg to move.
I wish to speak to my Amendment No. 179, which follows on from the noble Baroness’s amendments. My amendment about special educational needs has two parts. The first part would provide that those who take decisions on whether children should be statemented, and to what extent, should be separate from those who provide the funding. The noble Baroness argued that point, which is consistent with the Conservative Party report to which she referred. I came to that conclusion from experience, knowing what a problem it has been for local education authorities to provide the necessary funding. This has led to a rearguard action on the part of local authorities sometimes to resist legitimate cases because they just do not have the money, as they see it. Antagonistic, confrontational and adversarial relationships can develop between parents and a local authority. That must be wrong. The Government’s increase in funding for special educational needs has been a material help, but immediately after the Commons Select Committee reported the Minister said what the Government’s attitude was. Another person spoke about the difficulty that she had had in getting a child statemented. These amendments were tabled before the Commons Select Committee reported, but I note that that Select Committee recommended:
“There is an inbuilt conflict of interest in that it is the duty of the local authority to assess the needs of the child and to arrange provision to meet those needs and all within limited resources. The link must be broken between assessment and funding of provision”,
which is what my amendment is about.
I describe the second part of the amendment as the Velcro part of the amendment. It would provide that children with a statement of special educational needs should be allocated funding on an individual basis, and that it should go with them wherever they go. It is their statement and their resources. In proposing that, I had two objectives: first, that a child with a statement is welcomed rather than seen as a burden because the funding to support that child is made available; and, secondly, to ensure—in saying this I am conscious that schools are honourable places—that the money allocated to that child with special needs is spent on them.
In making that point, I note that Ofsted, in its evidence to the Select Committee, said that there was evidence that some delegated funding for schools was not being spent on special educational needs. I further note that the Minister, in his evidence, said that it was,
“crucial to see that money intended for SEN is spent on SEN”.
The Select Committee recommended:
“The fundamental problems in the statementing process that prevent funding from following the child should be resolved as a matter of urgency”.
The Velcro-ing of the statement to the child is particularly helpful if the child moves between local authorities and if it is to the child’s advantage to spend part of his time in one school and another part in another school or in a pupil referral unit. It enables parents who feel that a school is not serving their child well to secure their transfer to another school without that school having qualms about whether the funding is available. I do not expect the Minister to agree to those two amendments right away, but I hope that he will accept that these are the kind of changes that have the strong support of the Select Committee and other quarters of the House.
I hope it is in order for me to make an addendum to what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has just said. One of the justifications for introducing the system of statementing in the original 1978 report was precisely that the statement should follow the child. That was not included in the 1981 Act, for obvious reasons; no one was interested in the motivation of the statement, they were just interested in its introduction. This remained, at least in my mind, the most important element in the statement, and it has been gradually dropped to the extent that now, if a parent moves from one local authority to another, the statement is not automatically renewed or regarded, and the whole process of statementing, including a new tribunal, has to be started all over again. A child may miss months of education in that way. I support the amendment very strongly.
My name is added to that of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on Amendment No. 179. We on these Benches have Amendment No. 184 in this group. I shall speak to both amendments. We very much support the two principles enunciated in the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has tabled. We support the notion that the SEN classification should be made by an independent body outside the local education authority. As the noble Lord said, there is an inherent conflict of interests for those responsible for meeting the costs of special educational needs—and they are not insubstantial costs. Just before we resumed Committee stage, there was a debate about autistic children. If an autistic child is so difficult to handle at home that they must be sent away to a suitable boarding school for 36 weeks a year, it costs the local authority £100,000.
Given that local authorities have a limited pot of money available to spend on special educational needs, they have to be careful how much they spend and how much they concede when parents and teachers come before them and say that a child needs a statement, special attention or extra money spent on him. Unfortunately, often it is not the needs of the child that come to the fore but the need of the local authority to balance its budget and not to overspend on its special educational needs budget. One sees this too often; the foot-dragging that so many parents experience in getting statements for their children is almost inevitable given how the system works. That is the first principle, and we endorse it.
The second principle is that the funding allotted to the child should be carried with the child. You can argue that with a statement this is so; that when a child moves schools with a statement the money goes with the child. This ignores the fact that a lot of children with special educational needs are not now statemented. We have deliberately limited the number with statements, and there are those in the category of School Action or School Action Plus. Other children who are not necessarily classified as having special educational needs, but who come perhaps from a disadvantaged home, have special needs that pose problems for the school.
There is a scheme in the Netherlands called the pupil premium, whereby every pupil aged five tosix years old, when they have been at school for a year or so and been assessed, receives a number that is set according to the level of additional funding needed to meet their individual needs. The more disadvantaged the child, the higher the number. In turn that acts as a multiplier on the basic funding per pupil that the child receives. The Liberal Democrats endorse that principle, and we wish to put into practice the requirement that money should go with the child.
It is true that money is already allotted to local education authorities, and in turn allotted from local education authorities to schools, to meet special educational needs in the area. This is based on such things as free school meals and the number of children already assessed to have School Action or School Action Plus needs. We know that too frequently that money is allotted on a pro rata basis to schools, and schools do not necessarily receive funding proportionate to the number of disadvantaged and special educational needs children, including non-statemented children with special educational needs, that they have. It is frequently divided out proportionately among schools, and schools themselves do not necessarily make sure that money goes to the education of individual children.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is that if we are to encourage schools to admit difficult children, we must give them some incentive to do so. In so far as these children carry a premium of extra funding, it gives the school an incentive to take them on and provide for their needs. Not only have I put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, but from these Benches we thoroughly endorse it and would love to see it put into practice.
Amendment No. 184A probes the Government on the role of local authorities and where they are left. Although it was tabled in the House of Commons, we are still not clear from the Minister’s reply exactly what role local authorities are expected to play as providers or commissioners of support services. We are very concerned that if such things are left to the randomness of the market or the efficiency, or lack of it, of a local authority, some of our most vulnerable pupils will be at a disadvantage. We are concerned that every pupil should be entitled to the services that enable them to fulfil their full potential, as the Government clearly intend under the Bill. Moreover, since this part of the Bill was debated in the Commons, we have had the new Select Committee report on special educational needs, in which it makes considerable comment on local authorities’ ability to deliver adequate support services for special educational needs. In particular, the report makes the following recommendation:
“The Government should provide much clearer guidance on minimum standards and implement a statutory requirement for local authorities to maintain a broad ranging and flexible continuum of provision which should then be monitored on a regular basis”.
Again, the report recommends:
“Any national framework must allow for local flexibility. Local authorities must continue to have the capacity to plan and reorganise provision to meet the needs identified locally—including support, services and provision for low-incidence needs”.
Another recommendation stated:
“We recommend that SEN regional partnerships are given increased and guaranteed funding for their role in planning provision for low incidence SEN”—
those are non-statemented special educational needs—
“Local authorities should take action towards achieving the standards set out in the National Service Framework for children, young people and maternity services in respect of disabled children and speech and language therapy”.
All told, there is a considerable case for looking again at this area, and it would be helpful if the Minister could give us some hope that local authorities will have their responsibilities under the new system clarified.
My contribution to this group will be short, as I realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has major amendments in Amendments Nos. 254 and 255, to which, no doubt, she will speak.
I want to press the Minister further. Troubling evidence emerged in the Select Committee report and in the debate during the lunch break about a rapid rise in the number of children who might end up being regarded as having an SEN. I am concerned about two groups in particular: the group associated with autism and that associated with various forms of dyslexia and dyspraxia, the incidence of which seem to be growing rapidly.
In the Minister’s view, is that largely due to clearer identification of certain children’s needs, or do social pressures on children make them more likely to show evidence of special educational needs—some of which are related to issues such as family breakdown—earlier in childhood?
Secondly, will the Minister address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my honourable friend about the possibility of the child carrying with it specific additional financial assistance, apart from the statementing process? As the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, the great author of the 1978 report, said, statemented children are much more closely protected than those who are not statemented but show signs of additional educational needs.
In that context, a great many pressures on schools arise from testing, examinations, league tables and so on to produce the best possible overall performance. Therefore, powerful contradictory tendencies in regard to SEN children need to be addressed, and I would be grateful if the Minister would say something on the possibility of addressing that by looking again at a financing system for SEN children.
I would like to hear the Minister state that he recognises that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is the way forward. That would provide consensus around this Chamber and we could proceed in a considered way over the next few years to work out all the complications and complexities that go with that.
The principle that the decision whether to issue a statement should be separated from the person providing the money, and ideally that both functions should be separated from the local education authority, goes well with the Government’s ambition that a local education authority should be seen as supportive of parents, as their friend, aide and a source of advice to them. So many other things that the Government are doing are moving in that direction, such as school advice, which we have just discussed. So much that the Government are doing enables local authorities to help parents, but this one little island remains where local authorities are in many cases set in direct conflict with parents.
A system has evolved whereby parental choice is becoming restricted due to command decisions taken by local education authorities. They are not all the same; there is immense variation between LEAs, so individual parents who are not mobile between LEAs have an extremely restricted choice. Inclusion policies can vary between no favouritism for inclusion to a determination that all children should be included, making it difficult for parents to choose special schools if that is what they want.
There is an extraordinary difference in attitudes to statementing. There are variations ranging from about 1 per cent in Nottinghamshire to 7 per cent in Camden. It is inconceivable that that reflects an underlying trend in the children. In fact, it is extremely well known, particularly in the case of Nottinghamshire, that that is due to a determination not to issue statements, and that if you happen to live in Nottinghamshire you have an extremely difficult time obtaining a statement of special educational needs. Well, fine. But that is not the national policy and it restricts enormously parental choice.
Local education authorities perform very differently in relation to children with special educational needs in their care. I have investigated the issue of value added in primary schools. There is enormous variation between the best authority, which in 2005 was Windsor and Maidenhead, to the worst, Slough, across the river. That variation is related not to deprivation or ethnicity—at least, not as far as I can establish from the DfES data—but, as one learns from talking to the LEAs, to the degree of support that they give their schools.
Those lucky enough to teach at a school in Windsor and Maidenhead are given a great deal of training as soon as they enter a school on how to deal with SEN children. As soon as a child in such a school shows characteristics that teachers feel are a bit beyond their experience and abilities to deal with, the local education authority will send in a help squad, which arrives the next day. There is immense support from that LEA for children with special educational needs, and that really shows in results. It is the only authority in England where children in primary schools with special educational needs have value added at the same level as children who do not have those needs.
That points to another problem resulting from such widespread underperformance. It probably relates to a combination of factors: children are let drift for a while; schools are not as crisp as they should be on picking up the problem; when they do, the support is not there; and there is no training in many schools—that was recognised by the Cambridge study and the committee in another place. All sorts of factors inherent in schools and very much related to the LEA they happen to be in, because of the nature of its support services, affect how a child is treated.
Under those circumstances, it is imperative that we move local education authorities from their preoccupation with saving money to a preoccupation with helping parents and children. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, points the way forward in both respects. It is essential under that sort of system to have transferability of funding. That is the only way of getting reasonable parental control over whether you go for a special school, whether you bring that money into a mainstream school—as fully included or as part of a unit—and whether units develop. The Minister hymned the virtues of units within mainstream schools. I completely agree with him, but at least one local education authority—Cheshire—is abolishing all its units. Viz, fiat! Why is it able to do that? It can do it because parents have no choice. A parent cannot say, “I want a school with a unit. Therefore, I will go to this, that or the other wonderful unit”. There is currently some extremely good unit provision in Cheshire.
Parents have no choice; they cannot select that option. The funding stream remains within the control of the local education authority, which can say, “You can go there but the funds will not follow you”. That degree of control by local education authorities, which enables them to impose blanket policies and removes choice from parents across the totality of their schools, again, goes fundamentally against many things that this Government are trying to do. We should move the choice to the child, his advisers and his parents. If the first part of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is accepted, with a local education authority being on side, I think that we will move to a much more constructive situation.
My own amendment in this group merely says that schools should publish proper information about their facilities for children with special educational needs. At the moment, they are frightened of the law. The law says that they have to be totally inclusive, so, if asked, everyone says that they can do everything, but that is by absolutely no means the case. There are schools that are wonderful and know what they are talking about and there are schools that simply have not made it. That information should be available to parents. The basic information can be put in ways that are unarguable. How well trained are staff? What experience has the school had of dealing with pupils who have, say, ADHD? What forms of screening does the school operate to pick up problems? Those are establishable facts that can be published in prospectuses and can enable parents with savvy—a remarkable number of parents of children with SEN are savvy; it does not depend in any way on their background—or their advisers to pick up the signals that they need to know which schools are likely to suit their children.
I want to say a word in support of Amendment No. 181A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—particularly the second part of the amendment. If parents are given information about the training, experience and qualifications of some of the teachers in the school that they are contemplating for their child, they may have a much better idea about whether that school is suitable for their child’s need.
There is a terrible tendency to treat all special educational needs as though they are one, but teachers who are well trained and expert in teaching, say, a dyslexic child may know nothing whatever about a child with autism. I think that parents are entitled to know whether anyone in the school has experience, training or qualifications relating to their child’s disability. That would be a great addition to the choice which, as we have heard, is so often lacking for parents of children with special educational needs. Therefore, something like proposed subsection (2) of Amendment No. 179 should be introduced urgently, whatever happens with regard to the financing of children with special educational needs, although that is, of course, a more important issue.
I very much echo the first statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—we would all like to hear that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, can be accepted. With his knowledge of this area, the noble Lord gave added impetus to the need to give even more attention to achieving some uniformity between local education authorities.
I want to refer to one sad thing and one good thing. The sad thing is that the number of SEN children has increased. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in asking the Minister to indicate whether he can explain that. The good thing is that all sides of the House—all parties—are concentrating on this issue as needing far more attention than it has had in the past.
It is clear from representations that we have had from teachers’ groups that they feel very much under pressure when they do not have the necessary resources or expertise. It is crucial that we separate those who make the decision and those who pay for the provision. I hope that out of this very interesting debate will come clear agreement from the Minister.
My sympathy is absolutely with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, but I live in the real world and I am interested in implementation. Having listened to the debate, I have some questions about how you ensure choice among poor families or those who lack assertiveness, and how you ration if your schools and local authorities do not ration, because there is simply not enough resource for everyone.
I have a strong recollection of being in social care when the supply of old people’s homes was made readily available to everyone instantly. That got totally out of hand, and another form of rationing had to be introduced rapidly to ensure that proper provision could be made and that proper rationing for the right groups of people could be undertaken. I support the amendment absolutely. However, in this world of scarce resources, I want to know from the Minister how the rationing would be carried out and whether there would be enough resource to go round.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, raises exactly the right question. If there were easy answers in this area, I can assure the Committee that we would have grasped them long ago. There is a very strong attraction to the propositions put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, but I think there are also very major problems with them. I shall set some of those out in a moment.
These amendments enable us to debate further the vital area of special educational needs, which we addressed at some length on our first Committee day. I had a lot to say then about general SEN policy and I do not want to repeat my remarks, except to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who asked me two more general questions. The evidence is that the increasing numbers of pupils identified with special educational needs have a great deal to do at the aggregate level with much better and earlier identification and, within certain areas of severe special educational needs, it has a great deal to do with better survival rates, so we see more children at the more severe end of the autistic spectrum. Higher survival rates and better medical science come into that. In specific areas of SEN such as dyslexia, to which the noble Baroness referred, better and earlier identification tends to drive up the proportions and the numbers.
On Amendment No. 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, under current legislation authorities must give information to parents of statemented children, including a list of all maintained primary or secondary schools in the area, maintained special schools, non-maintained special schools and independent schools that are approved to take state-funded children with special educational needs. The new choice advisers that we are introducing will be able to help parents of children with statements. They will be expected to have knowledge of special educational needs and disability legislation and to be aware of the provision in their areas, including special school provision and how to access the local SEN parent partnership services which already play a valuable role in advising parents on the availability of local provision and how to go about the process of statementing, dealing with local authorities, and so on.
I turn to Amendment No. 181A, standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I have written to him at length setting out the relevant regulations covering the duties of schools in this area. That includes a requirement to publish and make available to parents details of SEN policy and provision, including any arrangements for in-service training for staff in respect of special educational needs. However, the training, development and qualifications of staff working in special educational needs are vital. That was raised in a recent report of the House of Commons Select Committee and we shall give it full consideration in our response. I believe we can and should make improvements in that area and we shall be setting those out in our response, particularly in the important area of the provision and training of special educational needs co-ordinators, who in many ways are the key individuals in schools as regards leading provision for special educational needs.
I turn to the issues raised by Amendment No. 179 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. In making decisions about statements, local authorities quite properly have to have regard to the efficient use of resources. Those resources have increased very significantly: resources for special educational needs have increased from under £3 billion five years ago to £4.5 billion this year. Nothing in this area, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says, comes cheaply. She referred to £100,000 for a residential place in a special school which makes provision for children on the autistic spectrum. Even non-residential places are coming in at over £50,000 in special schools which make dedicated provision in that area. Of course, local authorities have to have regard to the efficient use of resources, but that is only in the context of making provision which fully considers and is in the best interests of the individual child.
Furthermore, there is a right of appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, a right introduced in 1994 on three key issues: first, a right of appeal against any refusal by a local authority to assess for statement, which includes a local authority to which a pupil moves seeking to change the assessment of the statement; secondly, a right of appeal against the provisions set out in part 3 of the statement; and, thirdly, a right of appeal in respect of the school named in part 4 of the statement by the local authority. Decisions of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, of which there were 1,800 last year, are binding. I stress that because, having had experience of being a Minister in this area for the past year, it is very important to get into the complexity of issues and arrangements. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to Nottinghamshire, a county whose provision I know. He is quite right to say that it has one of the lowest levels of statementing in the country. It also has one of the lowest levels of appeals to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal of any local authority in the country, so there is no good prima facie evidence to think that the quality of provision in Nottinghamshire is leading parents to be disproportionately dissatisfied compared with other authorities. Indeed, some authorities with the highest proportion of statements per 10,000 pupils—I can send the figures to the noble Lord—are those with some of the highest proportions of special schools. The quality of provision in this area is not necessarily linked to higher or lower levels of statementing. In my experience, a good deal of it has to do with the quality of resourced and non-resourced special needs provision in mainstream schools. They account for the great majority of pupils with special educational needs. Whether you have a statementing level at 1, 2 or 3 per cent, the great majority of the nearly 20 per cent of those with special educational needs will be in mainstream schools. This does not apply to parents of those with severe special educational needs, of course, but for most parents the decision of whether to pursue a statement will be intimately linked with the actual quality of provision available to their child in the mainstream school, as they seek to make school choices.
That is borne out by last Thursday’s Ofsted report into inclusion, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. It directly addresses this issue, which has governed so many of our debates since the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, raised special schools so starkly a few months ago. It has done so through a substantial survey of special schools, mainstream school units and schools with resourced provision attached. The first paragraph of the executive summary of the report is on the Ofsted website, and makes clear where Ofsted’s judgment lies:
“The most important factor in determining the best outcomes for pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities … is not the type but the quality of the provision. Effective provision was distributed equally in the mainstream and special schools visited, but there was more good and outstanding provision in resourced mainstream schools than elsewhere”.
I stress that because of the policy in Cheshire, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which I have looked into because he raised it with me and I take care to follow things up. That policy is a move in a direction for which, on the basis of the Ofsted report, good support could be claimed—provided, of course, it is done in a proper and orderly way. As I understand it, the Cheshire policies are at an early stage of development, and are not proposed to be implemented in full until 2016. It is a long process.
That brings me directly to Amendment No. 179 of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on whether to break the link between assessments and funding. I shall be clear: we are carefully considering these issues in response to the Select Committee. We have a duty to do so; the Select Committee made recommendations and the noble Lord referred to them. I point out two immediate things, however. First, you cannot make a distinction between assessment and funding unless there is an open-ended commitment from the Government simply to meet all the decisions made by the assessment body. Either the body undertaking the assessments has a budget or it does not. If it does not, the only way its decisions can be implemented in full is if the Government give a completely open-ended commitment to fund them.
Whether or not you think that is a good idea, you must consider the role of local education authorities in this process. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brought this out: you would not simply leave the assessment decision with that body. If it is not a local authority, it would have to be a national or regional quango; there is no other way you could do this. But because the naming of the particular school the child attends is vital to the assessment decision, if the agency were left with that decision you would in practice be taking the whole determination of local special education needs provision substantially out of the hands of the local authority and giving it to the quango. I have thought about this a good deal in response to the Select Committee, and when we were thinking abut our decision in the run-up to it. You cannot make this neat distinction between assessment and provision. The assessment obviously drives the provision. Once the quango which you set up to determine these matters starts making its assessment decisions, that will drive the pattern of local provision.
That is not to say that this may not be a better system than the status quo; it is well worth thinking about. If I were seriously thinking about it, one of the first things I would do would be to ask the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to chair a national inquiry to look at these issues, as he has done in so many other areas. I add a note of caution, however: noble Lords must be aware of the gravity of the decision that they will be taking. In effect, they would be removing special educational needs provision—the key decisions about funding and patterns of provision—from local education authorities, which are elected and accountable to their localities, and giving it to a quango. Noble Lords should be under no illusions that this would be the effect of their decision. We have had a lot of debates about local authorities over the three nights we have been debating this, but that would be a bigger change in the role and functions—and withdrawal of functions—of local education authorities than any other provision of this Bill currently in place.
I hope that this is considered in the run-up to Report. I am not saying that there is no case for such a change; it should be considered in a mature way. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, was seeking to put the idea out. I did not get the sense that he was seeking to oblige us to make a rapid choice. If the Committee were to do this, however, it would be a fundamental change of education policy and the role of local education authorities. That should not be entered into lightly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised the issue of the powers of local authorities in respect of support services. They already have wide powers in this respect, including in all those areas referred to in the amendment, so we do not believe that it is necessary. The Select Committee raised the uniformity between local authorities in the quality of services. In our response to the committee, one of the issues we are considering is whether there should be minimum standards, but the powers of local authorities in this area are adequate to fulfil their functions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, tabled Amendment No. 254, and I believe her intention is to weaken the assumption of mainstream education for children with special educational needs and to ensure that where parents of children with statements want a special school, they are able to achieve that. Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 already provides that where a parent of a child with a statement indicates that he does not want a mainstream education, the local authority has no duty to provide it. On the contrary, parental wishes are a vital consideration in making any decision about a placement. The LEA is expected to abide by those wishes unless it believes one of three conditions specifically defined in law: that to do so would not meet the child’s special educational needs; that it would not be compatible with the efficient education of other children with whom he would be taught; and/or that it would not be compatible with the efficient use of resources. The parent has a right of appeal to SENDIST if he disagrees with the decision of the local authority about the placement, and SENDIST’s decision is binding. Therefore, the current system meets the objectives of the noble Baroness. I end with the salient fact that over the past five years, the proportion of pupils with statements who are educated in special schools has gone up, not down. That underpins what I said about the needs of the child determining policy in this area. A blanket policy seeking to reduce the role of special schools does not exist.
I hope the question I am about to ask has not already been asked; I apologiseif it has. The wife of a friend of mine teaches in a primary school in Sheffield. She has a class of32 children to manage. She has two classroom assistants, but they are taken up by two or three of the most difficult children. A number of the children have statements, and a number should have statements but do not. Dealing with such a large class is an immense pressure on her and her family. It would be helpful to hear what steps the Minister and his colleagues are taking to reduce class sizes, perhaps in certain areas.
Class sizes in primary schools have been reducing; the average size has reduced since 1997. It has reduced particularly rapidly at infant level because of the statutory requirement that classes for five, six and seven year-olds may not exceed 30, except in defined exceptional circumstances that mainly relate to appeals. The number of teaching assistants has more than doubled, and a good proportion of them are focused on primary schools. The adult-pupil ratio in primary schools has improved substantially in the past nine years, but I cannot be accountable for every classroom in the country. The classroom to which the noble Earl referred may not have seen all the benefits.
I thank the Minister for his response. I was looking not for immediate acceptance of these amendments, but for the will to look at them constructively. The Minister dealt at some length with the difficulty of the first part of the amendment; that is, separating the decision from the funding. I do not want to offer a half-baked solution; I understand the problem and we need to look at possible solutions.
The second part of the amendment is about velcroing funding to the child. I am not sure that the Minister spent much time on that. I felt that even if he had to say, “Your idea that the funding goes with the child across local authority boundaries raises big problems, but within the local authority it would go with the child”, that is a start. Even so, there is another element—the funding should be spent on meeting the special needs of that child. That does not seem to raise the problems.
In response to what the Minister said about the right of appeal, a parent who is not a good reader on receiving eight pages of typescript about rights and so on would tend to shelve it as being too difficult. One must recognise that there are big differences between how people are able to use their rights. Some are much more able than others and I suspect that there are a lot of parents who on seeing this formidable piece of paper saying what their rights are will put it on the shelf.
I add one comment to what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was saying. It is right to encourage an aspect of the Government’s thinking about partnerships. Within the partnerships it would make sense for one school to say, “We are particularly skilled in dealing with autism”. Another one’s skill might be dyslexia. Within the partnership the schools can meet the needs of the community, as each school clearly cannot meet the whole diversity of needs.
I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said about timescale. Clearly, as the Minister said, to move in the direction of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is a major change and takes a lot of consideration. There is no reason why this should be done with any hurry, particularly if we are doing so with consensus. We all agree that it is something we want to get right rather than having some politically competitive imperative to get it done before the next set of elections. I still think that it is the right way to move.
The Minister asked whether the quango would have to have a budget, whether the rationing would be done by the quango and whether that was right. I do not expect some locally elected representative to have a part in the decision of whether I need a knee replacement, and I cannot see the decision on whether my child needs support for his special educational needs as anything different. It is an assessment of somebody’s need. The provision of that need should be completely outwith local politics. Exactly how the quango sat with all the bits of apparatus from the NHS to social services to everything else like that is something we should have a long and constructive discussion on. The purpose of this, as much as anything else, would be to make sure that other means of dealing with the problems were incentivised at the same time as the purely in-school one of dealing with the problems at that end.
There are a lot of things to think about, but this is a very positive way to move forward. Obviously there is a budget. Whether someone with standard-grade dyslexia gets £1,000 or £2,000 a year is something that can be dealt with in the context of that budget. You can produce incentives in the budget so that if the child goes to a residential school he gets X and if he goes to a day school he gets X minus something, but part of the saving is going to the mainstream school to make that child and that bit of the decision more attractive. You can incentivise decisions which are sensible.
I am sure that the independent sector will respond by providing, as it does with the care of the elderly, care at the level of funding which will be available from the state. I do not see that as a problem and I see the fundamental question of whether the decision should be taken in some way by elected representatives or by experts to be a no-brainer. That decision of whether there is a need and of how much it should be funded should be an expert decision. I agree that when we come to local provision—which school and what pattern of provision—the LEA should have an influence but the pattern that the Minister has advocated of the LEA and the parent working together as friends and partners to provide for the child should evolve in response to decisions taken by that partnership and should not be imposed by local authority fiat. Yes, that would come out differently.
The Minister says, and I have no reason to think that he is wrong, that Nottinghamshire has wonderful provision in its mainstream schools, so everyone chooses that. If so, that would stay. I see no difficulty in differences evolving in response, especially to parentally influenced decisions as to what provision they want. That seems entirely right. To agree that the pattern of provision should be the subject of local authority fiat goes against everything that the Minister has been saying about other aspects of education being responsive to parental wishes and provision changing to meet wishes of children and parents. There is a great deal to be said for looking seriously at the direction proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.
This has been a good debate, which has confirmed what I said at the outset, which is that there is a need for a proper review of special needs education. That could emanate from your Lordships' House, as the level of debate, knowledge, experience and concern on the issue speaks volumes in what has been said both today and in previous debates on the Bill.
I do not want to detain the Committee but, briefly, I entirely concur with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. As I said, there is a real problem with regard to statementing and funding and, somehow, we need to separate that process. As he said, this is a complex issue. I accept what the Minister said about the law stating that there should be a choice between special needs schools and mainstream schools but in fact, because of issues, especially funding, a different thing seems to be happening on the ground. There is real inconsistency across the country among LEAs. That is a strong impression, which is confirmed from our experience from talking to people directly affected. That does not merely affect parents who are unable or find it difficult to read. For parents there are hugely confrontational moments with local authorities. That is agony for all parents. This is an extremely difficult area and one in which the problems are manifest among more and more young children—ironically, as the noble Lord has attested, because of medical advances. This will not go away; we must sort it out for the future chances of all those children.
For now, I will read what the Minister said about our amendments in Hansard and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 165 and 165A not moved.]
Clause 40 agreed to.
After Clause 40, insert the following new clause-
“DUTY OF GOVERNING BODY TO IMPLEMENT DECISIONS RELATING TO ADMISSIONS
(1) In section 88 of SSFA 1998 (admission authorities and admission arrangements), after subsection (1) insert-
“(1A) Where the admission authority for a community or voluntary controlled school is the local education authority, it is the duty of the governing body to implement any decision relating to the admission of pupils to the school which is taken by or on behalf of the admission authority.
(1B) Subsection (1A) does not affect-
(a) any right of appeal which the governing body mayhave by virtue of arrangements made in pursuance of section 95(2) (appeals in relation to children to whom section 87(2) applies, other than looked after children in England), (b) any right to refer the matter to the adjudicator which the governing body may have by virtue of section 95A(3) (references to the adjudicator in relation to looked after children in England to whom section 87(2) applies), or (c) the application of section 101(2A) or section 109(2).” (2) In section 86(2) of SSFA 1998 (duty to comply with parental preference) for “a local education authority and the governing body of a maintained school” substitute “the admission authority for a maintained school”.
(3) In section 89C of SSFA 1998 (co-ordinated schemes for admission arrangements)-
(a) in subsection (3) for “by virtue of this section” substitute “by virtue of section 89B”, and (b) after subsection (3) insert- “(3A) Where any decision as to whether a child is to be granted or refused admission to a maintained school is (by virtue of regulations under subsection (3)) made by the local education authority although they are not the admission authority, the governing body of the school must implement the decision.” (4) In section 94(1) of SSFA 1998 (responsibility of local authority to make appeal arrangements) in paragraph (b) for the words from the beginning to “the authority” substitute “in a case where the governing body of a community or voluntary controlled school maintained by the authority are the admission authority”.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 41 [Prohibition on interviews]:
[Amendment No. 166A not moved.]
[Amendments Nos. 167 and 168 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Clause 41 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 not moved.]
After Clause 41, insert the following new clause-
“ADMISSION ARRANGEMENTS FOR SCHOOLS WITH RELIGIOUS CHARACTER: CONSULTATION AND OBJECTIONS
In section 89 of SSFA 1998 (procedure for determining admission arrangements) in subsection (2)-
(a) omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (c), and (b) after paragraph (d) insert “and (e) in the case of a foundation or voluntary school which has a religious character for the purposes of Part 2, such body or person representing the religion or religious denomination in question as may be prescribed.””
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 171A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 171, not moved.]
Clause 42 [Restriction on alteration of admission arrangements]:
[Amendment No. 171B not moved.]
Clause 42 agreed to.
Clause 43 [Objections to admission arrangements]:
[Amendments Nos. 172 and 173 not moved.]
Clause 43 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 174 not moved.]
Clauses 44 to 48 agreed to.
After Clause 48, insert the following new clause-
“SCHOOLS WITH PRE-1998 ARRANGEMENTS FOR SELECTION BY ABILITY OR APTITUDE
(1) Section 100 of SSFA 1998 (permitted selection: pre-existing arrangements) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) for the words from “so long as” to the end of the subsection substitute “so long as-
(a) the proportion of selective admissions in any relevant age group does not exceed the permitted proportion (as defined by subsection (1A)), and (b) there is no significant change in the basis of selection.” (3) After subsection (1) insert-
“(1A) In subsection (1)(a), “the permitted proportion”, in relation to any relevant age group, means the lowest proportion of selective admissions provided for by the school's admission arrangements at any time since the beginning of the 1997-1998 school year.””
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 49 [Pupil banding]:
Page 38, line 29, leave out “subsection (2)” and insert “subsections (2) and (2A)”
Page 39, line 11, leave out “make” and insert “introduce”
Page 39, line 12, at end insert “(1) or”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 49, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 50 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 179 not moved.]
After Clause 50, insert the following new clause-
“DUTY TO REDUCE REGULATION
(1) The Secretary of State must publish annually a list of all regulations for which the Department for Education and Skills is responsible which lay a burden on any educational establishment or nursery school, and at the same time publish an estimate of the total compliance cost of each such regulation and of the average time taken by each person affected by the burden to comply with each regulation.
(2) The Secretary of State shall have a duty to reduce by10 per cent the number of regulations established under legislation for which his department is responsible within two years of the coming into force of this Act.
(3) At the end of a period of two years after the coming into force of this Act the Secretary of State shall lay a report before each House of Parliament detailing his proposals to reduce by a further 10 per cent the number of regulations established under legislation for which his department is responsible and the timetable by which he expects to achieve that target.”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 180 is concerned with reducing regulation. The central tenet of the Bill is to offer our schools the freedom to make their own decisions, but unnecessary Whitehall-driven red tape threatens to stifle schools' freedom and commitment to hours spent in the classroom. This amendment would reduce the burden of regulation on schools by 20 per cent over the next four to five years.
Meeting the requirements of regulations takes up much of teachers' time, and that time would be better spent in the classroom. This issue was hotly contended in debates on the Education Act 2002. My late noble friend Lady Blatch, much missed in your Lordships’ House, raised this issue with great passion four years ago. We had the support then of noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches and I hope that they will be able to support us again now.
Over-regulation is an increasing burden on our economy. We are at a stage now where the burden of business regulation in this country amounts to the cost of 123 Scottish Parliaments. According to the latest Burdens Barometer from the British Chambers of Commerce, published in March 2006, the total cost of regulation since 1998 has increased by £14 billion to £52.7 billion, excluding the cost of the national minimum wage. In 1997 this country was 13th in the world on a measure of government regulation, but by 2005 we had sunk to 30th.
This Bill is about increasing choice for parentsand encouraging schools to undertake healthy competition to provide the very best education for our children. It is also about encouraging charitable trusts—independent financial funds—to take an active and responsible part in our education system. Yet schools remain beset by the burden of regulation and targets, while at the same time charitable trusts will be deterred from involvement in a system that does not demonstrate a commitment to reducing the burden of regulation.
Following a recent gathering of 70 aspiring managers at an event organised by the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, the TES, Channel 4 and Policy Unplugged, the TES’s debate of the week this week is whether further education colleges suffer from constant political interference. I am sure that we can draw an informative comparison from the evidence taken. Most striking was the following comment from an aspiring manager:
“We are so busy making the lousy changes politicians demand we can’t find the time to do what we know is best for the learner”.
We on these Benches acknowledge the need to set parameters and to make regulation. In many cases, that is necessary. We would not for one moment seek to undermine the national curriculum or important literacy drives in the prescription of synthetic phonics, were that to happen to its fullest extent, but we must be realistic in setting our expectations. Schools are expected to take on the mantle of responsibility for so much in our society that it is vital that we take stock of what and how much we are asking them to do.
The Treasury March 2004 report on better public services, Devolving decision making, found that, altogether, schools were weighed down by no fewer than 207 externally set targets. Another 307 separate criteria had been laid down in LEA-based education delivery plans. I wonder whether the Minister can tell the House what improvements have been made since then. Do the Government have a current number of externally set targets?
On 22 May, I asked the Minister whether he thought it excessive that a teacher had to tick 117 boxes when assessing a five year-old. He replied,
“we must minimise bureaucracy in any way that we can. I cannot speak for all 117 of those boxes. I will look at them to see whether they will be reduced in any way”.—[Official Report, 22/5/06; col. 580.]
Clearly, much remains to be done. Indeed, the QCA is of exactly the same mind as we are on these Benches. In its 11-to-19 reform programme of March this year, it stated:
“The QCA is planning a reduction in the overall regulatory burden for schools, colleges and awarding bodies ... A reduction in the overall regulatory burden of 20 per cent”.
We must minimise bureaucracy in our schools, and the amendment would do just that. Indeed, the policy of the national Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is completely in line with our amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept our amendment today and send out a message to teachers, governors, administrators and all those involved in the effects of regulations in our schools that the Department for Education and Skills, with the full backing of the Official Opposition, accepts with grace a duty to limit regulations and to keep under control the burden of paperwork imposed on our schools. I beg to move.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, rightly said, we debated at considerable length a somewhat similar amendment to the Education Act 2002. Indeed, I believe that we secured promises from the then Minister. One thing I have failed to do is to follow up on those promises to see how far they have been met. We on these Benches sympathise very much with the amendment, and we must think about coming back on Report with something similar.
In 2002, we looked at the number of pieces of paper generated by the regulations that were issued. Increasingly in the past few years, regulations are issued not on pieces of paper but electronically and, from my experience as a school governor of a relatively small primary school, I must say that the amount of regulation that is required and that comes across electronically to that school from the department is pretty horrific. A real effort needs to be made to limit the amount of regulation that is issued and to return to a time when we trusted the professionalism of our teachers and particularly our head teachers. We are now training our head teachers much better, and we really need to trust them more and to give them the discretion to make their own judgments on a number of issues.
One cannot but be sympathetic to the amendment’s intention and the arguments that lie behind it. Every school one visits and every teacher one talks to points to the increasing burden. The difficulty is that it is increasing. That being the case, I hope that we can have some sort of response that indicates a seriousness of mind and intention to find practical ways of reducing this burden. However, I take note of and am encouraged by the way in which the previous Education Act reduced the burden of inspection. The consequences of the proposed legislation will be a reduction in the number of inspecting bodies visiting schools. None the less, for the individual teacher on the front line, this is a serious problem.
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. I still go to quite a few schools and one cannot go to a school where you do not get teachers complaining about the sheer level of regulation and directives to which they are subjected. My impression is that the Government have tried to pull back on that—in that case I congratulate them.
There are two consequences which might be added to what has already been said. It is increasingly difficult to get school governors, for the reasons which my noble friend made clear. The burden of work on a conscientious school governor—my daughter is a governor of a primary school—is incredible. It is a major activity which may take five or six hours per week in order for a voluntary school parent governor to keep up with the amount of material coming from the DfES. I have mentioned the other consequence before, so I will be brief. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to apply for headships. There is no doubt that one of the reasons behind that also is the sheer amount of regulation with which they have to deal. While I am not sure that one can set a target of 10 per cent or20 per cent—there are problems about that—the intention of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is one that the Committee would strongly wish to urge on the Government.
I am completely with the noble Baroness in spirit. She referred to the “assault”—perhaps I may put it that way—on bureaucracy for which the late Lady Blatch was renowned. The amendments that she moved in respect of the previous Education Bill became Section 38 of the Education Act 2002, which imposed on the Secretary of State a duty to have regard to the desirability of avoiding sending excessive materials and imposing excessive administrative burdens on schools. We are very mindful of that. A good deal of attention is given to the sending out of materials to schools. The Permanent Secretary is required to take a personal interest and there is a committee which all publications going to schools have to go through in the department before they are allowed to be issued. That has had the effect of reducing the number of pages.
Some years ago we took a decision that we would move towards an electronic-based system of communication with schools. That is almost entirely complete and very little paper is sent to schools. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said. Having it all coming electronically does not necessarily mean that it is less burdensome than when it appears in envelopes. But we are taking that seriously too.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, referred to one of the big changes that we have made recently. The new inspection framework will have the effect of reducing by nearly 50 per cent the inspection burden on schools. We undertook that review of inspection precisely to address what was perceived as being—in many cases it was—one of the most onerous burdens on schools; namely, the weight of inspection. We took the view that after two complete inspection rounds had been undertaken with the creation of Ofsted, there was no need to have the same extremely burdensome process of inspection in place. We moved instead to a system on which inspection is in inverse proportion to success. Most schools now get a very short inspection. It is only where the inspection of schools gives rise to serious concerns that there is a more elaborate process of inspection.
We intend to begin a new programme of work in the autumn to tackle bureaucracy by focussing our efforts in those areas of regulation which our front line colleagues in schools and colleges tell us are the most burdensome. We will assess the costs, in time and money, of fulfilling the administrative obligations of the most burdensome regulations. We will set ourselves targets for reducing those costs. We will publish those targets and our progress against them in an annual simplification plan, which will also include details of all our initiatives to simplify the regulatory landscape and reduce the burden of bureaucracy on front-line stakeholders. I hope that that will give some comfort to the noble Baroness.
Finally, I looked at the 117 boxes. I would be happy to go through this with the noble Baroness, but each box relates clearly to the objectives of the early years foundation stage. Having looked at them with our professional staff, I could not honestly say that any of them were superfluous. I am happy to give them to the noble Baroness to look at. If she has any particular suggestions of those that she would like to drop, I will discuss that with her further.
I thank the Minister. I would quite like to look at them because it seems almost scary that one has to ask 117 questions about assessing a five year-old, having had several of my own.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, for their support. I also welcome the Minister’s commitment to produce and publish targets for reducing the serious cost of regulation in both time and money as well as his commitment to ensure that the new proposals will be transparent. It is terribly important to state exactly how far up the mark the DfES has come. The existing commitment to a reduction in bureaucracy by 25 per cent in the private sector is a great improvement, but I remain anxious for the rest of the education system. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to make a solid commitment on behalf of the public sector that those targets will be to the tune of the 20 per cent reduction that Members on these Benches and the QCA have in mind. In thanking the Minister once again for his response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 181 and 181A not moved.]
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Clause 51 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 182 to 184A not moved.]
[Amendment No. 184B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Clause 52 [Meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”]:
Page 40, line 26, at end insert-
“(d) an Academy, (e) a city technology college, or (f) a city college for the technology of the arts.”
The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, I rise to move Amendment No. 184C. The Bill proposes to place a duty on local authorities to promote high standards and to fulfil the educational potential of every child, but what it does not do is bring academies within the scope of local authorities for intervention, support and challenge. The result is that a local authority will have a duty to do something, but will have no power to do it. That is a position which local authorities find pretty worrying. It means in addition that a significant number of children attending academies, many of which are in deprived areas, could be beyond the assistance of councils if the school runs into problems. As the number of academies grows, it is becoming clear that they are not immune to failure and that we are seeing the same wide range of performance among those schools as we do among local authority maintained schools. Recent research from Edinburgh University has shown that academies have failed to improve results compared with the comprehensives they replaced. Indeed, in May last year Ofsted placed the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough under special measures and since then has expressed concerns about a number of other academies.
This is not an anti-academy amendment, it seeks simply to ensure that councils have the power to intervene and thus ensure that academies are provided with the same sort of support when they are failing as would be available to a school maintained by the local education authority. Indeed, the well-being and educational potential of children demand that these schools should have some protection and help. A similar issue arises with regard to the duty placed on local authorities by the provisions of the Children Act and the outcomes required by Every Child Matters. Local authorities now have a duty to develop and promote children and young persons’ plans, but all those children attending academies are in effect beyond the scope of that, which is causing a great deal of concern.
I hope that the Minister can do something to allay my fears on this issue and, more important, those expressed by local authorities which after all are under a statutory duty to provide these services. I beg to move.
On behalf of these Benches I shall speak to two amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 185B and 185D. Both relate to the question of whether a local authority should intervene in schools. The first relates to Clause 54 covering schools which require significant improvement, and the second to Clause 55 covering schools which have been placed under special measures.
In both clauses there is a condition that there should be a second inspection after the first one that has placed the school as either requiring significant improvement or special measures. The purport of the amendment is that the second inspection should be at least one year after the first inspection.
The idea behind the clauses is to enable local authorities to move more quickly where schools are, in particular, said to be coasting and not perhaps improving themselves as quickly as they could. The argument that I would bring to bear reflects my experience as a school governor of a school that once was in special measures and one that has been regarded as requiring significant improvement. On both occasions I saw the schools turn themselves round—but it took time.
It requires a great deal of work on the part of a head teacher to pull what is often a new team together and to get things moving, and a minimum of a year is required before you begin to see any significant improvements. Therefore, as I say, the amendment suggests that there should be a double inspection, but with the qualification that there should be at least a year between the two inspections before the local authority rushes in to intervene.
I should like to add one last comment on Amendment No. 61 to those already made by my noble friends. Amendment No. 61 concerned the ability to give orders to close a school. Of course, in some circumstances—we have discussed this already when we pressed our amendment on consulting parents about the closure of a school—the closure may have to be made at rather short notice for reasons connected with the particular conditions associated with the school.
This is an area where I particularly feel that to make a distinction between the maintained schools and academies and CTCs is unfortunate. It may be that the Minister will again be able to tell us that this is all caught up with funding agreements but, as we have argued on earlier amendments, to have equality of treatment on the face of the Bill is extremely important in allowing schools to feel that they are subject to the same pressures if they are failing, coasting or otherwise not satisfactorily educating the children within them.
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 185 in this group which seeks to remove paragraph (c) of Clause 53(3). The subsection states that the standards of performance of pupils at a school are low if they are low by reference to,
“(c) the standards attained by pupils at comparable schools”.
I state at the outset that this is a probing amendment. I do not contest the claim that if pupils were performing poorly compared to pupils at comparable schools, this would be a clear cause for concern. I would, however, appreciate it if the Minister could expand slightly on what is meant by “comparable”.
There are a variety of factors by which a school could be compared. The most obvious of these is the prior attainment of pupils in the school which forms the basis for the value added measure. In addition to prior attainment, one could imagine a number of other factors such as ethnic minority background and the family income. In certain circumstances, there is no reason why each of these factors might not be considered an appropriate measure of comparability.
However, there is a danger here that we risk perpetuating low expectations for certain groups. For example, the new contextual value-added measure that the Government intend to use in future discriminates against some ethnic groups by insisting on higher levels of achievement from these groups to obtain the same value-added score. Similarly, there are schools in deprived areas which achieve very good contextual value-added results while disguising extremely low levels of absolute achievement. For example, the Times Educational Supplement for 9 June reported that in the fourth best school in the country, according to the contextual value-added measure used by Ofsted, only 12 per cent of pupils achieved A* to C in English,13 per cent in maths and none in science. Of the top 20 schools in the contextual value added ratings, 11 had less than one-third of pupils achieving five Cs or better, including English and maths.
Meanwhile, head teachers in prosperous areas can receive below average value-added scores simply because their pupils come from a more affluent background. If one measure of comparability can lead to such wide ranges of absolute attainment, it means that the Government will need to be very explicit about which factors are considered comparable and which are not. It is also very important that the choice of a factor by which the authority gauges comparability does not inadvertently discriminate or imply that the expectations of performance for one group are somehow lower than the other.
We seem to touch again and again on academies. I warmly support the whole academy initiative; I believe it is a brave one and that in our areas of greatest need, we should be prepared to be bold and put resources into new initiatives. But there is a concern about the extent to which they should be separate from other schools, perhaps when it comes to poor performance.
My reading is that the academies are going to the areas where schools have failed and where the difficulties of success on behalf of the children are greatest. One must be prepared to accept that it will take time to pull those schools around. But if, after I do not know how many years, it is not working, then in the interests of the children and the community, that school should close, and the £2 million put in by the sponsors repaid if need be. Whatever the circumstances, we must put the interests of the children first.
I have two points to make on the amendments; one is in relation to that just raised by my noble friend Lord Dearing. I believe there is a need to ensure that academies are seen to be under the same measures and pressures as all other schools. I am not convinced, however, because of the way in which academies are set up, that going through the local authority would be the most appropriate way to introduce such pressure. An inspection of a particular kind might be a way of raising the issue in the Secretary of State’s judgment.
Secondly, Amendment No. 185 would eliminate Clause 53(3)(c), which refers to,
“the standards attained by pupils at comparable schools”.
What does that paragraph add to,
“the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain”?
It seems to me that the one ought to be encompassed by the other in any case.
We are addressing the very important issue of tackling school failure. We have had a constructive debate on a number of the issues raised, and I should like to respond to them. I think I can allay the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in respect of Amendment No. 185 on unacceptably low standards by reference to those achieved at comparable schools.
Our concern, of course, is that all schools should not be judged as entirely alike in their intake when it comes to making judgments about the speed at which they can be expected to improve. We have high expectations of all pupils in all schools, but the expectations for rate of improvement, given that the starting point is often very different, need to be tempered by an acceptance that schools have different levels of challenge to address.
We are not talking about arbitrary measures; the main measure involved is the new contextual value-added data currently being developed. This takes into account not only prior attainment, which is the main basis of the value-added tables and judgments at large, but also special educational needs status, first language, mobility, ethnicity, whether a pupil is or has been in care, free school meal status and a rating from the income deprivation affecting children index provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government. I think that the noble Baroness would accept that these are perfectly legitimate factors to take into account in devising an index of contextual value-added data. Precisely how they are weighted has been the subject of an elaborate pilot. While we are taking account of the findings of the pilot in the way in which we introduce the measure, it is a valid measure. However, we are not prepared to see local authorities empowered to make purely arbitrary interventions in schools, as is proposed in the next group of amendments. That would take us back to a situation where schools could feel that their relationship with their local authority was not productive. We are talking about very serious interventions: warning notices which can lead to changes of head teachers or governors and other actions in that category. They must be based on fair and objective data that are defensible. That is why we have put so much time and effort into developing contextual value-added data. It is also why we have given schools the right to appeal to Ofsted directly where they believe that a warning notice issued by a local authority is unfair. In that case, Ofsted would need to make a judgment on the bona fides of that warning notice before it would take effect.
I understand completely the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who said in respect of Amendments Nos. 185B and 185D that it often takes time to see a turnaround carried through in a school. However, the progress can sometimes be made in a shorter time than a year. Many schools come out of special measures in less than a year. I do not have the figures before me, but a high proportion of schools do so or move into a lesser category of intervention. Our concern is that if there were a statutory requirement for there to be a year between the first and second inspections, it might have the effect of slowing down the rate of improvement in a school, because one of the main things that a school quite rightly seeks to do when it is in special measures is come out of them. If it is told that it cannot come out of special measures for another year because it is not allowed to have another inspection, there would be category of schools over which, as it were, the Sword of Damocles would continue to hang, when they want to move on from their situation and put it behind them. While the noble Baroness raised a legitimate issue, we do not support the solution which the amendments propose.
I am not in any way saying that the regime which will apply to academies and city technology colleges will be less strenuous than it will be for other schools. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that they are inspected on exactly the same basis as other schools. Their reports are published on the same cycle. School improvement partners are appointed to them. As they are regulated by the department rather than the local authorities, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, recognised, it is the department and not the local authorities which appoints the SIPS, but we act on the reports of Ofsted, as we should do, and will take full account of the advice that is given by the relevant school improvement partners.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made some sweeping claims about the performance of academies which were not correct. If she reads my remarks in an earlier debate on academies, I hope that they will satisfy her. However, she quite properly mentioned one academy which has had very serious problems, the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough. That bears out what I said. In the case of Unity, the Secretary of State took radical and early action in response to a critical report by Ofsted, including substantial changes to the governing body and immediate changes to the leadership of the academy. They are precisely the kind of steps which we would expect a local authority to take in an equivalent situation. I believe that I have covered the points raised.
I said that my remarks were not in any way intended to be anti-academy—they certainly were not. I was trying to understand, and I still do not feel that I have succeeded, how local authorities are to perform their duty under this Bill, the Children Act and Every Child Matters if the concerns arise from the academies, over which they have no purview. I was referring to the relationship between them, rather than academies per se or who is inspecting them and what the outcomes are. Whether I am happy does not matter very much; the issue is that the local authorities which have the statutory duties are clearly unhappy and have grave concerns.
I shall withdraw the amendment today but given the length of time between Committee and Report, I hope that the noble Lord will encourage further dialogue between his department and local authorities to see whether it can allay some of their concerns on their relationship with this Bill and their statutory duties under the Children Act. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 52 agreed to.
Clause 53 [Warning notice by local education authority]:
[Amendments Nos. 184D to 185 not moved.]
Clause 53 agreed to.
Clause 54 [School requiring significant improvement]:
[Amendments Nos. 185A and 185B not moved.]
Clause 54 agreed to.
Clause 55 [School requiring special measures]:
[Amendments Nos. 185C and 185D not moved.]
Clause 55 agreed to.
Clause 56 [Power of LEA to require governing body to enter into arrangements]:
[Amendment No. 185E not moved.]
Page 43, line 8, after “school” insert “or the employee of the authority itself”
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 185F, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 185G, 187C, 188A and 188B. Amendments Nos. 185F and 185G relate to Clause 56, which is about local authorities intervening to inject some life into coasting schools. The draft guidance that has been sent out to chief education officers or directors of children’s services said of the clause:
“In effect clause 50 [now clause 56] provides a spectrum of intervention within one power—so it could be used differentially by authorities, depending on the school’s specific needs, where the governing body of the school are resistant to outside support. For example, it may be particularly helpful for a ‘coasting’ school to receive mentoring or similar support from a quality-assured external consultant or consultant head, whereas federation options will be more appropriate for schools in special measures”.
Clause 56 offers a range of different possibilities. Both Amendments Nos. 185F and 185G are probing amendments.
Amendment No. 185F asks how far the old model of a local education authority adviser working with a school to help move it forward is still on the cards. Or is it now assumed that these services will be boughtin, often fairly expensively, from organisations such as W S Atkins or Vosper Thorneycroft, even though one might not think that those organisations gave education advice? However, they have both diversified into this area of service provision. The amendment refers to an employee of a local education authority. If a local head acts as an external adviser, that head is employed by the local education authority if he or she is head of a community school. But traditionally a group of people employed by local education authorities have helped schools in special measures. How far is that model to be moved on completely, or is there still some role here for local education authorities to retain within their ranks people who can be used as schools advisers?
Amendment No. 185G suggests that where a local authority makes such proposals it should consult, in addition to those named in Clause 56(2), the head and staff of the school concerned and the head and the governing body of any school or college that it is pushing into a collaborative arrangement. It is probable that the Minister will tell me that this is envisaged, because it seems fairly obvious that if you are going to suggest, for example, that a school should collaborate with another school, you should have discussed it with the heads of both the schools involved before you announce the measures. They are not mentioned as people who should be consulted. Amendment No. 185G is really a probing amendment to see whether that is assumed. I confess that I had not looked at the detailed guidance, and it is possible that it is subsumed in the guidance.
On Amendments Nos. 187C and 188A, we go forward to Clause 60, which concerns the Secretary of State intervening to make additional appointments to the board of governors. The effect of the amendments is to suggest that before doing so the Secretary of State should consult the local education authority and the governing board of the school as well as, in the case of Church or foundation schools, the diocesan board or the foundation governors. Again, if the Secretary of State makes such a move it would seem sensible and practical for him to consult these two sets of people.
Amendment No. 188B seeks to deletesubsection (4). Subsection (4) enables the Secretary of State to pay anyone who he appointed as a governor when he intervened to place someone on the board of governors. The amendment is probing because traditionally governors are unpaid volunteers who give a great deal of time to a local school out of good will. Do we really want to start introducing payments for governors? Might that not create an unfortunate precedent? I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 186, 187, 188 and 189 in this group, which are probing amendments designed to elicit the Minister’s thinking behind the wording of Clauses 57 and 60. The clauses relate to the power of the local education authority and the Secretary of State to appoint additional governors for a school that is eligible for intervention under the Bill. The Bill states that where a local education authority appoints additional governors to the governing body of a voluntary-aided school, the diocesan authority, the Roman Catholic bishop, or the persons who appoint the foundation governors may appoint additional governors equal to the number appointed by the authority. My understanding of this power is that it ensures that the Church or organisation responsible for the school retains its majority on the governing body.
Clause 60 makes slightly different provisions in relation to the Secretary of State. Here, the Secretary of State must first consult the Church or person appointing the foundation governors, and there is no right for the Church or other person to appoint additional governors. My Amendments Nos. 186 to 189 would extend the powers so that the foundation of a trust school, which appoints the majority of the governing body, could enjoy the same powers as a similar body in respect of a voluntary-aided school. I am interested to know why the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church or any other body that appoints foundation governors for voluntary-aided schools deserves this special privilege in relation to their schools, yet the foundation for a trust school does not.
Amendment No. 190 leaves out lines 17 and 18 on page 193. That part of Schedule 7 amends Section 15 of the Education Act 2005, which relates to measures to be taken by local education authorities following a report that a school is in special measures. The local education authority is required to,
“consider what arrangements to make for the purpose of informing registered parents of the proposed action, ascertaining their views … and taking account of those views”.
The section goes on to state that the local authority must,
“consider whether those arrangements are to include the appointment of a specified person for that purpose”.
Therefore, the Bill gives the local authority power to delegate to a third party its responsibility to inform parents of the action it proposes to take. We would question whether such a power is necessary. Surely, the local authority will already have appointed a person to consider these matters. This is implied by the fact that someone employed by the local authority will be carrying out that required action in the first place.
I am sure that local authorities would already have the power to appoint such a person, regardless of whether that was formally permitted by statute. It would be appreciated if the Minister could elaborate on what is envisaged by “specified person” in the schedule.
In response to the points made on Amendments Nos. 187C and 188A, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, we wish to consider this matter further. The noble Baroness seeks to extend the consultation requirements when the Secretary of State appoints additional governors to a school causing concern to include the foundation, when there is a foundation attached to a school, and the local authority. It would be good practice for the Secretary of State to do both, in any event. Indeed, when we appoint additional governors, we consult the relevant local authority as a matter of course. But I will consider further before Report stage whether we should be explicit about this in the Bill.
Similarly, Amendment No. 185F seeks explicitly to state that a local authority employee is among the partners with whom the local authority may require a school to enter into arrangements. I am glad to say that this is covered by existing law and the Bill. Local authorities are automatically able to offer support to a failing school under existing law. Furthermore, the Bill as drafted does not rule out a local authority employee from acting as the partner. That would precisely include the categories raised by the noble Baroness, such as the head teacher of a community school who would be employed by the local authority. He would be the type of person who might well, in some circumstances, be a partner with whom a local authority would wish a school facing serious difficulties to work.
Amendment No. 185G seeks to increase the list of persons that the local authority must consult before requiring a failing school to enter into arrangements. We support the principle of appropriate consultation and will ensure that this is promoted through the statutory guidance that will accompany Part 4 of the Bill. However, we do not believe that the parties referred to in this amendment need explicitly to be added to the statutory list of consultees. Those at the school will already be consulted via the governing body. Those at the partner institution with whom it is proposed that the school should work will have to be consulted in order to secure their agreement to act as a partner in the first place, since there is no power in the Bill to require a stronger school or college to partner a weaker school. We certainly do not intend that the first that they should hear about it is by the content of a warning notice, a statement by a local authority or the Secretary of State.
Amendments Nos. 186, 187 188 and 189, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, seek to secure parity between voluntary aided schools and foundation schools in relation to the appointing authority’s rights in the event that the local authority or the Secretary of State appoint additional governors. We do not support that, because the purpose of the intervention in the first place in such cases might well be to counter the mismanagement of the school by the foundation in question. These powers are for use only in extremis and would need to follow a proper statutory process before being used.
We are talking only about extreme interventions in the case of a manifest failure by a school where the governing body is itself judged by either the local authority or the Secretary of State to be wholly or in part the problem. That judgment would need to be based on inspection and other evidence.
The noble Baroness is quite right to say that that leaves voluntary aided schools, where there are consultation rights, in a slightly different position. I can say only that we recognise the inconstancy. The reason for that is the unique historical position of voluntary aided schools. This includes, in particular, the need to ensure that the schools are conducted in accordance with their ancient trust deeds. However, in our experience of such situations, we have never found the relevant diocesan authorities, whether they are Anglican or Roman Catholic, slow to respond to the need for change. The inconsistency is due to their historical situation.
I have addressed Amendments Nos. 187C and 188A. Amendment No. 188B concerns payment by the Secretary of State following the appointment of an additional governor. That is an existing power, which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been used. However, we think that there may be circumstances where the receipt of a modest sum—perhaps to cover travel expenses—could make the difference between a potential additional governor being prepared to act or not being prepared to act, particularly at very short notice, which could be the case if a school were in a category of concern requiring urgent action. Therefore, although the power has never been used, we prefer to have it rather than not have it, if the noble Baroness does not mind.
I thank the noble Lord and I am delighted that he is thinking again about Amendment No. 188A. It would be logical for that amendment to be made to the Bill. I am interested to hear that the power in Clause 60(4) is an existing one. I had suspected that it had never been used. Returning expenses is slightly different from paying some sort of remuneration; nevertheless, I accept what the Minister says. I thank him for reconsidering our amendments. I shall read carefully in Hansard what he said but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 185G not moved.]
Clause 56 agreed to.
Clause 57 [Power of LEA etc. to appoint additional governors]:
[Amendments Nos. 185H to 187 not moved.]
Clause 57 agreed to.
Clause 58 [Power of LEA to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members]:
[Amendment No. 187A not moved.]
Clause 58 agreed to.
Clause 59 agreed to.
Clause 60 [Power of Secretary of State to appoint additional governors]:
[Amendments Nos. 187B to 189 not moved.]
Clause 60 agreed to.
Clause 61 [Power of Secretary of State to direct closure of school]:
[Amendment No. 189A not moved.]
Clause 61 agreed to.
Clause 62 [Power of Secretary of State to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members]:
[Amendment No. 189B not moved.]
Clause 62 agreed to.
Clause 63 agreed to.
Schedule 6 agreed to.
Clause 64 agreed to.
Schedule 7 [Amendments relating to schools causing concern]:
[Amendment No. 190 not moved.]
Schedule 7 agreed to.
Clause 65 agreed to.
Clause 66 [Interpretation of Part 4]:
[Amendment No. 190A not moved.]
Clause 66 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 191 had been retabled as Amendment No. 191A.]
Before Clause 67, insert the following new clause-
“CURRICULUM REQUIREMENTS FOR FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD KEY STAGES
In section 84 of EA 2002 (curriculum requirements forfirst, second and third key stages), after paragraph (g) of subsection (3) insert-
“(ga) personal, social and health education, and”.”
The noble Baroness said: I move this amendment on behalf of myself and my noble friend Lady Gould, who apologises to the Committee as she has had to go to a ministerial meeting. Quite simply, the amendment would make personal, social and health education a statutory part of the school curriculum. I support that very strongly, as do many organisations which are concerned with children and young people. I shall give reasons for my support.
I used to teach personal, social and health education in a London comprehensive school and I was the director of the Young People’s Programme at the Health Education Authority. While I was in that post, we sponsored many programmes of PSHE, as it is now called, and the evaluations of those programmes were very interesting.
Some years ago, one programme showed that good personal, social and health education in schools could cut down truancy and improve relationships and school ethos. More recently, the school where I am a governor has a strong programme of PSHE and is consistently praised by inspectors and visitors for its good behaviour and positive ethos. In addition, that ethos and good behaviour and the building of self-confidence in children have resulted, undoubtedly, in higher academic performance over the years. Perhaps not surprisingly, many children need to feel secure and valued before they can learn and perform. Sadly, that does not always happen in the home.
PSHE should be statutory in all schools. Without a statutory status it will not be given priority. No one will co-ordinate it and there will be no training and little support, unless the head teacher or a senior member of staff is an enthusiast. My noble friend would have given compelling reasons for it to be statutory. Let me refer briefly to a document on which I have been working for the QCA with a former colleague. In the document, we point out that there is guidance and that every school will have healthy school status by 2009, but that without support and co-ordination, that will not be adequate. The national curriculum states that schools are required,
“to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn and toachieve”,
“promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and prepare all pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life”.
I think that is a good description of personal, social and health education. Personal, social and health education supports those experiences and also helps to deliver the five outcomes in Every Child Matters, which I shall not go into again today.
Citizenship is recognised as a statutory curriculum subject and legislation is uneven as there is overlap between citizenship and personal, social and health education, although there are also distinct elements. In the QCA paper, my colleague and I give the example of nutrition being part of personal, social and health education, but nutrition is also a political—with a small “p”—issue. The emotional and social skills learnt as part of PSHE are needed in active citizenship, be it school council work, peer interaction or participating in community life.
Both citizenship and personal, social and health education do not have the quality of teachingthat they merit. The teaching of those subjects requires appropriate methods, good planning and good co-ordination, just like any other subject in the curriculum. The skills learnt in those areas are vital. The UK Nokia marketing manager said at a recent conference:
“We look beyond the CV and academic qualifications. We look for self-confidence, the ability to set and achieve goals, problem solve and work with others. Employers need flexible, adaptive and emotionally intelligent employees”.
Personal, social and health education encourages self-discipline, the ability to work with others, self-confidence and informed decision making, which are surely all qualities that we would want all young people to have. I hope that we shall have some movement on that from the Government. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.
I support these amendments and I want to make three points: first, about looked-after children; secondly, about young carers and other children with families in which there are difficulties; and, thirdly, about school behaviour.
It is recognised that a particular difficulty among looked-after children is teenage pregnancies. Perhaps I may quote the research from the institution which specialises in providing advice in this area:
“Access to good quality sex and relationship education has been demonstrated to reduce levels of teenage pregnancy … There is also a strong link between teenage pregnancy and age at first intercourse and”—
“are known to become sexually active earlier than other groups of children. As a result, looked after young people are two and half times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers. It is estimated than one in four young women leaving care are either pregnant or already mothers, and almost half of female care leavers become mothers between the ages of 18 and 24”.
There is often the sad event of one generation of a child in care having another child early in life, and then that child may be taken into care. Good quality sex and relationship education has been demonstrated to reduce levels of teenage pregnancy and to encourage young people to postpone their first intercourse. It might be helpful, and an important ingredient in tackling this problem of looked-after children.
It is all the more important because there is a shortage of foster carers in this country. I think I remember the chief inspector at the Commission for Social Care Inspection saying at a meeting last year that 40 per cent of looked-after children are in inappropriate placements. We are not good enough at incentivising and attracting people into foster care and, indeed, into children’s homes. The picture on the Continent is quite different.
Researchers and practitioners in this area point out that while there are many committed, hard working, dedicated and effective people providing foster care and working in children’s homes, there is an overall concern that the educational attainment of many of the carers is not as high as we would like. Again, it is all the more important that these vulnerable children get the best experience of education in school and get to learn about sex and relationships, in particular, in an effective context.
The Minister referred to young carers whose parents misuse substances such as alcohol or drugs. We are concerned by the increasing numbers of these children. School is their opportunity to get the information they will probably not be getting from their parents most effectively.
On behaviour, my noble friend Lord Northbourne, regrets that he cannot be here this afternoon. I know that he feels very strongly about this group of amendments in support of social, sex and relationship education. If I understand him correctly, he particularly wishes to see the model of the tutor developed in the school. Recently, a group of head teachers spoke to some parliamentarians about developing schools within schools and, for instance, having a tutorial group at the beginning of the school day, lasting for 45 minutes four days a week, where 10 to 18 year-old children would be in the same class with the same tutor, maybe for several years. They would get to know their tutor, and the older boys would teach the younger pupils. There would be a sense of belonging, a sense of relationship and a sense of having one teacher in that school important to them, and entering that consistent relationship.
Again and again I hear, especially with troubled young people, it is the consistent, continual relationship with an interested adult which makes so much difference in improving their behaviour. Only yesterday, I was speaking to a probation officer working with young people in prisons, and she was making that point to me. This may be an important step in bringing that change forward. I support this group of amendments. I know the Minister will be giving them careful consideration, and I look forward to his response.
I speak to Amendment No. 193A in my name, and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley; and support the other amendments in our names in this group.
I reiterate the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that it is important that we take personal, social and health education seriously, and that young people in our schools are given the opportunity to explore these subjects in a serious and grown-up way. Parents very often shy away from talking with their children about sex education. It is therefore important that children should have a chance to have serious discussions about these issues in the context of school.
Amendment No. 193A relates to Clause 67(4) which deals with foundation subjects for key stage 4: information, communications technology, physical education and citizenship. My noble friend Lady Walmsley is particularly concerned that schools should take account of cultural, religious or health considerations but that those issues should not be used as excuses for excluding children from those subjects. It is important that children get a full, rounded education in key stage 4 and that they should not be able to escape citizenship education or from physical education because they say that for cultural reasons they cannot strip down. It is always possible for schools to take account of the clothing that is required for cultural reasons and make sure that children get physical education.
I acknowledge the immense contributions that my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Gould have made to the cause of personal, social and health education. They are acknowledged leaders in the field.
We see this as an increasingly important area in the life of schools as they play their part in society and confront the social pressures with which we are all too familiar, including those referred to by the noble Earl. The issue of whether PSHE should be made compulsory is complex, which is why we cannot straightforwardly make it statutory. Many aspects of PSHE are already statutory elements of the national curriculum, such as sex and relationship education, drug education and careers guidance. In addition, a number of requirements on schools support PSHE, such as the need for policies on bullying, promoting effective race relations and child protection. A non-statutory framework for all the key stages that encompasses the whole of PSHE was introduced in 2000, so it is still fairly recent. Over and above that, there is the national Healthy Schools programme, with which my noble friend Lady Massey is familiar and which she sees as an important part of the development of effective provision in this area.
The first requirement for getting healthy school status is that an effective PSHE programme, including sex and relationship education and drug education—including alcohol, tobacco and volatile substance abuse—is properly provided in the school. The programme states that a healthy school uses,
“the PSHE framework to deliver a planned programme of PSHE, in line with DfES/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) guidance”,
“a named member of staff responsible for PSHE provision with status, training and appropriate senior management support within the school”,
“involves professionals from appropriate external agencies to create specialist teams to support PSHE delivery and to improve skills and knowledge, such as a school nurse—
we have a target for all schools or clusters of schools to have a school nurse by 2010—
“sexual health outreach workers and drug education advisers”.
We are on track to reach the target that, by the end of 2006, half of all schools should be healthy schools. More than 78 per cent of schools are engaged in the Healthy Schools programme. That is supported by increased provision of £12.3 million a year. The PSHE certificate programme, which my noble friend is aware of and which is doing good work in this area, provides free training, including the cost of staff cover in schools from which the teachers come.
Since the certification programme was introduced 2,500 PSHE teachers have been trained, and another 2,000 are enrolled on the programme. The cost of funding is £3 million per year. I say all this as evidence of the seriousness with which we treat PSHE. If, however, we moved to the stage my noble friend was suggesting of making PSHE compulsory, we would immediately, as she will recognise, get into a debate about the imposition of new burdens on school and precisely how they are to be defined. We both want to achieve the same result of universal healthy school status on the back of the existing statutory requirements in place on schools, which are substantial, the training of substantially more PSHE teachers school by school and the observance of a non-statutory framework. I believe we will reach the same position by a process of consent without another major reform of the national curriculum, with all the additional burdens that that will be seen to bring in in its wake.
This is not a straightforward issue. We share entirely the objectives of my noble friend. We have a large number of measures in place that we believe will achieve those objectives. In that context we would not adopt this precise amendment.
I will now comment on Amendments Nos. 193A and 197, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which require schools to take account of and provide for any relevant cultural, religious, secular and health considerations for pupils who follow the proposed programmes of study for PSHE. These amendments are not necessary because schools are expected to provide a curriculum which promotes pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural developments. The national curriculum includes a statutory inclusion statement which outlines the principles that teachers should follow to ensure that every child, irrespective of ability, sex, social and cultural background, ethnicity or disability, has the opportunity to achieve to the best of his ability.
I entirely share the objectives which the noble Baroness has set out, but we believe that they are met already.
I thank the Minister for his response. I recognise that much has been done. My noble friend mentioned the healthy school standard, which is an excellent programme and has encouraged schools to take on board PSHE. I thank other noble Lords for their contributions. This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. This is a serious issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, and it is important that children of all cultures and faiths are involved in PSHE.
I voice a worry for the Minister to take away about the coverage of subjects in school. If health education is taught, for example, in biology, it may well have a purely biological base. For example, sex education may concentrate on what we used to call the plumbing rather than the relationships bit, which is more important than the plumbing any day. I thank the Minister for his support for PSHE, which I know is sincere. I still see no logical reason why citizenship should be statutory and PSHE not. I look forward to further discussions with the Minister and other noble Lords on the issue. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 67 [Curriculum requirements for the fourth key stage]:
Page 49, line 5, at end insert “, and
( ) a modern foreign language specified in an order of the Secretary of State”
The noble Baroness said: I speak to a large group of amendments on what we believe to be one of the most important aspects of the Bill. I hope that the Committee will bear with me, as I have quite a lot to say. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 194 to 196, relating to science options at GCSE level, to Amendments Nos. 198 and 205A, relating to opting into the IGCSE, Amendment No. 200, which would allow the study of both history and geography up to 16 and Amendment No. 204, which would widen the provision for modern languages, leading, thereon, to speaking to Amendment No. 192 which, I am pleased to see, is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.
Starting with sciences and IGCSE, the amendments seek to ensure that science is centred at the core of the curriculum, rather than being relegated through the consequences of neglect to a second rate of school subjects. There is real concern that the three sciences will be wiped from the curriculum as individual, academically rigorous subjects. If we fail to get that right, the future of the UK science industry in an increasingly competitive arena is in jeopardy.
This is a Catch-22 problem. The rigorous study of science in our schools is as good as off the agenda. Currently, 480,000 students take the double award GCSE, compared to just 43,000 who take GCSEs in the three separate sciences. That is augmented by training provisions. The majority of PGCSE courses are focused on science, rather than on physics or chemistry. The report, Towards 2020 Science, produced by the 2020 Science Group established by Microsoft Research, recommends that we need to,
“urgently rethink how we educate tomorrow’s scientists”.
The amendments represent that urgent rethinking from these Benches.
Amendment No. 194 introduces a simple entitlement to all pupils to study three separate sciences at GCSE. We are fully committed to achieving three sciences for all pupils. I am thrilled to see the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is of the same opinion. Amendment No. 195 would establish an entitlement to study three science GCSEs to all pupils who achieve level 6 at key stage 3. Amendment No. 196, which is really a last resort amendment, would ensure that all specialist science schools would be compelled to provide three separate sciences to GCSE.
I hope that the Minister will join the consensus on Amendment No. 194. However, I am sure that he will recognise the content of Amendment No. 195, as it replicates exactly the promises made in this year’s Budget in the Science and Innovation Framework 2004-2014: the Next Steps. There, the Chancellor introduced a “package of measures”. I cite those provisions directly. They promise,
“an entitlement from 2008 for all pupils achieving at least level 6 at key stage 3 to study three separate science GCSEs ... to increase progression to, and attainment at, A level science”.
We welcome that, but studying the three separate sciences should ultimately be available to all key stage 4 pupils. The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning supported our provision at Education Questions in another place, where he said that,
“we propose to establish co-operation between schools, colleges and universities by 2008, so that every child who wishes to choose triple science will be able to do so”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/3/06; col. 701.]
Yet there was some confusion in another place. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Skills, Phil Hope MP, said:
“If the amendments were accepted and schools were forced to provide physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs to some or all of their pupils, there would be a real risk that schools might focus only on providing those three subjects and may not offer the science and additional science GCSEs which, as I have already said, are the more appropriate to the majority of pupils. Securing science for the science enthusiasts would be at the cost of eroding science provision for the majority”.
That is an appalling statement. He went on to say that the Government have made commitments to,
“ensure that our ablest young science students have access to triple-science GCSEs. That includes pupils who achieve at least level 6 at key stage 3. The Government are also committed to ensuring that all specialist science schools will offer GCSEs for physics, chemistry and biology at least to all pupils who achieve level 6 at the end of key stage 3. That will be achieved by the end of September 2008”.—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 19/5/06; col. 772-3.]
Can the Minister clarify the Government's exact position?
Every year there seems to be a new review on the slipping status of science in our country: the Roberts review in 2002, the Science and Innovation Framework 2004-14, and the review of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, of this year. We face nothing short of a crisis in the production of pure science graduates and scientists. Since 1985, 18,000 fewer students entered for physics A-level, and despite the fact that applications to study chemistry are rising at university, their translation into places is falling.
The evidence submitted to your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee investigation into science teaching in schools made concerning reading. Evidence submitted by the National Science Learning Centre indicated that 25 per cent of 11 to 16 schools have no physics specialists at all; and of all secondary science teachers, 44 per cent are biologists, 25 chemists and just 19 per cent are physicists.
Simply homogenising the three sciences into a single subject is absolutely not enough. We need to educate our young scientists now and encourage them to specialise in tough subjects after the age of 16. There are some absolutely critical science research agendas in the 21st century. We need to take this opportunity to effect real change now. I suspect that catching up in years to come will not be an option. We have the raw intellectual resources at our disposal in young future scientists sitting in classrooms throughout the country, but at present only 35.9 per cent of comprehensive schools offer physics GCSE compared with 78.4 per cent of independent schools.
Entitlement to three sciences would not only improve British productivity and international competitiveness; it would go a long way to breaking the link between deprivation and failure that the Minister highlighted in his Second Reading speech. The disparity exists in other real substantive terms. Currently, only independent schools can opt into the IGCSE. The inclusion of at least the IGCSE as an entitlement opt-in for schools will offer academically inclined pupils solid preparation for further study.
Amendment No. 198 would enable the introduction of the IGCSE by the International Baccalaureate Organisation and the Cambridge Pre-U—the recently launched invention of the Cambridge International organisations. The Pre-U is as yet untested. I have included it as it is designed by universities for entry into universities, a direction that the current A-level, made up of all modules and coursework, could learn from.
Overall, this is a probing amendment. I am not sure whether my table would be allowed as it mentions non-statutory bodies. But the amendment sets out my intentions very clearly.
IGCSE is the most popular international qualification for 14 to 16 year-olds. It is taken by more than 100,000 pupils in more than 100 countries. The headmaster of St Paul’s School, Dr Martin Stephen, has scrapped British GCSEs in favour of the IGCSE. In his view the GCSE scores a mediocre midway between being a leaving certificate representing minimum competence and being a qualifier for higher education. He has also said, more damningly, that
“you cannot sustain an A-level on these new GCSEs”.
Manchester Grammar School has dropped GCSE maths in favour of the IGCSE for the same reasons, its headmaster stating that GCSEs are not appropriate for the most able. The implications for our future economic productivity and the social well-being of those educated under those GCSEs are all clear in that statement.
It is true that this is focusing on the top end of achievement, and that is rightly so and in line with the Government's White Paper which encourages,
“more stretching lessons and opportunities for gifted and talented pupils”.
I suggest to the Minister that rather than offering the brightest pupils a few weeks in a summer academy to boost their learning, he should introduce this measure which will provide the challenges that the brightest pupils need day to day.
There is a real opportunity here for the Government to deliver and provide pupils, in statute, with the challenging and rigorous curriculum that they deserve and that will equip them and benefit the country well into the 21st century. I hope that the Minister sees fit to make that substantive commitment to the future of standards in schools.
I move on to history, geography and languages. Although there are obvious advantages in the entitlement to the study of three separate sciences and the huge benefits of the IGCSE, I should like to turn to the rest of the curriculum. As the Bill stands, the way in which subsection (2) of new Clause 85A is ordered means that while pupils can study either history or geography until age 16, they will not be entitled to study both. We believe that they should be. That is what Amendment No. 200 would achieve.
The lumping together of history and geography into today’s ever-expanding world is limiting. Gone are the days when geography was merely learning the names of capital cities or points on a map. Today’s subject is a vibrant and challenging mixture of scientific fact-gathering, the analysis of statistics and the understanding of current affairs. It combines both empirical and conceptual studies and skills. Geography is an integrated study of the places, societies, environments and landscapes of the world as we know it. There is a crucial link between history and geography. A combination of the two unites the study of our physical geographical past, connected by analytical skills to our social and human past.
History teaches us to use hindsight wisely. The patterns of history demonstrate where civilisations have succeeded, how our great institutions were formed, and how and why our rights were won. The study of history is a vital tonic in a culture where information is almost as of right, accessible at the click of a Google search or represented in the UN convention. The national curriculum divides history up into a pick-and-mix subject, leaving the real skill of the subject—the analysis of the events within a wider framework—floundering. The report of the National Curriculum History Working Group back in 1991, just a few years after the curriculum had been nationalised, recognised the importance of chronology, stating that it,
“provides a mental framework or map which gives significance and coherence to the study of history”.
Although history is popular outside the classroom, as shown by the 80 per cent “history matters” rating from the National Trust recently, only 60 per cent of pupils take history up to 16. I wonder how many of those pupils would have continued if they had been entitled to study it alongside geography. That limitation is certainly a deterrent to the study of either subject, not only in the necessity of choosing one or the other but by the message that it sends out that history and geography are not as important as other subjects of core importance. I am saddened that citizenship is a core subject ahead of history, but I do not know where our sense of citizenship and national identity come from if not from our own historical actions and the actions of our forefathers throughout history. To deny that is to deny the principle of cause and effect, but that is not considered to be a vital part of our children’s education.
I am grateful to noble Lords for their patience. I am sure they will be pleased to hear that the end is in sight, but what I am saying is important. I had to make the choice between history and geography when I was 14, and I have always felt that my life and my sense of where I have come from has been compromised because of that. That is why I feel so passionately about this.
Amendments Nos. 192 and 201 to 204 relate to the teaching of modern foreign languages. Amendment No. 192 would make modern foreign languages a compulsory subject for key stage 4. AmendmentNo. 204 would ensure that, where the Secretary of State specifies languages by order, the order must include Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. At present, modern foreign languages are part of the entitlement for key stage 4, but are in essence optional. Although all schools are expected to make them available to their pupils, there is no requirement that anyone takes them. Modern foreign languages were removed from the list of foundation subjects in 2003. Since then, there have been dramatic falls in the number of people studying languages at GCSE.
The degree to which this occurred was demonstrated by the November 2005 language trends key stage 4 survey. The report found that 64 per cent of maintained schools had experienced a fall in the numbers taking modern foreign languages in the past three years. By contrast, numbers in the independent sector were more or less stagnant. Other statistics demonstrate that attitudes towards languages vary dramatically according to wealth and the part of the country in which people live. The lowest proportion of schools to offer modern languages as a compulsory subject were those that were academically underachieving or had pupils from poorer social backgrounds. Only 18 per cent of schools have compulsory languages in the north-west compared with 40 per cent in the south-east.
This picture of decline is reinforced if we look at the numbers taking a foreign language at GCSE. In 2002, the Barcelona European Council called for the teaching of at least two foreign languages from a very early age. The ambition of the EU goes beyond this. The European Union has adopted an ambitious aim for its education and training policy to,
“enable all Europeans to communicate in two languages in addition to their mother tongue”.
A survey this February by the European Commission found that two in three adults in Britain could not speak a language other than English. There is still a long way to go to meet this aspiration.
Providing opportunities for language learning is also an international obligation under Article 2 of the European Cultural Convention, which states:
“Each Contracting Party shall, insofar as may be possible:
a. encourage the study by its own nationals of the languages, history and civilisation of the other Contracting Parties and grant facilities to those Parties to promote such studies in its territory; and b. endeavour to promote the study of its language or languages, history and civilisation in the territory of the other Contracting Parties and grant facilities to the nationals of those Parties to pursue such studies in its territory”.
The necessity of ensuring that children in England study a foreign language was demonstrated by the English Next report by the British Council. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, wrote in the foreword that the report,
“should … end any complacency among those who may believe that the global position of English is so unassailable that the young generations of the United Kingdom do not need additional language capabilities”.
The report suggests that in the future monoglot native English speakers will lose out to qualified bilingual—or probably multilingual—young people in the global jobs market. I think that that probably is already happening.
The QCA has said that students are possibly reducing their future prospects of job mobility and choice by giving up language learning at the age of 14. A key recommendation of the English Next report was that schools should consider teaching languages such as Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. Our Amendment No. 204 would achieve that by ensuring that the Secretary of State includes those languages in any order specifying languages that may be taught. They represent the kinds of languages in which young people will need to be proficient in order to succeed. It will be a world in which China in particular will have ever-increasing prominence.
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with estimates ranging from 800 million to 1.1 billion native speakers. Spanish is another prominent language with between 300 million and 330 million native speakers, which is approximately the same number as English speakers. Arabic is another major language, its major dialects being spoken by around 175 million people. It is vital that all those languages are offered in schools, subject to the choice of governing bodies.
We have an opportunity to improve the standards and substance of our children’s education—and that is not only through learning and retaining facts in the sciences and maths that will later translate into economic productivity. That is the empirical course. The facts and skills are inextricable and, taken up through the study of history and geography together, will equip our country with people who are educated well enough to encounter and tackle the complexities of this ever-changing world. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has given a comprehensive introduction to this group of important amendments. I for one would not express any resentment that she has spoken on this occasion at greater length than is usual in Committee. The group of amendments is astonishingly important, covering as it does virtually the whole of the curriculum issue, what should be foundation subjects, what should be optional subjects and matters of that kind.
Because of reasons of time, and because my noble friend Lady Sharp will want to address these issues, I will keep my remarks related to only two of the amendments, while saying in passing that I very strongly agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has said about separate science. It is almost impossible to achieve high levels of attainment in science unless one takes the three subjects separately. Combined sciences have a rather limited level of achievement. Most children who do not take sciences separately will simply not qualify for scientific courses at university. They will in effect have to settle for lower levels of achievement.
However, having said that, I shall briefly address two amendments in this large group. My name is associated with Amendment No. 192. I will not repeat the detailed and comprehensive set of statistics given by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, except to agree with them and again draw the attention of the Committee to the very disturbing decline in language teaching, particularly in state schools. It has been quite dramatic since 2003 when languages ceased to be a foundation subject.
Real international and economic factors arise here. Let me take a few examples. In Latin America few people except for a small elite speak languages other than Spanish or Portuguese, yet it is one of the major burgeoning markets of the world. It simply is not possible to trade in Brazil, Argentina or anywhere in central America without some knowledge of either Spanish or Portuguese as the case may be. Indeed, there has been recent experience of British businessmen who imagine that Brazilians speak Spanish—on the general theory that Latin America was a Spanish-speaking continent.
Another example that springs to mind is that of China, where until very recently only a relatively small elite on the eastern fringe could speak English. The examples being set by our foreign competitors are quite staggering. The United States has just embarked on a major programme of teaching Chinese. Over the past couple of years, literally hundreds of high schools have decided to embark on teaching Chinese as a foreign language, and the programme has been extended widely across a range of young people in both junior high and high schools. They are taught in part by students studying at American universities who spend part of their time teaching Chinese. The United States has a bad record in foreign languages. Citizens learn very few and there is no compulsory foreign language teaching in most local schools, so it is striking that the US has seen the writing on the wall and is now moving rapidly towards recognising that both Chinese and Spanish are vital languages.
In Florida, Spanish is now spoken by equivalent numbers to those speaking English, while a large and growing proportion of the southern United Statesis becoming Spanish-speaking. Indeed, Spanish is moving rapidly towards becoming the second language of the United States after English. Again, in substantial areas of the US, those who cannot speak Spanish will simply not be able to address large parts of the community, in some states moving rapidly towards half or more than half of the population.
A third example picks up on the reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, to Arabic. While there is not enough time to go into the argument in detail, it is significant to note that both in the United States and the United Kingdom, finding Arabic speakers who can assist in the business of building relations with the Muslim community has been extraordinarily difficult. There are so few Arabic speakers that one has to hunt around even to staff adequately the intelligence community, let alone moving beyond that to establish close relationships, as we desperately need to do, with Arabic-speaking parts of the world.
We need desperately to revisit the issue of modern foreign language teaching and to consider whether, for our economic and international political future, it should not be given a much higher priority. On this I wholly agree with all that has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. It is vital to bring back the concept of learning foreign languages. Moreover, I speak with a certain amount of confidence on this matter because I recall that right back in the late 1970s there was a proposal for French to be introduced in primary school and a second modern foreign language in secondary school. Unfortunately it fell by the wayside in the following years.
I want to speak only briefly to AmendmentNo. 199A because my noble friend Lady Sharp will probably go into greater detail. I shall address the important issue of enabling young people over the age of 14 to study vocational and academic subjects alongside one another. Bearing in mind the remarks made so brilliantly by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about learning from our own history, I shall say this. Almost since the beginning of compulsory education in this country, the streams of academic and vocational education have been split at the point of the compulsory school-leaving age, which has created one of the biggest economic problems we face. We have not rated vocational activities, skills and achievements alongside academic ones, and there is endless proof of this. As apprenticeships have slowly been phased out—although I pay tribute to the efforts of the Government to bring in so-called modern apprenticeship schemes—a very large section of our population has simply been denied the ability to achieve the attainments of which it is capable.
I believe that learning to put vocational and academic subjects together is a crucial element in establishing the significance, importance and status of vocational skills—and frankly, many young people are capable of both. One sees young men and women who are school-tired at the age of 15 suddenly begin to realise the importance of mathematics and English because they have spent some time in work experience or in the beginnings of an apprenticeship. It is quite striking how the motivation suddenly comes alive again and how the kind of young men and women about whom the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is so very deeply concerned benefit from the combination of the two.
The final point I wish to make on this issue, which I believe is the big unsolved problem of our education system, concerns the shockingly high levels in this country of young people leaving school when they have the earliest possible opportunity to do so. They are much worse than those of most other European countries. Incidentally, the age of 16 coincides with the period of adolescent rebellion, when people are most likely to say that they want to leave school and discover only later what a tragedy this is for their future and their families. Anything that we can do to knit together the continuation of education after the age of 16 in a way that enables young people to study together in tertiary colleges—or, if you like, in Tomlinson situations—is crucial if we are going to make a leap forward in this country.
Everybody knows that we do well by the highly academic and have done so for many decades. The people we lose out on, the people we do not serve adequately, are those in the group one down from that: those who do not wish to go on to university but who have real capacity and real potential. Too often we write them off at the age at which they leave school and they do not attain the levels that our country, the economy and our educational system need.
I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has said about foreign languages and some of the other issues she has raised.
Before speaking to my own amendment I should like to comment on the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. It is difficult to avoid a major debate on these issues. I was chairman of the body responsible for the national curriculum and tests at GCSE and A-level for three years and I should like to give a bit of the relevant history.
During my tenure it was clear to me that we must find space within the key stage 4 curriculum for a vocational option and I fought very hard to get in the GNVQ Part 1, as it was called. But I had to make space and I did so by advising—my advice was accepted—that one could do history and geography if one wished, but one could drop one or the other to do a GNVQ. There was an entitlement, if the student wanted, to do both, but I thought it was important to provide a motivation—an engagement—for those who were not academically minded, and who preferred and were more apt at learning by finding out than by reading books and listening to teacher. It was highly motivating and teachers said it could be transforming. Indeed, it motivated the teachers because they responded to the pupils’ enthusiasm. That is the history.
In support of a view which I advocated in a report I made to Government in 1996—which we were told this morning was bearing fruit through the £12 million being devoted to financing music—I argued very much for a Baccalaureate-style option in which students could, if they wished, combine vocational learning with academic learning. I feel that it is an advantage, at least to a modest extent, for all to have experience of the other form of learning. It is engaging, enlightening and can be very motivating, so I support that.
Turning to specifics, I agree with all that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said about history, but I should like to speak about science. When I was chairman, I wanted very much to encourage the individual sciences. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about entitlement; if one has reached level 6 by the end of key stage 3, one should have entitlement, if one wishes, to do the three sciences. There are two points on that: do we have the science teachers in our state schools to offer that? In physics and chemistry, we probably do not. We have to address that problem.
In parenthesis, in another debate on another occasion I made the case for an open school. By that I meant having first-rate interactive material in a distance-learning programme which would be available to all schools and adjusted to different levels of understanding. The programme would enable a student in key stage 4, whose school did not have the competence to teach physics at that level, to do the theoretical side of that subject. That could also apply to chemistry, although the laboratory work would have to be done separately. We have to face up to that problem.
Secondly, to move from level 6 attainment in double science to a high score in the three individual sciences in the two years of key stage 4 is a big stride. That brings me back to a review on which I think the department is engaged about whether key stage 3 should last for only two years. That has much to recommend it.
As for languages—yes, of course, we all know this. I recall listening to a lecture last year which argued that our exports to the whole of south America—people do not speak English there and we do not speak Spanish—were no more than to the small country of Denmark, where everyone speaks English. I do not know whether that is true, but it makes the point that although English may be the most widely used language at the high levels, a lot of people would respond much better to us if we had a competence in their language. It would be in our own interests.
We will not solve these matters tonight, but I feel very strongly that these are the right issues to put forward and seek to settle. Although the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is reviewing the curriculum for key stages 1, 2 and 3 and the criteria for A-levels, for some reason I do not understand it is not looking at the key stage 4 curriculum. There may be scope for the curriculum authority to engage with these matters.
I shall speak to my amendment before we get too far along. This group of amendments threatens to take three hours to debate if we do not constrain ourselves; there is so much to be said on this subject.
I have complete support for my noble friend Lady Buscombe; she has got it absolutely right and identified the problems. The output that we require from this system is not coming through and we have to look at the systems we have put in place to see why. We need a strong flow of people who are good at science, mathematics and languages. They are difficult subjects, all requiring that moment of inspiration and understanding which leads a child to a very difficult course of study, because they see the purpose and worth of it. But we are not doing it. The way we have gone in GCSE science is a good illustration of where we have gone wrong and are going wrong. To pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I think that to make key stage 3 last two years would help a great deal with some of these problems.
The science dual award is a fine enough concept in its way. As a basic introduction to the sciences, it does not take up as much space as the three sciences, and you get some understanding of all of them. But in practice it has been reduced to a collection of memory tests. When my son did his science double award, he was given a pack of cards by the school and told, “Memorise these. Understand how you parse the questions. This question wants those four facts. Those two things, if you get them right, will get you an A”. And they did. But it does not inspire science.
There are some problems in the way in which the curriculum has been drawn. There is always the temptation to put too much into it and not to leave enough scope to the individual teacher to be discursive, to go off track and to inspire. The curriculum is overcrowded. However, the real problem is the forms of assessment, which are formulaic and require formulaic answers. Teaching in most schools focuses just on that, because we require schools to get A to C in science, and so the teachers get A to C in science. The way to do that is to teach to the test.
We need to get away from the obsession with testing everything. My own bugbear is Shakespeare. Why analyse Shakespeare for GCSE? Shakespeare is to be experienced both in performance and doing it yourself—that is what it is intended for; that is how it lights one’s imagination; that it is why it gets under one’s skin. If your first experience of Shakespeare is sitting down and going at the sort of textual analysis which belongs in universities and not much before, it puts off far more people than it should. My wife makes a great success of teaching Shakespeare in prisons. When you allow people of the lowest educational level to experience it, they love it. We need to get away from the business of turning everything into examination questions which can be marked by a computer or some low-grade clerk who is employed because we do not have enough teachers to tick the boxes.
Science double award was bad enough. We now have its replacement, whose exact name I do not know, which splits science essentially into two units. The first, which is the basic level, is what you might call science in society. It tackles questions such as whether we should have nuclear power stations. It does it on the basis of a tiny amount of knowledge. Getting students to debate these questions might be quite fun in a way, but how do you do that in a classroom and when, in any case, it is going to be examined using the same tick-box, standard-required-answer method which was used for science GCSE? So science will not be taught in an illuminating way.
Most students will experience that and then they may or may not take the real science module which will cram all three sciences into the same box and which will absolutely not be the foundation either for developing a real enthusiasm for science or for acquiring the basis of understanding that one needs to tackle an individual science at A-level. It is a depressing development. I see why it is being done: there is a realisation in the QCA that most of its clients for science GCSE will never take another science exam in their life. What it wants to equip them with is something which they will find useful in later life. The basic curriculum, if you read it that way, would be fine, but the way we examine it is not. If you insist on examining it in the way in which we currently do, you diminish a high-minded and, in many ways, laudable approach to making sure that we have scientifically educated citizens who can deal with a scientific question or problem as it is presented in newspapers, and reduce students to people who have learnt just a few answers rote about a few problems, are bored by it and forget it. If we are going to teach that sort of thing, we have to find an entirely different way of examining it, and we have to go across curricula. If we branch out in that direction, why is what we teach not meshed in with citizenship, history, geography and other things? However, we should not take half the science curriculum and spread it out into something which works well with other subjects and then have debased versions of those subjects, as my noble friend quite correctly said.
There is an awful GCSE called humanities. If you do that, you do not get history or geography. Some schools teach only humanities and do not offer the individual subjects. We have really got ourselves into a terrible state with GCSE. I am sure that is not what the Minister wants. We need to find a way out of it. I believe that the way out is offered by the likes of the IB and IGCSE, not because they are right for everybody but because they provide the system with the challenge it needs to sort itself out.
Elements within the QCA say that it should be a green light regulator, not a red light regulator—wonderful. In my judgment those elements are not the supreme power in the QCA, but they are there. It would be wonderful if the QCA saw as its job to say, “Let us see how we can conjure the imagination and innovation of all these exam boards and schools out there and find ways of tackling these problems and see how we can get them permitted under Section 98 and trialled in schools to see what works. Let us try different forms of assessment and approach to what the curriculum should consist of, keeping our specifications narrow, and see what effect that has on outputs. Let us have innovation and experimentation to get us away from the position we are in at the moment”.
The IB will have an enormous effect on A-levels. The setting of the IB tariff by UCAS will galvanise any school with academic pretensions because it offers a way, and not necessarily for the brightest children—some schools use the IB for less bright children—to get UCAS points in a completely different environment to what has become in some cases very debased A-levels. Economics A-level is about GCSE style. It is terrible—totally uninspiring and boring. As the IB can be done in state schools, over the next five years it will offer a real challenge to A-levels, and they will have to improve to match it. I should like to see the IGCSE coming into the key stage 4 curriculum for that purpose. It is very much designed as a vehicle for getting to A-levels, so it will suit those schools that are focused on A-levels. I agree that it is not for everybody but it will also suit children who are focused on A-levels, and there are some of them in every school. By offering a real alternative it will make those responsible for GCSE respond, and ensure that their exams really suit the children who have to take them, which they absolutely do not at the moment.
As my noble friend said, the IGCSE is an enormously well respected exam. Everybody understands what it is. It is now being taken up by a fast growing number of the best schools in the United Kingdom. Frankly, it is ridiculous that it should not be permitted to be taught and examined in all schools. Further, I should like to see the International Baccalaureate early years system trialled in our state schools. Again, that is well practised and well respected internationally. It does not produce examination results at 16. I suppose something might be done about that in a gentle way, or it might be trialled in the earlier years. It has a very good and successful pedigree. When we are looking at an examination system that does not produce what we as a nation need, we ought to go out there, see what we can find and try it.
I cannot resist speaking to this series of amendments because they hit on two areas about which I am very concerned. I want to say a few words about the scientific side. We have had a brilliant series of inspiring speeches, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe.
We do not need to go into the appalling situation of science again. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said, many schools are already playing with—and more than playing with—the idea of going for the International Baccalaureate. I think that I have heard hints that the QCA is looking at something along those lines, so it may be that we are at the beginning of a process of change. It is absolutely essential that something happens quickly if we are falling so far behind.
I would like to address the language side of things. I am particularly sorry that my noble friend Lady O’Neill is not here. I remember in the early months after I was lucky enough to become a Member of your Lordships’ House, the whole question of language learning was very much on the agenda. Suddenly, it was no longer part of the curriculum, and immediately we were seeing the result; some children and the less academic schools were already starting to give it up. Fewer people were taking the subject at university level, and there was a real spiralling downwards in that respect. That concern remains. Parallel to all of that, we had the Government’s commitment for the first time—and this hit me as something that I had not taken in at all—that by 2010 every primary school pupil would have the chance to learn a foreign language. That was a lovely thought, but the idea that they were then likely to go on and not continue it because it was not part of the curriculum was a pretty worrying progress report for the future.
What we are now seeing, which I find quite extraordinary, is the extent to which out there the demand for languages seems to be growing. Every national paper you can think of is now giving us a disc from which you can learn French in a week, Italian in a week or Spanish in a week. It is clear that our great newspaper proprietors think that there is a need for it and that it will help sell their papers. More than that, there must be recognition that we do need languages. One language extra to your own prepares you almost instinctively to be able to take on other languages. Apart from anything else, there is a great need to understand and share the culture of other countries, and what better way can you do that than by learning a bit about one another’s languages? We know how many languages we have in this country. There is a parallel with the discussion that we had last time on religion and the way that an understanding of one another’s religions and beliefs can have the huge effect of making a more inclusive society.
I very much hope that there will be some action here and that the Government will take a very positive line on the amendments, which clearly are crucial for our future. I commend the marvellous array of knowledge that we have heard from Members of this House. It just goes to show how important it is to keep the element of your Lordships’ House that allows this degree of diversity to come in and means that it is not all based on political parties, elections and so on. Finally, I so agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about the need to combine the academic and the vocational subjects. I support what everyone has said.
The Minister is showing signs of rising, but he would perhaps prefer to hear about all the amendments in the group first. I was so wrapped up in the debate that I forgot about my own amendment, and I should like to come back to it, because it is important to me. It is not an amendment that I expect the Minister to accept. It says:
“It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that sufficient funds are made available for pupils work-related learning under this section”.
I am sure that the Minister will wish to say, “Of course, there is no need for that”.
I tabled the amendment because in Clause 67 the Government make explicit provision for work-related learning and spell out in a subsection what that means. They are serious about it. That fully reflects the comments of Ivan Lewis MP, former Minister for Skills and Vocational Education, who stated:
“Work experience remains our single biggest co-ordinated engagement between the worlds of work and education. It’s a vital bridge that provides many benefits in its own right for the pupil, the school, the employer, and gives young people meaningful insight into working life, allows them to make better informed career choices and helps them to overcome misconceptions about business. It should be a key vehicle in delivering plans for work related learning, enterprise education and vocational GCSEs”.
That fits entirely with the provisions of the Bill.
I declare an interest as the patron of a body called Trident, which organises work experience for pupils. Trident and other such bodies engage some 300,000 employers—a vast number—and 400,000 pupils. I have been concerned that, in spite of the importance of work experience, the Learning and Skills Council has reduced funding for it over the past two years by some £10 million. As might be expected, this cannot be seen to foster the development of work-related learning or, via the foundation, the Government’s ambition to introduce eight or nine vocational options post-14.
It seems wrong that that provision should be contracted when there is such commitment and intention for further engagement. I note that over the next three years £60 million has been found for enterprise learning. That is not mentioned in the Bill as a requirement; work-related learning is. I am surprised that one is in and one is out and I very much hope that the Government can give an assurance that adequate funding for work-related experience will be made available and the need met. This matter needs attention now.
I apologise; I have no amendment in this group but my name has been mentioned, and I have put my name to amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, particularly on science teaching. I wish to say a few words about the extremely coherent, excellent speech made by the noble Baroness and the issues that she raised.
We on these Benches very much support the amendments on science teaching. I am a member of the Select Committee investigating science teaching in schools. It is an extremely interesting inquiry and we shall come up with some good proposals for the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, asked whether we would find enough teachers. That is the main constraint at the moment. To provide separate science subjects in schools for all pupils is impossible, because there are not enough physics and chemistry teachers at present.
However, we are developing more of them and there is a degree to which the issue becomes self-fulfilling. What emerges from the evidence that we have heard is that, on the whole, pupils respond well to specialist teachers and to the specialist subjects and, therefore, if we are looking to obtain more physicists and chemists down the line, we would benefit from having more specialist teachers in schools. Therefore, the more specialist teachers that we can get into schools, the more of them we shall produce, because we are more likely to get them to take A-levels in those subjects and then go on to study them at university.
The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, was also correct when he talked about distance learning. A visit that we made to the National Science Learning Centre at York indicated two things: first, how important constant and high-quality retraining is for teachers; and, secondly, that a great many exciting new technologies are available to help teachers to move their subject forward and to present it as exciting.
One also realises how important hands-on science is. We have moved away from it a little, partly, but not entirely, for health and safety reasons and also because it is much easier to teach if only the teacher does the experiment. One of the dangers of the new syllabus that is coming forward is that, to some extent, it offers much more science in society. It is vital that we put across the concept of scientific method, careful measuring, testing hypotheses against measurements and seeing whether the experiment meets the hypothesis. That is the essence of scientific method, and one thing that we need to get children to learn from science is scientific method.
I want briefly to talk about modern foreign languages. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was correct. During the passage of the Education Bill in 2002, we got promises about languages in primary education. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, the Minister at that time, persuaded us that there were many goodies down the line, but we probably all now very much regret that we allowed modern foreign languages to slip out of that foundation category of subjects.
The international baccalaureate has been long supported on these Benches. We feel that we are the only country in the world that narrows down education so much for 16 and 17 year-olds. The baccalaureate maintains a much wider portfolio of subjects and gets away from totally formulaic testing.
I am sorry that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is not in the next group, where it should be, because we will be talking about vocational education in that group. But the fact remains that Tomlinson was trying to develop something broader and closer to the baccalaureate approach of a diploma, including, for example, a long essay. Although it does not necessarily meet all that one is looking for, a great deal in it could have met the requirements. I am very sorry that the Government have not taken the challenge posed by Tomlinson for a broader diploma approach. There has been talk of an English baccalaureate. Some people have done a lot of work on that, and I think that we could have developed something appropriate and far more fit for purpose in examining young people.
In her very impressive speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, raised a wide range of issues, and I shall do my best to cover as many of them as I can. However, perhaps I may stand back for just a moment. As the Minister responsible for the school curriculum, these issues are on my mind day in and day out. They involve some very difficult trade-offs, and perhaps I may bring out the nature of those trade-offs.
I believe that one of the most difficult decisions that we took as a Government was to disapply the statutory requirement that pupils must continue to study a modern foreign language up to the age of 16. I emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that we did not withdraw modern languages from the curriculum—I can think of nothing more monstrous that a Government could do. We did something distinctly different: we no longer made it a statutory requirement that pupils should study languages at key stage 4. That was an immensely difficult decision to take and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we did so in conjunction with a significant boost to primary languages. That has been successful—I have the figures, which I can give to the noble Baroness. There is a significant increase in language teaching in primary schools, and I hope that that may go some way to realising the ambitions that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, had back in the 1970s. It is a very sad state of affairs that in this country historically we did not start teaching languages until pupils had reached the age of 11.
Why did we make that change at key stage 4? We did so for two reasons. First, we come back to the issue of bureaucracy. As anyone who visited the schools will know, a large number of pupils were seriously disengaged from the study of languages at key stage 4. For them, it was far more appropriate and in the interests of their employability, their engagement in school and so on that they should follow vocational programmes of study. Those were increasingly available but could not be timetabled properly with the other requirements.
Before we made the change, it was necessary for schools to get each individual pupil disapplied by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. That was a massively bureaucratic process, even with administrators of the capacity of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. Expecting him and his officials to engage in that level of central prescription and bureaucratic form-filling had the effect of the burdens on schools which we debated earlier. The trade-off that we had to face was whether we were prepared to see schools enter fewer candidates for language GCSEs because we wanted to enlarge the options offered to pupils, particularly in the vocational areas of study, and to remove an extremely bureaucratic process. That was one of the most difficult trade-offs that we had to make.
The other example of a trade-off is precisely that given by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in response to the issue of the three sciences: whether the key stage 3 programme, which is currently a three-year programme of study for most people, should be reduced to two years. We have had a pilot of a two-year key stage 3, which is an attractive option for many schools. It is available to other schools; they can seek to teach key stage 3 in two years, which means that pupils go on to GCSE programmes at age 13 rather than 14.
The geography and history communities are very strongly opposed to that move because history and geography are mandatory in key stage 3 but not in key stage 4. So other subject communities see the very benefit that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, seeks to achieve—having longer to teach the sciences, making it easier to teach the three individual sciences—as being at the expense of their own subject, which is no longer a statutory requirement. Those are the trade-offs that we have to face in this area, day in and day out. There is no easy answer to them. Almost all subject associations that enter my office want their subjects to be mandatory; they want a more substantial programme of study and they give me 15 very important reasons, connected with the national economy and the development of individuals, why that should be so. If we did them all, pupils would never get time to sleep, let alone to engage in the many other extracurricular activities such as sport in which we want them to participate. That puts the matter into context for the Committee and shows the trade-offs that we face.
I am very mindful of Helmut Schmidt’s famous remark on languages, which I think he made to a Labour Party conference. He said that they are delighted to sell to us in English but it would be good if at least sometimes they could buy from us in German. Perhaps he would now refer to Spanish—although maybe not in respect of Germany. That highlights the problem. In most countries in the world now, the foreign language that is taught is English.
Part of our problem in focusing high-quality language teaching in our schools is deciding which language should be taught. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, mentioned Spanish. I am glad to say that Spanish teaching is increasing in our schools. The number of entries for GCSE Spanish has risen from 34,400 to 51,700 in the past nine years. There has been a big improvement in Spanish. Of course, traditionally, French has been the main foreign language taught in our schools, and it is still given primacy in PGCE courses and training.
The trade-offs here are difficult, including that in respect of Mandarin, which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, mentioned. We have not extended Mandarin into the entitlements, as she sought—or Arabic, which she also mentioned—precisely because we want to promote the official working languages of the European Union, which we regard as important in our wider European policy. Clearly there would be a benefit if we also taught those other languages, but it would be likely that in some schools no European language would be taught or given primacy. That is precisely the kind of trade-off we are talking about.
Our policy on languages has been to introduce better interactive materials, such as the languages ladder. I sent the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, our interactive materials in Spanish, including the dance mat, which I think she has been performing on recently. We have been doing a good deal to improve the quality of language teaching in secondary schools, but the thrust of our policy has been the promotion of languages in primary schools, including, for the first time, training PGCE students in languages in primary schools and providing significant additional monetary support to primary schools for teaching languages. To reach our target, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, by 2010, all seven to 11 year-olds in key stage 2 will have the opportunity to learn a language at their primary school.
By 2010, we will have funded 6,000 primary trainees to follow a teacher training course which also develops their language skills. There is evidence that this is bearing fruit. In 2002, only 21 per cent of schools were offering language programmes—most of them on an extracurricular basis, not even in the main school teaching time. A survey in January 2005 found that 56 per cent of all primary schools were either delivering language programmes or had plans to do so, so there has been a significant advance. That provides hope for the follow-through into secondary schools and up to GCSE.
We had a recent debate about history, on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, in which I gave a full account of what the Government were seeking to do. I refer noble Lords to that, rather than rehearsing everything now, except to say that, on quality of teaching, history is one of the most highly rated subjects by Ofsted. The uptake of history GCSE has remained good, at a consistent 31 to 32 per cent, despite the wider range of subjects offered at GCSE. History is in a strong state all the way through to GCSE.
Geography is still the fourth most popular option at GCSE. It has, however, been in decline, which has been of concern to the geography community and the Government. That is why we are devoting £2 million over the next two years on a geography action plan which will do a good deal to improve the support for teachers and schools in the teaching of geography and boost the resources available to them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, referred to the Budget announcement which set ambitious goals for improving science teaching at GCSE and A-level. It set goals to achieve year-on-year increases in the number of young people taking A-levels in physics, chemistry and mathematics, so that by 2014 entries to A-level physics should stand at 35,000, up from the current 24,000; in chemistry, 37,000 up from the current 33,000; and in mathematics, 56,000 up from 46,000. To take that forward, we have pledged that, by 2008, all secondary schools with a science specialism—now more than 200—will offer GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology as well as the two general science GCSEs.
I accept the noble Baroness’s point that we should seek to move beyond that, and I tell her that we will after 2008. But setting this objective for a group of several hundred secondary schools in addition to those that already offer the three sciences is a big step in the right direction. I hope that that will create a solid group of schools from which we can build out thereafter.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, so rightly said, everything in this area depends on having sufficient qualified teachers. That is a particular issue in physics and chemistry. Only 19 per cent of science teachers have a physics qualification, and only 25 per cent have a chemistry qualification. We have set a target that, by 2014,25 per cent of science teachers should have a physics specialism, and 31 per cent should have a chemistry specialism. To help bring that about, we are increasing the golden hellos in those subjects to attract more teachers, in addition to the training bursaries we currently pay. We are also increasing the number of career switcher posts available through the graduate teacher programme, particularly in those subjects; and substantially increasing the Teach First programme, which brings in new graduates who may only stay for two years in the profession, with a special training course particularly focused on science. So we have been improving provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised two issues. There is a good deal to be said for the IGCSE. It is an effective programme of study, and we have asked the QCA to advise us on whether it should be registered to be generally taught in state schools. That advice will come by the end of the month, and we will then consider it extremely seriously. Similarly, we are strong supporters of the right of students to choose to study the international baccalaureate. More than 70 schools and colleges in England now teach it; an increasing number of sixth-form colleges, for example, ensure that it is on offer in institutions with large post-16 provision. More can be done to encourage that.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about the importance of work experience. Unfortunately, there is an issue about funding, and we owe him a reply on that subject. I will see that my honourable friend the Minister for Higher Education replies to him. I know his concerns in respect of Trident, the organisation with which he is associated. If I may, I will deal with them in correspondence.
Clearly I will have an opportunity to quiz the Minister in October about what was said to him in July about the IGCSE, but I know that the examining bodies are extremely unhappy about the methodology of the review because it does not look at outcomes or the quality of pupils and is being carried out by people who have no track record. They are also concerned about the speed of the review. They would rather have had a properly set up and properly contemplative review that would produce a reasonable and rational view of whether the IGCSE is up to scratch.
I was not aware of those concerns; indeed, I thought that the IGCSE community was pleased that we are conducting a review because before that there had been no question of the IGCSE being licensed in the state system. When the report is presented, I intend to take a keen personal interest, and if there are shortcomings in the methodology, I hope I will be able to address them.
I want to be brief, but I thank all noble Lords who have supported my amendments and the other amendments in this group. We have had an excellent debate.
I understand that tough decisions have to be made on a day-to-day basis and that trade-offs have to be made, but, with all due respect, some of those decisions have been wrong. It was wrong to remove the statutory requirement for foreign languages in our schools. I remember that in 1980—that is rather dating—I was working in America as a lawyer for an international bank. At that time, it was hard to find English employees of that English bank with the Spanish skills to work all over America, particularly in the south. I am glad to hear that more people are now learning Spanish, but we need to think about the future. I am concerned that the Government are focusing on promoting the languages of the EU—which is fine—and are saying that it is not really necessary to promote languages such as Mandarin. The Chancellor of the Exchequer recognises that what happens to our economy over the next 20 or 30 years will be dynamic in terms of what is developing in the Far East. It will be hugely important for this generation of students to be able to compete. Language is part of that. Language is not just about what is on the internet—it is about having communication and getting the business; this country will not get the business unless we can speak the language of other countries.
The nub of all this is life chances for young people. I was state-school educated and I hoped that when I was of the age that I am now, we would not even be having a discussion about state versus independent schools. As long as we do not have some of these tough subjects as core subjects, so that pupils in the state system can achieve alongside those in the independent system, parents will do all they can to put their children into private schools where these subjects are taught, where there is more choice and where there are greater life chances. One of the reasons for that is a little word that means an awful lot: confidence. If you can study these languages and the separate sciences to at least a certain level it gives you confidence to go out into the world and succeed. We will be denying our pupils that opportunity unless we have core curricula, which really means that we will be able to compete.
I ask the Minister to think carefully about the amendments I have put forward. There are obviously concerns about the lack of science teachers, but perhaps what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, suggested about distance learning should be looked at. We cannot afford to wait, not even one year, for pupils to be denied their entitlement to the three separate sciences. Perhaps the distance learning route could be used pro tem while we speed up getting more teachers to teach particularly physics and chemistry.
What my noble friend said about the whole formulaic learning to pass exams, teaching to the test, is frightening. We must get away from that because even if our pupils are passing tests, that is not preparing them for life on a global basis.
This has been a really excellent debate. I am hugely grateful to noble Lords who have supported my amendments. I just add that I am pleased with what the Minister said about the IGCSE and the International Baccalaureate. These are seriously important issues that we need to think about further. I want to think carefully before Report about what the Minister said in this evening’s debate. I also urge the Minister to take on board some of the things that have been said this evening and see whether we can nudge the Government a little further in this direction. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 193 to 199 not moved.]
Page 49, line 31, at end insert-
“(1A) A pupil who chooses to follow a course of study falling within subsection (1)(b) is in addition entitled to choose a course of study in subjects within one or more of four entitlement areas specified in subsection (2) as may be reasonably permitted by provision and timetable constraints.”
The noble Baroness said: We come on to the other half of this debate about the work-based learning and, in particular, about the new specialist diplomas, which will cover the more vocational areas of the curriculum. Amendment No. 199A fits together with Amendment No. 204A in this group. I will speak to them first and then to Amendments Nos. 205B and C and 206A, which again fit together as a group and are a separate although related issue.
Amendments Nos. 199A and 204A relate to the degree to which the new specialist diplomas will enable pupils to mix vocational and academic courses. As framed, under Clause 67 new Section 85A in the Education Act 2002 states very firmly that in addition to the core subjects of English, maths and science, plus the foundation subjects of ICT, physical education and citizenship, a pupil can opt either for various entitlement subjects in the four areas embraced by the arts, humanities, design and technology or a modern foreign language, or for a course of study in an entitlement area specified by the Secretary of State—in other words, one of the new vocational diploma areas that are being developed with the sector skills councils.
Amendment No. 199A suggests that the two should not be exclusive; that, for example, a pupil choosing to take a diploma course in construction should also, timetable permitting, be able to study a modern foreign language or history or geography. Amendment No. 204A, which relates to the new subsection (3) at line 5 on page 51, which is still new Section 85A of the Education Act 2002, eliminates subsection (3) which, as I read it, currently prohibits a pupil studying in more than one of the new diploma areas and substitutes a new subsection which says that where courses of study are compatible, a pupil should be able to take discrete modules in different courses. For example, they should be able to do design and graphics side by side with a construction course, subject to that being timetable-compatible.
We tabled the amendments because we felt that by creating at age 14 the divide between those who can take GCSE subjects in those four areas and those who take the vocational diploma, we are creating a binary divide between the vocational and the academic. That will now come at 14 and will cut through schools. The spirit of Tomlinson was to do precisely the opposite. The introduction of the new specialist diplomas was to implement the Tomlinson report, as far as the Government were prepared to implement it. However, it does not implement the spirit of Tomlinson, which was that there should be a mixing and matching on the part of pupils between vocational and academic courses; that we should not shut doors on those options at that early stage; indeed, that we should keep those doors open right up to the age of 18.
The great danger of these new vocational diplomas is that they are effectively putting this barrier downat an early stage. I mentioned that in my Second Reading speech, and the Minister was good enough to write me a letter about specialised diplomas.I thank him very much for that. In his letter, he writes:
“It has always been our intention to allow young people flexibility at Key Stage 4 and to ensure that they are not trapped in a wholly vocational or academic route based on the choices they have made at age 14. Diplomas will contain a large element of generic learning: functional skills in English, maths and ICT, personal, employability, learning and thinking skills”.
We know that they must do English, maths and science, because they are core subjects that they must study. We know that they must study ICT, citizenship and PE because those are foundation subjects, but that may cut them out of doing a foreign language or history and geography alongside a vocational course.
The Minister continues:
“This generic content will ensure that the young people are able to switch between academic and what are seen as more vocational routes, as they progress”.
If there is second-rate, functional maths provided for those doing the diploma, they will not necessarily be able to switch. He goes on:
“At level 2, diplomas will occupy little more than half the curriculum time at Key Stage 4”.
I understand that, but I am still worried about the divide. He says:
“This is sufficiently large to allow a substantial, coherent programme of learning, whilst allowing time for additional learning outside the specialised diploma, including the National Curriculum core and foundation subjects”.
They must do the core and foundation subjects; they have no choice. It seems to me that they are bolted too strongly into those vocational subjects and that there is not enough flexibility, not enough room for mixing and matching. Given the time, I do not want to spend more time on this, but I hope that the Minister can give me greater hope that there will be more flexibility and I look forward to hearing from him.
Amendments Nos. 205B and 205C and 206A pick up the Chancellor's promise in the Budget that the entitlement of free tuition would be shifted from age 19 through to 25. The amendment really picks that up and says, “If that is the case, then surely the Bill should say 25 and not 19 in these circumstances”. It is a small amendment that is simply asking: when are we going to see implementation of the Chancellor’s promise on the entitlement to free tuition throughage 25? I beg to move.
I speak to AmendmentsNos. 206 and 207 which stand in my name. I have been encouraged to bring the issue to the Committee by a group of organisations and charities that deals with children who are the subject of the amendment. They include: Action on Aftercare, Barnardo's, the National Children's Bureau, NCH, the NCVCCO—which deals with children in care—the NSPCC, Save the Children, and the Who Cares? Trust. I mention them because I would like the Committee to understand that these organisations have been passionate about the issue and have pursued it at every opportunity in your Lordships' House. I have been pleased to be identified with them and to support them. I should declare an interest. I work closely with NCH and Rathbone, two organisations which deal with this cohort of young people and address their issues.
These are probing amendments that seek to explore the Bill's effect on children and young people who have experienced particular educational disadvantage. Young people leaving local authority care and children who are or have been engaged in the youth justice system need to receive every possible opportunity to overcome those disadvantages. For some of these young people the cut-off age of 19 will be too low to enable them to take advantage of this well-intentioned new entitlement. The Government and the Minister are very clear on their commitment to education and on the role that education plays in giving life chances to young people who are socially excluded. Certain groups of young people have experienced particular educational disadvantage. They include young people who have been detained either as a result of offending or mental health problems, young people who have been looked after by a local authority, and those from the Travelling communities.
The Government themselves have clearly acknowledged and made extended provision for such disadvantage in some legislation. Some Members of the Committee were actively involved in the Children (Leaving Care) Act, which says that because young people who have been looked after are liable to have suffered disruption to their education, they are quite likely to be embarking on further education much later than their peers. The legislation therefore provides considerable flexibility to catch up. Care leavers covered by legislation have until the age of 21 to get an agreed programme of educational training included in their pathway plan, and therefore to be supported by the local authority.
I very much welcome the Bill's provision to extend the entitlement to free basic education up to age 19. However, the educational disadvantage of those in the groups mentioned above is sometimes so severe that I wonder whether the extension goes far enough. For example, nearly half of young people of compulsory school age detained in young offender institutions have literacy and numeracy levels below those of the average 11 year-old, and more than a quarter have numeracy levels equivalent to that of the average seven year-old. Some 41 per cent of young people in young offender institutions were aged 14 or younger when last in school. Some 57 per cent of young people leave care with no qualifications at all. Gypsy/Traveller pupils, mostly either Gypsy-Roma or Travellers of Irish heritage, have the lowest results of any ethnic minority group and are one of the groups most at risk in the education system. Many, especially the boys, opt out of education by year 9, and very few go on to achieve success at GCSE or beyond.
The educational disadvantage of these young people is so substantial that, as evidence from, for example, the staff of NCH who work with these young people and from Rathbone suggests, considerable time and effort is required to get them to re-engage. Indeed, in 2005, the Government’s own Social Exclusion Unit said that, for some disengaged young adults, the support needed to help them get a job or to consider re-engaging in education might take substantial time and effort. I am told by the teachers who work with these young people that one of the first obstacles is to get them to be willing to take the risk of going back into education. Research indicates that these young people have failed so significantly in the education system that they are very reluctant to access opportunities even when they are there. It seems that taking a long-term perspective and thinking about the future and the usefulness of qualifications in this cohort can be only to their benefit and to that of society, because these young people are heading towards costing the state significant amounts of money one way or another.
According to the Youth Justice Board, young people who offend are experiencing considerable difficulties in accessing, for example, sufficient suitable accommodation when they come out of secure accommodation, so one of the challenges facing us is that you have to get these children and young people into homes that are stable and suitable before they can address the question of how they will educate themselves and what kind of education might be appropriate for them. For these reasons, I am concerned that cutting off access to benefit at the age of 19 may not give these young people enough time to sort out some of their more basic needs and to reflect on the benefits of educational qualifications.
I entirely support what the noble Baroness has just said. It is terribly important to allow these people the time to develop motivation and a place in the world, which is the sort of foundation you need to give you the strength to tackle a proper educational course, having, as she said, gone through sufficient crises to sink most people for a number of years. I would, however, prefer to do it in the context of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and increase the age limit to 25, because plenty of ordinary young people frankly get burnt out by the education system and need a bit of time in the world before they want to establish a direction for themselves. I also very much support her other amendment. I hope that we will move in these diplomas to something resembling the system for learning music in which you can tackle some of the subject in little bits. Languages and mathematics particularly lend themselves to being learnt in bits. If you learn your maths in the heart of a specialised diploma, there should be a way of converting that into a GCSE should you want to move back towards the academic. Some young man who wants to be an architect can perhaps do a construction course and still end up at Cambridge.
In view of the lateness of the hour, I will say merely that I strongly support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. However, it has been pointed out that it would probably be at least as acceptable to widen the age limit to 25. I therefore support both amendments.
The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reflect her concern that at 14 you choose to go left or right in your education. As I read the Bill, we are talking only about entitlement.
A young person choosing the vocational route could nevertheless have the opportunity to take items from the alternative route if the school was willing to offer them. That should be normal. For example, let us suppose that the school—I know one such school; I am its patron—chooses sport and the performing arts as its specialism. It seems very reasonable for pupils from that school to want to do music, dance or drama on the left-hand side, but their future, as they see it, might lie in construction. I do not see why that should be closed off in a specialist school when this is the specialism and they should go the other way as well.
I also rather like the idea of being able to take modules within a framework which are pinched from over the fence but which can count. The whole idea of my recommendations in 1997, and to some extent those of Tomlinson, was that one should be able to build up elements into a qualification and that you should not be circumscribed to pick entirely from the left or the right. You should pick predominantly more from one than from the other, but there should be some scope. There is an issue here that merits further consideration.
On the modular approach to some subjects, including languages, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned, we are sympathetic. We have introduced a languages ladder which precisely mirrors the approach taken with music exams. Students go up by grades when they are ready to take them. We are about to decide what the equivalents will be in terms of points for GCSE and beyond, and I believe that there is room to go further. My noble friend Lady Thornton and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke with great conviction on post-16 participation and opportunity. We entirely endorse the points that they made about that. The question is the precise means by which to bring about the objectives that we all share.
The core and specialised diploma entitlement for 16 to 19 year-olds supports greater curriculum choice for all young people, including not least the educationally disadvantaged, who, too often, have not been provided for in the past. Although the entitlements in Clause 68 relate specifically to 16 to 19 year-olds and legally cease if a person does not start one of these courses before he or she reaches the age of 19, there are a number of funded non-statutory entitlements in place which will ensure that those who have not reached at least level 2 qualifications by that age, for whatever reason, can access these later in life.
All young people and adults now have a non-statutory entitlement to study free, without having any charges at all, towards their first level 2 qualification. Those aged between 19 and 25 will also have a non-statutory entitlement to study again free towards their first level 3 qualification. We brought about that change recently. In fact, it has led to some difficult decisions in the further education world. Some of my noble friends have raised the trade-off with adult learning. There is a trade-off, but we have done it because we want younger people between the ages of 19 and 25 to have the entitlement to be able to study up to their first level 3 qualification. If they did not get it while they were at school, they would have the opportunity thereafter. In addition, the range of level 2 qualifications covers practical vocational qualifications relating to particular jobs or industries. For example, a level 2 qualification can be obtained in food hygiene or bricklaying. Those more vocational courses may be more appropriate for those already in employment and those seeking to be employed in a particular job.
We recognise that financial constraints often prevent a young person or adult from completing a course as part of his or her further education. We have therefore developed packages of support for young people to help alleviate the financial burden of studying part-time. These include targeted support administered by colleges to help students experiencing the greatest amount of financial difficulty, particularly those without a level 2 qualification, and the new adult learning grants which provide up to £30 per week for the low-skilled employed on low incomes who wish to undertake full-time study towards a level 2 or level 3 qualification.
Amendment No. 199A would allow pupils to study entitlement subjects as well as specialised diplomas. Our aim is to allow students to study courses that engage them and provide a breadth of study. Of course, we support the intention of the amendments, but there are practical issues. At level 1, a specialised diploma will be equivalent in teaching hours to four or five GCSEs. Level 2 will equate to five or six GCSEs. In addition to their specialised diplomas, students will be required to study the core subjects of English, maths and science, and the foundation subjects of ICT, PE and citizenship. Although some of those subjects will be covered as part of the specialised diploma, most will be studied as an additional course.
For the majority of students, that will, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, recognised, equate to a very full and challenging timetable of study. We recognise that some students may wish to study additional subjects and schools will have the freedom to allow them do so where they believe that this is a viable option. But we believe that the decisions surrounding this are best left to the discretion of the school and are not mandated centrally. As the amendment acknowledges, timetabling all those different courses can be problematic for schools. We feel that additional entitlements would make that even more difficult to organise and might imperil the introduction of the diplomas.
Amendment No. 204A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would allow pupils to mix and match units of study from different diploma areas. We believe that we have a duty to all young people to ensure that the courses they choose to study lead to high quality qualifications that are valued by employers and universities. It will not therefore be possible for young people to mix discrete units of study from one diploma line with units of study from another diploma line. This approach would not guarantee the breadth and depth of learning needed to support progression both within and across sector lines. Neither would we expect the governing bodies of schools or FE institutions to have the time or expertise to determine the suitability of unit combinations from across diploma sectors. It would be unreasonable and economically unviable to expect schools and colleges offering a diploma to make every single optional unit available to young people. Schools and colleges will decide which units to offer, making sure that the available units and applied rules of combination make up a coherent learning programme. The learner will then be able to make their own choices from the options that are locally available, with guidance from teachers, mentors and advisers on which units will provide the right learning programme for them.
I hope that the noble Baroness understands these practical issues, although I know that she would like us to be able to go further.
I thank the Minister for that reply and I do indeed understand the practical issues, but I feel that what is being proposed breaches the spirit of Tomlinson. If a very bright, academic kid wants to do something practical as well, it should be possible, but the way these options are now being offered inhibits such a course. I am sorry about that and, as I indicated earlier, there is a danger that we will create within schools a binary divide between academic and vocational subjects at the age of 14. However, we shall have to see how these things work out. I know that a great deal of work is currently under way in developing the new specialist diplomas and I look forward to seeing how they develop.
With regard to the other amendments in this grouping, I am perplexed by one point. Given that there are all these non-statutory entitlements, what is the purpose of Clause 68? If the Minister would like to write to me about this, I am happy for him to do so.
With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 200 not moved.]
[Amendments Nos. 201 to 203 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendments Nos. 204 and 204A not moved.]
Clause 67 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 205 and 205A not moved.]
Clause 68 [Education and training to satisfy entitlements]:
[Amendments Nos. 205B to 207 not moved.]
Clause 68 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 208 and 209 not moved.]
Clause 69 [LEAs in England: duty to promote sustainable modes of travel etc]:
Page 53, line 21, after “England” insert “, jointly with the relevant local transport authority or authorities,”
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 209A I shall speak also to AmendmentsNos. 210A and 210B. We have moved on to the rather more mundane topic of home-school transport, but it is nevertheless very important. On the whole there has been support for the moves made by the Government both in this Bill and previously towards modernising the framework for home-school transport. Many noble Lords who have been active in local authorities struggled with the provisions of an Act which was50 years out of date and thus not fit for purpose. However, my amendments seek to probe the issue of transport strategy planning.
Clause 69 places a new duty on local education authorities to promote sustainable travel modes and to produce a school travel strategy, an annual review of travel needs and a risk assessment. Transport strategy planning is currently the duty of local transport authorities under the terms of the Transport Act 2000. That Act makes specific reference to education and social services transport provision as well as to local bus services. Bringing it all together like that has proved very useful to local authorities in recent years in co-ordinating strategy and expenditure on buses across the piece. They have improved efficiency enormously and saved money.
Local authorities are nervous that this integrated approach will be lost by having two separate sets of plans, one drawn up by the local transport authority and the other drawn up by the local education authority. Perhaps the Minister will comment on whether there is a need to look again at a more explicit link between the duties of the two bodies.
The law of unintended consequences does not have a statutory basis, but it exists nevertheless. Let me refer to a small technical point in relation to the bus operators’ service grant which demonstrates this. I understand from the Bill that school transport is to be taken out of the remit of the traffic commissioner—which I am sure is a good thing—but that will have the effect of disqualifying school buses from the bus operators’ service grant. Currently, in rural areas particularly, outside school times, school buses are used to provide other local transport services and receive the grant. This keeps the cost of school transport down because there is, in effect, a cross subsidy. Therefore one unintended consequence of the provision could be to increase the cost of school transport.
I recognise that this point goes beyond the technical and into anorak—and I would understand if the Minister had to write to me on it—but it is a point worth looking at because it could potentially be quite expensive. If local education authorities are to provide these new strategies and reviews, there clearly will be a cost. I should like some assurance from the Minister on how the discussions with authorities are going in relation to where the money for this is to come from.
Finally, we have had debates about not putting extra burdens on anyone, particularly local authorities. Can the Minister be absolutely sure that the effect he requires could not have been achieved through working with colleagues in the Department for Transport on the local transport plans which are already up and running? Why has it been necessary to create a new set of plans and burdens? This seems to be going against the grain of everything we seek to achieve collectively. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 211 and 211A in this group.
Transport is the bedrock of real choice for pupils and parents yet there is no uniform commitment to choice by LEAs across the country. There are instances where free travel is only accessible under local education authority provision if a student attends their closest school. In Gloucestershire, the local authority’s rules state that a pupil must,
“attend the school or college closest to your home address or the school or college that serves your home address”.
The effects of this type of policy are evident at Cirencester College where, according to statistics from the Guardian on 11 July, only 27 out of 1,500 pupils qualify for subsidised bus travel. Of more concern are the Minister’s words in another place, where he stated in response to my honourable friend John Hayes MP that the nature of the funding arrangements are based on a negotiation to,
“determine whether funds are required, depending on where the student lives and so on”.—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 9/5/06; col. 808.]
I hope the Minister can confirm that that statement does not mean that schools will be able effectively to fetter choice by refusing free school transport. We on these Benches are not advocating free or subsidised school transport for all pupils between 16 to 19, but it is clear that transport for those who really need it outside compulsory school age is not given the priority that it needs.
Amendment No. 211 addresses the issue of choice in specific terms. It is linked-in, rather, with the debates we have had on faith schools, but its purpose focuses on choice. It will ensure that a school would not qualify as suitable for subsidised transport arrangements if that school was incompatible with parents’ religious beliefs. We on these Benches believe that those parents who have strong religious beliefs and who wish to bring their children up following them should be supported in doing so. Likewise, those parents who strongly do not hold religious beliefs should not be forced to send their children to a school that is led on a religious basis. Religion or belief includes absence of religion or belief, as defined in Clause 77, which inserts new Clause 509AD—that is slightly worrying—into the Education Act 1996. Subsections (3)(c) and (d) state:
“A reference to religion includes a reference to lack of religion, and … reference to belief includes a reference to lack of belief”.
My amendment would be vital in instances in which an atheist family who lived close to three faith schools did not want to send their children there, and vice versa.
Amendment No. 211A is intended to ensure that any changes made by piloting transport schemes will be approved by Parliament ahead of implementation and will provide the details of all those children who currently receive free school transport, who would lose out due to the scheme. Ideally, no child who currently receives free school transport would lose out under new schemes. I hope that the Minister can assure us that that provision will be safe.
The amendments together, along with the principle of my amendments in the next group, would ensure that school transport is a real facilitator for choice and notably in its efficiency, not in its absence.
Although I have no amendment in this group, I hope the Committee will allow me to address the other half of the issue which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has raised. I should like to mention a matter I raised on Second Reading and ask the Minister whether he has had a chance to reflect further on denominational transport.
As Members of the Committee know, rather than imposing a duty on LEAs to provide free transport to the nearest denominational school, the law requires LEAs to have regard to any wish of the parents in that respect. In fact, in recent years a succession of local authorities have decided to disregard parents’ views and withdraw the provision of free transport to denominational schools. I have examples of that happening in my own diocese.
I doubt whether we can turn the clock back. However, while I welcome the Bill’s extension of the choice to two or three schools within a six-mile radius, I do not believe that it is enough. It is not sufficient to address the problem. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth has raised this with the Secretary of State and I very much hope the Minister will recognise that in many rural communities, six miles is not very far. That means that the children of poorer families who wish to attend Church schools some miles from their home will be unable to do so as the provision of free denominational transport is gradually eroded. That, I believe, will be socially divisive; it would run directly against the Government’s policy of promoting diversity and inclusion. It would also undermine the Church’s clear intention to ensure that Church schools are not, as some of our critics have already suggested, socially exclusive. We need the Government’s help, and I hope that the Minister can reassure me.
Where the desire is that faith schools should widen their access to children from poor families, ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds, I hope that the Minister will consider very carefully what the right reverend Prelate has said. This is an essential part of choice for such families; often the school will give them some of the assistance they need. I hope the Minister will consider that transport provision could rule out their attending faith schools even though they might qualify for free school meals.
I should first like to speak to government Amendments Nos. 214 and 264. These bring Section 6 of the Transport Act 1985 into line with what I am told were its original intentions. Amendment No. 214 exempts certain bus services from the requirement to register with the Traffic Commissioner. The bus services exempted are those which provide free school transport under Sections 509 and 509AA of the EducationAct 1996 and Section 508 and Schedule 35C, which are introduced by this Bill.
These services are closed services. That means they carry only fare-paying passengers who are pupils, persons escorting or supervising pupils, or persons involved in the provision of education at the premises served.
Registration of bus services with the Traffic Commissioner is designed to protect the paying public from unscrupulous bus operators which might seek to change routes or withdraw services without giving any notice, leaving passengers stranded. Registered services are required to give 56 days’ notice of changes, allowing regular passengers to make alternative arrangements. However, buses which cater solely for schools do not require such protection. On the contrary, greater flexibility would enable routes to be altered to pick up or set down a pupil with particular short-term transport needs.
Without this amendment, each and every such route change would require the service to be re-registered with the Traffic Commissioner. Over time, the compliance costs and bureaucratic burden on local authorities of this requirement could prove to be considerable, hence the government amendments.
We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, who said in speaking to her Amendments Nos. 209A, 210A and 210B, that there should be a joined-up approach between the education and transport departments. However, we have dealt with this in draft guidance, which has been made available to the Committee. This states that the school travel strategy should be,
“a statement of the authority’s overall vision”,
and that it should,
“build on, and be developed in the context of the authority’s community strategies, and Local Transport Plan (LTP)—including its accessibility plan and bus strategy”.
I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that this guidance addresses her points on joined-up thinking and working across departments.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 211 and 213, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the right reverend Prelate spoke. We are aware that transport to schools preferred on grounds of religion or belief is an issue of concern, both for those who are currently in receipt of it and those from lower-income backgrounds, for precisely the reasons which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, gave. We are continuing to consider raising the six-mile limit, but the sums of money involved are considerable, which is why we are wrestling with the matter. We would need to ensure that local authorities were properly provided for if they were expected to meet this obligation. I hope to be able to return on Report with our further thinking. I stress that the reason why I have not yet been able to do so is the costs. We will have to wrestle with them if we are to be able to make changes and, as ever, they will involve trade-offs.
Amendment No. 211A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, would add an additional stage to the process of developing school travel schemes by requiring a report to be brought before Parliament which detailed the impact of the schemes. It would be impractical to produce such a report before the regulations had been laid, since only then would authorities be able to submit applications. However, we are committed to ensuring that all such schemes are subject to full and timely evaluation. I hope that that commitment reassures the noble Baroness.
I am grateful to the Minister for reiterating that the guidance emphasises the need for the new plans to be integrated with others. I am sure that local authorities will heed it. However, I remain concerned that new bureaucracy has been imposed which I am not sure is needed. Nevertheless, it is getting late and I shall not press the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 53, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 24 on page 54.
The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment which seeks clarification from the Minister on the Government’s plans for transport for 16 to 19 year-olds. Considerable investment in transport is made by further education authorities already, not only in rural areas where the travel costs are clear, but also in the inner cities and deprived urban areas. Yet the performance of the local education authorities in providing transport and supporting further education for 16 to 19 year-olds varies widely across the country. LEAs have been forced under budgeting pressure to introduce charges or make cuts to the transport provision for 16 to18 year-olds. The Scarborough Evening News reported in March that North Yorkshire County Council was planning to introduce travel charges of up to £10 a week for 16 to 18 year-olds to. In Norfolk, the county council had planned to cut the £800,000 budget which financed transport for 5,000 students, meaning that the cost of a bus season ticket would have doubled from £200 to £400. As it stands, Clause 69 places a duty on the LEA to assess the travel needs of pupils in their area, including those “persons of sixth form age” travelling to or from college.
Clause 76 hands more power in this area to the LSC in issuing guidance to LEAs and asking the Secretary of State to direct LEAs. This cluster of probing amendments would hand responsibility for travel to the local learning and skills councils. I am not wedded to that idea specifically. Indeed, I do not suggest that learning and skills councils have an excess of money which they can easily spend on travel for 16 to 19 year-olds. However, as the general provider of post-16 education, they seem to be well placed to ensure that transport supports the school system.
I accept that there may be other ways of addressing this issue but I hope that the Minister will agree that it is crucial to the Bill as a whole that we ensure that there is a robust functional infrastructure to support parents’ freedom of choice of schools. I beg to move.
I have three amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 211B, 211C and 211D. They all relate to Clause 74, which deals with the provision of transport for certain adult learners, and specifically for adult learners with learning disabilities of one form or another.
I was approached by Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association because disabled students aged between 19 and 25 have problems getting transport when taking part in education courses. The failure to provide transport for disabled students over 19 remaining in further, adult and continuing education and work-based learning—partly because of their disabilities they are frequently somewhat behind others in their education—has been a problem for many years.
A local learning and skills council can agree to continue to fund a disabled student, but the local authority is under no obligation to provide transport. One member of Skill’s council was given additional funding to finish his A-levels, aged 20, but his local county council refused to fund his transport and he had to rely on his retired father to take him to and fro. It was only when the Minister’s office contacted the council that funding was found.
Skill therefore welcomed the opportunity to be involved in a DfES working group, alongside the RNIB, looking into education transport for 16 to 19 year-olds. It also very much welcomes the guidance that has been issued on transport support arrangements for students aged 16 to 19, which states:
“Good practice suggests that wherever possible LAs and their partners should provide support … until at least the age of 21, and ideally up to 25”.
That marries up with the discussion that we have just had on level 2 and level 3 entitlements up to that age.
However, the evidence suggests that despite the work of the DfES and the guidance, many disabled students over 19, some of whom are being funded by their local learning and skills council to finish their course after 19 because of their disability, are not being funded by their LEA for their transport costs. For example, the Black Country Connexions Partnership reports that three out of the four LEAs in its area will not fund the transport costs of disabled students beyond the age of 19.
In addition, there is no requirement to provide cross-local authority boundary travel until 2008 and no requirement to provide travel in the morning peak or on other modes of transport. Guide Dogs for the Blind has heard of a number of cases where local authorities have removed free morning peak-time travel that they previously gave to disabled people in recent months. Local authorities should be encouraged to level up to give all disabled people free travel in the morning peak, as London does.
However, as not all young people with disabilities and special educational needs are eligible for concessionary fares and a few disabled people will never be able to access mainstream public transport because of their impairments, those who have transport specified in their transition plans should also be entitled to free transport.
For visually impaired young people, it is also essential that mobility and independence education, which would include training for independent travel, is included. It is not routinely provided in the education system. Mobility training is provided by only 25 per cent of schools in England and 50 per cent of schools in Wales, and where it is provided it rarely continues through the school holidays and is seldom continued up to college level.
The LSC national council has recently accepted a report prepared for it on the provision of post-16 education for disabled people, Through Inclusion to Excellence. The report recognised that transport was a major difficulty for disabled young people in post-16 learning. It recommended that:
“DfES and other Government departments [should] consider and propose appropriate transport legislation for those learners over the age of 19, with learning difficulties and/or disabilities”.
The Bill provides such an opportunity to act on this recommendation.
I very warmly support Amendments Nos. 211B to 211D, which were spoken to so graphically by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and which bear my name. I declare an interest as president of Skill.
As the noble Baroness said, transport for disabled learners post-19 has been a long-standing problem, and all previous attempts to solve it, of which there have been many, have failed. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to the review Through Inclusion to Excellence, and I hope that the Minister will agree that the Government really need to resolve the transport issue now, or all the splendid initiatives planned in the review will be at risk. If the budget previously used to send students to residential colleges goes instead to the regional LSC, which will develop centres of excellence in the region, more students will have access to more appropriate education with less patchy provision, and you will not get postcode provision. I imagine that most of the centres of excellence will be daily, except in some very rural areas, so without transport the whole project could collapse.
I hope that the Minister will give an encouraging reply; I am sure that he will agree that the problem needs to be addressed. I hope that he will be able to bring forward a constructive way forward by Report.
Amendment No. 210, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, addresses issues relating to the definition of sustainable travel. The definition in Clause 69 makes it clear that local authorities should not only consider travel to and from school but take a strategic view of arrangements supporting attendance at, for example, breakfast clubs and after-school activities; journeys between institutions during the day; and journeys to, from and between schools, further education institutions and other institutions where education or training might be delivered—and might increasingly be delivered in the future as we develop diplomas and extended schools. That duty requires local authorities to think about the needs of all pupils and young people of sixth form age, and is closely linked to environmental and health agendas. We recognise that this is a new burden, and we are providing additional funding of £4 million a year to local authorities in England to address it.
Amendments Nos. 211B and 211C, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, are designed to introduce a duty on local authorities to arrange transport for disabled learners who attend further education institutions up to age 25. Amendment No. 211D would give local authorities the power to pay the reasonable travel expenses of such students. I will reflect further on the points made in the debate, but my advice is that local authorities already have such responsibilities. Under the Education Act 1996, as amended by the Education Act 2002, local authorities have a duty in relation to students in England aged 16 to 18 to prepare and publish a transport statement, specifying what arrangements for the provision of transport and of financial assistance they consider necessary to facilitate their attendance at schools and institutions of further education.
Section 509AB of the Act further states that, in preparing its statement, a local authority shall have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. This guidance clearly states that,
“provision should also be made for students with learning difficulties and disabilities up to at least age 21, although local authorities should seriously consider extending this to age 25”.
That is the position in the guidance and under legislation, but I will further consider the points that have been raised and will read Hansard closely in respect of them.
Amendment No. 212, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, seeks to transfer transport duties from local authorities to the Learning and Skills Council. We believe that splitting off to the LSE responsibility for transport support for 16 year-old to 19 year-old students in further education from the wider transport responsibilities held by local authorities would not be efficient or effective. Keeping them integrated within local authorities is probably a better way forward.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his response and for his promise to look again at these issues. We recognise that the guidance is there, but, clearly, many local authorities are not acting on the guidance and there is great variation between them in such provision. As I indicated, London gives young disabled people completely free travel and is, in that sense, very much an exemplar of a local authority; but in other authorities those young people cannot get any transport. If they are taking a course of study, some of them require transport. Some can access public transport, but some cannot do that and require transport arrangements to be made for them. It is vital that that is done.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I very much appreciate that the Minister is making strides in terms of transport provision and this is not an easy issue. While I am not wedded to the idea of splitting off responsibility for transport to the LSC, Amendment No. 212 was intended to be a probing amendment. We are examining all the waysin which we can support a robust, functional infrastructure that can support choice. Where there is inconsistency, that choice might be diminished. But I thank the Minister for his response and, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 210A and 210B not moved.]
Clause 69 agreed to.
Clause 70 agreed to.
Schedule 8 [Travel to schools etc: meaning of “eligible child”]:
[Amendment No. 211 not moved.]
Schedule 8 agreed to.
Clause 71 agreed to.
Schedule 9 agreed to.
Clause 72 [Piloting of school travel scheme provisions]:
[Amendment No. 211A not moved.]
Clause 72 agreed to.
Clause 73 agreed to.
Clause 74 [LEAs in England: provision of transport etc for certain adult learners]:
[Amendments Nos. 211B to 211D not moved.]
Clause 74 agreed to.
Clause 75 agreed to.
Clause 76 [Learning and Skills Council for England: transport etc for persons of sixth form age]:
[Amendment No. 212 not moved.]
Clause 76 agreed to.
Clause 77 [LEAs in England: duty to have regard to religion or belief in exercise of travel functions]:
[Amendment No. 213 not moved.]
Clause 77 agreed to.
Clause 78 agreed to.
Schedule 10 [Further amendments relating to travel to schools etc]:
Page 210, line 34, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) and insert-
“( ) In subsection (1) after “London local service” insert “nor a service which falls within subsection (1A) below”.
( ) After subsection (1) insert-
“(1A) A service falls within this subsection if conditions A and B are satisfied in relation to it.
(1B) Condition A is satisfied if the service is provided in pursuance of-
(a) the obligation placed on a local education authority by section 508B(1), section 508F(1), section 509(1) or (1A), or section 509AA(7)(b) or (9)(a) of the EducationAct 1996 (provision of transport etc); (b) the exercise of the power of a local education authority under section 508C(1) of that Act; or (c) arrangements made by a local education authority in pursuance of a scheme made by them under Schedule 35C to that Act (school travel schemes). (1C) Condition B is satisfied if the service is for the carriage of any of the following persons (and no other)-
(a) a person receiving education or training at premises to or from which transport is provided in pursuance of the obligation, the exercise of the power or the arrangements, as the case may be, mentioned in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (1B); (b) a person supervising or escorting any such person while he is using such transport; (c) a person involved with the provision of education or training at any such premises.””
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.