House of Lords
Thursday, 20 July 2006.
The House met at eleven of the clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
Lord James of Blackheath
David Noel James, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron James of Blackheath, of Wild Brooks in the County of West Sussex, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Eden of Winton and the Lord Feldman.
Sir David Sydney Rowe-Beddoe, Knight, having been created Baron Rowe-Beddoe, of Kilgetty in the County of Dyfed, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach and the Lord Morris of Aberavon.
Azerbaijan: Armenian Monuments
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are aware of and concerned by Armenian reports of the destruction and desecration of certain monuments and artefacts in Azerbaijan. We are also aware of and concerned by reports of the destruction of Azerbaijani cultural artefacts in territories under Armenian control.
We deplore such actions, no matter where or by whom they are committed, but the primary concern at this stage should be not the apportionment of blame but effective action to ensure the preservation of cultural and historical monuments on both sides of the current dispute. We consider this an issue for UNESCO to resolve and we are supporting its efforts to find a solution. We look to the Governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the active engagement of UNESCO, to comply with their international commitments with regard to the safeguarding of cultural heritage.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I assure her that, if there were comparable evidence of widespread systematic destruction of Azeri cultural heritage by Armenians, I should be the first to join her in condemning that, but, to my knowledge, there is no such evidence. Is the noble Baroness aware that I was in Nakhichevan when Azerbaijan was using tanks to shell Armenian villages, forcing Armenians to flee their homeland and their precious cultural heritage of thousands of ancient, exquisite stone crosses and dozens of churches, which have now been destroyed? Will the Government urge Azerbaijan to allow uninhibited access by international organisations to assess the extent of that destruction?
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s long-standing close interest in Armenia. We would urge both the Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities to co-operate with UNESCO and the Council of Europe in their investigations into allegations of destruction of cultural sites in Nakhichevan and/or Nagorno-Karabakh. That includes allowing uninhibited access to missions from those organisations.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the destruction of the monuments is not merely a heartless act of spite against the Armenian community but that it diminishes the world’s cultural heritage and is the legitimate concern of the international community? Do the Government support the call by the Council of Europe to permit a delegation of scientists, working with the International Councilon Monuments and Sites, to visit the area and report on its findings?
My Lords, I entirely agree that it is not merely an act of spite—it is much more important—and that it is an issue for international organisations, which is precisely why we support the actions of UNESCO. The Government support the call by the Council of Europe.
My Lords, has there been any response from the Government of Azerbaijan to the proposal by the European Parliament of 16 February concerning the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenian cultural heritage in Nakhichevan? What is the Government’s view of the proposals, which are being discussed in the European neighbourhood policy context, that the European Commission and Council should facilitate the return of the people who were ethnically cleansed from the area of Nakhichevan from 1991 onwards and that they should incorporate in the action plan a clause protecting the few remaining sites from destruction?
My Lords, I am aware of the resolution of the European Parliament of 16 February. We actively support the growing relationship that Azerbaijan has with the European Union through the European neighbourhood policy. The EU and Azerbaijan are currently negotiating the content of an action plan. Whether or not the clause to which the noble Lord referred is being actively discussed, I do not know, but I shall certainly find out. I undertake to inform the noble Lord.
My Lords, UNESCO is working with both sides to try to ensure that damage is not inflicted on this wonderful cultural heritage. UNESCO is trying to ensure that a mission goes into Azerbaijan to discuss these things. It is working at an international level, trying to bring people together and trying to stop the destruction of the monuments.
My Lords, my noble friend has obviously given some comfort to the House by saying that the Government are aware of what has been happening with regard to the destruction of these very valuable and unique pieces of art. Whether talks take place with UNESCO or anyone else, will my noble friend find out what has happened to the thousands of stone crosses that are missing or have been destroyed since the takeover of that area? Will she please go further and ask the Government of Azerbaijan to allow Armenians to return to Nakhichevan to rebuild their cultural monuments and restore their cultural heritage?
My Lords, I shall certainly make the point to the appropriate people and try to find out what has happened to the thousands of stone crosses mentioned by my noble friend. Cultural heritage is being destroyed in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. We call on both those countries to take appropriate action and stop inflicting damage on these things. We call on both sides to act.
My Lords, there seems little doubt that Azeri troops have inflicted deliberate—and apparently officially sanctioned—cultural damage on these grave sites, concreting them over and deliberately setting out to destroy them. Not only is that bad in every cultural sense, but it obviously does not help to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
Might we not go a little further than looking to the Azeris to halt their actions or hoping that UNESCO will do something? Could we not use very much stronger words to the Azeri Government and say that this is not helping the peace we all want to see in that part of the world and that it is putting an ugly stain on the reputation of Azerbaijan?
My Lords, I entirely agree that this is not helping in either Azerbaijan or Armenia. The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that this has a direct impact on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. It is important that discussions are taking place to try to resolve that conflict. We are working to do so with people like the Minsk group. In doing that, we must take account of the damage inflicted on the cultural sites, because it is part of a much wider problem.
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend about the state of the memorial in Baku to the British and Commonwealth soldiers of Dunster Force, who died towards the end of the First World War while attempting to cut off the supply of oil to the Central Powers? Is she aware that the memorial was due to be opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent in September 2003, but the ceremony was abandoned at the last moment and the site is now terribly neglected and vandalised? I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on War Graves and Battlefield Heritage.
My Lords, I am aware of the site and that His Royal Highness was invited to open it but was unable to do so because it was vandalised. We have been assured by the Azerbaijanis that they will give it the protection it deserves, and we are not aware of any further damage since 2003.
Education: Dance and Drama Awards
My Lords, in the coming academic year the Learning and Skills Council, which manages this programme on behalf of my department, will invest nearly £15 million in the dance and drama awards scheme. Thereafter, investment in the scheme will be subject to the outcome of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and declare an interest as a supporter of the Hammond School of Dance and Education in Chester, whose young and gifted pupils recently received a national dance and drama award from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Given the job opportunities, especially in the cultural and entertainment industries, and given the fact that these dance and drama awards can go to young people from all backgrounds, will my noble friend seriously consider increasing the number of the awards and their worth?
My Lords, I recognise the good work of the Hammond school and I agree that these awards—which were introduced by the Government in 1999 on the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his 1997 report—have been important for thousands of gifted and talented young people, who have been able to access the best training available whatever their economic background. As for job opportunities, the entertainment industry in this country is not some kind of ethereal and self-indulgent activity, but a core part of economic growth.
My Lords, although I welcome these awards—indeed, the Guildford School of Acting has benefited enormously from them—there is some concern that they do not reflect the full diversity of British society and culture. Does the Minister agree that there is a need to broaden the focus of training to include, for example, African and Asian forms of dance that British professional companies are practising but for which there are very few opportunities for training?
My Lords, I agree that it is important to open up opportunities for under-represented groups. I hope that the noble Baroness will be encouraged by the fact that the Learning and Skills Council funds initiatives aimed at widening participation in these awards—for instance, it grant-funds participating schools to provide training and opportunities for under-represented groups and it funds training for students with disabilities.
My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about inclusivity, will my noble friend look at the nature of the awards, which require the student to find match funding? That may be a disincentive for some of the groups that should be encouraged to participate in these awards.
My Lords, the dance and drama award pays the majority of the student’s fees, leaving a relatively small contribution for the student to find, as my noble friend rightly says. In 2006-07, the student contribution was £1,200. To put this in context, before 1999 the award was not available at all, but nearly 10,000 students have now been through the scheme—I like to think of it as the Billy Elliot scheme—and are doing well in theatre, dance, ballet, opera and television.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a strong supporter of the Guildford School of Acting, formerly the Grant-Bellairs school, which is one of the most famous in the country. The school not only needs award support, but is always seeking to develop its capital infrastructure. Most support for that should come from the private sector, but is there any public sector support for capital developments and new buildings for the Guildford school and other such schools around the country?
My Lords, I was delighted to hear what has happened following the report with which I was involved in 1997. However, if poor parents have to find £1,200, that absorbs most of the £1,500 that the Government make available to poor students to encourage them to stay on after the age of 16. Does the Minister agree that that is a pity?
House of Lords: Questions to the Lord Speaker
My Lords, the Lord Speaker is not one of those Members to whom questions may be addressed, as laid down in the Companion. The Speakership Committee did not recommend any change of practice. If the noble Lord thinks that such questions should be allowed, the appropriate forum to raise it would be the Procedure Committee.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that Answer, which is, as always, very helpful. Is she aware that this Question was refused a place in the ballot for topical Questions just a few days after the noble Baroness took her seat on the Woolsack? Does she not think that it might be wise to remove from officials any risk of having to make controversial decisions in these areas, which sometimes might not have the universal acclaim of the Member concerned or the House?
My Lords, I am extraordinarily pleased that I am not responsible for deciding on questions of topicality. The fact that we are debating the Question today perhaps suggests that little has been lost by waiting an extra week. I remind the House that in 2004 the Procedure Committee endorsed the Leader’s Group recommendation that,
“the clerks should discourage members from tabling questions which are clearly not topical”.
My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker served in another place in a constituency close to the one in which I served. In her present position she would gladly, I am sure, accept any further responsibility that we place on her.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, although I am not entirely sure how the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker will take it. We have had a Lord Speaker for only two weeks, so it is important that we give the post a little time to bed down. I am aware that the noble Baroness is very conscious of the need to report back to the House on what she is doing and has undertaken to consult Members of the House on these issues when we return after the Recess.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness not think that as a self-regulating House we might regulate ourselves not to ask Questions like this, which can be embarrassing? In any case the matter could be left for another four or five years and then a judgment can be made. So far, I believe that the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker is doing a thoroughly good job.
My Lords, I think that it is important that we review the post. Noble Lords will know that I am sometimes frustrated at the pace of change in this House, but on this issue we should see what happens in practice. I remind the House of two things that came out very clearly in our discussions about the post. First, the House was absolute that it did not want a Lord Speaker ruling on points of order; and, secondly, there was a very clear reluctance to give the Lord Speaker a prominent role in the Chamber. We need to weigh all these issues up while recognising that, in areas of the Lord Speaker’s responsibility such as the outreach role, we may have to think about how activities are reported back to the House, but we can do it in ways that do not infringe on the core principles the House agreed.
My Lords, although my noble friend Lord Renton is undoubtedly right in what he said about the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker, does the Minister recall, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, just indicated, that some of us went to some trouble to ensure in the arrangements made that the Lord Speaker was not drawn into exchanges in the House, both to retain the self-regulation which all noble Lords prize very much and to avoid the opportunities for misplaced ingenuity which arise in another place in asking questions of Mr Speaker?
My Lords, both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary remain actively engaged in the situation in the Middle East. They have spoken to their Lebanese, Israeli and Palestinian counterparts on a regular basis. We are working closely with international partners in the region, the UN, the EU and the G8. Indeed, my honourable friend Dr Howells is in the region today.
As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear, the most immediate priority is to create the conditions in which a cessation of violence can happen. We are working towards that end.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Will the Government take a much more positive role in discussions at the UN today than they took with their EU colleagues and at the G8 by asking for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East? It is obviously terrible to see casualties on any side, but does the noble Baroness feel that Israel's actions have been proportionate or in her long-term best interests when the casualty levels are 10 times higher in Lebanon than they are in Israel and we see the “shredding”, in the words of the Lebanese Prime Minister, of a state that was a beacon of reconstruction in the region? Surely the situation shows how vital it is that the international community puts muscle behind moving the peace process forward before it is simply too late.
My Lords, we continue to take a positive role in both the EU and the UN. We are working very closely with all our international partners. On the terrible, tragic destruction that is taking place in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel, we are calling on all sides to cease. Clearly, the killing of civilians is wrong and the targeting of infrastructure is wrong. We recognise that all those actions are probably counterproductive. That is why we are continually working with our partners to try to achieve a resolution to this dreadful conflict.
My Lords, I welcome the current effort that our Government are making on this matter. Has my noble friend received some of the e-mails that I have received during the past few days showing charred—burnt-out—children? I should very much like to hear what my noble friend has to say about what pressure our Government are putting on all sides not to involve children and women in collateral damage.
My Lords, I, too, have received those dreadful e-mails. I must agree with a statement made by Jan Egeland this morning in which he said that it was absolutely appalling that one-third of the people who have been killed or wounded are children and that neither Hezbollah nor Israel seems to have proper regard for civilian life. The Government absolutely agree with that and, as I said, we are working with all those agencies to try to ensure an end to all the violence, including violence against women and children.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Israel has every right to take out the odious Hezbollah? It has had 1,700 rockets rained on its cities—Tiberias, upper Galilee and Haifa—in the past few days. It is utterly reasonable that it should attack and destroy the people who launched this unprovoked attack on it. But does she also agree that the response of seeking to destroy not merely the Hezbollah hideouts but the entire Lebanese state and the Lebanese Government—that is happening now; food, petrol and other basic resources are all being destroyed and people are being reduced to desperation and terror—is not the right course and will not benefit Israel in either the short term or the long term? Can that view be made more clearly than it has been so far? We read in the papers that President Bush, apparently backed by the British Prime Minister, has given the green light to the Israelis to carry on bombing. Can the Minister deny that and say that we are not associated with that view because it is the not right way to peace, it will not help Israel and it will not save Lebanon from utter destruction?
My Lords, I certainly agree that Israel has a right to protect itself. That means taking out Hezbollah, which is exactly what it is doing, but, of course, its response in Lebanon must be proportionate. We, together with the G8 and all the international organisations, are constantly urging that on Israel. We hope that the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go into the region soon and will be able to broker some sort of peace in that region so that we can get back to the road map and all the other things that are necessary. It is important to note that we are working constantly to get results. It does not matter who is leading, who is following or whatever. We just have to get results, and we are doing what we believe to be right in all circumstances.
My Lords, will my noble friend give a progress report on the government help to British passport holders leaving Lebanon? Can she also say what specific promise the Prime Minister has given on British troops in the proposed buffer zone? What are the necessary preconditions before we send a component?
My Lords, on the British citizens in the Lebanon, I am pleased to say that the reason why my noble friend Lord Triesman is not at the Dispatch Box today is that he in Cyprus monitoring what is being done there. We have six ships there, which are taking people out of Lebanon. We have 100 extra staff from the Foreign Office working in the region to ensure that people can be got out as quickly as possible. We are not charging people as they come out of the region, unlike, I believe, the Americans and some other states; we are doing it all free of charge. We are working to ensure that people’s journeys are as uncomplicated as possible, that there are playgrounds for children and all that sort of thing.
On troops and a new military or peacekeeping force in the Lebanon, we are not there yet. However, I note that my honourable friend Dr Howells said in the other place the other day that there will be no British troops in the Lebanon.
My Lords, with great respect to the Minister for her obvious sincerity, I ask her to reply to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. Do the British Government support what evidently is the American view that there should be no immediate ceasefire to enable Israel to carry on not only with the destruction of Hezbollah, which we understand, but with the devastating consequences for Lebanon that will plunge the whole region into despair and chaos?
My Lords, will the Minister encourage Her Majesty’s Government to make it plain to the Government of Israel that it is difficult to see the strength of their commitment to the peaceful negotiation of a two-state solution when, in the first place, glorification of an act of terrorism committed 60 years ago in the King David Hotel is taking place and, in the second place, one of the specific targets for bombing has been the Foreign Office of the Palestinian state?
My Lords, may I associate myself strongly with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about bringing pressure to bear on this? However, no one has mentioned the role of Syria. Undoubtedly, Lebanon at the moment is being torn between the natural determination of Israel to defend itself and the equal determination of Syria to keep a foothold in Lebanon at all costs. What can my noble friend say about pressure being brought to bear on Syria to withdraw completely from Lebanon and to stop its backing for Hezbollah?
My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned about the role of Syria through its support for Hezbollah. We are not working directly with Syria. However, we are working with many others—we are in daily contact with our friends—who can put this necessary pressure on Syria and we will continue to do so.
Business of the House: State Opening
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make a brief statement about this year’s State Opening of Parliament. My right honourable friend Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, has made a similar statement earlier today. The State Opening is scheduled for Wednesday 15 November. I remind the House that that does not tell us when we shall complete our deliberations because Prorogation depends on the progress of business. One would expect it normally to be in the week prior to 15 November. We will be in some difficulty if it is not.
The House will know that I am very keen to announce Recess dates as far as possible in advance. I will certainly do that as soon as it is clear when the next Session’s Recess dates will be. I guess that it will be possible to make a statement some time in November. I remind the House that I announced on 10 November 2005 this Summer Recess date for completion of business on 25 July. That was a high-risk strategy, but I can confirm that the House will rise at the completion of business on 25 July, next Tuesday. That that date has been met is due 10 per cent to skill and 90 per cent to luck, but that is what we are achieving.
Television Licensable Content Services Order 2006
Radio Multiplex Services (Required Percentage of Digital Capacity) Order 2006
My Lords, I beg to move the two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 21 June be approved [31st Report from the Joint Committee] [Considered in Grand Committee on18 July].—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to revisit a complex debate which we had in the Moses Room earlier this week. The multiplex services offer opportunities for transmission through radio bands. The order creates circumstances in which television signals could be sent through on new extended telephones which will have the capacity not just to provide telephone and radio services, but also television. At present, there is an inhibition on the use of these bands for this purpose. Technological advance makes it now possible, to the great benefit of everyone.
Regulatory Reform (Registered Designs) Order 2006
Adoption and Children Act 2002 (Consequential Amendment to Statutory Adoption Pay) Order 2006
Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2006
My Lords, I beg to move the three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 19 and 27 June be approved[23rd Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee and 32nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Education and Inspections Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]
Clause 39 [Role of admission forums]:
[Amendment No. 147 not moved.]
Page 28, line 29, leave out “may” and insert “shall”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 148A, 148B, 154A, 154B, and refer to some of the other amendments in this group. One of the purposes of the Bill is to set up admission forums within each LEA area, which would report on admissions to the schools in their area, and in particular would bring together head teachers and others involved in admissions to look at the pattern of admissions over a whole authority area. The purposes of the amendments tabled by my noble friendsLady Sharp and Lady Walmsley and me are: first, to indicate that all admission fora should make reports—not that they “may” make them—as there should be an obligation to do so; secondly, under Amendment No. 148A, to ensure that the admission fora pattern extends to academies, CTCs and other schools outwith the definition of a maintained school; and, thirdly, to indicate that the whole group of schools should contribute to reports made by the admission forum and that the forum has the right to ask them to do so to ensure that all schools in a local authority area are covered.
Let me explain why we believe this to be so important, and in particular why the inclusion of all schools in an authority area is essential to ensuring that admission fora operate in a proper way. I shall start with two groups of children for whom the admission fora will play an extremely important part in ensuring fairness of admissions across the range of schools available to parents. At present, some 760,000 children in primary schools are believed to have special educational needs, and of that large groupof children—I repeat, around 760,000 in primary schools alone—only about 67,000 have formal statements. In addition there are around 775,000 disabled children, those with intellectual or physical disabilities, who form part of the group of children awaiting admission to a suitable school. It is essential that the entry of these children into schools follows both their needs and the wishes of their parents—all the more so since the Government are insistent about widening parental choice to a whole group of new schools, the so-called trust schools—and that children should have a fair right of admission to all the schools in the group. Since the Bill excludes academies and CTCs from the general scope of the requirement of admission fora—although we can return to the issue of funding agreements, and no doubt the Minister will do so—there is no absolute assurance that children with special educational needs or with disabilities will be treated completely fairly.
We say that because it is already quite clear that some head teachers object to taking on children with these needs. The Special Education Consortium, which brings together a whole range of voluntary and other agencies concerned with children in these groups, reports that parents have told them that they have received a very unwelcoming response from head teachers who are obviously anxious to avoid admitting such children. This may be because they are concerned about the impact it may have on their standing in the league tables and about the additional demands often made on teachers and the school as a whole in admitting children with special educational needs. There is, therefore, at least the seed of a possible conflict.
We believe that admission fora could go a very long way to resolving this problem, but only if all the schools in the group among which parents are free to choose are included in the scope of the admission forum. I can hardly say that more strongly because if schools are excluded from it or are not subject to the same legal requirements, there will be a temptation to avoid taking such children.
We also believe that the fora must issue a report about the whole pattern of admissions over the year in which they report back, and, in this respect, we must be able to ask all the schools in the area to contribute to the report if it is to be accurate and thorough. The Government are bringing about a major change in the educational structures and have said that they want to see a fair admissions system; we believe the responsibility of fora is, as far as possible, to ensure that there is a fair admissions system and that all schools contribute to the needs of these groups.
A wider consideration—to which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has drawn our attention several times in this Committee—is the needs of children from economically heavily disadvantaged areas. We also want to ensure that admissions recognise their particular needs and that schools respond to those needs to the limit of their abilities.
To sum up, the purpose of these amendments is to require all schools to be part of admission fora, and to include all schools within the requirement to enable a proper, thorough and comprehensive report to be made about admissions in an authority’s area. In that way, we would go a long way towards ensuring fairness for all children and that all children’s potential needs are recognised. I beg to move.
Perhaps I may intervene early in these discussions because I think I can meet almost all the points raised by the noble Baroness.
Amendments Nos. 148A, 154A and 154B seek to add academies and CTCs to the list of schools on which admissions forums can report, and the governing bodies of foundation and voluntary-aided schools to the list of bodies from which the admissions forum can request information. In the case of foundation and voluntary-aided schools, Clause 39(3) already covers this; new subsection (1B)(c) specifically provides for the governing bodies of foundation and voluntary-aided schools. Academies, through their funding agreements, are required to comply with admissions legislation and the school admissions code as it applies to admissions authorities in the maintained sector. Therefore, where a school forum and an admissions forum have an academy or CTC in their area, they will be able to include them in the report without the need for these amendments.
We obviously agree with everything that the noble Baroness said in relation to Amendments Nos. 148B and 157 in respect of disabled children and those with special educational needs, and in having regard to social and economic disadvantage. These matters are in fact covered in the regulations, the illustrative version of which I have already circulated to noble Lords. Page 215 of the big pack of illustrative regulations contains the draft regulations in respect of the reports to be prepared by admissions forums. Regulation 2(2) states that they shall include,
“the ethnic and social mix of pupils attending schools in the area of the authority and the factors that affect this … the extent to which existing and proposed admission arrangements serve the interests of looked after children, children with disabilities and children with special educational needs … and how well the hard to place pupil protocol”—
which governs the allocation of hard-to-place pupils between schools—
“has worked and how many children have been admitted to each school under the protocol”.
We want admissions forums for precisely the reason the noble Baroness gave—to be proactive in ensuring that admissions arrangements in their area operate fairly and promote community well-being. That is why we have given them the power to produce these reports. It is also why the Bill gives them the right to make referrals to the adjudicator of any school in their area which they believe is not fulfilling those duties in respect of its admission arrangements.
On Amendment No. 148, we believe it is unlikely that any admissions forum would not wish to prepare and publish a report, given their new strength and role in considering how well admissions arrangements are working to promote choice and access. Forums will have to act in accordance with the code, which will recommend preparation of these reports and will be backed up by regulations. I hope that I have met almost all the points that the noble Baroness raised.
I wonder whether the funding agreements are sufficient in respect of the obligation on the colleges—I think they probably are. Does the statutory remit of the admissions fora not require to be extended so that it clearly includes the funding agreements? Not being statutory in that sense, the funding agreements may not be sufficient to give the full power that is required to the admissions fora.
I added my name to Amendment No. 148; for some inexplicable reason, it is not attached to Amendments Nos. 148A or 148B. That is a serious omission from my point of view, because obviously the needs of disabled children and those with special educational needs have to be tied to the obligation for proper inspections and reports on how they are treated by local education authorities. However, I have to leave it to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, as to whether she accepts the Minister’s very clear explanation. She, perhaps, is more au fait with the wishes of the Special Education Consortium than I am at present. I support both amendments and hope that the Minister’s response has made it possible for the noble Baroness to withdraw Amendment No. 148.
I would like to raise one question with the Minister; it is along the lines of that raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We remain puzzled about why some of these obvious needs are not in the Bill. It is in not only this area but others where we have been referred to funding agreements or regulations, as the case may be. We would have thought that the Government would wish to be seen to be making exactly the same requirements across the whole range of schools that they are now supporting, some of which they are attempting to launch, rather than leaving this to funding agreements, which are not in the public domain, or to regulations, which are often quite complicated for members of the public to get hold of.
We find it puzzling that the Minister does not seem willing to accept the amendments, which would make the position absolutely clear. If it is his view, as he has said in reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that this is the equivalent of a statutory requirement, I ask him to copy to these Benches his letter to the noble and learned Lord. I intend to withdraw the amendment, because we may want to go back on Report to issues of this significance where we believe that there is a possibility that they might not be covered in the Bill.
Before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, there are a number of other amendments, notably Amendment No. 157 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to which we have not spoken. I would like to speak to that amendment, but I think that the noble Lord should speak to it first. Perhaps we could give him the opportunity to do that.
I fully accept my noble friend’s point and I apologise. I was talking specifically about my amendments. I simply repeat that we will return to the question of why the provision cannot be in the Bill. The other amendments in the group have not been tabled by us so I defer to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.
I hear the call. The amendment which I shall advocate states:
“In discharging its role a schools admissions forum shall have particular regard to the actual and potential contribution of schools in areas of economic and social disadvantage to the well being of the communities in those areas”.
The issue is very much the same as that which we discussed on the first day in Committee, when I argued the same point in relation to local authorities’ decisions about schools. The Minister gave a very helpful reply in which he said that when new schools are under consideration, regulations will state that the criteria should include promoting community cohesion, the aims of inclusiveness and partnership working, and the delivery of the Every Child Matters agenda. That went a long way towards meeting my concerns and I might have shut up altogether if he had gone on to say that a clause would be included which stated that this matter would be on their minds in relation particularly to communities with social and economic disadvantage. I hope that he will feel able to go that far.
At the centre of my concerns is well-being in the round for those communities, which goes further than the specifics to which the Minister referred. These communities are likely to experience greater social and health problems than most, and greater experience of overcrowding of accommodation, family tensions and debt than most. Truancy may be more prevalent, as well as all that goes with stress, poverty and parental inability to help their children either educationally or as effective advocates of their needs and providers for material needs.
To deliver for those families and children, schools and social and basic medical services need to be collocated in the community. We need a holistic approach. I admit that that is what every community would like, but to the well heeled, who can look after themselves, it matters less to have those schools and services collocated in their community. They will see to it much more effectively than parents in areas of economic and social disadvantage that their children get what they need. They know how to work the system and, if need be, can afford doctors and lawyers—for example, in statementing—to get their rights.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, who happens not to be in his place, said when we were debating my earlier amendment that politics is about priorities and that Governments have to make choices. He said that the priority should be getting resources to the most deprived. The Government have fully accepted this in their policy for city academies, which represent a huge commitment to areas of greatest need. I am arguing for an extension of that thinking.
If we are to do our best to see that the socially and economically deprived get the resources which we all want them to have, we need to accept that we shall do this best if we can deliver these services in an integrated way in the community where they live, through a community capability that is centred on the school, and make sure that the school is a good school. I recall well the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in the previous debate, to which I made a brief response, that communities are not really like this and are changing all the time. I acknowledge that there are communities—for example, the great local authority-funded estates created in the 1930s—which by their nature are not bubbling with energy and change.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the community in west Cumberland which he knows well, and I know such communities in my home city of Hull and its vicinity. I hope that we can carry forward the Government’s thinking on academies, which is a very powerful statement of their commitment to those communities. We should say to admissions forums, “At a time of declining rolls through demographic features, which we can do nothing about, there is a danger that these schools will die through attrition. You should have in mind that danger in particular in discharging your responsibilities”.
I endorse very much what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said. My name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley are added to the amendment. Unfortunately, my noble friend cannot be here today, but both of us feel strongly that the noble Lord’s points are very real. The potential contribution of schools to their community, and particularly to deprived communities, is enormous. We very much welcome the Government’s extended school model which enables that to happen. We are seeing it already with the Sure Start programme being linked to primary schools and nursery centres with parenting classes, infant clinics and so on. We hope that with the rollout of the extended school programme we shall see secondary schools providing youth facilities, extended sporting facilities and other such facilities so that the school becomes the hub within the community. This exists in a number of communities. There is almost an idealistic model of what a good community school might be and what it contributes to its community. Perhaps in rural communities one sees it in primary schools. We know very well that if you shut down primary schools in rural communities, you often shut down the hub of the community. That is one reason why, during the passage of the 2004 education Act, this House insisted that special considerations should be taken into account when it was proposed to shut rural schools.
This applies just as much to schools in deprived communities where a vicious cycle of decline can become apparent. A school can become unpopular and is deserted by middle-class parents, who know which schools get good GCSE results. The school gradually declines and fails, numbers fall away and it is left with just disadvantaged children—what we have termed in the past sink schools. We agree with the Government that sometimes the only solution is to close such schools down and try to regenerate through other schools. However, on other occasions it is vital that these schools are not closed down and that they are regenerated. We recognise that on occasion the Government use the academies programme to try to regenerate schools. As we discussed the other day, some Liberal Democrat local authorities are co-operating with the Government to do precisely that.
On occasion it is vitalthat the admissions authority should recognise the overall well-being of the community, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has stressed, rather than look narrowly at the achievements of the school. As I say, I very much endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in that regard. I also endorse the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We should include academies and city technology colleges within the remit of admissions authorities. We have in the Bill the remit for the admissions authorities. The noble Lord says that we do not have to include them because they are in the funding agreements; but the funding agreements are not in the Bill. We know of occasions when the funding agreements are honoured in the breach and are not being adhered to. Yes, you can go through the whole process of going to the adjudicator, but it is a very long, drawn-out and difficult process. Surely, if this is within the remit of the admissions authority—and this Bill is trying to set out the remit of the admissions authority—they should be included in the Bill within the remit, rather than being a little bit extra on the side in other agreements that people have to know about.
I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has said, particularly the point about the well-being of communities. There is very little doubt in my mind from my experience as a magistrate in a number of communities that there is a continuous cycle. There is a need to put special resources, extra resources, extra effort and extra good teachers into those areas, because otherwise those same pupils will become the problems in that community for the future. It is money well spent and resources well used on the well-being of the community as well as the well-being of the individual pupil, which is absolutely paramount. It is only by doing the sort of thing that the Government are doing to such good effect, as the noble Baroness said, through Sure Start and other activities, that this can be achieved. Having that extra clause that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, was referring to in the Bill would be very valuable.
I would like to be helpful to the Committee and to the Minister, which is not something that I normally am. Given that we are a self-regulating House, and certainly for my benefit, it would be easier if all noble Lords spoke before the Minister. It is slightly disjointed and difficult for the Minister and somewhat repetitive if he then has to come back and respond a second time. I am not sure why this did not happen in this case.
Let me own up to it being entirely my fault. I thought that all the amendments in the group were moved by the Liberal Democrats, and I failed to notice that one was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. I am extremely sorry, and no disrespect whatever was meant to him. Because I thought that all the amendments had been moved by the Liberal Democrats, I thought that I could meet most of the points and short-circuit what would otherwise have been a longer debate. I have answered most of the points, but I will make two more points.
Of course, we are discussing particularly the duties on admissions forums. I entirely endorse all the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about the wider context within which schools work and the programmes of support and investment that are required to link schools more effectively with their communities and to tackle disadvantage. We are taking a good deal of that forward. First and foremost, we are spending50 per cent more on schools in real terms than we were nine years ago, which has been particularly focused in areas of disadvantage. Frankly, that makes a bigger difference than any set of detailed regulations that one could impose from this House, which schools do not have the capacity to meet.
On the specific issue of the duties on admissions forums, which would be laid down in their reports, the issues raised by the noble Lord are covered. They would include reporting on the ethnic and social mix of pupils attending schools in the area of the authority, and the factors that affect them. I take all the issues raised by the noble Lord to be included among the factors that affect this. In case that is not a sufficient power, these are some of the things that they must report on; they may report on anything that they wish to. That would also include details of other matters that might affect how fairly admissions arrangements serve the interests of children and parents in the authority. I take the point that spelling things out with greater clarity can have advantages. These are illustrative regulations. I will, of course, take full account of this short debate and the contributions made when we come to lay the final version of those regulations.
Finally, I will of course send the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, a copy of the letter that I sent to the noble and learned Lord. I try to copy letters round on all these issues and place them in the Library of the House. However, it is not the case that funding agreements are not public documents; they are. They are published; and every single one is on the website of the DfES. That involves far more transparency in the arrangements governing academies than it does any other state school in the country, no other one of which has its governing arrangements posted on the DfES website and so readily available.
Page 29, line 19, after “bodies” insert “or persons”
The noble Lord said: In moving AmendmentNo. 158, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 159,171, 261 and 262.
While provision in the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 requires admission authorities of Church of England schools to obtain the advice of their diocese before formally consulting about proposed admission arrangements, it does not give the diocese a statutory right of objection if a school ignores its advice; and there is no similar provision for other faiths or denominations.
These amendments therefore require faith-sponsored schools to consult an appropriate body or person on their proposed admission arrangements. We shall consult each faith group before prescribing in regulations which body or person should be consulted.
In response to representations made to us by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, these amendments will also give faith groups the power to refer to the adjudicator an objection about admission arrangements in any one of the schools of their particular faith. This provision would extend to admission forums the existing power to refer objections that currently applies to local authorities, governing bodies of maintained schools and prescribed groups of parents.
Amendment No. 166 standing in my name is technical. Currently local authorities, as admission authorities for community and voluntary-controlled schools, make decisions about which children should be admitted to those schools. However, there is no express statutory duty on the governing bodies of those schools to comply with those decisions. This amendment will put the position beyond doubt. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister very much for tabling these amendments. As he said, they are in response to our discussions about these matters and I hope that the amendments will help us to strengthen the advice that we currently give to our schools and, indeed, enable our schools to be fully inclusive in the way that we intend.
I am delighted that the Government have tabled their amendments and that the right reverend Prelate was complicit in them, because they will allow a gentle but much-needed improvement in the way that some Church schools approach admissions.
Generally, I take the view that admissions criteria and arrangements have to tackle some insoluble problems and will never be perfect, but there are two principles that should be borne in mind; one is fairness and access for all and the other is to give parents some sense of stability and the comfort of knowing that they will be able to get a reasonable school, from one point of view or another, for their children.
I have particular difficulties with banding as a method, not because there are not some justifications for it in certain circumstances, but because it produces an unholy level of uncertainty for parents who are looking to know which school they might possibly get their children into. Not only can a school’s catchment area vary year by year, but its admissions policy can vary in four or five different ways, according to the random pattern of applications and how children score in an examination. That makes it extremely difficult to know whether or not one has a right of entry to, say, Camden School for Girls. This pitches parents into the sort of arena that those who patronise the independent sector are used to, but which is none the less a source of considerable discomfort for them.
In the end, when one looks at banding arrangements that have been running for some while, as in some of the CTCs, one finds that the middle classes can work them just as well as they can any other kind of admission arrangements. They notice where the wider bands are; they get tutors to tell their children how to score within those bands, which they do; and the proportion of the middle class that gets into the good CTCs starts to creep up. Not surprisingly, the middle class is a very resourceful and determined group. However, I should like to see an admissions arrangement that genuinely offered all children a chance to access all schools.
The only sensible way of doing that is through a completely unconditional ballot, although I am not saying that that ballot would by any means be applied to anything like a whole school population. When we were discussing religion, the right reverend Prelate said that he would like to reserve a part of a religious school’s intake for people of that religion. There is a very good argument for allowing schools to have a strong bias towards people who live close to them because, in many cases, schools are part of the community.
Those who run grammar schools would doubtless argue that they have to select at least a proportion of their pupils, although that is not an argument that the Government have accepted in the case of Northern Ireland. There, they have said that, although a school can have an academic character and say that it will be run on academic lines, all parents should be allowed to choose it as the school to which they would like their child to be admitted. I think that that is reasonable: schools operate in that way. If you look at, for example, the sixth-form colleges in Cambridge—Hills Road and Long Road—you will see that there is no substantial difference in admission criteria between the two. One happened to be the boys’ grammar school and the other the girls’ grammar school. They have evolved so that Hills Road is the more academic and Long Road is the broader, and they are both extremely good sixth-form colleges.
Schools will move and change in that direction and, by establishing an academic character for a school, as in Hills Road, you can create an academic school without having to select. You can certainly have academic schools that do not select a proportion of their children on academic criteria but, rather, rely on parents to apply and still end up with an academic school. Parents, being mildly sensible, will not generally pitch their ordinary kid into the high-flown world of a top academic grammar; they will take advice on subjects and decide to choose another school.
I think that there is scope for opening up every school in England on the basis that a proportion of the children—I would start at 25 per cent—should be admitted, or be capable of admission, by unconditional ballot. It would also be possible to combine that with giving parents an unconditional right to have access to an individual school on the old catchment area basis. Parents would be faced with a form that said that, if they put Holland Park Comprehensive as one of their chosen schools, they would be guaranteed a place there if none of their higher preferences accepted them. But they could also go in for the ballot at any number of other schools and they might well find that they were successful. They would then be guaranteed a place at a school that was sensibly close to them and, although that school might not be acceptable to them, they would at least have certainty. Quite a large proportion of the population want the certainty of getting their children into a neighbourhood school or one that is convenient for them. At the same time, that system would open up the possibility of their applying to any school and getting into what have previously been closed geographical or religious ghettos, where only the rich kids go because their parents have bought the right house or have been to mass every weekend for the past five years and have contributed to church funds—or whatever the admission criteria might be. Obviously you cannot do that immediately, but you can work in that way.
If you find a school that, in practice, is not admitting 25 per cent of its children by ballot because its admissions are taken up by those who have a right to be in that school, then you allow that school to expand or, if it will not expand, you adjust the catchment area. So, over time, it should be possible to work to a position where any good school is admitting children roughly in the proportion of 75 per cent who are there by right and 25 per cent by ballot. Therefore, any child, within the possible constraints of transport, would have a right to apply to, and have a decent chance of getting into, any school, which is not the case at the moment. That would put us in a position where we could say that we were genuinely opening up access to our best schools to all pupils, which is what I would like to aim at as an objective.
I appreciate that the Government are heading in the right direction, and I hope that, over time, our Front Benches will reach agreement on what we intend to achieve in the way of admission arrangements. To my mind, co-ordinated admissions have been a great success. They give a great deal of comfort and ease to parents and they reduce the possibility of people finding themselves cast into limbo. We can continue to improve on that and we can continue to work away at ensuring that those who happen to be born within the catchment area of a school that does not suit them for one reason or another have a good chance of getting into another school that does suit them, whatever the geographical or religious admission criteria that apply to that school at present.
We have three amendments in this grouping—Amendments Nos. 162, 162A and 171B. Before I speak to them, I want to make one or two remarks about the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He is right that what parents find very disconcerting about the current arrangements are the uncertainties that they face. There have been occasions when children have been left completely in limbo, which is a most disturbing and traumatising experience for them and their parents. They need some certainty about where they are likely to be going.
I very much like the noble Lord’s idea of being guaranteed a place at a local school for which you have exerted your parental preference by going into a ballot. I can see that that is attractive but, if certain places are guaranteed for those of particular faiths, we might have even more parents rushing into a faith in order to get a place for their children without necessarily having true allegiance to that faith. Nevertheless, I understand what the noble Lord is saying and I find some attractions in it.
I turn to our amendments in this group. Amendment No. 162A would insert a new clause suggesting that, rather than the admission forum writing the report on what goes on within its area, that role should be taken over by the local education authority—or, as we shall be calling it in future, the local authority. It mirrors very much the series of amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for which he has not been arguing. The Minister sent a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, explaining why he thought the amendments were unnecessary, and I have to say that I find the letter persuasive.
In my view, the admission forum has very close links with the local education authority. It does not mirror it exactly because the admission forum includes the representatives of local head teachers and so on. Although when initially proposed—I think before the 2002 Education Act—we had some doubts about admission forums, I think that they have worked relatively well. We are happy that they remain in being; it is obviously sensible that they should monitor what goes on and make reports. Therefore, we are happy to leave things as they are. The Bill clearly states that the admission forums will do the monitoring and will write regular reports on what they find within their local area.
Amendment No. 162, rather than looking at what is happening in the local area, looks at what happens at national level and calls for a national review of admissions procedures two to three years down the line after all these new measures have been introduced and this Bill has come into effect. The aim is to have an independent review, which would take evidence and commission research; its focus would be on how far the new procedures introduced by this Bill had helped to promote social cohesion. That independent review would report to the Secretary of State and, in the light of that report and its recommendations, the Secretary of State would, within six months, report back to Parliament on how he intended to implement the recommendations.
The case for having some kind of review of admissions procedures somewhere down the line after this Bill comes into effect is that this Bill proposes very substantial changes in current admissions procedures. Major concern has been expressed about finding procedures that help children from disadvantaged homes to access better-performing schools, which are often middle-class schools. To date, research has shown that many of those schools—the better-performing schools—have tended to be socially relatively exclusive and we need to assess how far this new legislation succeeds in changing that and meeting what is one of its aims.
That is even more important given that many oppose the notion of trust schools because they fear that the fact that those schools will have some control over their own admissions—that control is now very limited, but initially it was to be far greater—will exacerbate the trend of social exclusiveness, especially as the trust schools might be their own admissions authority and so be able to set their own admissions criteria, admittedly within the constraints of the admissions code.
There has been cause for concern. Various people have undertaken extensive research in this area. I quote from a study produced by Professor John Micklewright of the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute at the University of Southampton. He said:
“There has long been a debate about social segregation in schools. Many people are concerned that the changes proposed in the current White Paper”—
and now in this Bill—
“on education—more choice for parents and greater independence for schools—will increase the already uneven spread of children from different family backgrounds in secondary schools. Our research suggests that greater selectivity in admissions by state schools—which the Government claims will not happen—would be likely to increase social segregation, especially if this was coupled with any move towards separate academic and vocational school tracks”.
Why are we worried about that? The Commission for Racial Equality has recently been giving evidence to the Education and Skills Committee about segregation in schools. I shall quote from the evidence that Nick Johnson gave on 7 June. He said that,
“schools will reflect the communities that they are in, where we can see increasing patterns of segregation. We are pretty firm, in terms of the evidence that we look at, when we think that there is this increase in segregation residentially, but also, perhaps more important, socially, and people are just not getting a chance to interact with people from different backgrounds, with one another”.
If that is happening in schools, it sets people up to be segregated for life. I am sure that the Minister will refute those suggestions and tell us that that will not happen. However, I suggest that the best way of judging whether it will happen or not, or the best way to monitor the effects of the new legislation, is to set up an independent inquiry—
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Perhaps she could clarify the intentions of the amendment in regard to timing. I think that she used two expressions in her remarks: one was “in two or three years’ time” and another was “somewhere down the line”. The amendment is very specific and suggests that a body be set up within a year and that the report should come back to Parliament within less than two parliamentary years from now. I can see the point of a review after some time, but the timescale in the amendment would allow, at best, an interim year for the new admissions system. If she could be clear on the timing, that would be very helpful.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I was just coming to the timing. In the amendment, we have specifically suggested that the arrangements should begin in October 2008, which would allow, at best, only two years for the working through of the current procedures. That was suggested to us by Comprehensive Future, which had suggested the original amendment, although we amended it somewhat. We on these Benches feel that, if one were to undertake such a review, one would probably need a somewhat longer period and at least three years for the procedures to work their way through. The key issue is whether the Government are prepared to set up an independent review of these procedures within a reasonable period. Three years would probably be reasonable; leaving it very much longer would be less so. However, we would not necessarily adhere to the specific date in the amendment.
Amendment No. 171B also stands in my name. Its aim is to prevent schools from complying with the new arrangements for a year or so and then reverting back to former practices. That has happened on occasions. Schools have been taken to the adjudicator, who has given a ruling; for a year or so, the school adheres to the adjudicator's ruling but then goes back to the old practices of selection. The aim of this amendment is to ensure that schools comply with the terms of admissions procedures and with the code of admissions as required by the Bill and are not able to revert back.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 172, 173 and 174 concerning our objections to some aspects of the role of the adjudicator. First, on banding, I would like to remind the Committee that we have already made some difference to the Bill. We are grateful that the other evening the Minister accepted our amendment to require decisions on banding to be left to governing bodies. That is a step in the right direction rather than banding being decided by local authorities.
Amendment No. 172 probes the thinking behind the broad powers granted to the adjudicator under Clause 43. The amendment leaves out the key words,
“whether or not he would be required to do so for the purpose of determining the objection”.
This is a broad power. It would mean that a person could make an objection on frivolous or vexatious grounds, and that this would then give the adjudicator the power to investigate every aspect of a school’s admissions arrangements and make changes. That could happen even where nobody objected to the offending part of the arrangements.
New subsection (5B) of Section 90 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 also refers to a decision of the adjudicator or Secretary of State on whether,
“it would be appropriate for changes to be made to the admission arrangements, whether in the light of his decision on the objection or otherwise”.
Amendment No. 173 removes this part of the clause. Again, we see no reason why potentially frivolous or vexatious complaints justify the complete review ofa school’s admission arrangements. Where the adjudicator considers the decision of an admissions authority, it should be limited to the grounds of appeal listed in the original complaint.
There should also be a right of appeal from the adjudicator. Amendment No. 174 would allow appeals where a party to the proceedings before the adjudicator is dissatisfied on a point of law. The adjudicator will have to state a case for the decision of the High Court. In another place, amendments were tabled to give a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. We accept that to introduce the Secretary of State into the process would risk politicising decisions that must be made. We therefore propose the High Court, which, I am sure we all agree, is sufficiently independent to avoid this.
We have heard much from the Government about how we do not need an appeal from the adjudicator because he is already an appeal body. However, this is not strictly the case. In the judgment given in November 1999 in the case of Regina v The Schools Adjudicator ex parte Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, Mr Justice Latham ruled that:
“The provisions of the Act that I have already cited make it plain that the Schools Adjudicator has what is, in effect, an original jurisdiction to determine the objection”.
This was restated in the decision in the case of The Queen on the Application of Metropolitan Borough of Wirral v The Chief Schools Adjudicator, given on 14 December 2000. Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that,
“it is plain that the adjudicator is exercising an original jurisdiction as to the appropriateness of admission arrangements. He is not reviewing a local education authority's decision, though obviously what they determine and why is very material”.
I admit that, when the decision-maker is a local authority, the analogy of an appeal works well. The local authority makes its decision and then various aggrieved parties can refer the matter to the adjudicator. For example, where a local authority proposes the discontinuance of a certain situation, the problem arises because we are moving away from a system in which local authorities make most of the important decisions relating to schools in an area, towards one of independent, self-governing trust and foundation schools making their own decisions. In such circumstances, a right of appeal, however limited, is essential. It is important that, when the adjudicator overturns the decision of a governing body on its admission arrangements, the governing body can challenge this decision relatively inexpensively and swiftly.
Similarly, local authorities will be able to refer proposals to the adjudicator where a school decides to acquire a trust. In such circumstances, the adjudicator will be able to overturn the decision of the governing body, which will have no statutory right of appeal.
At present, the only recourse for schools which object to the adjudicator’s decision is judicial review. As noble Lords will know, this is an extremely blunt, expensive and untimely tool. Some local authorities can afford to challenge the decisions of the adjudicator through judicial review, but schools and parents cannot. Many will decide that they have more important things to spend money on than this lengthy process. It cannot be right that bad decisions go unchallenged simply because the aggrieved party cannot afford it. The Newport Free Grammar School in Essex had its admissions policy overturned and, even though the governing body was dissatisfied, it simply could not afford judicial review on grounds of cost. The school’s website stated:
“The only recourse the school could have is to go to judicial review, costing in the region of £50,000—way outside the school's resources”.
It went on to state:
“The Government seems to want to promote self-governing schools, yet is not prepared to allow Governors to govern without interference from LEAs and quangos like the Schools Adjudicator”.
There are further areas where some right of appeal from the adjudicator may be important. In a number of cases, the adjudicator will be given decision-making powers directly, without the case first being decided by the local authority. For example, where a local authority is given the right to propose a new community school, the adjudicator makes the initial decision. Similarly, the Bill transfers from the Secretary of State responsibility for various decisions relating to non-playing-field land, involving disputes between foundation or voluntary schools and the local authority over the sale of land and the division of any proceeds; decisions over land transfer disputes when schools change category; and disputes over land required by a local authority for a new school. Here again, the adjudicator is given the initial decision-making power. If the adjudicator is an appeal body, as the Government say, where is the appeal in these cases?
It is essential that the adjudicator process has the confidence of parents and governors. A right of appeal may help to ensure that fewer people leave the process dissatisfied. Where the adjudicator is simply implementing the law, an appeal will demonstrate this clearly and remove any risk that the adjudicator is viewed as overly powerful and unaccountable.
I shall not speak again to my own amendments, which I have already addressed. I thank the right reverend Prelate for his support for them.
On Amendment No. 162 of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raising the important issue of how we keep the national effects of admissions arrangements and their social consequences under review, we agree with her point. As part of his role, the new schools commissioner will use admission forums’ reports as part of a two-yearly review of fair access; that is in his job description. He will report to the Secretary of State, and that will of course be made available to both Houses to consider. I am sure that this important document will give rise to a good deal of debate when it appears. I think the noble Baroness will welcome this role for the schools commissioner, which meets the point she is making. An additional statutory review is not needed.
On the noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 171B, we agree that admission authorities should comply with the provisions of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, as amended by this Bill, on admissions. I should make clear that Clause 42 does not give them any flexibility to escape that requirement, which appears to be a concern.
Clause 42 and associated regulations will prevent admission authorities changing approved admission arrangements for three years. After that, admission authorities for these schools may review and amend their admission policies, but must still comply with legislation and, under the new requirements, act in accordance with the school admissions code. They cannot propose revised admissions arrangements outwith the code after that period, which meets the noble Baroness’s point. It is currently possible for them to do so, as she said, and you must then rely on a reference to the adjudicator to bring the admissions arrangements back in line. That will subsequently not be possible.
Amendments Nos. 172 to 174, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, would restrict the role of the adjudicator on admissions. As the noble Baroness said, existing legislation restricts the adjudicatorto considering only the part of the admission arrangements that the objection directly refers to. So, although other parts of a school's admission policy may have a direct bearing on how a criterion is applied, or be blatantly unfair, he currently has no power whatever to amend them. We do not think that that is a reasonable position or one that helps adjudicators to see that schools act in accordance with the admissions code. That is why the Bill allows the adjudicator to consider whether other aspects of a school's admission arrangements are fair, and to change them—I stress—in accordance with the code if they are not. The adjudicator does not have any unilateral powers beyond that.
That is a reasonable approach. It does not give the adjudicator unilateral powers to change admissions arrangements outside the code, nor to change those of any school which is in accordance with the code. A wide array of fair admissions practices are entirely consistent with the code. The adjudicator must also act reasonably; if he does not do so, he can be subject to judicial review. The noble Baroness recognised that adjudicators are subject to judicial review at the moment.
Under the new arrangements established by the Bill, the adjudicator’s determinations, along with the admissions arrangements of schools, will be fixed for three years. At the moment, they are fixed for just one year, and some schools—for example, in respect of partial selection—have been challenged every year. Having to defend its practices and make representations to the adjudicator annually is a huge burden on a school. We have taken the view that stability of admissions is essential, which is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made in a different way. Ensuring that arrangements are fixed for three years and that adjudicators’ determinations hold sway for that period will stabilise the system and prevent practices that have been determined by an adjudicator being subject to repeated early challenge, as can happen at the moment.
Amendment No. 174 provides for appeals and references to the High Court by way of case stated. On this, I have to stick very closely to my legal brief, which says that case stated is a rather old-fashioned procedure, more usually used for criminal cases. It is unusual for this mechanism to be used in tribunals. It is by nature a form of consultation with a higher court to obtain an answer on a point of law. It does not preclude judicial review since, if an adjudicator were to refuse to state a case, that decision would itself be amenable to judicial review. We consider it preferable that parties to adjudicators’ decisions should have a right to seek judicial review where it is not the merits of a particular decision that are considered, but whether there has been a decision which is outside the adjudicator’s jurisdiction or is irrational, or where the decision-making process can be said to have been unfair procedurally. Applications for judicial review also require permission from the Administrative Court, which acts as a filter and reduces the burden on the courts.
I am not competent to give further responses to the noble Baroness if she wants to challenge that. If, when she has read what I have said in Hansard, she wants to come back, I will engage in correspondence with her on the precise relationship between the adjudicator and the High Court.
Amendments Nos. 160 and 161 were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I am glad that he recognised that the new co-ordinated admissions process for secondary schools is producing greater certainty and better outcomes for parents. In particular, it has had the beneficial effect of preventing parents holding multiple offers, which was a particular problem. It has brought about a welcome increase in the proportion of parents who receive offers of a place in a school that they have positively chosen early in the admissions process. Even where a child cannot be offered one of the schools preferred by their parents, statutes and regulations govern the obligations of local authorities to offer a place at an alternative school or otherwise to provide access to full-time education.
The noble Lord raised the issue of the allocation of school places by ballot. In fact, this is an acceptable, but rarely used, means of determining who should be offered places at oversubscribed schools and can be used to allocate a proportion, or even all, of the places at an oversubscribed school in accordance with the code of practice. The revised code on admissions will make that explicit, which may stimulate some interest in this option. When I met the noble Lord to discuss this, I told him that the idea had attracted the attention of Sir Peter Lampl and his excellent Sutton Trust. My office will put Sir Peter in touch with the noble Lord so that they can seek to popularise this interesting idea.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 29, line 33, after “body” insert “or person”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 160 to 162A not moved.]
Clause 40 [Support for parental preferences]:
Page 29, line 44, leave out first “of” and insert “and their”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 165. These amendments probe the idea of the choice adviser, whose role is established by the brief Clause 40. Amendment No. 162B should perhaps have been included in the group of amendments that dealt with the voice of the child. It is a neat amendment that makes clear that choosing a secondary school should be for parents and children, not just parents.
The Minister made available to us some of the draft guidance on choice advisers, which has got it right. Paragraph 7 states:
“Choice Advice is about helping and supporting families including mothers, fathers, adults with caring responsibility and children to make the best and most realistic choice of secondary school”.
After that, it goes downhill. It is full of detail about what choice advisers should know and do and how they should target disadvantaged families, but it constantly refers to parents and carers, not children. However, it is slightly redeemed by paragraph 17, which states:
“Wherever possible the child should be included and provided with appropriate advice so that they are able to express an informed view about a choice of school”.
This is an important point. When a child is 10 or 11, it is old enough to take a view about the school that it wants to go to, and it should be involved in the process of choice. The guidance is right, but I would like to see more emphasis on including children in the discussions. That should be in the Bill. Changing “parents of children” to “parents and their children” achieves what we want and sets the right tone. I hope the Minister is sympathetic to this amendment.
Amendment No. 165 was drafted before the draft guidance was available and reflects the Local Government Association’s view that guidance about what the Government wish local authorities to do is needed because the Bill makes clear that this system is to be run through the local authority. Local authorities now have extensive guidance, including a full-blown scheme for accrediting choice advisers. In general, these Benches applaud the vision and the degree to which the Government are anxious that each local authority works out its own scheme. The guidance provides a variety of models that might be followed.
We have one query about the process. The Government are making available £6 million a year—£12 million in total—to get the scheme moving. That works out at £300 per primary school. Paragraph 16 of the guidance puts the situation very clearly when it states that it,
“is clear that Choice Advice should be targeted at about 30 per cent of families”.
A typical primary school will therefore work with about 10 families. The examples, which talk about groups of perhaps 10 or 12 primary schools together, make clear that it is a full-time job for a choice adviser. I applaud the Government for setting up the procedures for choice advisers, but are they really providing enough resources to fund their proposals? One of the problems is that neither schools nor local authorities have spare resources with which to fund the extra posts. I beg to move.
I speak to Amendment No. 163A standing in my name. It is a constructive amendment, designed to strengthen support for parental preferences, which is the object of Clause 40. The philosophy behind it is simple—the more the system of centralised allocation shifts towards one of parental choice-based allocation, the more knowledge and information parents need to make their choices effectively, and the greater the responsibility of the Government to provide that information or make it accessible.
The Government clearly understand their duty to provide a greater information base to support parental preferences but I am not sure that the choice advice machinery to be administered by choice advisers is quite the right one. It needs to be supplemented by something else. My criticism is that the advice is to be targeted on a small number of parents—at one time in one passage it is 6 per cent and in another passage it is perhaps 30 per cent. But only that group of parents is deemed to need it. The number of parents who could benefit from this information is much larger. More seriously, the government guidance refers to the information which the choice adviser will need to have, not to the information which parents will need to have. The information will be with the adviser, not the parents. It is almost as though the Government have a model of a GP/patient relationship. I am sure that that is not their intention, but it does unconsciously reflect their view of the nature of the target group.
The assumption that all other parents have access to the information they need to make a choiceis wrong. Specifically, parents are likely to lack what they need most of all—information about comparative school performance in that locality. I have looked at a number of websites. Some have exam and key stage results and some do not, but none has local league tables. The best a school usually does is to publish its exam results and then compare them to average pass rates for England and Wales, which is not enough for a parent to see how good a school is in comparison with other local schools.
Moreover, information on school websites is not provided in standardised form, which is necessary for easy comparison across schools to be made. In fact, I have to say that the websites of most schools in this country are primitive compared with those of American schools, which give much more information. Noble Lords who are interested in checking this out might compare the website of the Frederick Douglass Academy in New York with that of almost any maintained school website in the United Kingdom. It is argued that the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and other high-quality newspapers publish reliable league tables and that those reports are available online. However, many parents do not read those newspapers and many more do not have access to the internet.
The conclusion I draw from all this is that information which parents need to make an informed choice is available to the persistent inquirer—and guess who that is likely to be—but in a scattered and non-standardised form. My idea is to concentrate this information in school information centres and to make it available to parents in a simple, readable and, above all, standardised form. I envisage there being such a centre—perhaps this is an idealised vision—in every town centre or high street into which parents can easily drop, receive information packs about the schools in their area, have their questions answered, and swap stories and information with other parents over a cup of tea or coffee. Above all, that information centre should be independent. It may be commissioned by the local education authority, but it should be independent of the local education authority and in a separate building.
I am also strongly attracted by the idea of annual school fairs, which I first came across in one of the districts in Manhattan, at which schools display their wares once a year. They were extremely popular with parents in a very deprived area, who had been alienated from the school system, but who loved these fairs and, as a result of them, got much more involved with the schools.
I accept that there are cost implications. Implementing my scheme will cost more than the £12 million over two years the Government propose to allocate to choice advice. I recognise that one or two districts already have parents’ advice centres. I notice from the guidance that this is done in Tower Hamlets. My impression is that these are targeted at disadvantaged and ethnic minority children rather than being a resource for all parents choosing a school at the end of primary schooling. Still, information is costly and I submit that the Government need to think hard about what information parents need to make, what the Minister often calls, “an evidence-based choice”, and how best to supply it in a customer-friendly way.
I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said. There is a demand for this information from all parents—I am very well aware of that from my work with the Good Schools Guide—from those in the most deprived circumstances to those who are relatively affluent. Parents tend to be very busy. A lot of them are uninformed about schools; all of them want comfort and help when undertaking an extremely difficult decision; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, the quality and consistency of information out there is well below par—certainly with regard to easy access. School websites are often dire and local authority information provision varies from the really quite good to the extremely difficult, obscure and unhelpful. There is not a good consistent standard there. One of the things a school adviser could do is to help bring up the general level of available information to a common and consistent standard and, ideally, as the noble Lord said, to something approaching the American model rather than the “Do we have to do anything?” standard that occupies a lot of British websites. To have that co-ordinated in a way which makes it easier for a parent to access it on a casual basis would be a great advantage. As I will come on to, one of the difficulties I see with the Government’s scheme is the question of how this adviser finds the parents they are talking about.
My amendment focuses on the need for independence. A lot of the time this adviser will be the Thomas à Becket character who wishes to give clear, honest and good advice regardless of the consequences to himself. If they do not have a position that enables them to do that without fear of imminent execution, they may well not have the courage of the right reverend Prelate’s predecessor and may temper their advice accordingly. That problem has become prevalent in, for example, the educational psychology service, where many people rely for their bread and butter on a relationship with a particular local authority. If the local authority likes to be dilatory, difficult and restrictive about giving statements, it is the common experience of parents that you will get a relatively bad service from those educational psychologists because they know who is paying their bills.
It is necessary to have a measure of independence because, much of the time, a competent adviser will say, “Don’t go to that school in Dorset. You are much better off if you hop across the boundary into Hampshire. It has the provision that you want, it has easy access so you have a good chance of getting in”, or, “No, whatever they say, that school does not really provide well for your child’s special need but there is very good provision a couple of miles away and, if you can establish a special need—and this is how to do it—you will have a reasonable chance of getting your child in”. Giving advice that is in the interests of the child and the parent will often be advice that the local authority wishes had not been given, to give it an easier life.
From the draft guidance, we are clearly envisaging a system that is quite well integrated with the local authority system. I should like to be sure that there is a good guarantee of independent advice; otherwise parents simply will not trust it. I am very grateful to the Minister for having distributed the draft guidance. Exactly how are those advisers going to turn away the middle classes? Yes, they may be targeting the 30 per cent who are most deprived, but if someone like me comes knocking on their door and says that they want help, are they going to say, “Go away”? Once they get a reputation, people who are aware of their existence will be after their services.
I am puzzled by the Government’s idea of the correct budget. If we are aiming for 30 per cent of pupils, we are looking at a budget of about £30 per target family. With the usual overheads, especially if these families have to be tracked down because they are difficult to get to, people will have to spend time at the end of the day at primary schools waiting for those parents to turn up. That will not be a time-efficient process. I suspect that the Minister's budget allows for about 15 minutes per target family, which is about a quarter of the time required to give a reasonable standard of service.
I am surprised that in-year admissions will not be catered for. That is one real problem for parents who are moving. We are trying to encourage a mobile and responsive labour market and make it easier for people to move around the country. Getting into schools out of term, or just moving generally, creates immense problems in our current system. You cannot even consider a place in a school until you have an address. If you get the wrong address, you may find that there is not a school place within five miles. You have no time, are out of the area, have no local contacts or infrastructure of other parents to talk to to find out what is going on, and no existing school to turn to for advice. Those people most need such advice. It is very helpful to the fundamental economy of this country that moving should be made easier for those people. They should be a target of the system.
I will be interested to hear how the noble Lord envisages that the system will work in practice. If it is aimed at disadvantaged people, how will they be tracked down without an awful lot of the money going into the system being spent just on the process of finding the parents, rather than giving them useful advice?
I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. One thing that he said that is so important is that all parents lack information. During some of our debates, I have been slightly disturbed when there seems to be the assumption that if one is in the middle classes, one is an evil individual doing everything for one’s child and cares less about everyone else. That is very unfortunate. There are plenty of people out there from all social backgrounds, no matter from where they come, who take very little interest in their children’s education, sadly.
We must recognise that all parents lack information. It is important that everyone, with relative ease, can access information on choice. We all support the direction in which the Government are going in trying to offer more choice and diversity for parents. Information centres are a very good idea and I agree that they should be independent of the LEA. They must be somewhere central that parents can access. Today, all parents are time-poor. They have enough to do coping with the logistics of family life, so the more access they can have to information about schools, the more perceptions and misconceptions about their child having been unfairly treated will be dispelled. That is hugely important. I speak having listened to parents and from personal experience. Parents need to feel that the process is transparent and that they have open, independent access to the information.
Sir Alan Steer, in Learning Behaviour: The Report of the Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, draws attention to the need for pupil parent support workers. I am sure that we will come to this later, but I wonder if there is any connection between that role and that of choice advisers. Listening to the debate, it occurs to me that that early function might be a way to engage those30 per cent of parents about whom we are most concerned.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, raised concern about not putting too much responsibility on the heads of young children. I do not think that the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would do that, but I reiterate the concern that we should not ask children to decide which school to go to. I am sure that that is not the intention, but I reiterate the concern that we should not ask too much of children. We should involve them in the process, but I know that some parents do not understand this and go too far the other way. They think that their child should be making the decision. That is just a warning.
I shall speak briefly in view of the hour. As a rule, as a former member of a local authority, I take a fairly pro-local authority view but, on this occasion, I support the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the need for independence of choice advisers from the local education authority. As we move into this much more varied pattern of provision, it is essential that parents have confidence that the information that they receive is not biased.
I wanted to ask about choice advisers and the30 per cent most deprived to try to understand how the choice advisers are to determine who those people are and how they are to have the skills to do that. I echo the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the sort of information that all parents require—hard data about performance, and so on—is not the same information that may be required by parents living in deprived areas who may have multiple problems. I am not clear about what capacity in training and time choice advisers will have to provide that service for parents in deprived areas. I am a little nervous about the emphasis that seems to be placed on choice advisers working with deprived families. I quite understand the sentiment; I am just nervous about some dangers.
Finally, the guidance proposes evaluation of cost-effectiveness. I should like an assurance that it is effectiveness in the broader sense that will be evaluated and not only financial effectiveness.
I give the noble Baroness that assurance: it will be effectiveness at large. I also very much take to heart her point on the independence of choice advice. The guidance which I have circulated makes it clear that we expect the information provided to be properly independent. Indeed, paragraph 7 of the guidance states that the information should,
“include information about schools which might be in a different local authority area”.
That also meets the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. We are seeking to update the guidance, and there is scope for us to strengthen the points that we make on independence and the type of advice that we expect advisers to make available.
In response to the noble Baroness, I should also say that we are in the process of developing accredited training for choice advisers and guidance for the advisers themselves. As soon as that is available I will make it available to the Committee. I hope that that will meet the noble Baroness’s points.
It is my duty as the Schools Minister to leap to the defence of our schools immediately in response to the outrageous suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that they are in any way primitive. I think our schools can well stand comparison with American high schools.
In respect of the websites, too, I think I can defend the schools. The noble Lord referred to a specific school. I refer him to a school whose website I was looking at only yesterday: Shireland school, in a very deprived area of Smethwick, which has the most fantastic website. I will look at his website after he looks at mine and we can then see whether they can hold their own against each other.
The noble Lord mentioned the figure of 6 per cent—this relates directly to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—which is a very important point and one of the really alarming statistics in the education system. Six per cent of parents failed to complete an application form at all for their children. It is a good part of the reason why often, at the beginning of September, we have the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred, of children who do not have places in schools. If ever there was a case made for pupil parent support workers, to whom the noble Lord referred—and I think that the choice advisers will play a part of that role regarding parents—it is that very alarming statistic.
On Amendment No. 165, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, we have already issued guidance on the choice advice to which she referred. The new code on school admissions could be used to make that statutory, if we so wished, by including provisions on choice advice within that code, which is to be statutory. We shall reflect further on whether to do so in the light of this debate.
On Amendment No. 165A, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as I said, we will look at how we can strengthen requirements on local authorities to see that the advice is independent.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and that by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about providing advice for children. We accept, of course, that children do and should play a very big part in the choice of school that they go to, but we do not think that regulation is the best way of regulating relations between parents and their children, and it is the parents who actually submit the form. We therefore need to be careful that we get that balance right.
Amendment No. 163A, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, addresses school information centres. I listened carefully to what he said and think that he made some very good points on the obligation to provide general advice in a standardised format as well as targeted advice given by advisers themselves. There are a number of practical issues here but I will reflect further on his comments to see whether we might give a significant impetus to that idea. He also mentioned school fairs. They play an important part in the decisions taken by parents on schools. We strongly encourage them, and indeed most local authorities operate them. The new schools admission code will say that school fairs are good practice and an effective way of providing information to a number of parents at once. Guidance on choice advice will also recommend them as one of the ways in which choice advisers should consider reaching local parents.
I hope that that meets most of the points raised in the debate.
Secondly, does the noble Lord take my point on in-year admissions and, generally, people coming from outside the local authority—that they should have a precedence? Thirdly, yes, I agree that the 6 per cent are the key to reach, but how do you identify them? By the time they have identified themselves as not having applied, it is too late. You have to try to find some way of finding these people—apart from all those like me who turn in their tax return the day before they have to. An awful lot of people leave it to the last moment or do not actually send the form in until the last moment. How do you sift out the 6 per cent who are not going to choose from the perhaps 30 per cent or 40 per cent who will simply be late in choosing?
That is a difficult issue, but it is precisely why we are seeking to target the choice advisers on schools with the highest levels of deprivation. That will of course include a good proportion of that 6 per cent. I cannot say that we have the elixir that will eradicate that 6 per cent immediately, but I hope that the way in which choice advisers are targeted on schools with higher levels of deprivation will enable us to start getting at the 6 per cent.
I am grateful both to the Minister for replying to the various queries and to all noble Lords who participated. It has been quite a useful debate on choice advisers. I reassure the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that we have tabled amendments on pupil parent support workers. I feel they will be doing a very different task from that of choice advisers because they will be working with a group of parents within a particular school. As far as their being independent and choice advisers, I am not sure that they should double up. Although they might help at some point, it is not quite the same job.
I am a little sorry that the Minister does not accept Amendment No. 162B, which, as I say, I think a very neat little amendment. It simply changes the wording in the Bill. The intention is certainly not, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, suggested, that the children should take the decision—it is obviously a decision they take with their parents—but that they should be involved in the decision-making. The involvement of children here is important. Nevertheless, I accept that it is ultimately the parents who have to fill out the form, and that that might provide an excuse for not changing the Bill’s wording. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 163 and 163A not moved.]
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to provide support for the families of children with autism.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as the father of a 13 year-old daughter with autism. The number of cases of autism diagnosed in the United Kingdom has increased tenfold over the past decade, and that has led to a growing recognition that support services are vital to people with autistic spectrum disorders and for their families and carers. Sadly, that has been illustrated by the recent tragedies.
There is no known cure for autism, but much can be done to support people with the condition and their families. I will refer to autism but mean it to cover all autistic spectrum disorders, as there is a need for provision right across the spectrum. I wish to touch on the range of family support services, including respite and short breaks, shared care and childcare. Such services provide relief for both the carers and the child with autism and can help the child's personal and social development.
Research has shown that trying to access services and entitlements during the early years is one of the major causes of stress affecting the family life of a child with autism. Three in five families report significant levels of psychological distress, which is more than twice as high as parents in general. Nine out of 10 of the children in a study had significant mental health needs or behavioural difficulties, which is twice the number of those with learning disabilities and 10 times more than children in general. If family needs are assessed from the first instant a problem is identified, and appropriate support and respite are provided, a great deal will be done to relieve this stress. Yet there are too many examples of failure to deliver such support.
The All-Party Group on Autism, of which I am secretary, published a manifesto in 2003 that outlined a vision for autism services in 2013. Its objective for family support is that,
“support and training services will be available for all carers, siblings and families immediately following diagnosis”,
“multi-agency teams in every area will be able to provide accurate and sensitive information to families”.
A similar vision is laid out in the National Service Framework for Children. The framework’s standard on disabled people states:
“Families are offered a range of appropriate family support services through multi-agency packages of care”.
The framework also recognises the need for short breaks, which is particularly acute for the families of children with autism. It recognises that weekends and school holidays are crucial times for short-break services to be delivered. Sadly, the progress of the framework to date has been limited. I hope that the Minister will state that he and his department are still committed to seeing the framework delivered, and that he will be able to give an update on its implementation, particularly of the standard on disabled children and the autism exemplar.
A recent audit of local authorities and a variety of stakeholders, which was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, emphasised respite services as a priority area with a gap in provision for children with autistic spectrum disorders. This was picked out as an area of high importance and low availability. Can the Minister advise the House on his department’s assessment of the report, particularly of the recommendations on respite and family support?
There is further strong evidence that provision of specific types of family support services is insufficient. A survey by the National Autistic Society found that 70 per cent of carers of children with autism say they cannot return to work due to a lack of appropriate care facilities. Only 15 per cent had received any support from social services in their caring role. As I have already mentioned, short breaks are a vital service for children with autism and their families. However, 90 per cent of short-break schemes have waiting lists. Children with autism account for a third of all those on waiting lists. Such services are frequently not accessible to children with autism. The availability of appropriate childcare is a similar problem. The fact that the Childcare Act will pay particular attention to the needs of disabled children is certainly welcome, but there is concern that local authorities will not be able to meet the demand for the significant level of specialist childcare that would be needed for the families of children with autism to take up work.
Respite services are needed at certain crucial times, such as during holidays, but, in another survey, almost all parents felt that this need was not being met. Ninety-three per cent of parents did not receive help during holidays, and 87 per cent requested a break from caring. One of the major barriers facing children with autism is a lack of trained professionals to support them. Training is required for all relevant professionals to improve the number and quality of facilities. Many providers of mainstream short-break services, and even of care for disabled children, feel unable to cater for children with autism. Over 80 per cent of service providers want more support and information about autism, and over 60 per cent said they required a specific training package. There is particular difficulty in providing for children with challenging behaviour. Similarly, from the parents’ perspective, understanding autism is the most important criterion in choosing a service for their child. Will the Minister outline what his department is doing to improve the awareness and understanding of autism among providers of social care and childcare?
Investment in the workforce and in specialist services is a vital investment. Offering the right service at the right time can prevent families reaching crisis point. To provide services only in crises, on the other hand, is very costly to the local authority, not to mention extremely distressing for the family. Furthermore, failure to provide services for children with autism only stores up trouble for the future. Some families will continue to access few or no services. Many people with autism continue to live with their parents into adulthood. For others, the pressure will lead to family breakdown and longer-term residential provision. This is an issue of quality of life for both the child and the family. Without support, families can feel isolated and that they have no one to turn to. Where autism-specific services are provided, they usually work well. Social skills groups, for example, are a relatively low-cost initiative that not only develop the child’s ability to interact, but provide a regular activity for the child and help to prevent further difficulties.
There are examples of good practice: working with the voluntary sector to provide guidance to families as soon as a diagnosis is received; the establishment of respite centres, which are attached to schools but are not only for the use of school pupils; and the provision of in-home support, giving parents a break while the child remains in familiar surroundings. Of course, establishing such services and centres requires investment. The Treasury review of children and young people is a golden opportunity to address these issues and to make recommendations for next year’s spending review to improve support for families with disabled children. I hope the Minister will consider carefully the issues that I have raised and give this important issue the priority it deserves.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor, on initiating this very important debate today, and declare an interest as chairman of TreeHouse, an autism education charity that runs a school for primary and secondary school children with autism spectrum disorders in north London. Like the noble Lord, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Autism.
The noble Lord did not mention some of the tragic cases that have arisen as a result of the failure—indeed, absence—of respite care for families with autism, but it is quite clear that tragic cases, such as that of Alison and Ryan Davies, will occur unless these services are provided. It is part of the purpose of today’s debate to lay the ground for the Comprehensive Spending Review in the way in which the noble Lord described.
Autism presents a unique challenge. Children with autism spectrum conditions have fallen through gaps in services, as they do not always fit entirely into one definition of need. For instance, they can fall through the gaps of eligibility for either learning difficulty or mental health services. Sometimes they fall into neither category. The breadth of the autism spectrum and the complexity of potential impairments mean that professionals often have little idea of how to meet the needs of people with autism. Even if we assume that an individual with autism succeeds in overcoming the barriers thrown up to access for an assessment, people with autism often find that the services on offer are inappropriate and inadequate, as the noble Lord described. They are inadequate in terms of quantity or quality, or both.
The noble Lord referred in particular to respite placement. My colleagues at TreeHouse hear from parents all over the country. From the calls and e-mails that it receives, it is clear, and rather alarming, just how many families fight even to get an assessment of need. Once their needs are assessed, they are made to feel lucky if they are given just two hours’ respite per week or even per fortnight. These are families where the child needs care and surveillance round the clock. The child may sleep for only a few hours a night, may have no sense of danger, may be particularly fascinated by open windows or naked flames or may not be able to tolerate routine family activities, such as trips to local shops. The young person may be in need of social skills training in order to help them to access local leisure facilities or social networks, or to access the outside world that their typically developing peers take for granted. The absence of these services makes life a misery, prevents the inclusion of a young person in society and may inhibit his or her chances of long-term independence.
TreeHouse also hears of cases where social services have said that there is no funding assigned or service available to enable a disabled child to stay at home with adequate respite and short breaks; none the less, money is available to support a residential school, or to place a child in care, which is at far greater human and financial cost. That is indicative of the systemic failure to support families of children with autism. It is the notion that, to get anything at all, families must slot into local authority practices and budget categories, whereas social care professionals should be anticipating need and responding flexibly and willingly to families.
Training is vital. Parents with whom TreeHouse is in contact often report that the workforce is not equipped with strategies to support sometimes very challenging young people. Ordinary care staff find it difficult to address the profound communication and behaviour needs of children with ASD. TreeHouse knows of situations that have broken down after only the second two-hour session, where respite workers fail to show up after the first attempt, or when special leisure facilities report that they cannot cope with the young person with ASD. The challenges relate to the undifferentiated nature of current respite services. Often standard respite services are inappropriate. The NAS “make school make sense” survey in particular highlights the under-provision of social skills trainers tailored to young people with high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder/Asperger’s syndrome.
Of course, many parents have had suspicion falsely cast on their parenting, and—even worse—there have been allegations of abuse, perhaps because of the unexpected behaviour of their children or even, perhaps, because the parents draw attention to the inadequacy of the services on offer. What is so sad about such cases is that they set up fear and cynicism among parents who become despairing about social services, frightened to ask for help and scared of being labelled.
I am loathe to portray a situation that is all bleak, but life with autism is not easy. We should have a social care system that provides a proper, effective safety net and lifts temporarily some of the weight of caring for a person with autism. However, I believe that a significant problem has over the past few years been increasingly recognised, at least at national level, and at a slow but increasing level by local authorities. We now have the National Service Framework for Children, which contains a standard on disabled children and their families. We can take encouragement from a number of other initiatives, such as the joint Treasury and DfES cross-cutting review of children's services, which was recently launched at TreeHouse. These, I hope, are combining to create momentum for change.
However, three key points need to be made. First, social care for families of children with autism must be made a priority for funding. As the Disabilities Trust said in a recent briefing, autism funding now often comes from a general pot under a heading such as “learning disability”. It believes, and I agree, that this unique and complex provision should be recognised and that ring-fenced funding should be available. Without this, Government policies such as the NSF simply will not be implemented. Secondly, social care services need to be designed around the needs of individuals with autism and not made to fit into slots created by local authorities. Finally, specialist autism training must become mandatory for every member of staff and decision maker who works in social care. The recent report by Professor Gillian Baird in the Lancet showing that we now have one in 100 children on the autistic spectrum demonstrates that this is a growing problem that we need to tackle as a matter of urgency.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on obtaining this important debate. I begin by declaring an interest as vice-president of Autism Northern Ireland and as someone with personal experience of the condition known properly as autistic spectrum disorder—ASD. I endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and plead with the Government to recognise before it is too late that a major and growing problem is facing us. To fail to address the consequences of the huge escalation in autism would be a tragedy.
Forget those who say that the increase derives from a new awareness, because that is simplistic. I started teaching in 1958 and I know what I experienced then compared with what happens now. For some, we are already too late: I refer to those children and young adults for whom there has been no early assessment or early intervention. In Northern Ireland, that situation still exists to a significant degree. There, I regret to say, I come up against the most devious and obstructive administrative attitude imaginable. The bureaucracy is confused, inept and evasive to the point of irresponsibility. From the earliest realisation that is a child is autistic, families are left to struggle virtually alone in conflict with an ill informed system. I intend to illustrate this opinion within the context of Answers that I have received to parliamentary Questions. This is about the lives of vulnerable young children and their families, and it is about time the matter was properly aired.
First, I want to acknowledge one major change for the better. Until recently, autism was categorised as a “mental disability”. To be defined thus was a huge inhibitor to the proper facilitation of those with ASD. But the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, has declassified the condition as such, which has given huge encouragement to many families. However, I should also point out that ASD is not a learning disability and needs its own classification. I quote from the 2001 Review of Autism Research by the Medical Research Council and, in so doing, I define autism more accurately as,
“the name given to a set of neurodevelopmental disorders in … the way that a person communicates and interacts with other people”.
“characterised by qualitative impairments in social, communicative and imaginative development”.
The condition most often becomes noticeable in children around the age of three. Between the ages of three and seven or eight is a crucial time inthe learning curve of a person's life. Language, experience and social awareness are accelerating at an enormous rate. Where there is this inhibitor—autism—the developmental loss can be devastating. Hence early assessment and early intervention are crucial.
In a letter dated 30 June, I was assured by the Secretary of State that:
“Health Boards and Trusts ... are charged with commissioning and delivering local services on a permanent basis to meet the needs of their local population”.
But let us look at what one finds when it comes to children right on the verge of those five vital learning years—three year-olds who show signs of being autistic and who urgently need to be assessed.
In reply to a Question for Written Answer, I was told on 31 December last year that some 686 children in Northern Ireland were waiting to be assessed, some for up to 35 months. Let us think about that. It means three out of those vital five years at the beginning of school life—three years without the necessary one-to-one classroom assistance that can totally transform an autistic child’s life. I am now told that that figure of 686 children awaiting assessment has been revised down to 652. If one can even believe that, we have a reduction of a mere 5 per cent in six months, a rate of resolution that in theory could mean the backlog not being resolved until 2016. How many children’s futures will be blighted in the interim?
On assessment, we find the greatest deceit of all.I ask noble Lords to take note of these dates. InJune 2005, I was told:
“Information on the number of children referred for suspected autistic spectrum disorder assessment and the current waiting times for assessment are not collected centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost”.—[Official Report, 8/6/05; col. WA 90.]
Yet a mere six days later I was told:
“The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s priorities for action 2004-05 required boards and trusts to establish multidisciplinary diagnostic, assessment and early intervention teams to provide for improved life outcomes for around 200 children and young people with autism each year”.—[Official Report, 14/6/05; col. WA 119.]
If the statistics were not available on 8 June 2005, on what basis were such measures able to be planned and sanctioned over two years earlier, to be implemented by March 2004? Can I be blamed for believing that someone is systematically distorting or concealing the facts? In reality, despite the 2004-05 departmental requirement, two years later only seven trusts, out of four health boards and 18 trusts, have established these teams. I was then told that:
“Multi-disciplinary early intervention teams to deal with autistic spectrum disorders are drawn from paediatricians, psychiatrists, educational psychologists, nurses, early intervention therapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and social workers”.—[Official Report, 20/6/06; col. WA 67.]
Eight separate disciplines are involved, with paediatricians rightly coming first on the list. But I subsequently discovered that in the western board area:
“There is no full-time consultant paediatrician for children with autism”.
The situation in the southern board area is that:
“At present a locum is acting in the position of consultant community paediatrician”.
Why are there such deliberate attempts to deceive me and why is the shortfall denied? Again I shall quote:
“Boards and trusts were required to establish multidisciplinary diagnostic assessment and early intervention teams to improve the life outcome for an additional 200 children and young people with autism across Northern Ireland. This target was achieved by the boards and trusts by September 2005”.—[Official Report, 12/7/06; WA 118.]
But the other facts that were provided deny that.
Throughout all this bureaucratic and administrative chaos, Autism Northern Ireland has for 16 years helped those with ASD by providing advice and support to parents. It has been trying to encourage a co-ordinated approach by the health and education departments but has been constrained and obstructed at every turn. While we at Autism Northern Ireland do not pretend to have all the answers, sadly and through personal experience we know a great deal more than most.
My Lords, I apologise.
This year Autism Northern Ireland will be in receipt of £47,000. That represents 4 pence a day per child, given that some 3,500 children are suspected of having autism. I conclude by asking: is this how we treat the most vulnerable and needy within our society? Is this how the Government want to be remembered, or are they willing to change and accept the need for partnership, proper planning and a realistic approach?
My Lords, my interest in this Question comes as a result of the involvement of a close family member who is a trustee and governor of Prior’s Court School for autistic children near Newbury in Berkshire. I add my thanks to those given to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for introducing this short debate.
Understandably, the focus of attention and resources is mainly directed towards those children affected by autism, whereas it is on the whole their families who bear the brunt of the burden of care—both practical care in looking after an autistic child and in navigating through the difficult and unfamiliar world of bureaucracy to ensure that the appropriate type of education, and related funding, is available and forthcoming. Indeed, many parents are forced to resort to home schooling when all other options are exhausted, with little or no opportunity for trained teacher input.
I should like to concentrate on three specific areas, and in doing so will almost certainly repeat points made by other noble Lords. First, there is the difficulty of obtaining continued funding from local education authorities. This is particularly relevant where there is a change in the needs of the child, identified by progressive assessments, which require new or more specialist—and therefore more expensive—provision. LEAs often view these matters in black and white whereas they are of course many shades of grey. Taking an initial assessment as a firm indication of a child’s educational needs for their entire schooling can be a gross oversimplification. This can result in a box-ticking exercise which provides a rigid and unrealistic framework for ongoing education, a point already made by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. Parents need LEAs to be much more involved with specialist schools to understand the nuances and complexities of individual cases.
While recognising the financial challenges faced by LEAs, parents often have to resort to expensive legal action to compel LEAs to meet additional costs. In fact, the whole statementing process seems to be designed to make life difficult for parents and to be infinitely less supportive than it should be towards those who are looking after what are often very difficult and disturbed children. Since there appears to be no contingency for reassessment, parents become desperate and often a battle with the local LEA ensues. Have the Government any plans to address this unsatisfactory situation?
My second point is the difficulty of obtaining disability living allowance where the criteria for those on the autistic spectrum is not made as clear as it should be. One parent of an 18 year-old told me that in her experience the service had deteriorated markedly since job cuts were made in the Department for Work and Pensions last year. Is there meaningful monitoring of the advice callers are receiving and is the Minister satisfied that the system is working properly, particularly in the light of the increasing numbers likely to need this benefit in the future? Perhaps at the same time the Minister might update the House on the current take-up of DLA in general. At this point I should declare an interest as a recipient of this benefit myself.
Finally, I turn to a very different point: the lack of emotional and psychological support for parents when autism is diagnosed in their child. Typically, autism is diagnosed from the age of three years old, as we have heard. For parents, such a diagnosis can be devastating and currently there is no substantive psychological support to help them come to terms with their child’s newly discovered condition. It is only when they come into contact with other families in a similar situation that they get in touch with support groups, which can help them accept their child’s condition and the related implications. Are the Government considering ways in which families of autistic children can gain access to counselling support at the time of diagnosis? Furthermore, can the Minister say how much additional funding is available for self-help groups for families who find themselves in this situation?
To illustrate the point, in a recent conversation I had with the parent of an autistic child, she—not I—used the word “changeling” to describe her child. If a child developed a more life-threatening condition there would be sympathy from official agencies, but those whose children change from bright, outgoing individuals when they are toddlers into withdrawn and difficult, albeit greatly loved, children, tend to receive no sympathetic support.
It is estimated that there are more than half a million people in the United Kingdom on the autistic spectrum and a recent report claims that the number of children affected in this country is one in 100, a figure higher than previously thought. If this incidence was pertinent to any other childhood illness—for example, chickenpox—it would be treated with much greater urgency. Even before this latest estimate it was calculated that 2 million people were directly affected by the impact of autism, many of these family members who are often the invisible sufferers. This number will grow exponentially with the growth in the incidence of autism.
It is to be hoped that the Government will continue and, indeed, reinforce their commitment to monitor all aspects of this condition in the light of this alarming increase, including research into its causes, financial support for sufferers during their lifetime and last, but by no means least, proper support and help for the families concerned. I await the Minister’s reply with interest.
My Lords, in introducing the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Hever, has put before the House an individual and particular set of problems, but the pattern of the problems is one which is incredibly familiar to anyone who has dealt with special educational needs and disability rights issues, especially in their initial stages. To someone who was in the right place at the right time for the mainstream acceptance of dyslexia when it was diagnosed, much of what has been said here about many of the problems sounds incredibly familiar to what was said then. The references to the discovery and magnitude of the problem are a replay of what happened before.
I was scanning my eye over a list of myths that I had taken from the National Autistic Society website when I came across a reference to Asperger’s syndrome—which is a part of the autistic spectrum disorder—affecting only middle-class parents. I can guarantee that the reason for that myth is that, at the moment, the middle class is vastly over-represented because middle-class parents have the education, money and time to make a thoroughgoing nuisance of themselves and get some help. Effectively, we politicians have not applied enough pressure to gear-up the system—and all parties must share equal blame for this—to make it accessible to people without education, money and a background of dealing with bureaucracy and realising that if you kick it hard enough in the right places it usually does what you want in the end. I am afraid that is rather the experience here. Such people are not being assessed early enough. Effectively, we have got to carry on rattling the system until we get people in the right places to recognise the early symptoms and to give assessment and support.
The fact of the matter is that if we do not do this we will have far greater ongoing costs further down the system. A failing child will become a failing adult and end up in institutional care, having first probably broken the health of a parent. As has been referred to, even respite care is not there at the moment. If we do not get support to them early enough, some people will become institutionalised and spend their lifetime not being able to support themselves. If we carry on as we are, it will take a very long time to put this right. We must apply pressure to make sure that the existing support structures are greatly expanded. The only good thing that can be said about this is that other people have been down this path and so we have a rough idea of what should happen next.
Diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder—not the easiest thing to say in a hurry—should be seen asan integral part of the training and awareness programmes. In the course of the education Bill there has been much talk about making sure that in the school system there is sufficient training in special educational needs awareness. I have always felt that awareness throughout the system is probably much more beneficial than having a few well-trained specialists because in that way you can see things coming and get the intervention in quickly. If there is only a fairly low-level but early enough intervention to provide social skills, for instance, it may well allow a person to function within the mainstream of society, albeit with help, for the rest of his or her life. If you do not get in that early intervention, you are not going to be able to do that.
When the Minister replies, can he tell the House what the Government think are the actual numbers of people who fall within the spectrum? Do the Government think that the number is rising in frequency in the population, or is it merely that we are only now spotting it? The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, shakes his head but the question is not for him; I want to know the Government’s attitude. Are the Government taking up the issue? Where is the argument going? If the Minister does not know, I look forward to receiving a letter from him, as will the rest of the House. We have to find out what the Government are thinking in order to provide the support necessary to make sure that government works and that the structure comes through.
Returning to the issue of myths, what is the Government’s attitude towards telling people how to deal with autism and explaining it to parents? What advice is being given? The website page referred to the “Rain Man” genius—I think “savant” is the correct expression. Are the Government trying to deal with all the myths? Again, this is very typical of what happened with dyslexia. For example, the myth was that all dyslexics are brilliant because Leonardo da Vinci was. I have never followed the reasoning myself, but there we are.
Can the Government say what sort of training they are giving to enable people to explain autism? What are they doing, particularly, for nursery school teachers, who seem to have the biggest chance of spotting it earlier? What type of advice are they giving? Can the Minister give an indication of the kind of advice they are giving to people who develop training facilities? What is the state of planning for greater numbers of specialists to deal with this?
I look forward to the Minister’s answer but I am afraid that we will have to come back frequently—and bring our friends with us—in order to get Governments of all shapes and sizes in the future to act further on this. The Minister should take this issue away, talk to his friends in other departments and let them know that we are all going to watch—and that we are not going to go away until we get a little bit more action.
My Lords, no one is better qualified than my noble friend Lord Astor to speak on this extremely vexed and emotive subject. I congratulate him on having summarised so well the problems that all too often beset the families who struggle to live with autism in their midst. I completely agree with all that he and other noble Lords have said about the lack of adequate support services for autistic people and their carers.
The National Autistic Society has a great deal to say about those shortcomings, which nowadays apply right across the country. As an Opposition spokesman, I am regularly contacted by anguished parents whose attempts to obtain the correct help for an autistic child have continued for many months and sometimes even for years. Not infrequently, those efforts end in disappointment and failure. Lest there be any doubt, autism is no longer an issue that can remain on the fringes of policy-making. It is a mainstream and very serious concern; it needs confronting, and it requires resources.
What do we need to be doing? My noble friend mentioned a number of practical steps, such as making sure that needs assessments are available to all those who require them—they are not at present—providing more and better respite services, and appropriate childcare. I often think that one of the worst aspects of living with an autistic child is the isolation. The need for people to feel that they are not alone in having to contend with the sometimes unbearable stress of daily living in such circumstances is very real.
Parents desperately want their predicament to be understood; they desperately want advice and recognition. The trouble is, the number of professionals sufficiently qualified to provide such help is inadequate, and teacher training does not include enough about children with disabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was absolutely right about that. Indeed, so widespread is the ignorance about autistic spectrum disorders that if a child presents at school with behavioural abnormalities associated with autism, it is often the quality of parenting that falls under the spotlight, rather than the needs of the child. Instead of understanding and help, parents find themselves referred to the child protection unit of social services. Even where a child has been statemented for special educational needs, local authorities will often fight tooth and nail against providing the support that is needed. I agreed wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, on that topic.
Research by Brunel University involving 750 parents found that most of them viewed dealing with LEAs as a confrontational exercise and that the whole process was a source of extreme stress. Parents are stressed enough without that. We really should be worried by research findings such as those.
The Government say many of the right things about the importance of meeting the needs of children with SEN, but the reality is quite different. A few days ago, the Education and Skills Committee in another place published a report. Its view, which I share, is that special schools are invaluable for many pupils with behavioural and learning difficulties. Yet the number of special schools went down by 7 per cent between 1997 and last year. This reduction has occurred at a time when demand for SEN services has gone up dramatically.
The committee made several trenchant criticisms of the Government: the lack of clarity about what is meant by the word “inclusion”, a fundamental confusion which has directly resulted in the closure of special schools; the lack of clear strategic direction about the value and the role of special schools; and the complete failure to address the flaws in the SEN system identified by the Audit Commission in 2002 and by Ofsted in 2004. The Audit Commission and Ofsted both pointed to serious inconsistencies in provision, inequality of access to schools, over-complexity in the statementing process and poor outcomes. Here we are in 2006, and we are no further forward in these areas.
The committee says that where good practice exists in local authorities, the level of parental satisfaction improves greatly. That is wonderful, but if it is so, the obvious questions to the Government are: who is spreading this best practice, and if it is not happening, how best should it be made to happen?
Again, the White Paper Our health, our care, our say says a lot of good things. It speaks of local councils and the NHS working together to provide joined-up care plans for those who need them. It speaks of offering support for carers, including emergency respite care. How will those good aspirations be targeted towards children and young people with autistic spectrum disorders, and what precisely is being done to implement them? We are living in a time of real financial stringency in the health service and local government. But if we believe that families should be entitled to respite care when they need it; if we believe in streamlining the statementing process; if we believe in placing weight on the preferences that parents express in favour of special schools, then these things need defining explicitly and they need to become universal.
In the longer term, what will be of most benefit to families and those afflicted with autism is getting closer to the science. The causal mechanisms behind ASD are not known. I have seen a recent Written Answer about research funded by the MRC in this area. How much of this work is directly related to the possible causal mechanisms and to treatments which may ameliorate the worst manifestations of autistic behaviour? This work desperately needs to be done.
I am sorry to say that the controversy over the safety of MMR, which I find deeply regrettable, has tended to overshadow the more open questions that we should be asking. What, precisely, is damaging the brains of young children at an early age? Why are the numbers of autistic children going up as steeply as they appear to be doing? What can we do to relieve sufferers and their families from the extreme distress and despair that they feel? Until we make autism a mainstream health issue, we are bound to see a repeat of tragedies such as that of Alison Davies and her son. The lack of support, the absence of advice and the dearth of understanding cannot be allowed to continue.
My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, for prompting this important debate. I know that the noble Lord has personal experience, and I pay tribute to the work he has done through his involvement with the All-Party Group on Autism.
From my time as a director of social services, I understand and appreciate that having a child with autism can add phenomenally to the normal stresses and strains of family life. For children with autism, the world can appear a mystifying and frightening place. They can react with challenging behaviour so that their parents can barely take their eyes off them for a moment. I understand these issues; supporting autistic children and their families is a responsibility that the Government take very seriously indeed.
A number of noble Lords asked how many children we are talking about. We recognise that the size of the cohort of children with autism and their families seems to be growing. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the standard prevalence rate for children with autism was thought to be four to five per 10,000. A report we commissioned in 2001 from the Medical Research Council on the epidemiology and causes of autism found some agreement with recent prevalence estimates of 60 per 10,000 of children under eight with autism spectrum disorder.
I am aware of the research mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, undertaken by Dr Gillian Baird—whom I know personally—published in the Lancet last week, on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in children in the south Thames region. This is an important piece of research: it found a prevalence rate of around 40 per 10,000 for autism and 77 per 10,000 for the full spectrum. This is much closer to the prevalence rate that the National Autistic Society has suggested.
The south Thames study suggested that much of the increase in the number being identified on the autism spectrum can be put down to greater awareness, better identification and a broadening of diagnostic criteria. However, it looks as though this is a true rise in incidence, a possibility which cannot be ruled out. I am sure that this new prevalence information will be helpful to colleagues in the Treasury and the DfES who are conducting the cross-cutting review.
Like other noble Lords, I am aware of some tragic events involving parents and their autistic children, and I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt sadness and sympathy to all those involved. We must ensure that parents of children with autism can access services in their own right and that their needs are properly considered. I think particularly of the mental health problems that can be triggered by caring for an autistic child and the feeling that one is coping alone with no support, points to which a number of noble Lords have drawn attention. We are trying hard to make sure that services are in place to help. Community mental health teams offer specialist assessment, treatment and care to adults with mental health problems in their own homes. They may also provide a whole range of community-based services, or be complemented by other community-based teams providing specific functions, such as those of assertive outreach teams. Parents need to know that the services exist and feel able and comfortable to use them.
In 2001, we published an evidence-based guideline to help GPs and other health and social care professionals know more about the most effective treatments for particular conditions. We also published in 2001 a booklet for service users and carers, Choosing Talking Therapies?, to help them know which questions to ask.
We have embarked on a new programme to provide more effective and timely access to psychological therapies by connecting interventions currently or potentially available in the workplace, in primary care and other community resources, and to provide rapid access to more specialist services for those who need them.
We are working on two demonstration sites in Doncaster and Newham, and on a network of smaller regional projects in this area, which will bring together key programmes in the NHS, the voluntary sector and local employers to test various models that could be implemented nationally. They will be of help.
We have learnt from parents that a break from caring is very important to them, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned. That is why we introduced the carers grant. It is worth £185 million in 2005-06. Children's services account for approximately 20 per cent of the grant, including services for carers of children with disabilities. As parents, we all know that however much we love our children we would sometimes welcome a break from looking after them. We also know how important an uninterrupted night’s sleep can be. How much harder that is for the parents of a disabled child who demands much greater effort and energy from his or her parents and where alternative care or babysitting arrangements are harder to come by.
We know that some of the children most likely to be waiting for short-break services are those with autistic spectrum disorders. The report in March from the Shared Care Network, Still Waiting, reconfirmed this. There are many reasons for the difficulty in recruiting short-break carers, but we are making some progress. The proportion of children who are waiting to receive services has decreased since 1999: it is now about a third rather than a half. I do not want to claim that that is a great achievement, but it is a movement in the right direction. This is far better than it was, but it is far from being good enough. DfES recently published the National Audit of Support, Services and Provision for Children with Low Incidence Needs, which included children at the severe end of the autistic spectrum. It confirmed that family support and respite care are the biggest issues that need to be addressed for families of children with autism.
However, it gave some examples of good practice where things are working well. For example, a Northamptonshire local authority provides an autism family support team of five which works in the family home and community outside nine-to-five hours and gives access to short breaks of three to four days. We need to build on local examples of good practice such as this and have all parts of the country providing these services. Northamptonshire and others have shown that it can be done. It is about the will which exists at the local level to make some of these things happen.
What is required is more and better partnership work between professionals and agencies to help families. A number of noble Lords have drawn attention to this. A good example of how these partnerships can improve matters is the DfES-funded West Midlands SEN Regional Partnership, which has focused on autism. Over the years, the partnership has mapped provision for autistic children and their families in the region, produced a parent information pack to support parents and, last month, a training policy and framework for those in education, social care, health and the independent and voluntary sector. As a number of noble Lords have said, more professionals and more agencies need to understand the needs of parents of children with autism and provide services that meet people’s needs, rather than trying to squeeze people into the framework of services that are available. Areas such as the West Midlands have shown that one can make progress where people choose to work together. We need to encourage that.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, drew attention to research. We accept that good quality research is critical. Following the Medical Research Council’s report which I mentioned earlier, my department gave £2.5 million to the MRC for autism research. With further funding from the Chief Scientist’s Office, Scotland and the MRC, this amount has been topped up to more than £3 million. Six major research projects are now funded. One of them is a£1.3 million pre-school autism communication trial. This is the first large-scale intervention study of its kind and it will look at the effectiveness of a treatment to enhance parent/child communication and the social and language development of the child. It is too early for there to be lessons to learn from these projects, but we are keen that research in this area informs policy.
An autism research co-ordination group has been established, hosted by DfES, which will publish its first annual report at the end of this month. The aim of the group is to keep Ministers aware of current research activity and its policy implications and to highlight gaps in current research activity.
There is now a raft of policy initiatives across government for improving services for children. Noble Lords have drawn attention to some of them. One of the exemplars published under the National Service Framework for Children was on autism. It set out an optimal pathway for a boy starting at age three and moving from initial concern, through multi-agency assessment and diagnosis, an ongoing family support plan and early educational intervention, and on through transitions from primary to secondary school and into adult life. Led by the local primary care trust in Islington, a project has been running to implement parts of the exemplar around clarifying the diagnosis and identifying needs for the families. We need to learn the lessons from what has been a largely successful project. This is a good example of that exemplar being tried out on the ground.
The Early Support programme is a joint DfES, Sure Start and Department of Health initiative. It is the central government mechanism for achieving better co-ordinated family-focused services for young disabled children and their families. The programme produced a series of disability-specific booklets, including a parents’ guide on autistic spectrum disorders in 2004. This was produced with a great deal of help from the National Autistic Society and a group called the Parents Autism Campaign for Education, which is now part of the TreeHouse Trust, of which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is the chair of trustees. He has done a great deal of important work in this area to which I pay tribute. The guidance gives information to parents about autism and getting help, and it is available from the DfES Publications Centre. We know that more than 46,000 copies have been distributed and are being used.
We have increased the amount of money being spent on children’s social services. I do not have time to go through a great deal of this, but I draw attention to the DfES’s provision of funding to Contact a Family, a national charity providing support, advice and information to families with disabled children. This has been of great help to Contact a Family, which has been able to double the number of families it reaches to 18,000. An external evaluation found that 99 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the service.
I am not in a position to respond to the important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, but I shall draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This has been an important and valuable debate. I shall take away the points to which I have not been able to provide an adequate response and write to noble Lords.
Education and Inspections Bill
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.