Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
Schedule 3 [Amendments relating to school organisation]:
moved Amendments Nos. 34 to 37:
Page 145, line 19, at end insert-
“27A In section 82 of SSFA 1998 (modification of trust deeds), in subsection (1), for “or the Education Act 2002” substitute “, the Education Act 2002 or the Education and Inspections Act 2006”.”
Page 145, line 39, after ““promoters”” insert-
“(i) after “Part II” insert “in relation to Wales”, and (ii) ”
Page 145, line 41, leave out from beginning to “in” in line 1 on page 146 and insert-
“(1) Schedule 3 to SSFA 1998 (funding of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools) is amended as follows.”
Page 146, line 15, at end insert-
“(3) At the beginning of Part 2 insert-
“Interpretation of Part
2A In this Part of this Schedule “promoters”, in relation to a school in England, means persons who are for the purposes of Schedule 2 to the Education and Inspections Act 2006 the proposers in relation to proposals for the establishment of the school.””
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]
Clause 33 [Requirements as to foundations]:
[Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 not moved.]
Clause 34 [Parent councils for certain foundation or foundation special schools]:
Page 26, leave out line 8.
Page 26, line 14, after “members” insert “of a parent council”
Page 26, line 17, at end insert-
(a) must require the majority of members of a parent council to be parent members, and (b) may enable a person who is not the parent of a registered pupil to be a member of a parent council if appointed in accordance with the regulations by the parent members.”
Page 26, line 26, at end insert-
“(8) In this section “parent member”, in relation to a parent council, means a member of the council who is the parent of a registered pupil at the school.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 4 [Disposals and changes of use of land]:
Page 155, line 32, at end insert-
“( ) On a reference under sub-paragraph (1), (2)(b) or (3)(b), the adjudicator may determine the proportion (if any) of the proceeds of disposal that are or will be the publicly funded proceeds of disposal.”
Page 160, line 49, at end insert-
“( ) On a reference under sub-paragraph (1), (2)(b) or (3)(b), the adjudicator may determine the proportion (if any) of the proceeds of disposal that are or will be the publicly funded proceeds of disposal.”
Page 164, line 40, after “non-playing” insert “field”
Page 167, line 43, at end insert-
“( ) On a reference under sub-paragraph (1), (2)(b) or (3)(b), the adjudicator may determine the proportion (if any) of the proceeds of disposal that are or will be the publicly funded proceeds of disposal.”
Page 172, line 10, leave out “A20” and insert “A15”
Page 186, line 18, leave out “the school or schools falling within sub-paragraph (2)” and insert “one or more foundation or foundation special schools to which section 23A applies”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 51 to 53:
Page 189, line 16, after “apply” insert
Page 189, line 17, at end insert “, or
(b) to a disposal to which paragraph 5 or 6 of Schedule 22 (disposals on discontinuance) applies.”
Page 189, leave out lines 22 and 23 and insert-
“(c) for “falling within subsection (1)” substitute “which falls within subsection (1) or is excluded from that subsection by subsection (2B)(a) or (b)”.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Before Clause 37, insert the following new clause-
“STAFF AT FOUNDATION OR VOLUNTARY SCHOOLS WITH RELIGIOUS CHARACTER
(1) In section 58 of SSFA 1998 (appointment and dismissal of certain teachers at schools with a religious character), omit subsection (4) (which prevents the head teacher of a foundation or voluntary controlled school being a reserved teacher).
(2) In section 60 of SSFA 1998 (staff at foundation or voluntary school with religious character)-
(a) in subsection (4), after “(whether foundation or voluntary controlled)” insert “in a case where the head teacher is not to be a reserved teacher”, and (b) in subsection (6), after “voluntary aided school” insert “in Wales”.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 37 [General duties of governing body of maintained school]:
[Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.]
After Clause 37, insert the following new clause-
“DUTY OF GOVERNING BODY WITH RESPECT TO YOUNG CARERS
(1) A child or young person is a “young carer” for the purposes of this section if he carries out caring tasks and assumes a level of responsibility for another person which would normally be carried out by an adult.
(2) Governing bodies of schools maintained by local authorities, Academies, city technology colleges and independent schools must-
(a) endeavour to identify any pupil who is a young carer of one or both parents or guardians or for a sibling; (b) promote the educational welfare of young carers; and (c) ensure that any pupil who is a young carer is supported by a designated teacher or member of staff who is responsible for promoting and co-ordinating such support. (3) Where the Chief Inspector carries out an inspection of a maintained school, he shall inspect the performance by it of its functions under this section.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks a better deal for young carers. I have met many young carers recently and I am most impressed by their resilience, dedication and determination. They deserve our full support.
Young carers are young people and children who have a caring responsibility for someone in their family who has a physical or mental illness, a disability or a substance misuse problem. They take on caring responsibilities which are inappropriate to their age, such as personal care for a disabled adult or emotional care for a parent with a mental health problem. In addition, they are often responsible for siblings and all the household chores. Young carers are at risk of educational problems, physical and mental ill health and family breakdown. About 3 million children in the UK are affected by disability in their families. Often due to lack of support for the person being cared for, 175,000 of them become young carers; 13,000 of those care for more than 50 hours per week.
The current DfES guidance to schools, Advice and guidance to Schools and Local Authorities on Managing Behaviour and Attendance: groups of pupils at particular risk, recommends designating a lead member of school staff for young carers. However, very few schools have designated such a professional, and the quality of support for young carers in schools still largely depends on the presence of a voluntary sector young carers' service and the willingness of head teachers to engage with the issue. Some schools still believe that we have no young carers in our schools.
One young person said, “I used to run away from school because I always wanted to be with my mum. I used to think that my mum was going to die. I was about eight … they treated me as if I was playing truant”. No child should have to take on a caring role that prevents them attending school and enjoying the aspects of childhood that others take for granted. We also know that parents hate having to rely on their children for the kinds of intimate support that should be the role of an adult service. Sadly, thousands of them find little alternative. The Education and Inspections Bill is a good opportunity to put the practice recommended by the DfES into law so that young carers will be supported to attend school wherever they live.
At present, the 300-plus voluntary sector young carers services in the UK work hard, with little funding, to help schools identify and support young carers, but the majority of young carers remain unidentified and unsupported throughout their childhood, while those identified are often noticed only once they have reached crisis point and educational opportunities have already been lost. The amendment would ensure that all schools follow the example of the dozens of excellent schools which have realised the benefit of early identification and support for young carers, often co-ordinated by a named member of staff such as a school counsellor or an inclusion worker. The amendment would also result in more schools making links with the services which support people who currently rely on the caring role of a child. Once a family has been put in touch with a more appropriate sort of care, the cared-for person’s reliance on a young carer will often be greatly reduced, to the benefit of the cared-for person’s dignity and the young carer’s education.
Good things have happened since this issue came up in Committee. Representatives from the All-Party Group on Children, which I chair, and from the voluntary sector met Jim Knight during the Recess and discussed the following proposals. First, young carers should respond to the consultation on the new admissions code, particularly with reference to the difficulties faced by young carers responsible for getting younger siblings to a different school or whose parents cannot transport them to school. Secondly, changes are needed to current school transport guidance to ensure that provision of this service to disabled parents is brought in line with the Disability Discrimination Act. Thirdly, research is needed to establish the link between serial truancy and young caring. Fourthly, the Minister should visit a school which is supporting young carers effectively—and there are some. Fifthly, the DfES guidance should be amended and linked to the Prince’s Trust guidance for schools. Sixthly, the Minister should write to the Training and Development Agency for Schools to ask it to think about putting more emphasis on young carers in the initial teacher training and continual professional development for teachers. Next, TeacherNet should link to an electronic version of the Prince’s Trust packs of lessons and assemblies. Finally, a Minister should visit the Young Carers Festival, an annual event for 1,500 young carers. Will my noble friend update the House on what has happened to these proposals?
I thank my noble friend for his personal concern over these issues and look forward to hearing how the Bill can move things forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for bringing the issue before us. I also thank the Minister for copying to me his letter to the noble Baroness of 12 October, from which it is clear that the Government are moving in the right direction. I particularly welcome his point that the key measure for the Government to take is to improve the awareness of young carers’ circumstances amongst teachers and others working with youngsters in schools, with a particular focus on bullying and attendance.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, these young people take on an enormous burden; it affects their education, health, well-being, happiness and ability to grow and enjoy their childhood as other children can. As she also said, and as the Minister said in his letter, these youngsters strongly dislike the stigma of being bracketed with truants or being seen as poorly motivated. They are, in fact, often extremely well motivated.
I welcomed the Minister’s assurance that the department’s anti-bullying guidance Don’t Suffer in Silence is being revised and that it will pay attention to young carers. The key themes that he said were likely to be in the revised document include what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, put in subsection (2)(a) of her amendment: to ensure that schools are better able to identify young carers. The document is likely to address a lot of other good things in relation to young carers. However, it does not include the request in subsection (2)(c) of the amendment to ensure that any pupil who is a young carer is supported by a designated teacher. The noble Baroness also asks that schools promote the educational welfare of young carers. I am sure that that part of the amendment would be covered by other parts of the Bill, but paragraphs (a) and (c) of proposed subsection (2) are very important. Subsection (3) is also important; when Ofsted inspects maintained schools, it should look at how well the school is supporting young carers and give its judgment on that in its report.
Young carers make up only one of many groups of children with some sort of special need, but it is an enormous group, and a hidden one. It is vital that schools have the knowledge and the focused support to help young carers, and are held to account for how well they do.
My Lords, I support the amendment, to which I have added my name, and I support the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, in encouraging the Government to give this complex and delicate issue careful consideration. I thank the Minister for meeting us and for writing to us about the welcome steps being taken.
It has been pointed out that the profile of young people caring for vulnerable adults and their families does not necessarily fit closely with that of looked-after children. Nevertheless, there may be a subgroup of vulnerable children who might be taken into care if they do not receive the support they need from school. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, gave figures to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, showing that between 1995 and 2005 there was a 58 per cent increase in the number of children taken into care and the number of care orders granted. Given what the Green Paper, which is very welcome, says about early intervention to prevent families developing a situation in which their children are taken into care, this might help to reduce the number of young children being taken into care.
I was speaking recently to Kathy Dunnett, the director of a pilot children’s trust in Stevenage and the editor of a recent book on the health of looked-after children. She emphasised that when the school place of a child fails for whatever reason, the risk of eventually being taken into care is much greater. I welcome the Minister’s careful response to these concerns and look forward to his reply.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to an opportunity with regard to young carers that may arise in the forthcoming mental health legislation. The mental health charity for young people, YoungMinds, would like to introduce a new duty on authorities. Where there is a family in which one member is subject to a compulsory order for treatment because of mental health problems, there should be a duty on social services to assess that family and look at the needs of all its members—including, of course, the children. The advantage would be that if the system works correctly, social services could inform the school so that the child could be identified early and get the support needed.
If the Minister thinks it helpful, he might draw this debate and this question to the attention of his colleagues in the Department of Health, which might assist these young people. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I, too, was delighted to add my name to the amendment. It is very important to recognise the huge progress made with regard to young carers in recent years. It has been a long time since people said that there was no such thing as a young carer. But there are still too many gaps in the services, and there is far too great a gap in the recognition of young carers. School has always been the area which would be most amenable to change.
With regard to the noble Earl’s comments, we fought very hard to get young carers’ right to assessment included in the first two carers’ Acts. It is already on the statute book. Recognition of young carers, however far we go with it, is no substitute for proper services provided to the person with the disability.
I have another word of caution. When we talk about recognising young carers, nobody is suggesting that we want to deny those caring instincts in young people. We want them to be caring, loving and to have a duty and responsibility towards their parents; we just do not want them to be carrying inappropriate burdens, which so many of them are. In recognising the progress that we have made, can we also remember that even minor changes in practice in schools or elsewhere can result in huge changes in support and recognition for young carers?
I am delighted to support the amendments.
My Lords, I signal my support, too. Following on from the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, I should like to put in a word for disabled carers. Some of them start out disabled but quite a few have back injuries from helping a disabled parent, for example. It is right that they should not have to do that. Also, I believe that the incidence of mental illness among young carers is 33 per cent greater than among other children.
My Lords, I very much support the inclusion of this new clause. I was lucky enough to be on the list of people who had the Minister’s letter, which contained a full explanation of what had been done. I congratulate him and his department on that.
My first point, on young carers, has been mentioned already. A lot of them are fearful that they will be taken into care and that the family will be broken up. Any way in which it is possible to give them extra support so that they can combine their schooling needs and the other needs that children have, as well as seeing that their family remains together, is much to be welcomed.
On bullying, I would like to think that most schools and governing bodies could take into account in their general discussions about life today just how lucky most children are who do not have these extra responsibilities and problems to cope with. By setting such an example, they might help people to see that bullying is not only inappropriate but unbelievably unkind in every respect.
Finally, can we have an assurance that governing bodies will consider these issues at least once a year, as well as identifying the individuals? Will they discuss what the situation is like generally throughout the country and whether there can be any mutual help and co-operation even between schools on the issue?
I welcome what has already been done. Whether the new clause can be added to the Bill is another matter, perhaps, but it is certainly an important amendment.
My Lords, I lend my support to the amendment. I agree that young carers are a special case of young people who need to be admired and supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, drew attention to the fact that there are many other groups of children who need support of one kind or another. But what worries me is that we are laying yet another burden on schools and teachers—or is that what we are doing? I cannot help wondering whether there might not be a formula whereby, through pairing or mentoring, young people themselves could volunteer to be helpful—or perhaps that role could be taken by the parents of other pupils or the friends of a pupil who is a carer, if they were prepared to be welcoming and helpful and contribute towards the caring role.
I believe that every child in every school should have a tutor—an adult to whom they can turn and whom they know, preferably in the longish term, who is responsible for and interested in their worries, concerns and behaviour as well as their work. That is one of the major factors that distinguishes the best independent schools from most state schools. A child needs someone to turn to.
My Lords, I want to build on the issue of services to the adult rather than the young carer. If those services were seriously in place, the young carer’s emotional stability would be much improved. Clearly, they, too, need support because of the anxiety that they have about the parent. But looking at the recent report from the Commission for Social Care Inspection on the availability of home care services, we can see that, although there are more hours, those hours are going to fewer and fewer people. From my contacts, I know that if you have back pain, which means that you are quite seriously inconvenienced if not totally disabled, the likelihood of your getting help is very narrow indeed, and your child is therefore going to spend a great deal of time caring in the home.
We should face the realities of those issues, especially now that adult and child services are separated. I hope that the Minister will encourage children’s trusts to be firmly in touch with the adult social care services in their area in co-ordinating the work for these young people and other vulnerable young people in schools, because I have some anxieties that these splits will make it even more difficult to get the right service to the right people at a time when, even if gross resources are not shrinking, net resources sometimes are.
My Lords, I will be extremely brief. We very much welcome the good news that we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. It has been a good debate in which to raise some key issues about young carers.
Without meaning to stray from the amendment, I wish to add one thought. The other evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, introduced an amendment during the faith debate, which most of us will remember well, in which she promoted assemblies in schools. I have been thinking about young carers in relation to assemblies. It is important that their peer group and fellow pupils should learn to understand what young carers are going through and what they are coping with, and the best conduit for that would be through regular assemblies. That would be a way in which to introduce some of these hugely important issues, which are now much more out in the open and which we should feel free to discuss. It would make a huge difference on bullying, too. I worry that the incidence of bullying and other problems relating to children in school has grown because of the lack of assemblies—children coming together regularly and feeling a sense of belonging, cohesion and inclusiveness within their school.
My Lords, we are very grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for focusing attention on this issue. I agree with virtually all the points that have been raised in the debate. A number of points related to action that the Government can and should take, but several of them related directly to the attitude that schools should be adopting on young carers. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, made a very important point about the operation of children’s trusts and their responsibility to join up services. This is a classic example of an issue on which, unless the services are joined up—the services and support that the school can provide for the young carer and the support that adult social services can and should provide for the individual being cared for—huge strains will be placed on families and some of the most vulnerable people in society. Both those being cared for and the carers themselves come into that category. I very much hope that my department and the Local Government Association will draw the noble Baroness’s remarks to the attention of its responsible officers.
I was glad to have the opportunity to meet my noble friend Lady Massey to discuss these issues more fully, and to meet the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, too. I wrote to them afterwards and placed a copy of my full response in the Library of the House so that other noble Lords can look at it. I accept that we need to do more in this area, and shall set out some of the work that is train.
The recurring theme in our discussions has been the need to improve awareness of young carers’ circumstances among those who work in schools, with a particular focus on the issues of bullying and attendance. Bullying at school can affect any child’s self-esteem, motivation and achievement, and it is particularly unacceptable that young carers should face this additional burden. We propose that the issue of young carers should be highlighted in the forthcoming revision of my department’s anti-bullying guidance, Don’t Suffer in Silence. We are currently in the early stages of drafting the guidance, and our advisory group will review the position at the end of this month. The group is planning to review a final draft in mid-December, and final publication is scheduled for February 2007.
The relevant key themes likely to be in the revised document that have particular relevance to young carers are as follows. First, induction and information procedures should ensure that schools can identify any young carers, to specify what their specialist anti-bullying needs might be and to put in place appropriate strategies. Secondly, there should be greater awareness that young carers may be in the at-risk group of pupils who are particularly vulnerable to being bullied. Thirdly, links to voluntary organisations supporting young carers should be highlighted, with encouragement to use those organisations in developing school policies. Fourthly, there should be a requirement to identify incidents involving young carers as such in schools’ records.
Poor attendance or lateness is of course a serious issue for many young carers. It is important that we avoid stigmatising such young carers as truants or as poorly motivated pupils, when often the reverse is in fact the case. It is already possible for schools themselves to authorise young carers’ absences where necessary. That is explicitly covered in my department’s guidance on attendance management, issued last year. Of course none of us would want to recommend any approach that would effectively reduce the young carer’s access to learning, but we entirely accept that teachers should have discretion in individual cases, and should know that they have that discretion. There should be a sensible degree of flexibility in ensuring that young carers can engage in their responsibilities while still making the very best of school.
In all this, my department has been working with, and indeed helps to fund, the leading voluntary organisations with an interest in young carers’ issues, notably the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. We will be incorporating links to the trust’s material when it is finalised on my department’s behaviour and attendance website. We have also asked the trust for its suggestions to strengthen our guidance on young carers in our web-based document, Managing Behaviour and Attendance: groups of pupils at particular risk.
I believe that these measures, together with other relevant material such as links to the Disability Discrimination Act, will significantly strengthen our support for young carers. My department undertakes to ensure that it uses its well established communication channels with teachers, schools and local authorities—most notably our TeacherNet website—to draw attention to the importance of the measures and to the Government’s expectations for their application to improve the lives of all pupils who have caring responsibilities. I also stress that the existing provisions under the Education Act 2002 require maintained schools and those independent schools to which we provide funding to guard and promote the welfare of all their pupils, a key group of whom are young carers.
I hope that I have demonstrated that, while we have a great deal more to do, we are committed to making as much progress as we can.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I know that he is committed to, and concerned about, this issue. I thank him also for the many meetings that he has held on it, and for all his correspondence, which has been complete and very helpful.
This has been a good debate. There have been many interesting and passionate contributions from many people who have great expertise on this matter. On the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about the faith schools debate, I hope that she did not think that I was advocating the abolition of assemblies. I am not. I am saying that they should not be restricted to worship.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for allowing me to intervene. On the contrary, I was looking on assemblies as providing an important add-on to worship. The lack of school assemblies now throughout the country in our maintained system is a reason why we have an increase in bullying and a lack of recognition among children’s peer groups of what is happening to those young carers, for example.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that remark. I think that we agree that assemblies are useful to introduce all kinds of topics that should be considered as part of the spiritual dimension within a school.
Many of us in this House today will keep a close eye on what happens to young carers on whatever agenda may come up in forthcoming policy and legislation. The Minister has indicated strong support for the spirit of this amendment. Much progress has been made, and guidance will reinforce the support for young carers and families that we all require and think is a good idea. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 39 [Code for school admissions]:
Page 29, line 35, at end insert “including the need for all names to be removed from admission applications when they are considered by schools and admissions forums,”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 58, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 60 to 69 and 71. I shall speak briefly about the former amendments, as the main debate should be about the ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the various experimental admissions procedures that he proposes in his amendments, which I think are interesting and which all seek to make admissions systems fairer in different ways.
Amendment No. 58 seeks to make applications anonymous by removing the names of the applicants, so that the only factors that apply are the criteria laid down in the admissions policies set out both in the code of admissions and by the relevant school or local education authority, whichever is the admissions authority. Sometimes these factors are proximity, Church membership—in the case of faith schools—or banding, for a local education authority. The whole notion of anonymised admissions means that admission cannot be influenced by preferences such as ethnic origin, which can be told from names, or by staff acquaintance or any other such factor.
When we raised this matter in Committee, I mentioned that it had been favoured by the Commons Select Committee when it considered the White Paper proposals. We were somewhat disappointed that the Government had not taken up that suggestion. The Minister was surprisingly encouraging in his response. He said on 18 July at col. 1275 of Hansard that the Government might take up that suggestion in the future but that for the moment it was “a step too far”. He saw one obstacle as the current state of IT systems. But in all conscience, given the number of examination papers that over the years have been submitted and marked anonymously, I cannot see why that should pose a problem. We realise that large IT systems have caused the Government problems but that does not necessarily seem to inhibit them putting forward proposals for even bigger systems; for example, the development of a computer database itemising all children on the national children’s register and an even bigger database covering identity cards. But in this case any such system would have to be administered not by central government but by local authorities. A lot of local authorities have shown themselves adept at handling the size of database that would be required.
The Minister also mentioned the sibling issue. Since the Government have in their current admissions code come down against schools giving preference to siblings, that seems to me irrelevant. From a personal point of view I believe that there is a good case for giving preference to siblings. Even if such preference were to be given, it seems to me that it could be well handled within such a database.
We have retabled the amendment because we did not consider that either of the two objections—the fact that a database would be required to handle the anonymised applications and the sibling issue—held much water. We are anxious to press the Government to give the matter a little more consideration. As I say, in this context it might fit well alongside one of the pilots and the various schemes suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I have added my name to his Amendment No. 71, which suggests that oversubscribed state schools should allocate a proportion of places via a ballot. We were particularly attracted to his amendment in Committee that a school might allocate some 75 per cent of its places on the basis of proximity or faith based criteria and put the remaining 25 per cent up for ballot. His proposals are now slightly different but I shall let him argue his case for himself.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 60 to 69, including Amendments Nos. 60A and 60B, which were originally overlooked. This whole series of amendments, which we have tabled on behalf of the LGA, seek to amend Clause 40 to put a duty on local authorities to produce a report on admissions rather than just giving the power—it is a question of may rather than must—to admission forums to do so. It is worth remembering that admission forums act in effect as agencies for local government and are composed of representatives from local schools as well as LEA officials. Their job is to sort out admissions, given the criteria laid down by the code of admissions and by the appropriate admission authority at the local level. They work for and are answerable to local government and the schools that are the admission authorities at that level.
It is also worth remembering that Clause 1 places a new duty on local authorities to ensure fair access to educational opportunity. Admissions are a crucial part of fulfilling that duty. Being required to produce a regular report would strengthen the hand of local authorities in fulfilling their strategic role in overseeing the fair admissions process. Moreover, it is logical that as the body responsible for ensuring fair access, and given that the admission forum is answerable to the local authority, it should be the local authority rather than the admission forum that is ultimately responsible for producing the report. It should, of course, be written in consultation with the admission forum. That is why we have drafted Amendment No. 60 to read:
“A local education authority in England, in consultation with the admission forum for that local education authority area, must”.
The report would encompass all state schools in that area including academies and city technology colleges. In the amendments, on the one hand there is the notion that in applying for schools the name of the child should be taken away when they are being considered by the local admission forums so that the application is in all respects anonymous. Secondly, there is the idea that the report on how admissions are working should be a responsibility of the local education authority. Both seem to us to be reasonable amendments. I hope that the Government will look favourably on them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 71 to 73. At present, we have a state system that is almost entirely socially selective, or where it is not it is capable of being socially selective. Those with money and the ability to manipulate their own lives can choose where they live and overcome any geographical criterion, can tutor their child or send them to private schools as the ultimate form of tutoring to get into grammar schools, which is why they have captured that sector of the state market, or they can, and do in large quantities, suddenly become religious to qualify for Catholic or Church of England schools. I observe all of this in my daily life as editor of the Good Schools Guide.
I applaud parents wanting to do better for their children. It is a great motivating force and a great good. It is something that we should all encourage. We have let this great force act entirely for the benefit of the people who are applying it. Ought we not to have learnt from Adam Smith that where you have a great force of this nature—in Adam Smith’s case the desire to better oneself financially—it can be harnessed to the good of society, and then everyone benefits from it? That is really what we ought to be trying to do in schools, and it seems to me that there are various ways of going about it. One obvious one, which might appeal to my Front Bench, is to allow anyone to establish a state school whenever they wanted to; to have complete freedom of establishment of state schools, so that if someone wanted a good state school in an area where there was not one they could go out and establish one. That is a fairly expensive way of doing it, but it is certainly theoretically attractive. I do not think that it will work with this Government, and I do not think it is on the cards in the near future.
We can look at improving admission arrangements to see whether we can make sure that at least an element of them is not capable of social manipulation, or at least is very difficult to manipulate socially. The Government are trying this a bit through banding, but where banding has been in place for a while, say with some of the early city technology colleges, the middle classes are getting pretty good at working it. You get to know the pattern, and you say to your kid, “Come on, we want you to do a bit worse than that”. You make sure they get in to band B or band C so that they can get the admissions from where you are living. It is all a process that is capable of manipulation.
The system that I like is the one that is not often employed, but I came across it first with Haberdashers’ Hatcham, which is one of the new academies where they have gone for balloted admissions. If you set the bounds of your ballot sufficiently wide—Hatcham has it at three miles—you can encompass such a broad section of the population and such a large number of houses that it becomes pretty impossible to predict whether you will get in on a ballot from any particular location. There are certainly no other known ways of working a ballot. So you open a good school up—and Haberdashers’ Hatcham is a good school—to anyone regardless of their ability to take advantage of conventional means of admission. It seems to me that ballots have the potential to open up schools in a way that grammar schools used to; to anyone. The old grammar school system—which had many iniquities and which I did not support—at least allowed people to get on to the education ladder from wherever they happened to be in society. We need to produce something that has that breadth, and ballots seem to me to be the way to do it.
Given that, how do we get there? Amendment No. 71 is an exploration of how we get there. I do not think you can do it straight away. You cannot come in and suddenly say that 25 per cent of school admissions shall be by ballot. You disturb communities too much, and you disturb reasonable parental expectations of what the system would look like. You would find yourself immediately unpopular with a large section of society and it is not doable.
However, even those who benefit most from the current system have a strong social conscience. Many of the people who play the current system hard are fervent Guardian readers with deep social consciences, who would be delighted at the idea that they were bringing other people with them in the success that they were finding for their children. There is no doubt also that the breadth of middle-class England would wish to see the whole community benefit from the sort of good schools that their children were going to.
If balloting is introduced gradually, and I propose that it is brought in at 5 per cent and then in gradual 5 per cent increments—although that could be faster, but there would be no compulsion—a predictable move towards 25 per cent would be introduced and be acceptable to those who benefit from the current system, but, within a reasonable time in the context of educational timescales, would achieve a much fairer admissions system.
Subsection (3) of my amendment is concerned with grammar and faith schools. After all, by their nature, they draw children from a wide geographical spread. Is it enough to say that those schools should have geographical selection, as well? I suspect that the answer is that it is not. As the Minister knows, I do not accept the arguments made by faith schools that admitting pupils from outside the faith destroys the faith element of the school and I certainly do not believe that accepting pupils who are not academically tip-top destroys the ethos of a grammar school.
There are many successful bilateral schools in this country where there is a strong academic stream and an un-selected stream. They mix extremely well and, although there is an academic ethos, such schools have the virtue of producing a broad spread of pupils. That is a successful model; so I do not believe that grammar schools would suffer from being required to have balloted admissions. If it were left completely up to me, I would probably leave out subsection (3), so that every school would have to have unconditional ballots.
Amendment No. 72 looks at the issue from the other side. Many parents want to know where their children are going, want to choose a good local school and do not want to be thrown into a cauldron in which they might not be accepted by any of the schools that they select. They want certainty. Balloted admission systems would produce a guaranteed place for those pupils. That, too, would be done gradually.
In good schools, all admissions would be by guaranteed place to begin with, because everyone who lived locally would want their children to go to a good school. You would then say to that school, “You have either to expand and take on some extra places that, in time, would be filled by ballot, or gradually you have to reduce the number of guaranteed places to make room for the balloted places”. Thereby, a system could evolve in which every child has a guaranteed place and every school has approaching 25 per cent of its places allocated by ballot. The whole system would balance between one year and another—not perfectly in any particular year but, if there is an imbalance, it would gradually work itself out and produce a much fairer system. The guaranteed element would thus produce a system that would be welcome to those who did not wish to take part in a fully balloted system.
Clearly, that complicated system could not be enacted merely by a Back-Bench amendment at a late stage in the Bill, but perhaps we can open things up so that local education authorities can explore that route and propose systems to the Government whereby these two characteristics can be brought into play in local admission systems. Amendment No. 73 would allow the Government to run a few pilots to see how the system would work and, after 10 years, we could come back and say, “This is the way we want to go”.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is inviting the House to reconstitute as a think tank in order to think about particularly adventurous ways in which we might reform the admissions system at some point in the future. I applaud him for doing so. I assure him that he has given me a good deal of food for thought over the past two days as I have tried to get my mind around precisely how his system would work. I spent a lot of time trying to work out how his system of guaranteed places, together with the ballots, might work and how we might develop the system in due course.
Frankly, some of the suggestions put forward by the noble Lord are valuable and I am encouraging my department to continue to give them the attention that they merit. However, I think he will forgive me if I say that we need to move cautiously in this area. Taking his system of guaranteed places as an example, we could not afford for there to be insufficient places for children in a locality. What would be the interaction between the guaranteed places and the ballot which he proposes? The noble Lord wishes us to remove other criteria from school admissions—I know that he is not a great fan of faith criteria—but I do not think that he is proposing to go the whole way and remove the other 75 per cent in schools that have a faith criteria. Therefore, the interaction between those two would be difficult.
In order to demonstrate to the noble Lord that I have taken this issue seriously, I have looked at what it might mean for particular local authorities and I have to say that the system would be deeply problematic. For example, one authority that I looked at was the London Borough of Lambeth. It was the first that came to mind but there are many others where there might be problems. The London Borough of Lambeth would not have nearly enough school places for its own population if all parents there were to elect to send their children to schools in the borough—that is, if it were to try to adopt the guaranteed place regime. There would be huge problems. For example, in Lambeth in the admissions round that is coming up—
My Lords, perhaps I may just give the facts and I shall come to the Mayor of London in a moment. There are 2,420 11 year-olds coming up in the admissions round in Lambeth but all the Lambeth schools combined have places for only 1,672 children. I think that about two-thirds of those places are in faith schools at the moment, and the number of non-faith school places available in Lambeth each year is 535.
We are seeking substantially to boost that number. We are working very closely with Lambeth council to establish new schools, including academies, and to encourage more parents to send their children to local schools across class, in exactly the way that the noble Lord wishes to see happen. We want to improve the quality of education for all parts of the community, but getting the balance right will be a slow process. There are many inner-city areas where this pattern of insufficient places has developed over the years—
My Lords, it is not the case that you cannot possibly run such an ingenious system as that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because some schools are faith schools. Surely Parliament can tell faith schools what to do as much as it can any other school.
My Lords, I said that it would not be desirable; I did not say that it was not possible. All things are possible within an enlightened Government such as this one, but I was saying that it would not be desirable to do so. Given that it is not the Government's policy, nor, I believe, that of Parliament, to remove the capacity of faith schools to receive state funding, this would be a major obstacle to being able to move in the direction favoured by the noble Lord.
I am a strong supporter of the Mayor of London but his capacity to wave a magic wand in this area is going to be limited unless there is another whole layer of education bureaucracy in London, which is what would happen if the Mayor himself became a responsible agent in school places planning. I think that the local authorities in London, let alone schools, would quail at the prospect of another whole layer of bureaucracy being interposed. I completely understand the ideas put forward by the noble Lord but I think that, although they may be applicable in certain circumstances, this matter will need to continue to be debated before we can make progress in some of the directions that he set out.
However, in respect of the unconditional ballots to which he referred and which we debated in Committee, we have made a substantial indication in the new school admissions code, which was published recently and which I circulated to noble Lords, about the applicability of random allocation as a legitimate over-subscription criteria for state schools.
Paragraphs 2.25 to 2.27 set out the circumstances in which that can happen:
“Random allocation of school places can be good practice particularly for urban areas and secondary schools”.
I believe that is the context the noble Lord had in mind, where social segregation can be particularly pronounced. However, it notes that it may not be suitable in rural areas where there is not the capacity for individuals to move so easily between schools.
Paragraphs 2.26 and 2.27 set out how we believe that random allocation should work:
“If admissions authorities decide to use random allocation when schools are oversubscribed they need to set out clearly how this will be operated, and must ensure that arrangements are transparent. They should undertake a fresh round of random allocation when deciding who should be offered a place from a waiting list, and should not use the results of an earlier round of random allocation, as this would disadvantage those who had applied for a place at the school after the first random allocation was carried out”.
I cite that to show we have been giving serious thought to how this could work in practice and the guidance that we can give to schools. We also note that it would be desirable that admissions authorities should ensure that random allocations are supervised by someone independent of the school. I hope that that guidance may encourage more of the kinds of policies cited by the noble Lord in respect of Haberdashers and that that may create a climate in which schools are more confident in using such unfamiliar, at present, forms of oversubscription criteria.
Amendment No. 58, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to include anonymisation of admissions applications, we still consider to be problematic. I repeat what I said in Committee that, although I will ensure that my officials discuss with local authorities and software suppliers whether there is a cost-effective way to take this forward, we believe that we can move only at the speed at which the administrative processes can cope.
I reiterate the point about siblings. I believe that the noble Baroness may have been under a misunderstanding about what the school's admissions code says about siblings. It is not correct to say that it states that the admission of siblings is poor practice. I want to establish that clearly as it is a very important issue for schools. Paragraphs 2.10 and 2.11 of the draft admissions code on page 19 make it clear that siblings policies may be reasonable. Paragraph 2.10 states:
“Giving priority to children who have siblings who will be at the school when they join may support parents of young children. Admission authorities should give consideration particularly to the needs of younger children at primary schools, where parents may have problems with transporting children placed at different schools. Admissions authorities should also carefully consider how twins or triplets or other relatives, including those adopted, living permanently in the household will be treated if a sibling criterion is adopted”.
It is not correct to say that the draft admissions code gives advice to schools against siblings policies. On the contrary, it says that they should carefully consider the needs of parents, particularly in respect of younger children, when placing children in different schools.
The point which the noble Baroness may have picked up from the media which may have led to her remarks is that we state, in paragraphs 2.12 and 2.13, that schools which select by ability or aptitude need to think very carefully about whether siblings policies in those cases are blatantly unfair. They would enable parents who have managed to get one child into the school through a selective criterion to have all their children admitted.
I make that point because, as the noble Baroness knows, often in schools with a siblings policy a high proportion of the places go to siblings. Where there is a siblings policy, the admissions authority would need to know the names of applicants, or it would need to have addresses from which it could ascertain whether applicants come from the household of a child who is already present at the school. That could be done only by making personal information available to the admissions authority. I elaborate that point to make it clear that there are significant practical issues in taking forward what I accept would be desirable in principle—that admissions should be more anonymised—so that the school system is, and is seen to be, fairer.
Amendments Nos. 60 to 69 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would require a local authority, in consultation with the admissions forum, to prepare and publish reports on admissions matters in its area. There is no need to place such a requirement on local authorities. They already have powers to make reports as they see fit. There is no limitation whatever on a local authority’s power to act in this area. The Local Government Association seems to want us to oblige local authorities to do things that they are at perfect liberty to do anyway, an unusual position for it to adopt. It is normally against us telling authorities to do things they have the power to do or not to do. I am prepared to rest on the maturity of local authorities to make these decisions for themselves without us needing to tell them to do so.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad he is taking up some of the ideas proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As the Minister says, in some sense the noble Lord is acting as a think tank for the department on some of these issues.
I hope that we can perhaps see the use of random ballots, in particular, where there is over-application. Having lived in an inner-London borough, and having experienced the selection processes at 11, I know how incredibly complicated they can get. Some schools are enormously over-subscribed, and the use of a random ballot seems a fair way of allocating those places. Perhaps we could see greater use of that sort of procedure.
I accept what the Minister says on the anonymisation of applications. One can only move forward and, as the Minister says, the development of the software must take place in conjunction with local authorities. I am relieved to hear what the Minister says about siblings. I am not sure why I got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and am relieved because I felt that giving no preference to siblings would have been a retrograde step. I think some admissions authorities are moving away from giving siblings preference at secondary school level, but I will check back and perhaps come back to the Minister on a one-to-one basis. It would still be possible, once siblings have been taken out of the selection process, for over-subscription to be sorted out on a random basis. Be that as it may, I accept that both issues currently pose something of a problem.
I am interested to hear what the Minister says about the LGA already having powers to make such a report. The Bill clearly gives the duty to the admissions authority rather than the LEA, but I shall make certain that the LGA—we tabled these amendments on its behalf—knows what the Minister’s answer is. If it is not satisfied, we may come back to it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
After Clause 39, insert the following new clause-
“INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF ADMISSION ARRANGEMENTS
(1) The Secretary of State shall, within three years of the passing of this Act, appoint an independent body to review the arrangements in England relating to the admission of secondary school pupils and to make appropriate recommendations.
(2) The body shall be known as the Independent Review of Arrangements for Admission to Secondary Education in England, and for the purposes of this section shall be known as the “Independent Review Body”.
(3) The Independent Review Body's remit shall include the workings of admission arrangements under Part 3 of SSFA 1998 (as amended by sections 38 to 53 of this Act) and the arrangements under section 38(1) to (3) of this Act, and in particular it shall consider the degree to which admission arrangements are helping, or otherwise, to promote social integration, diversity and community cohesion.
(4) The Independent Review Body shall invite representations and evidence from-
(a) teacher associations; (b) local authorities; (c) parents and governors; (d) pupils in secondary schools; (e) employers; (f) such other persons as it considers appropriate. (5) The Secretary of State shall provide the Independent Review Body with sufficient resources to enable it to commission research into the workings of the new admission arrangements and their impact on community and social cohesion.
(6) The Independent Review Body shall report to the Secretary of State within two years of being appointed and the Secretary of State shall lay the report before Parliament within six months of receipt together with proposals detailing how he intends to implement its recommendations.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I argued the case for an independent review of admissions arrangements in Committee. I do not intend to repeat those arguments today. My main points are, however, worth a brief recap so that we can see the amendment in context.
First, this legislation is introducing a new type of school, which the Government and the Opposition would like to see become the predominant type of school in England: the trust school or, in the wording of the Bill,
“a foundation school with a foundation”.
We already have foundation schools, as we know, but most of them do not actually have foundations behind them. The model propounded here is that of a foundation school with a foundation behind it.
The Government originally proposed that, in addition to other elements of independence, these schools should also be given freedom over their admissions, just as current foundation, voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools have freedom over their admissions within the general code of admissions. However, that position was substantially modified in response to concerns expressed in the House of Commons. In consequence, in the Bill and in the newly issued code of admissions, we now see considerable tightening of admissions procedures, with all kinds of practices that were allowed in the past, such as interviewing or requiring expensive and unusual uniforms, now regarded as bad practice. Admissions authorities are now required not simply to have regard to the new code of admissions, but to adhere to it.
Research evidence, to which I referred in Committee, shows that where schools can set their own admissions criteria, there tends to be greater selectivity and social segregation. On Tuesday, we discussed amendments dealing with faith schools and the problem that residential segregation mirrored by segregation in schools leads to segregated communities. For these reasons—the changes in school structures and admission arrangements and worries about social segregation being involved in schools—there is a strong case for commissioning a review of the impact the changes will have; whether schools are becoming more or less segregated as a result of the changes that will be made; whether the new admissions arrangements are succeeding in achieving a more equitable social mix; and whether they are throwing up other problems.
In Committee, the Minister agreed and said it is important that we keep the national effects of admission arrangements under review. He then pointed out that the schools commissioner will be required to make a report to the Secretary of State every two years using the reports for the local admissions forums. However, procedures got a bit muddled at that point, and I was unable to respond to the Minister on this issue. If I had been able to do so, I would have pointed out that the schools commissioner, who has just been appointed, is hardly an independent authority. The press release announcing his appointment made clear that his primary role is to support and promote the development of trust schools. Indeed, it is notable that although the press release lists five responsibilities—promoting trust schools; identifying suitable partners and sponsors for those schools; working with local authorities to help them develop their role as commissioning agents for school places; ensuring local authorities are meeting their duties to promote parental choice, greater diversity and fair access; and working strategically on reorganisation with a small number of local authorities—gathering admissions forum reports and reporting on what is happening is not one of them.
I have therefore brought this amendment back. The timescales are now realistic—in Committee, I agreed that the timescales in the original amendment were unrealistic—and I urge the Government to consider it very seriously. They are introducing great changes, and it is right and proper that there should be a full, independent review of those changes after they have been made. That review cannot be independent if it is written by someone employed by the department specifically to make those changes happen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Sharp. I apologise for my inability to be here on the first day of Report on this fascinating Bill. I shall be brief. My noble friend has put her finger on a great need in the Bill.
In his interesting contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave some of the reasons why an independent review is crucial. He pointed out that how parents choose schools is greatly affected by where they happen to live. We all know that property around a school with a good reputation often shows a much sharper increase in value than could be explained simply by the nature of the territory itself. For example, in my own area, the very high rating of a school in the league tables has led to a substantial increase in property prices in its catchment area. That is not a good reason for admission but one of the factors that have led to quite sharp social distinctions between schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also referred to the importance of trying to move towards ballots as a way of making admissions to schools fairer. I think that all of us recognise that the Government have committed themselves throughout the Bill to those who have criticised it on the grounds that admissions might once again become selective—and there are great pressures in that direction.
A great deal of tension is implicit in the Bill. Because of league tables and the publication of tests, parents nowadays have a much clearer idea which schools are doing well and which are not doing so well. Articulate and well informed parents able to interrelate with the education system will therefore have an informed view of what school they want their child to attend, therefore the pressures are much more towards such parents than ever before. Without a careful review of admissions and the admissions structure, it will be very difficult to determine whether the Bill has carried out the Government’s intentions. I have always been very concerned that the pressures on the education system after the Bill is enacted will be very hard to reconcile.
My noble friend suggested that there should be an admissions review. I agree with the Minister that the original timescales were far too short. Three years seems a very sensible period in which to determine whether what the Government have pledged is emerging, and it is important for the Government to commit to their own beliefs by indicating their willingness to engage in such an independent review.
As my noble friend Lady Sharp pointed out, the schools commissioner is not an adequate channel for this purpose. He is bound by the nature of his job to commit very heavily to government policies. Therefore, the case for an independent review, and one which brings in the groups of people my noble friend has referred to, seems very powerful. I strongly support the case she has made out.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is concerned that our proposed process for reviewing admissions arrangements is not sufficiently robust. I hope I can satisfy her that that is not so. First, as she said, the Bill will make the admissions regime much tougher. The new code is much more stringent in the requirements it places on schools and the limitations it places on practices, such as interviewing, that we do not regard as desirable but that none the less were taking place. Schools must act in accordance with it; it is not sufficient for them simply to have regard to it. The Bill strikes out certain practices, such as interviewing, that were permissible. So the regime governing admissions is both fairer and tougher under the Bill.
Secondly, admissions forums will have the power to produce a report on the effectiveness of admissions arrangements. That will include judging the extent to which local admission arrangements support diversity, including the ethnic and social mix of schools. On our first day on Report I read out the guidance given in respect of those admissions forums, which is very clear on these duties, as is the new draft admissions code which has come out since that guidance. Paragraph 4.10 says:
“Admissions Forums have a key role in ensuring a fair admissions system that promotes social equity”.
It goes on to say that admissions forums should assess how well the admissions arrangements,
“serve the interests of local parents and children collectively, and try to promote agreement on admissions issues”.
That is a significant move forward from the previous regime.
Thirdly, the new school admissions code requires admission authorities to adopt arrangements which support social cohesion and diversity. Forums will have a new right of objection in cases where arrangements do not comply with requirements in the code or follow its guidelines. The forums can lodge objections with the adjudicator, which is a new power that gives a much more immediate local response to perceived unfairness in admissions practices than was possible before.
In addition to those three measures, fourthly, we come to the schools commissioner and his role in undertaking the national review of fair admissions. The noble Baroness thinks that we do not go far enough and proposes an independent body but, in fact, we have gone considerably further than before. Before the appointment of the schools commissioner with his duties in respect of fair admissions, no national body had such responsibility, whereas under the new regime the new schools commissioner, Sir Bruce Liddington, will take account of admission forums’ reports and other data to produce a report every two years on how local admissions support fair access. In doing so, he will consult all the groups set out in proposed subsection (4) of the amendment, and the Government have undertaken that we will lay his report before Parliament, where it will be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses when it is so laid.
In conclusion, the time to judge whether the regime is working is when the schools commissioner has laid that report. I note that in her amendment the noble Baroness does not envisage her independent review being completed within three years anyway, so if the new regime that we intend to put in place, which is a significant advance, is found not to be sufficiently robust, the time to return to it is when we see how it is actually working. We should not do what we fear would happen under the amendment: set in place yet another layer of bureaucracy in the system, over and above that which we are already introducing with the admissions forums and the schools commissioner.
My Lords, the commissioner has a number of responsibilities, but we do not see them as conflicting. I think that it is a point of difference between us; we have never accepted that the promotion of trust schools will lead to any loss of equity in admissions in an area. On the contrary, the obligations on schools, including trust schools, to have equitable admissions arrangements will be stronger after the Bill than before. For example, the new trust schools will have to act in accordance with the code of practice on admissions, whereas all schools, including community schools, had only to have regard to it before.
I do not accept that there is a conflict between the different roles. On the contrary, the expertise that the commissioner develops, which will be detailed because of his other work involving responsibility for the operation of the schools system locality by locality, will make him singularly well equipped to review fair admissions. As I say, if that proves not to be the case after the commissioner's report has been laid, it will then be perfectly reasonable for noble Lords who are concerned to return to the issue. I hope that the House will not prejudge the effectiveness of that regime, which has every prospect of offering success.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to the amendment. He says that this is a very great advance on what has gone before, but he must recognise that the Bill is making considerable changes to the structure of both the schools system and the admissions system. He has already noted the substantial changes that have been taking place in the admissions system.
I grant that the schools commissioner will lay a report before Parliament, but I put it to the Minister that we are calling for an independent review, rather than for someone within the system to carry out the review. In that sense, our proposal would not add an extra layer of bureaucracy; it is, if I may say so, a practice used frequently by the present Government. When you have a problem with modern languages, you find someone to come in to do an independent review to advise the Government. That is precisely what we are suggesting that the Government should do. Given the substantial changes taking place, when we see how the system is working down the line, it should be reviewed but not by someone employed by the Department for Education and Skills, who would be parti pris to what is taking place.
There is a very strong case for an independent review. I take on board the Minister’s point that the commissioner will have responsibility for gathering up the local reports. The local reports are interesting, of course, but equally they apply only to a particular locality. What is happening in a locality is interesting, but one wants a report that takes an overarching view of all the different areas involved and that can draw a conclusion about how far the new code of admissions and the new structures in schools are doing what the Government rightly say they set up themselves. Clause 1 says:
“A local education authority shall ensure that their functions relating to the provision of education to which this section applies are (so far as they are capable of being so exercised) exercised by the authority with a view to … promoting high standards”,
“in the case of a local education authority in England, ensuring fair access to educational opportunity”.
That is the objective set out at the beginning of the Bill. Given the changes the Government are making, we are asking for the chance to have an independent review.
We are not totally happy, but we take on board what the Minister says and will think about it. We may bring this back at Third Reading but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 40 [Role of admission forums]:
[Amendments Nos. 60 to 73 not moved.]
Clause 45 [Restrictions on alteration of admission arrangements]:
Page 34, leave out lines 46 to 48 and insert-
“(1) Where in accordance with section 90(8) the admission authority for a maintained school in England have revised any provisions of admission arrangements for a school year, this section applies except to the extent that the adjudicator or the Secretary of State determined under section 90(5B)(bb), in relation to any change required, that this section was not to apply.”
The noble Lord said: This amendment and Amendments Nos. 75 to 78 are minor amendments to Clauses 45 and 46. Cumulatively, they enable the schools adjudicator to consider, when he makes a determination on an objection to admission arrangements, whether his decision should be binding for the full period permitted by regulations, or whether a lesser period is more appropriate. This gives him the flexibility to make sensible determinations that take account of local circumstances.
Amendment No. 150 gives the authority for Clause 42 to be commenced by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 35, line 4, at end insert-
““the required number” means such number as may be prescribed or such lesser number as is specified by the adjudicator or the Secretary of State under section 90(5B)(bb) in relation to a particular change.”
Page 35, line 7, leave out “a prescribed” and insert “the required”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 46 [Objections to admission arrangements]:
Page 35, line 45, after “otherwise” insert-
“(bb) if, in relation to a maintained school in England, he considers that any change required ought not to be protected under section 90A for the number of school years prescribed under section 90A(2), that section 90A is not to apply to that change or that the change will be protected only for such lesser number of school years as he may specify,”
Page 36, line 1, leave out “and (b)” and insert “, (b) and (bb)”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Before Clause 54, insert the following new clause-
“RIGHT OF SIXTH-FORM PUPILS TO BE EXCUSED FROM ATTENDANCE AT RELIGIOUS WORSHIP
(1) Section 71 of SSFA 1998 (which, in relation to religious education and attendance at religious worship, makes provision for exceptions and special arrangements, and for special schools) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute-
(1) If the parent of a pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from receiving religious education given at the school in accordance with the school's basic curriculum, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn. (1A) If the parent of any pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school other than a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at the school, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn. (1B) If a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at a community, foundation or voluntary school, the pupil shall be so excused.” (3) In subsection (2), for “subsection (1)” substitute “subsections (1) to (1B)”.
(4) In subsection (3), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (1A)”. (5) In subsection (5), after “voluntary school” insert “and is not a sixth-form pupil”. (6) After subsection (5) insert-
(5A) Where a sixth-form pupil who is a boarder at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he be permitted- (a) to receive religious education in accordance with the tenets of a particular religion or religious denomination outside school hours, or (b) to attend worship in accordance with such tenets on Sundays or other days exclusively set apart for religious observance by the religious body to which the pupil belongs, the governing body shall make arrangements for giving the pupil reasonable opportunities for doing so.” (7) In subsection (6), after “subsection (5)” insert “or (5A)”.
(8) For subsection (7) substitute-
“(7) Regulations shall make provision for ensuring that, so far as practicable, every pupil attending a community or foundation special school-
(a) receives religious education unless withdrawn from receiving such education in accordance with the wishes of his parent, and (b) attends religious worship unless withdrawn from attendance at such worship- (i) in the case of sixth-form pupil, in accordance with his own wishes, and (ii) in any other case, in accordance with the wishes of his parent.” (9) After subsection (7) insert-
(8) In this section “sixth-form pupil” means any pupil who- (a) has ceased to be of compulsory school age, and (b) is receiving education suitable to the requirements of pupils over compulsory school age.””
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 79A to 79K, as amendments to Amendment No. 79, not moved.]
Schedule 5 [Funding of maintained schools]:
[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]
After Clause 55, insert the following new clause-
“PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS
Professional standards for teachers shall require that all those receiving-
(a) initial teacher training, (b) assessment for induction or as a main-scale teacher, (c) assessment for threshold or as a senior teacher, (d) assessment for suitability as a headteacher, (e) assessment as a higher level teaching assistant, shall be required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs and disability legislation.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we move now to a large group of fairly cohesive amendments on special educational needs. In moving Amendment No. 81, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 82B, which stand in my name, and shall make a few comments on others along the way. First, I will give three short quotes from the Government’s response to the Education and Skills Committee report on special educational needs, which was published only a couple of weeks ago. I should like to demonstrate that I accept that the Government are moving in the right direction.
First, on page 4, paragraph 4, the Government said:
“Children with SEN can do well in all types of school—access to high quality, specialist teachers and a commitment by leaders to create opportunities to include all pupils are the keys to success”.
Secondly, on page 15, paragraph 40, they said:
“Schools should take action to build staff capacity, improving the confidence of all staff in their ability to support children with a wide range of needs”.
Thirdly, on page 18, paragraph 3, they said:
“The Government shares the Committee’s view that a skilled workforce is critical to achieving the five Every Child Matters outcomes for children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities”.
I agree with all that. In Committee, when similar amendments to ours were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the Minister said, at col. 330 of the Official Report on 5 July, that he agreed with the underlying principles. I hope that he will forgive us today for pressing him further. As I said, I accept that we all want to achieve the same ends, but some of us are always asking for more and better.
Amendment No. 81 proposes that professional standards for teachers at all levels,
“should be required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs”.
The SEN code of practice asserts that all teachers are teachers of children with special educational needs. But the Special Education Consortium has concerns about how well teachers are prepared. It believes that a compulsory element at every level of teacher training is essential to ensure that all teachers are properly prepared for their responsibilities and that the best way is to incorporate requirements into professional standards at every level of the service. Noble Lords will notice that higher level teaching assistants are included in paragraph (e).
Unfortunately, there is evidence that despite the current requirements for initial teacher training, teachers are not sufficiently well prepared. In its 2004 report on special educational needs and disability, Ofsted reported:
“The quality of teaching seen on the visits for pupils with SEN was of varying quality, with a high proportion of lessons involving pupils with SEN having important shortcomings”.
In 2002, the Audit Commission reported:
“Many teachers feel under considerable pressure, on the one hand to meet the needs of individual pupils, and on the other to deliver a demanding national curriculum and achieve ever-better test results; research suggests that many feel ill-equipped for this task”.
The difficulties arise in respect of a number of different aspects of teaching disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs. For example, on planning and monitoring progress, the same Ofsted report found that many schools,
“undertook too little forward planning to ensure that provision was in place to meet the needs of the pupils with SEN”.
In addition to concerns about the core skills for enabling disabled pupils and those with SEN to learn and progress, Ofsted found a lack of understanding of the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act in respect of the planning duties on schools and the requirements to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils.
We have to accept that the solution is complex and, in many cases, quite costly. Improved outcomes for disabled pupils and pupils with SEN are dependent on the improved knowledge, skills and understanding of those working with and for them. Training holds the key to that. I give every credit to the Government for the large amount of extra money, which the Minister mentioned, to make sure that children with special needs are appropriately dealt with. But, as I said earlier, we always need more and better.
The DfES 10-year strategy for SEN, Removing Barriers to Achievement, is quite clear on what the Government want to see. It states:
“All teachers having the skills and confidence, and access to specialist advice where necessary, to help children with SEN to reach their potential”.
The strategy also sets out the Government’s intention to work with the Teacher Training Agency and higher education institutions to ensure that initial teacher training in programmes for CPD provide a good grounding in core skills and knowledge of SEN. I am aware that work has already been commissioned by the TDA for schools to develop programmes on SEN and disability for initial teacher training. However, sadly these will not be compulsory and they are designed for the three and four-year teacher training courses. That will leave teachers on the one-year training course without this input.
As the Minister pointed out on 5 July:
“The Secretary of State … already have the power to set professional standards for teachers”.—[Official Report, 5/7/06; col. 333.]
—and of course does so. But I understand that the current standards for teachers are inder review. Indeed, in their response to the Select Committee on special needs the Government said:
“Standards are important, but much depends on how they are achieved in practice”.
Will the Minister examine with the TDA, institutes of higher education, Ofsted and other relevant bodies how SEN and disability can be incorporated into the full range of training, in particular the one-year postgraduate teacher training courses where there is very little time to devote to it, and I do not underestimate the challenge of that fact.
Amendment No. 82, would strengthen the existing duty on local authorities to provide special education, explicitly stating that a range of provision is required. It would also require local authorities to report on how this range of provision meets the range of special educational needs which exist in its own local area. For example, although it is unlikely, if an authority were to rely entirely either on inclusion in mainstream or on special schools, it must justify that decision. So I should like to question the Government further on securing access to a range of special educational provision and how the guidance they have announced will achieve this.
While the Bill aims for choice and diversity in provision for children without disabilities, that is not a reality for many parents of children with autism or other disabilities unless adequate and appropriate specialist and mainstream places are available in their area. A recent report by the National Autistic Society entitled Make School Make Sense found three things: first, that 66 per cent of parents believe their choice was constrained by a lack of provision; secondly, that half of parents believed their child’s current placement was not the best school for them; and, thirdly, that 30 per cent of secondary school pupils with autism have to travel out of their local authority area to access a suitable school. I accept that, realistically, it is sometimes the best choice for them. As a result of these findings, Make School Make Sense called for a range of provision to be enshrined in legislation. The House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee has endorsed that recommendation, stating:
“The Government should … implement a statutory requirement for local authorities to maintain a broad-ranging and flexible continuum of provision which should be monitored on a regular basis”.
Current law requires local authorities to have regard to the need to ensure that special education provision is secured for pupils who have special educational needs. It does not of course specify what sort of provision is made, and it is right and proper that that is left to local authorities to decide, based on local need, as long as the provision is of sufficiently high quality. The Government’s recent response to the Select Committee’s report agreed that access to a range of provision is a desirable goal, but stated strongly that it is the role of local authorities rather than central government to decide on the organisation of special education provision in the area. I agree with the Government on that. The amendment is not intended to restrict local authorities but to present a way of ensuring that provision meets local needs and is reported on to demonstrate how these needs are met.
Local authorities vary enormously in how they provide and I believe this matter should be in the public domain. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, drew attention to it at Committee stage. For example, there is almost a fivefold difference in the proportion of pupils with statements in different authorities, from 1.08 per cent of all pupils having statements in Nottinghamshire to 4.83 per cent in Halton in Cheshire. In addition, the percentage of pupils placed in maintained special schools varies from zero to 60 per cent across different local authorities. The percentage in mainstream schools varies from 19 to 73 per cent. The variation across local authorities in placing pupils in independent special schools runs from 0.4 per cent to over 19 per cent. This is a remarkable level of variation and demonstrates the extent to which local authorities decide their own strategies for the provision for children with SEN.
In 2002, the Audit Commission believed that this was an unacceptable level of variation in provision between different parts of the country and stated that it continued to be,
“especially concerned about pupils with low incidence needs (such as autism and multi-sensory impairment) and those with a disability, who are potentially the most disadvantaged pupils in the educational system”.
In 2004, Ofsted echoed that concern. It found that lack of strategic planning was common and services available in any one area varied considerably.
There are many examples of very good practice and I will give one. As noble Lords might expect, it is a Liberal Democrat council—Liverpool. Over the past five years there have been enormous changes in Liverpool. They began by Liverpool being cited by the Centre of Studies on Inclusive Education as the least inclusive local authority in the country because it had a higher proportion of children in special schools than elsewhere. It believed that this was too simplistic an analysis; however, very serious attention was paid to what could be done. Of serious concern at that time were the 600 pupils in moderate learning difficulty schools. They were no less able than many pupils in mainstream schools. Their special school status was often based on parental pressure, on mainstream school rejection or a response to bullying, which should have been dealt with by the mainstream school. Some among them had more complex learning needs but many passed a number of GCSEs. Ofsted particularly identified this group as being educated separately for no good reason.
Liverpool’s revised policy contains the following elements. It statements only where necessary. It says why go through the process with a deaf child when their special need is quite obvious; you should simply access the appropriate school place without delay, and that is what it did. It has also returned pupils from expensive out-of-city places where their needs can be met locally with some support. It has paid a lot of attention to early intervention and some early years assessment provision has been relocated into mainstream sites, where separate education assessment can take place but opportunities for integration in selective classroom situations can be maximised. It has developed 20 resource bases, which are frequently identified by Ofsted as excellent, five resource-plus schools encapsulated within mainstream sites, several reserved bases for SEN on mainstream sites, pupil referring services and services for children with social and behavioural problems. Liverpool has not had a dogmatic special schools or not special schools approach; it has assessed individual needs and matched provision accordingly.
The glue that cements all this together is the £1.4 million that funds the special schools to provide outreach support to the mainstream schools and their learning networks. While the press and some of us politicians bicker about inclusion, Liverpool is one of a number of authorities that has got on with assessing children and meeting their needs. The amount of money spent on SEN has kept well in line with inflation, if not exceeded it.
What is as important as all these structural things is that individual schools have a culture of inclusion and communicate that to the children. Only this morning I heard about a school where sixth-form pupils were encouraged to sit with some of the children with special needs lower down the school. That had great benefits for all of them; being closer in age, they could identify with each other quite well. It did the children with special needs good and helped the sixth formers to understand and help children with special needs. Indeed, one or two of them went on to work with children with special needs.
Amendment No. 82B would not just require that all SEN co-ordinators were qualified teachers with an understanding of legislation relevant to the post and experience to support them; it would also ensure that they were part of the school’s senior management team and received appropriate ongoing training. A consensus has emerged on the value that the role of SEN co-ordinator brings to a school when the person is authoritative and informed. This is a probing amendment to confirm the Government’s intentions regarding SENCOs following their response to the Education and Skills Committee report on SEN. The part of the response that said that the person taking on the lead responsibility should be a teacher and a member of the senior leadership team in the school was most welcome. In addition, the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, of 12 October made it clear that the Government intend SENCOs to be teachers.
Government Amendment No. 140 requires governing bodies to appoint a SENCO to co-ordinate the provision of education for children with SEN and gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations relating to the role. However, the National Autistic Society and the Special Education Consortium are still keen to receive assurances from the Minister, which I hope he can give us today, that the language of the legislation will be clear in stating that a SENCO must be not just a teacher but a member of the senior leadership team of the school. When he speaks to Amendment No. 140, it will be useful to hear more about the Government’s planned requirements for the role.
I am sorry that I have spoken for so long, but I cannot resist having a very brief word about the excellent amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in particular Amendment No. 117A. I have no doubt that, when she speaks to it, she will remind noble Lords that many young people who are excluded from school have special educational needs or disabilities. It is not fair that the provision that the school has been making for a child is judged along with that child when exclusion is considered. For many children, exclusion is partly due to the fact that they have not been provided for appropriately in the school, and have kicked out in response. However, I leave that to what will no doubt be an excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 117 and 125. The amendments address real and, I am certain, unintended inconsistencies in provision for children with special needs in mainstream schooling. Amendment No. 117 is a new amendment tabled to address the inconsistency in discipline guidelines for children with special needs in mainstream schools as opposed to special schools.
Existing guidance discriminates against SEN children in mainstream schools. There are two main pieces of guidance dealing with physical restraint. Circular 10/98 gives guidance on physical restraint in all schools. It clarifies the acceptable use of reasonable physical force, recommends that schools have a specific policy on restraint, which parents must be informed about, recommends that schools keep records of physical restraint and states that, normally, only authorised staff are allowed to use restraint and that training or guidance may be needed for teachers. However, there is a separate set of guidance for teachers in special schools. The document is called Guidance on the Use of Restrictive Physical Interventions for Staff Working with Children and Adults who Display Extreme Behaviour in Association with Learning Disability and/or Autistic Spectrum Disorders. However, in spite of its title, it deals only with SEN children in special schools. The introduction states:
“Whilst … this guidance will have wider relevance and implications for children in mainstream schools … this guidance is not intended to cover all forms of extreme behaviours in all schools”.
What is more, the 2002 guidance for SEN children in special schools states:
“Staff who are expected to employ restrictive physical interventions will require additional, more specialised training”.
There is clearly a huge disparity between disciplinary provision for children with special needs in mainstream provision and in SEN schooling. This inconsistency needs to be addressed. I am concerned that Sir Alan Steer was instructed not to look at SEN discipline provision in his report on discipline. I fear that this has severe ramifications for the effectiveness of this Bill's provisions.
The freer use of “reasonable force” and the clarification achieved by this Bill is welcome. However, teachers who are not trained to deal with the specific disciplinary problems associated with special needs and behavioural problems are at a disadvantage, and the children with whom they deal are at risk of completely unintentional mishandling, which can be of great detriment to their personal development.
I must make it absolutely clear that I warmly applaud the fantastic job that teachers do educating children with special needs alongside their mainstream duties. Their forbearance and sensitivity sets an example to us all. My amendment would ensure that their efforts are well prepared for and well supported in both training and continual professional development.
The second amendment will ensure that children with special educational needs who are excluded from schools are not placed in other schools until their statement has been reassessed in the light of their progress or lack thereof. There is a disparity between the provisions of this Bill and the requirements of the 1996 Education Act, which requires an amended statement for the child to designate a suitable school for them to attend. The process must now involve 15 days of consultation, followed by a maximum eight-week period during which the proposed statement must be put forward. That is a confusing message for parents, teachers and local authorities, which, under this Bill, must provide a new school place for children within five days. Parents acting under the 1996 Act would be culpable under this Bill. It is often the case that children with statements may well be better provided for at home during the interim.
I made clear in Committee and on the previous grouping the urgent need for a review on the provision for special needs students. This amendment would stop the placement of excluded pupils in schools that are not equipped to deal with those students and stem the potentially harmful effect of that on the children themselves.
We welcome the new amendments that the Minister has brought forward following the Education and Skills Committee’s report. It is right to devote resources to continuing professional development. The mandatory training for new special educational needs co-ordinators—SENCOs—and the new requirement that they must be teachers represent a positive step in the right direction to ensure that the people dealing with pupils with special educational needs have adequate training. That is only right and, I am pleased to say, in accordance with the considered opinion of the Education and Skills Committee, in its recommendations 84 and 85.
I hope also that a dyslexia trust to which local authorities and schools may bid for funding to support higher-level specialist teacher training will help those schools that need that extra support. I would be grateful, however, if the Minister could inform the House of the background to the establishment of such a trust, and the estimated costs.
I hope that the Minister can take on board these suggestions as part of a much wider reassessment of special educational needs.
My Lords, I fear that much of what I have to say may already have been touched on, but perhaps the rule of three that applies in comedies to happy endings will apply if I repeat what has already been said, as it might lead to the Minister agreeing to Amendment No. 81 when he sums up.
The vast majority of children with special educational needs—all but 100,000 out of 1.4 million children—are educated in mainstream schools. It is therefore vital that we concentrate on SEN provision across mainstream schools, and I am delighted that this group of amendments does just that. It is in that context that I add my support particularly to Amendment No. 81 on professional standards for teachers in all schools. This amendment reflects nothing more than common sense, and the fact that it does not already reflect reality is quite astonishing. Indeed, it should not really be incumbent on those of us who support the amendment to make a case in its favour; rather, we need to be told why education professionals—teaching assistants, teachers, head teachers and others not mentioned in this amendment, such as choice advisers—should not be trained as a matter of course in the needs of the 1.4 million pupils who have special educational needs, only around a quarter of a million of them having a statement of SEN.
Those who work in special schools already receive such training, but 60 per cent of pupils with statements of SEN are in mainstream schools, and over 15 per cent of all mainstream pupils have identified SEN. That means that every single teacher, not just teachers in special schools, can expect to come into contact with pupils with SEN on a regular basis, probably on every single day of their working lives. If they are not given adequate training on the specific special needs of these pupils, we cannot expect them to deal adequately with them. Those pupils will be let down. They will not be properly taught and they will not reach their full potential. Their teachers will be let down, because they will be unable to teach all their pupils as they would wish to. Other pupils will be let down, because their classes will include children whose needs are not properly met. If every child matters, then—to coin a phrase—every disabled child matters. Teacher training must be about every child, and therefore about every disabled child and every child with SEN.
Appropriate training is not a question of adding an SEN module at some point in the teacher training curriculum. It is about ensuring that SEN and disability are a thread running through teacher training. It is also about making sure that teachers’ ongoing professional training and development days—what used to be called “Baker days”—continue to cover SEN and disability, to ensure that teachers are kept up to date on relevant developments on the best ways to teach the disabled pupils and pupils with SEN in their classes. Perhaps such days, if they focused on this area, could be called “Adonis days”.
There are plenty of reasons why the Government make local authorities responsible for SEN, and some of those reasons may even be good. But that makes it all the more important that local authorities have the resources to meet their responsibility to deliver good SEN provision. The best resources for delivering good education are good teachers, and so we come full circle. To deliver a good education to all disabled children and children with SEN, teachers—all teachers—need to be trained appropriately.
One important feature of such training will be discipline and physical restraint, and it is in that context that I turn briefly to Amendment No. 117. Too often, standard disciplinary procedures do not adequately address the needs of pupils with SEN. Indeed, on many occasions, disciplinary problems may arise out of poor support and lack of understanding, rather than simply from a pupil with SEN being badly behaved. That lack of support and understanding may be addressed in large part by the SEN and disability training that I have discussed in relation to Amendment No. 81, but it is vital that discipline is addressed in its own right. While physical restraint of any child is something on which clear training and guidance should be in place, the physical restraint of disabled children may have particular health and safety implications of which all relevant staff should be made fully aware.
Noble Lords would not wish me to add my voice to all the other amendments in this group, as they would all miss their trains, but I conclude by offering them all my warm support.
My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment in my name in this group. I apologise for being a few moments late and missing the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
I need to declare an interest as someone who works closely with I CAN, the charity for children with communication difficulties, and with NCH, both of which have schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities. I am grateful to the Special Educational Needs Consortium for providing me with briefing for these debates.
In common with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I return to this matter in the hope of pushing the Government further on it. I am very concerned about the alarming proportion of excluded children with special educational needs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said. It is both fair and sensible that the support afforded these children is assessed as part of the decision on whether they should or should not be excluded. I am not sure that what I propose is as yet encompassed in the Government’s policies or in the Bill, but we need to ensure that any disabled pupil or any pupil with SEN has a review before they are permanently excluded from school. That review should make a judgment on whether they have been treated in an appropriate fashion. That is obvious and sensible because if schools are not providing the right support for a child, why would we want them to continue to provide the wrong support? That would result in generations of children suffering terrible consequences from not receiving appropriate support. One of the ways to assess that is to take a view on whether the treatment or support they have received is appropriate for their condition.
I am also concerned about the experience of children and parents. It is very demoralising and depressing for parents to discover that their child is setting off on the wrong path, sometimes at a terribly early age while still in primary school, because of the lack of support they are given at the age of eight, nine or 10. How will those children fare in secondary schools? The incidence of excluded pupils in secondary schools, particularly young men, can probably be traced back to the wrong support being given in primary school. I differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on the attendant cost of that. The cost to society of those young people, particularly the young men, falling out of the system is very high. They often end up in the youth justice system and will certainly be socially excluded in some way or other.
My Lords, I believe that we are all agreed on that. I congratulate the Government on the thought that they have given to solving the problem. If the Government will not accept my amendment—although I am always optimistic that they will—I suggest that the most useful way forward would be for them to investigate the situation in schools in depth, and assess what it costs. I pose a few questions that might help in that regard.
First, can the Government assure us that future investigations into behaviour issues in schools will take full account of pupils with disabilities and special educational needs, as set out explicitly in Sir Alan Steer’s report on learning behaviour? Secondly, will the Government keep a close eye on the statistics on exclusions of children with disabilities and special educational needs year on year, to provide a clear picture of the pattern of such exclusions and the impact of the measures that the Government are implementing?
Thirdly, if the Government engage in further investigation and research into the pattern of exclusions among children with disabilities and special educational needs, will they ensure that they gather the information from the parents and families of those children and from the children themselves? Finally, if the Government carry out further research and survey work on exclusions among children with disabilities and special educational needs, can they assure us that the findings of this research will inform the inclusion development programme as discussed in the government response to the Education and Skills Select Committee report on special educational needs?
My Lords, that is very kind. I apologise to the Liberal Front Bench for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate, but thankfully I have arrived in time to say a word or two.
I welcome what the Government have said in their reply to the Select Committee about initial teacher training. I am less reassured, although the intentions are good, about what is to be done about continuing professional development in this area. I have seen that the Government have in mind to explore with Ofsted how the school evaluation framework can be used to ensure that teachers get the CPD that they need—good. They give a prompt that is much needed in some schools to realise the Government’s aspirations. When I read in the department’s inclusion development programme that it will help transform understanding of SEN and disability in schools, on one hand I am delighted, but on the other hand I am concerned that there is need for such a transformation. Earlier in the debate, we heard a reference to Adam Smith’s hidden hand—how self-interest can work to the public good. The great man had a good deal to say about that. The amendment brings in the hidden hand of self-interest to the public good. It is a rather wise thing to do.
My Lords, I can be extremely brief. I have also added my name to Amendment No. 81, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, so comprehensively introduced and which is now being so thoughtfully backed up by other noble Lords from every side of the House. Of course, it is very important that teachers at all levels should have a full understanding of this. I very much underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about the one-year training of postgraduate teachers. They should have a full understanding not only of pupils’ needs but of SEN and disability law, which is very complicated; of their duties; and also of the judgment on what constitutes discrimination. The GTC said:
“The Council is disturbed by the scant attention given to special educational needs and argues that expertise needs to be developed right across the education service, for all staff. Similarly, schools’ statutory duties to promote and implement race and sex equality and to combat disability discrimination need to be placed at the centre of the Government’s agenda”.
I was then going to turn to the major bit of my speech, about Amendments Nos. 115A, 116A and 117A, which were so well introduced by the noble Baroness, but, remarkably, her brain also conjured up the four questions that I was going to ask afterwards. I hope that I can give added weight to the fact that many people are thinking of these questions to ask the Minister. Perhaps he will at least undertake a review and will comply with the four criteria. I also welcome his statement about the SENCO, but again with the proviso that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned of the Special Educational Consortium.
My Lords, I wish to add my enthusiasm for the amendments in this group, in particular Amendments Nos. 81 and 117. It is important that all teachers have that basic training. Furthermore, not only teachers should have it as a much wider group will be in contact with the children. That applies also in making an early assessment, where one has not already taken place, of children in this group, as they may not have been recognised as such at that stage.
I particularly commend the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. As has been pointed out, the percentage of children with special educational needs who have been excluded from school is appalling. That figure alone is enough to rock us back on our heels and make us realise that we are not doing anything like enough about it. Many of those children, if treated in the wrong way, will end up in prison. We know that that is the case from the number of young people in prisons who should not be there anyhow and who are handled, including physically, in the wrong way.
My Lords, I rise for a second time because I spoke to Amendment No. 80 but am now prompted to see that two other amendments in this group are in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I had therefore better do something about them.
In Committee, I represented, as did the Select Committee, that there should be a separation of the judgment of what a child’s needs were in special education from the management of money and the constraints that that imposed on decision-takers. Bringing the two together causes a risk that the first will be moderated by the second. In response, the Minister referred to the importance of not taking away major responsibilities from local authorities, which by implication my amendment did, and said that it was unreasonable to expect anyone to sign a blank cheque. In response, I said something to the effect that I understood that the matter could not be taken on the hoof and that, having listened to the Minister, I was not in the business of parading half-baked solutions. Needless to say, I was tempted by the leisure offered by the Recess to offer the Minister some solutions. I am proud of them, but I realise that our idea of separation is complex. Although I am, and have been for many years, a quango person, I was reluctant to propose another one.
My initial idea to transfer responsibility for assessment to local health authorities seemed a good one and would not have created another quango. However, I found that they also were affected by monetary considerations. So that idea did not work. I thought then of the care commission, which certainly is not influenced by monetary considerations, as I know from its very searching requirements for certain classes of care home. I considered the commission, but I do not know enough about it.
So I thought that I would go for the simple solution, to place a statutory duty on those charged with responsibility for considering what a child’s needs are, but to do it without regard to financial considerations although it would remain within the local authority’s ambit. It would then be for the local authority to decide what financial response it thought fit and right to make in all the relevant circumstances.
I suggest that, once a year, those charged with making assessments should make an observation or commentary on what they feel about the response from the local authority so that it is publicly accountable for its decisions. Thus, there would be separation but the local authority would be fully able and responsible for taking the final decisions and would be held accountable for them. That is the first part of my proposals but I have a supplementary one.
The Minister very kindly wrote to me about representations that I made in Committee about the difficulties that parents sometimes have in coping with the official documents that they receive from local authorities. He referred me to the Parent Partnership service, which, I confess, I did not know about, and I suspect that a large number of other people do not know about it either. So I made some inquiries at an excellent local authority about this body. I found that it is located in one office in one part of a large area and that its funding, shared over the population, amounts to 25p per head. I then made some further inquiries and asked how much the figure would work out at if—although this is not always the case—it was concerned only with special educational needs. The figure was much better—14p a head. But when I think of all the overhead costs incurred by any public body, I wonder how much time a parent perplexed by the system could expect to have.
Therefore, I came up with a twofold proposal: first, that very early in a letter to any parent, the local authority should draw attention to the Parent Partnership service with an address and telephone number; and, secondly, that the local authority should have a duty to see that it is adequately funded. It should all be left with the local authority.
I remind the Minister that we all know, with sadness, that 20 per cent of people leave school functionally illiterate. When you receive a letter which, however well intentioned the official may be, has had to go through the lawyers to ensure that it is okay, the result is not readily accessible to parents who have left school functionally illiterate. Those who suffer are the children, and it is our job to ensure that children who have special needs through no fault of their own are not disadvantaged because their parents are unable to respond, as the middle-class parents are able to do, to this kind of document. They need real help.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Buscombe and Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Dearing. I shall speak primarily to Amendment No. 81.
I welcome the increased resources that the Government have given this issue but, as a primary school governor and a grandparent with a granddaughter who has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome, I can attest to a significant variation in the quality of education delivered in mainstream schools. At my local primary school, the SENCO is well trained and is a part of the senior team, and governors receive regular reports on SEN provision.
However, my granddaughter's experience has been mixed. Due to the influence of a very sympathetic head teacher, one small village primary school was a good example of inclusion in a mainstream school. At her current secondary school, the experience is not as positive. More training seems to be needed, and there needs to be an understanding that children with SEN have to adapt to a very different and challenging environment in a secondary school. They face a range of teachers where, in a primary school, they had one who came to understand their needs well. There are increased homework demands, but there is a need to take into account the varied abilities of children with special educational needs. I hope the Minister takes into account that while we have put in more resources, we still have a problem with variation in the quality of provision. The points made on the Parent Partnership are valid.
My Lords, the noble Lord has made a very eloquent speech. Does he appreciate why one of our amendments moved earlier today allowed for a moratorium on the closure of special needs schools just for six months post the introduction of this Bill to allow for a proper review of special needs provision? I wonder whether the noble Lord went through the government Lobby on that vote as he has just asked for what we were asking the Government only a few hours ago.
My Lords, I did not go through either Lobby. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present for that part of the debate. I do not want to get into the debate on specialist versus mainstream. I share the concern and I shall leave the Minister to respond to that. I wanted to contribute my experience and my granddaughter's experience in current mainstream provision.
My Lords, I love the thought of “Adonis days”. No one knows better than the noble Lord, Lord Rix, how to pay a delightful compliment. I think they would go down very badly in schools where they would conjure up all the wrong images. At least “Baker days” conjured up a worthwhile profession, whereas I suspect that “Adonis days” would conjure up narcissism and a complete inability for the reality to live up to the ideal.
Those in the Box have just passed me an excerpt from today's Times about the 3.20 at Ludlow this afternoon where a horse called “Lord Adonis” was running in a race called the Juvenile Novices Hurdle. I feel as though I have spent the whole afternoon running that race and I have a number of hurdles still to go. For any noble Lords who were hoping to make a quick buck, the price was 33-1, so I do not think they would have done very well.
I start with the crucial role of special educational needs co-ordinators in schools, an issue to which we paid a great deal of attention following the report of the Select Committee on special educational needs. I shall speak to government Amendments Nos. 140, 144 and 153 which concern the crucial role of SENCOs.
The central importance of the SENCO to good SEN provision was recognised by the Education and Skills Committee in its report on SEN. The committee recommended that SENCOs should, in all cases, be qualified teachers, in a senior management position in a school and it emphasised the importance of training for SENCOs. Government Amendments Nos. 140, 144 and 153 are introduced to implement that recommendation.
In Amendment No. 82B, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, seeks to ensure that the lead SENCO role will fall to a teacher. While government Amendment No. 140 refers to a SENCO as a “member of staff”, I can give the House a categorical assurance that our intention, through regulations under the amendments I have moved, is to provide that the SENCO role should rest with a teacher. I also assure the House that the regulations will require SENCOs to be members of the senior leadership team in a school, as recommended by the committee.
Under the regulation-making power that we are taking with these amendments, we will also institute more consistent standards for SENCOs supported by nationally accredited training, which will be a requirement for all newly appointed SENCOs to undertake after a date that we shall determine. As a first step towards that, we have commissioned the Training and Development Agency to develop a revised statement of the knowledge, skills and experience required of those leading special educational needs and disabilities provision in schools and a framework of standards for that role. This will help to inform our understanding about the level at which tasks should be performed and the type of nationally accredited training we will therefore provide. I believe that this will be a very major advance to the quality of training and support for special educational needs in schools.
Although that represents a direction in respect of schools—we are very reluctant to direct schools—my own experience over the years has taught me that there is no more important role in a school, not only in the direct provision of special educational needs, but also in simulating a culture of support for SEN and training to fulfil obligations for SEN, than the role of the SEN co-ordinator. I therefore hope that the House will agree that this represents an effective response to the committee, and a significant step forward.
On Amendment No. 81—also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—on professional standards, we agree that it is important for all those who work closely with children to be properly equipped to deal with special educational needs and disability. The Secretary of State already has the power to set professional standards for teachers, and currently does so in secondary legislation and associated guidance. There is no need to set out specific standards in primary legislation, especially as doing so may reduce the flexibility needed to reflect developments over time.
We take the issue of SEN and disability in professional standards seriously. The noble Baroness asked where we were on the current standards revision. A consultation on the revised standards for qualified teacher status has recently been completed and there are standards which relate to SEN and disability issues in the proposed revisions, which are more stringent than those they replace.
Much depends on how these standards are put into practice. That is why, as part of our response to the Select Committee, we have asked Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of the journey the intending teacher takes through initial teacher training and induction in relation to SEN and disability. That is in addition to the work we are doing with the Teacher Training and Development Agency on a £1.1 million package of practical initiatives to strengthen the training teachers receive in SEN and disability. In our response to the Select Committee, we also announced that we are this year embarking on a national programme of continuing professional development for staff.
Amendment No. 82 seeks to confer a duty on local authorities to secure a range of SEN provision. Section 14 of the Education Act 1996 relates to all schools, including special schools, and lays a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient schools for the provision of primary and secondary education. Section 14(6) says that, in exercising their functions to secure sufficient primary and secondary education, local authorities must have regard to the need for securing special educational provision for pupils with special educational needs. Those pupils include children with and without statements and with a variety of special educational needs, ranging from moderate to severe and complex. Local authorities must already, therefore, secure a range of provision.
On the publication of information, my department collects information on the range of SEN provision in localities each year, and publishes information on the numbers of different types of the school and different pupils in each type of school in each local authority area. That is available on my department’s website. In addition, the DfES annually publishes data for each authority, showing the number of children with statements of special educational needs and where they are placed. Data is also published on children with statements who are educated other than in school, and on those who are awaiting provision. This data is also available on the DfES website.
Amendment No. 141 is in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Lucas, on the assessments and statements system. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is now setting himself up as one of a two-person think tank on a challenging issue which we recognise needs continued thought. I have given careful consideration to his amendment, which seeks to ensure that assessments are carried out without considerations of finance.
The present arrangements require local authorities first and foremost to focus on carefully establishing a child’s special educational needs so they can make appropriate provision to meet their individual needs. At the point of carrying out a statutory assessment, they must seek advice from the child’s school, their educational psychologist, social services, health professionals and, of course, the child’s parents. Advice is given independently and without consideration of finance. Indeed, paragraph 7.79 of the special educational needs code of practice, to which all local authorities must have regard by law, makes it clear that:
“Those giving advice may comment on the amount of provision they consider appropriate. Thus LEAs should not have blanket policies that prevent those giving advice from commenting on the amount of provision they consider a child requires”.
If, having considered the assessment advice, the local authority decides to make a statement, it must specify appropriate provision for each identified need. As guardians of public funds, local authorities have duties not to incur unreasonable public expenditure and to use their resources efficiently in the context of meeting the identified needs of the child in question. This seems to be the right balance. It is difficult to see how the duties set out in the amendment could be reconciled with the duty of local authorities not to incur unreasonable public expenditure unless we were somehow able to provide unlimited resources.
The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is the last person to seek to encourage us to do things that are impractical and unattainable and subsections (2) and (3) of his new clause therefore seek to cover this point. The issue with those subsections is that by saying that a local authority may,
“decide in the light of findings the extent of financial support to be provided”,
may simple reconstitute the current system in which the local authority has to decide how to meet the assessment within the resources it has available. It is not clear to me that the amendment is an improvement. Subsection (3) is genuinely ingenious and provides for cost-sharing between local and central government in respect of particularly high-cost placements. He specifies individual cases likely to exceed £50,000 or £100,000 a year. I can see some merit in that proposal, but our concern is that it might have the effect of encouraging local authorities to make perverse decisions in respect of placements that are not necessarily in the best interests of children because they would know that by making more expensive placements, they would be able to pass on a significant proportion of the costs to central government rather than having to meet them entirely through the decisions they make in respect of provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, also tabled Amendment No. 142, which concerns parent partnership services. I am glad that he believes that they have an important role to play, and we agree with him. As to funding for parent partnership services, it is for elected local authorities to determine how best to deliver their statutory functions, including parent partnership services, within the overall funding available for school pupils from the department. However, in our response to the Select Committee, we made clear our intention to set clear expectations about how local authorities should meet the national standards for parent partnership services set out in the SEN code of practice, which include ensuring adequate funding. These expectations, which we will set out in due course, will include parent partnership services having their own budget, a management group with independent representation, links to children’s information services and choice advisers, locating parent partnership services away from SEN casework teams, independent training for parent partnership service co-ordinators, access to independent parental support and a voice for parent partnership services in local children’s services policy development. Those requirements being set out more clearly will help the more effective development of parent partnership services, but I take to heart the point the noble Lord made about ensuring earlier notification to parents of the availability of the parent partnership service—and I will see if there is more we can do in that regard—so that parents are aware of the availability of the service from the point at which they need to start engaging with the system regarding the special educational needs of their children.
Amendments Nos. 115A and 116A were moved by my noble friend Lady Thornton and relate to discrimination against disabled pupils. We accept the principles that underlie them, but we believe that they are met by existing law and guidance. In making their statement of principles and determining the measures that constitute a school’s behaviour policy, governing bodies and head teachers must act in accordance with their statutory responsibilities towards pupils with disabilities. In addition, Clause 87 makes it clear that a disciplinary penalty is a penalty imposed on a pupil where his behaviour falls below a standard that could reasonably be expected of that individual; that is, behaviour that could reasonably be expected of the pupil taking into account any disability that he or she may have. Clause 88 specifies that, in order to be lawful, a disciplinary penalty must satisfy three conditions, one of which—the condition of reasonableness—is determined by taking into account the pupil’s disability.
The same arguments apply to subsection (1) of Amendment No. 117 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. In determining a school’s behaviour policy, head teachers must act in accordance with their statutory responsibilities toward pupils with special educational needs. The safeguards in Clauses 87 and 88 apply to special educational needs in the same way as to disability.
We will be reinforcing these messages and providing practical advice on how to provide for such pupils in our guidance on school behaviour policies. In doing so, we will consult with the Special Educational Consortium and other key stakeholders about its contents.
Subsections (2) and (3) in Amendment No. 117 concern physical restraint. I stress that Clause 90, which deals with the use of force, is not new. It re-enacts provisions that became law eight years ago, and we are not aware of any problems caused by them since. That is not to say that there have not been cases where pupils, parents and school staff have been unhappy about when and how physical restraint has been used. Given the emotive nature of the issue, there are bound to be such cases. The actual guidance and law have not been felt to be inadequate.
The department has supported the provision with guidance, including specific guidance relating to pupils with special educational needs. We will be reviewing our guidance in the light of the parliamentary debates and will consult a wide range of stakeholders as we do so.
I turn to Amendment No. 117A regarding exclusions in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. This amendment would ensure that no disabled pupil or pupil with special educational needs could be excluded permanently unless a review was held, either of the reasonable adjustments being made for a disabled pupil or of the special educational provision being made for a pupil with special educational needs.
My noble friend asked me about the robustness of our protections for such pupils. I entirely agree that we need protections which are as robust as we can make them, balancing of course the duties that schools also have for the welfare of other pupils. The recently issued guidance on exclusions from schools with pupil referral units, which the department has given out, could not be more robust in this respect. Paragraph 45 on pupils with special educational needs states:
“Statutory guidance on identifying, assessing and making provision for pupils with SEN, including those with behavioural, social and emotional needs, is given in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. Schools must have regard to this guidance. School governing bodies”—
a matter also mentioned by my noble friend—
“have a statutory duty to do their best to ensure that the necessary provision is made for any pupil who has SEN. Early identification and intervention, accurate assessment and the arrangement of appropriate provision to meet pupils’ SEN usually leads to better outcomes”.
On exclusions paragraph 46 of the guidance states:
“Other than in the most exceptional circumstances, schools should avoid excluding pupils with statements. They should also make every effort to avoid excluding pupils who are being supported at School Action or School Action Plus under the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, including those at School Action Plus who are being assessed for a statement”.
I believe that the guidance on this issue being given to schools could not be clearer. More progress needs to be made on the actual practice in schools itself but that is improving.
The statistics on the exclusion of pupils with special educational needs shows a substantial drop. The number of permanent exclusions of pupils with statements of SEN dropped from 2,250 in 1997 to 1,130 in 2002. It is now down to 850 for the last year for which we have statistics, which is 2004-05. I think that the House will accept that a reduction from 2,250 to 850 represents great progress by schools, although of course there is further to go.
A recent in-depth study by the National Foundation for Educational Research into admissions and exclusions of pupils with special educational needs published in January last year—I will make this research more widely available to noble Lords—concluded:
“Pupils with SEN generally went through the same processes as, and were treated similarly to, other pupils, but thresholds were often higher and a greater degree of unacceptable behaviour was tolerated before the exclusion process was initiated”.
That indicates that the reasonable adjustments that my noble friend rightly seeks and which schools are expected to observe under the Disability Discrimination Act are already being observed by the great majority of schools, as the research stated. However, we accept that more progress needs to be made. That is why, under the Disability Discrimination Act, from this December all schools will have to publish disability equality plans, which will take the implementation of their obligations to a new level.
I therefore hope that my noble friend will be satisfied that we are very much on the case. She asked me a number of specific questions, which I think were put to her by the Special Education Consortium. I have long replies to each of the points that she raised; it may be best if I circulate those to noble Lords in writing. I hope that that will persuade my noble friend to decide that she does not need to bring the matter back at Third Reading.
My Lords, this has been a very worthwhile debate and I thank the Minister for his thorough reply and all noble Lords who have spoken. Before I respond to the Minister, perhaps I may apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for forgetting to say how much I support the principle behind her Amendment No. 117 on appropriate training for restraint. I hope that what the Minister said turns out to be enough.
Turning to my amendments, I hope that the equine Lord Adonis, running in the 3.30 at Ludlow, was not an old nag and did not fall at the first fence—
My Lords, I hope that he has not gone to the knacker’s yard, anyway. I am pleased to say that the human noble Lord, Lord Adonis, managed to negotiate the first, second and third fences. Sadly, he fell at the fourth. Perhaps I should explain what I mean by that. The first fence was Amendment No. 82B and I thank the Minister for being so clear that SENCOs will not only be teachers but part of the leadership scheme of the school and will have a proper programme of continuous professional development. That will move us even further in the right direction.
The second fence was Amendment No. 81, and I welcome what the Minister told us: that Ofsted has been asked to do a thematic review of the training journey that those teachers will have to take. I look forward to seeing that report. On Amendment No. 82, on the duty to secure a range of provision, I thank the Minister for clarifying the situation and telling us where we find the information. I just hope that local authorities will be influenced by looking at the range of provision of some of the best local authorities and tailor their practice towards that.
On the fourth fence, we are at Report. Because of that, unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, cannot reply for himself to the Minister's comments on his amendment, so I hope that he will forgive me for having the temerity to say one or two things about it. The Minister said that the Government cannot accept a blank cheque, but what he did not say is that the Government do not mind passing that blank cheque to local authorities, with liabilities of up to £150,000 a year per pupil. The Minister said that he fears that local authorities might make perverse decisions to place children in more expensive provision because they might get some of the money back from the Government.
I think that that is extremely far-fetched and ignores the fact that the very carefully worded subsection (3) of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, makes quite clear that the costs would be shared. Should the local authority place the child in more expensive provision, it would be paying more. The Minister's objections to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, do not hold any water. Having said that, the glass was three-quarters’ full today, so far as I am concerned. I am happy with what the Minister has had to say about my amendments, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 82 to 82B not moved.]
Clause 56 [Meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”]:
Page 43, line 38, at end insert-
“( ) an Academy, ( ) a city technology college, or ( ) a city college for the technology of the arts”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 84 and 85.
All the amendments relate to Part 4, which is about local-authority intervention in schools that are causing concern. The Minister will have noticed that we on these Benches have been very reticent, in contrast to our deliberations in Committee, about tabling amendments on academies, city technology colleges and so forth. This is not because he has convinced us that handling everything via the funding agreement for the academies is satisfactory; on the contrary, we remain sceptical about whether exempting this category of school from much of the legislation that applies to other maintained schools is a satisfactory way of proceeding, especially as the number of academies grows. This is particularly so when wide-ranging duties are imposed on local education authorities or local authorities. Yet the ability of the local authority to deliver is limited because many of the key schools in the authority’s area are academies or city technology colleges and will in future be trust schools and outside its control. In Southwark, for example, all secondary schools will shortly be academies. Children may well attend these schools, which are not maintained by the local authorities, but the council is still responsible for their well-being and educational fulfilment. Indeed, the schools are assessed in their APAs on how well they perform, whether or not the council is responsible for them.
The amendments seek to change that situation, and to give local authorities the power to intervene in all schools that are not performing adequately. Councils should have powers to intervene and to assist schools where there is poor delivery against the wider Every Child Matters outcomes outlined in the Children Act, not only against the failure to improve educational attainment. While many academies bed down in the system and increase in number, they will not be immune from failure. The Government should give the councils the powers to intervene to ensure that academies are provided with support if they are failing or coasting, so that the children’s well-being and educational potential are promoted. This is the situation for trust schools, and we feel that this should also be the case for academies and city technology colleges. This would strengthen the duty on schools to have regard to the local children and young people’s plans, and would ensure that the key role of schools in delivering the improved well-being for children under the Every Child Matters agenda is adhered to.
These are important amendments. There is a real dichotomy between the emphasis being placed on local councils to have responsibility for the overall performance of schools and to deliver the general objectives cited at the beginning of the Bill. Some councils will have very little control over the schools that will be delivering those outcomes. I beg to move.
My Lords, I too strongly emphasise the importance of this apparently very minor amendment. It would bring city technology colleges and academies within the broad scope of local-authority responsibility and, in a sense, the Secretary of State’s responsibility. Clauses 15 to 17 and 56 to 70 are all about possible failures and the need for special measures, or about the need for improvement in the case of maintained schools. In Clause 56, maintained schools are defined very precisely as community schools, voluntary schools, voluntary and community special schools and nursery schools. It is clear that the group of schools addressed by my noble friend is excluded. She referred to the responsibility of local authorities for the well-being of children, which is an extremely important point.
I shall not repeat what she said, but I wish to make a different point about the morale of community schools, which is where most children still go and, I suspect, will still go in five or 10 years’ time. Let us consider for a moment the way in which the Bill presents itself: it has a considerable expectation of failure in community schools. It makes almost no mention of academies and CTCs. We are told that they will be dealt with in funding agreements. But, as my noble friend has said, it is not at all clear how funding agreements will operate in the quite condign and powerful way that local authorities and the Secretary of State are empowered to do. Consider how far reaching those powers are; for example, the ability to name extra governors and which governor should be the chairman; the ability to compel devolved budgets to be dropped; and the ability, in certain cases, to close a school. There is a whole range of weapons or powers which would affect schools that are thought to need improvement or to be, effectively, failing schools.
The former Secretary of State, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, said on the first day of Report that a “generosity of spirit” was needed to recognise the remarkable achievements of many community schools. Somehow, the Bill exudes the sense that community schools are lesser, require more intervention, are more likely to fail and have not done a particularly good job. In responding, the Minister said:
“I am not prepared to stand here and defend failure”.—[Official Report, 17/10/06; col. 674.]
Of course, in saying that he was right. But the assumption is that the schools associated with academies and CTCs are unlikely to fail and that there are no special provisions to deal with them if they do.
I find that assumption very hard to justify. Earlier, I mentioned to the Minister that in the United States charter schools, in many ways, closely resemble trust schools and, even more, academies. They are self-governing, independent schools in which local school districts may not interfere; they have delegated powers over their own budgets and are allowed to bring in sponsors; and they have a range of the characteristics which are associated in this Bill with trust schools and have previously been associated with academies. Yet the latest information is that charter schools in the United States are doing less well than ordinary state schools, by a substantial margin in reading and mathematics. I will not go into detail on this, but I hope that at Third Reading we will discuss this in more detail.
I am concerned about the demoralisation of those schools which are the great bulk of schools in this country. I believe that the Bill exudes a certain sense of discrimination between the two, which comes out most clearly in Part 4. I, for one, profoundly regret it. On the first day on Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, specifically said—I do not know whether the Minister would agree—that there has been a remarkable improvement in standards in schools in the past few years. She referred, of course, to community schools which are still the bulk of schools in the system.
To be precise, will the Minister tell us in greater detail exactly what steps will be taken if a school, which is described as an academy or a city technology college, is found to be failing, or found, on a lesser criterion, to require improvement? How will the Minister discover that need? What will be the role of the Secretary of State in altering or changing the funding agreement in order to bring about changes that might be required? What steps would be taken to close a school that was failing? In the United States, after five years a charter school can be closed and replaced; there is nothing in this Bill of that kind. Finally, can he explain why these very condign measures all apply to community and voluntary schools, but do not appear to include the schools to which my noble friend referred?
I would make a final point. Those who visit schools—I know that the Minister visits many of them as do my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—will be aware that many teachers and head teachers in community schools feel somehow under attack. They feel they have to defend themselves because there have been so many indications that somehow they are not doing well. A minority of schools are not doing well; we all have to admit that. But that is the case in all categories of school. Even—dare I say it in this sacred Chamber?—independent schools have a tail of failing schools. The great thing to do would be to recognise that all schools can succeed or fail, but we should not single out particular categories as being more likely to fail or more likely to succeed. With great respect, the Bill strongly gives that impression.
My Lords, in Committee, in response to amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I promised to return to the consultation requirements on the Secretary of State when he appoints additional governors in respect of maintained schools. I have now considered this matter and I am glad to be able to propose, through government Amendments Nos. 86 to 89 to which I shall speak with this group, extending the list of the persons the Secretary of State is required to consult before appointing additional governors to include in every case the local authority, the school’s governing body and, where appropriate, the diocese or other persons by whom foundation governors are appointed. We have long considered it good practice for the Secretary of State to consult the aforementioned parties before appointing additional governors to any category of maintained school and I am therefore happy to accept the suggestion of the noble Baroness that this good practice should be captured in legislation. I hope that, whatever our other disagreements, the noble Baroness will be glad that we have been able to make those changes.
I shall speak also to government Amendment No. 90 in this group, which is a minor technical amendment to make the wording in Clause 65 consistent with the rest of Part 4.
My Lords, I should like to ask a brief question on the government amendments. I was not aware that a “voluntary school” was an established term of art in England. I know the terms “voluntary controlled” and “voluntary aided”, but the word “voluntary” as shorthand for both is something I have not come across before.
My Lords, it is shorthand for both; I could have referred to voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools. I do mean both types of school and those are what the amendments capture.
Amendments Nos. 83, 84 and 85 were spoken to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Sharp. They relate to non-maintained schools, particularly academies. They asked me in the first place how they will be accountable for failure, and in the second place how they will make a proper contribution to pupil well-being and the Every Child Matters outcomes. In terms of failure, I think there is a straightforward misunderstanding here. The powers held by the Secretary of State in respect of academies track very closely the statutory intervention powers which local authorities have over maintained schools, including the enhanced powers set out in the Bill. The Secretary of State has a range of intervention powers in respect of academies which he holds by virtue of an academy trust’s articles of association and funding agreements. The Secretary of State is enabled by these means to appoint additional governors, to stop funding the academy or to close it outright. These powers are in every respect as extensive as those a local authority is able to exercise under the regime set out in the Bill. As I say, they track closely the regime we are seeking to put in place in relation to maintained schools.
I accept entirely what the noble Baroness has said. She is right to say that no category of school is immune to failure. We see that failure can afflict schools in any category and I accept that that includes academies. Indeed, because academies are succeeding some of the most challenging schools in the country, they face particular challenges and are liable to fail. I have never in any way disguised that fact. But I believe that our bona fides in this respect can be seen to be quite clear. For example, the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough was put into a category of failure by Ofsted. My department took immediate action of a kind which we would expect a local authority to take when exercising its powers under this Bill. We engaged in a dialogue with the sponsor that led to very swift and radical changes to the governing body of the academy very quickly after the inspection report and made within a timescale which we would expect local authorities to observe. There was also a substantial change to the leadership of that school, a decision taken by the reconstituted governing body in close consultation with the departments. I am glad to say that this year the results of that academy rose significantly in both the key stage 3 and GCSE categories.
I do not seek to suggest that there are different rules or different regimes. There is a great difference in the relationship between the state and academies—and, indeed, other categories of more autonomous schools—and the relationship between local school boards and charter schools in the United States. I accept that they have a much greater degree of autonomy. In some cases—because each individual state in the US has different chartering arrangements—it is very difficult for a state to intervene short of pulling the rug out and withdrawing funding to make it impossible for the school to proceed. In our system, the full accountability regime applies to all categories of schools. We discussed earlier the school improvement partners, which are appointed in respect of academies and other categories of school, and their accountability for results, the publication of performance data and inspection by Ofsted.
As regards pupil well-being and Every Child Matters, we have mechanisms in place to uphold schools’ accountability for contributing to Every Child Matters outcomes, irrespective of the category of the school. We have the new Ofsted inspection regime, school self-evaluation and the role of school improvement partners, all of which apply equally to non-maintained as well as to maintained schools. In respect specifically of academies, they are obliged to contribute to the five Every Child Matters outcomes in a variety of ways. The first is through their funding agreements, which make them responsible for being at the heart of their community, sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community. Secondly, it is an expectation that each academy will work closely with its local authority to ensure that the needs of each child are met and that the directors of children’s services are able to carry out the duties and accountabilities placed on them for every child educated within their local area, regardless of whether the child attends a state or independent school. Thirdly, academies will be required to participate in their local children and young people’s plans and to have regard to them. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave an undertaking in another place that we would amend the articles of association and funding agreements of academies to ensure that they are obliged to have regard to children and young people’s plans. We have already indicated to the academies that we intend to make those changes in their funding agreements.
My Lords, the Minister went very quickly through that extremely important passage in his very interesting speech and I am grateful to him for allowing me to ask a question. He referred to funding agreements, expectations and the like as the source through which academies would be brought into the same range of intervention. What is the legal status of their origins? Are the funding agreements statutory in base or are they merely contractual?
My Lords, without a funding agreement an academy cannot exist. A funding agreement is required for an academy to be established under the Education Act 1996, as amended by later legislation. So there is a requirement there. As I say, the funding agreements set out the range of interventions I have indicated and the requirements in respect of children and young people’s plans that I have also set out.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. There remains, however, a real problem. For all that is in their funding agreements—academies and city technology colleges are required to contribute to the Every Child Matters outcomes, to adhere to the local children and young people’s plans and to work with the local authority to make sure that the needs of every child are met—nevertheless those are, to some extent, voluntary matters and depend upon the good will of the academy in contributing to them. However, the local authority is assessed under its annual performance assessment for Every Child Matters on the performance of the schools in its area. There is a disjuncture between what is expected at a national aggregate level in terms of aggregate measurement of how the local authority is performing and the instruments that that local authority are given to make sure that its performance measures up to what is expected.
I accept that the Secretary of State intervenes, and intervenes in the same way. He was prompt in intervening at the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough when Ofsted reported badly on it. We have no assurance other than his word that the Secretary of State will act with the same promptness in future. There may be occasions when there is a delay and, as a result, the local authority fails to meet what is expected of it under the Every Child Matters agenda.
There is a logic in what we are asking for in the amendment, a logic which the Minister clearly does not accept. There is a disjuncture between what is expected. However, it being fairly late, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 57 [Warning notice by local education authority]:
[Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 not moved.]
Clause 64 [Power of Secretary of State to appoint additional governors]:
Page 49, line 10, leave out “in relation to a voluntary aided school”
Page 49, line 11, at end insert-
“( ) the local education authority, ( ) the governing body of the school,”
Page 49, line 12, after first “of” insert “a foundation or voluntary school which is”
Page 49, line 13, leave out from “authority” to end of line 14 and insert “, and
(b) in the case of any other foundation or voluntary school, the person or persons by whom the foundation governors are appointed.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 65 [Power of Secretary of State to direct closure of school]:
Page 50, line 12, leave out from “school” to end of line 13 and insert “the person or persons by whom the foundation governors are appointed,”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Before Clause 71, insert the following new clause-
“AMENDMENT OF SECTION 84 OF EA 2002
In section 84 of EA 2002 (curriculum requirements for first, second and third key stages), in subsection (3)-
(a) after paragraph (f) insert- “(fa) a modern foreign language,”; (b) in paragraph (h), omit sub-paragraph (ii).”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Sharp has asked me to apologise for forgetting to thank the Minister for the government amendments in that last group which resulted from points that we made in Committee. We are most grateful to the Government for that.
I should like to say a word about Amendments Nos. 93 and 94, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. It is perhaps unfortunate that my amendment comes first; we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the important question of the role of modern foreign languages in today’s school curriculum. It might have been more desirable if she could have spoken first, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in your Lordships' House.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, who recently set up a new all-party group on scientific research in education and learning to which I am very much looking forward, I believe we should base our education policies on high quality evidence of how children learn best. Not only that, we need to take into account when they learn best. With languages, there is a mountain of evidence that they learn best at an early age. My grandchildren learnt Chinese as they were learning to talk, at the same time that they learnt English. It was amazing to me to hear them chattering away to each other in Chinese as they played. If we want to do something about the terrible reputation we British have for languages, we need to start early. That is what Amendment No. 91 would achieve.
I am aware that the Government have introduced a number of initiatives in primary schools; no doubt the Minister will tell us about some of them when he responds. I am also aware that there is a lot of good practice out there and many schools have been very creative in the way in which they have addressed the matter. One multicultural school I heard about has a language of the week, when a few children get to share their mother tongue with the rest of the school, including the teachers, for at least a few days in the year—and there are even more languages in that school than there are weeks in the year. That sort of thing helps children to get the idea that there is more than one way in which to express things.
Only the other day, one of my husband’s little grandchildren looked at the television and said, “Mummy, there’s a mochyn”. His mother, who speaks only English, was a bit puzzled until she realised that in Wales they teach Welsh to three year-olds, and Finlay was referring to the pig on the television—which in Welsh, I gather, is a mochyn.
I know that there might be an objection to my amendment relating to the availability of the appropriate work force to carry out what I am seeking to do—to ensure that all children have some experience of a modern foreign language from the very first key stage. I would encourage the Government to take steps to train qualified teachers to specialise in teaching languages to very young children. But in the mean time I see no reason why teaching materials cannot be developed by qualified people for use by ordinary primary teachers.
I say “ordinary”, but I think that most primary teachers are extraordinary in the way in which they manage to get their heads around so many subjects and make them interesting and exciting for the children. They already wear a lot of hats, so one more may not be such an imposition, especially if they are working with good quality materials. Besides, I think that most teachers realise that as they are preparing children to grow up in quite a different world from the one in which I grew up, when air travel and mass emigration has made the world a much smaller place, it is essential that we get them learning languages at the best possible moment—that is, early. In addition, I would like to see schools using native speakers of other languages from the community and bringing them into primary schools. The foreign teaching assistants who work in secondary schools might also be able to contribute something. We need to be a bit imaginative and a bit flexible—and I hope that the NUT will agree with me.
On the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I am afraid that despite the fact that I am grateful to her for raising the subject I do not support her Amendment No. 93, which would make a modern foreign language compulsory at key stage 4. With the first public examinations, you need to give young people as much choice as possible and not be too prescriptive, apart from the core subjects. But the noble Baroness has kindly listened to an objection that I made when we first considered this matter—that for some children it would be better to spend the time on more English lessons. That is what her Amendment No. 94 seeks to address in part. But the provision applies to two groups: the first is those for whom English is not their mother tongue, which is the group she addresses in Amendment No. 94. The other group is children for whom, although English is their mother tongue, they have some difficulty with it and need extra help. The Government have rightly identified that literacy is the most basic tool and opens the door to all sorts of other learning, and so is the right and proper focus of many initiatives, but the noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 94 does not take those children into account. For them, it would not be appropriate to enforce a course of study of a foreign language up to public examination stage.
Before I move, I pass on to your Lordships a lovely phrase that I heard only this morning from my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno. He told me that when he was in Jerusalem recently a young Arab boy said to him, “When I have one language it opens one window on the world; when I have two languages, it opens two windows on the world”. I leave your Lordships with that thought and I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 carry on our crusade for the reintroduction of modern foreign languages as compulsory subjects up to the age of 16. That compulsion was the case until 2003, when modern foreign languages were demoted from foundation subject status to entitlement subjects. The amendments would allow those children for whom English is a second language to spend time studying English that they would otherwise spend on another modern foreign language. We believe that will complement the fantastic efforts of schools that teach a large proportion of children for whom English is not their first language.
Since the demotion of modern foreign languages in the curriculum, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of people studying a modern foreign language at GCSE. Indeed, by November 2005, 64 per cent of maintained schools had experienced a fall in the numbers studying modern foreign languages for key stage 4, compared with figures for the previous three years. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, stated in the Times on 25 August this year that the entries for foreign languages are in “free fall”.
I have highlighted this situation before. I remind your Lordships’ House that a survey last February by the European Commission found that two in three adults in Britain could not speak a language other than English. That has severe ramifications for our place in a competitive global market. It is not just a matter of trade-offs, as the Minister described in his response in Committee; rather, this is a serious component of the future of our successful competitiveness in a global economy.
There is a serious failing in the way in which policy on the curriculum has been managed under this Government. The Government’s policy has been described by the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, as a “complete disaster”. I hasten to add that I do not believe that that is the fault of the Minister, or necessarily the way in which this present department has dealt with the issue. In fact, I sincerely believe that, were it convenient to undo the policy decision from 2003, he would do so. That would be welcomed by the professional and teaching sectors, and it would enhance our integration in a global and European economy. Indeed, that is the decision that I hope to encourage him to consider today.
It is widely recognised that offering only optional languages up to 16 has taken its toll on the success of our education system as a whole. The director of the National Centre for Languages, Isabella Moore, states:
“With 70 per cent of businesses now involved in some form of international activity, the idea that languages are just for ‘academic’ pupils is short-sighted and damaging to the economy”.
You only have to go into the City of London to see that most of the employees now are foreign. The reason is that they come to this country able to speak different foreign languages competently—not just one, but maybe two and often three—and to do business in them.
Isabella Moore’s statement is striking. I was reminded of it as I read the Financial Services Skills Council’s report, Graduate Skills and Recruitment in the City, of September this year. The paragraph on skills and abilities makes it clear that foreign graduates have a huge advantage over English graduates in the City. Those graduates are a direct product of globalised labour markets which have undergone periods of change in recent years—namely, countries in eastern and central Europe with developed education systems. The report noted that, as I just said, many of the graduates who apply to international firms speak several European languages, including their first language and English, and that the potential further expansion of the EU will increase the flow of highly skilled migrants from East to West.
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that we do not welcome the great benefits that people from other countries bring to our economy. Those economic migrants make an invaluable contribution to our economy. But I believe that we should be giving our children the skills that will lead to their having the same opportunities to compete in that market. That is the least that we can provide.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, talking on Radio 4 at the weekend about the need to make learning a foreign language interesting, attractive and important. With great respect, I worry that we fear requiring children to undertake challenges in their school life unless those challenges are somehow sugar-coated. One only has to consider for a moment the growth in competition for jobs from highly skilled, low-cost economies such as China and India, where children are learning foreign languages and are hungry to compete with our children in the UK, to appreciate just how important languages are.
In short, our children cannot be aspirant if they do not speak at least one modern foreign language. That is how important this is. Therefore, I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is to carry out a language review and that the Secretary of State has noted the amendments that we tabled in Committee and has recognised that this is an urgent matter.
I have reread the Minister’s response in Committee, where he made it clear that,
“Part of our problem in focusing high-quality language teaching in our schools is deciding which language should be taught”.—[Official Report, 20/7/06; col. 1513.]
That is why I have revised my amendments so that the choice of languages would remain a matter for the discretion of the Secretary of State. I believe that that is right, as it allows time for consultation on the most appropriate languages to learn and flexibility to adapt languages learnt in a changing world.
I congratulate the Minister on the initiatives that he has introduced. A positive drive towards training more PGCE students in languages and the target by 2010 for all seven to 11 year-olds to have the opportunity to learn a language are very welcome.
I was intrigued to hear about the Spanish language dance mat that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has been sent. I hope that before this Bill goes to another place other noble Lords will have an opportunity to test it out.
I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, that while the principle of their amendment is laudable, I fear that the cost implications in the immediate future are too great. However, it is a worthy aim, which I hope the Minister can factor into consideration of the future of primary education. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the workforce were absolutely right. I well recall that my introduction to learning French was entirely audiovisual. It was not necessary for the teacher to have a qualification in that foreign language under his or her belt. I learnt just from listening to a tape and watching a screen. It was fantastic. I can still repeat much of what I learnt many years ago. To say that the measure is unworkable because there are not enough teachers exacerbates the downward spiral. I shall repeat that comment when we discuss science education next Tuesday. We cannot afford to lose any more time. This matter is critical.
I have said much about the need to teach foreign languages to meet young people’s aspirations in the global economy. This is not just about securing jobs in the City; there is huge competition for all jobs. The flexibility that so many foreign students have to take on new subjects because they can converse in a different language is amazing. We are denying our children huge opportunities and chances in life because of the frankly dreadful policy that is in place.
These amendments are tabled in spirit with amendments on the three sciences and the IGCSE that we shall discuss next week. They are all presented with a joint purpose—to raise standards in our schools and to give our children the global opportunities that they deserve. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response to our amendments and a stronger policy commitment to modern languages than we have seen from his department so far.
My Lords, I very much support these amendments. My children went to the French lycée aged four and mopped up French like sponges. That is the age when children begin to learn language. Although initially I was delighted that the maintained system would by 2010 offer children aged 10, for the first time, the chance to choose a foreign language, nevertheless I could not help reflecting that in most independent schools there was no question of having an option. You were taught a foreign language. You may not have enjoyed it much but you jolly well got used to it. Now we are in this disastrous situation, which seems to have got worse since 2003, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. That is clearly due to the fact that foundation status was removed at that stage.
It is very worrying indeed that at the secondary stage there are so few pupils now taking the subject voluntarily. We are also seeing very few going on to read foreign languages at university, so we have a growing spiral of horror. I urge the Government to think in terms of recruiting more people. One or two suggestions have been made—for example, recruiting people who are perhaps over here doing other jobs and who have foreign languages. Even within our own community, there are people who have considerable skills in modern foreign languages. We should be recruiting them to help us—as a temporary measure, if you like—to get over this problem and to reinstate foreign languages.
I commend the Minister for the interest that he has clearly taken in this issue, not just because I have as a result had the dance mat sent to me. There has also been a lot of activity in terms of helping the individual. I commend the BBC’s attempts in the interactive programme “jam”, which children and those with special needs can take particular advantage of. It is also open to teachers to interact in the same sort of way. You have the same situation as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was talking about, where you could learn from a screen updated with the internet. As far as I am concerned, the earlier this is done, the better, and you should make it attractive in whatever way you like. You could have daily a language of the week. As has been pointed out, we have all these different languages, and everyone could speak their own and show the different words that are used in their mother tongues. I urge the Government to please do anything that they can on this issue and to treat it as a matter of urgency.
My Lords, I shall use a foreign language to say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. I cannot forget that years ago when I was Secretary of State for Education we endeavoured to bring in French to schools for children at the age of eight, with the suggestion that there should be a second foreign language at the age of 12 when children had gone into the upper school. We started a special language teachers’ college, and we tried to encourage people to go in and to learn other languages. There was a big upsurge, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will find out, in the study particularly of Russian at that time, followed quite closely by Spanish. There was quite a widespread fashion in schools to learn Russian because of the significance of Russia in the 1970s and 1980s, and Spanish became a more popular subject. I do not quite know why so much of that initiative has withered on the vine. It may have been partly the outcome of financial reductions proportionately in educational spending.
I completely agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Buscombe and Lady Howe, that this is a disaster. A country such as ours, if it expects to go on being successful, even in the most direct economic terms, cannot expect to be taken terribly seriously, or to get contracts, or to win service contracts in particular if it is completely unable to speak any language but its own. It is not very easy to conduct diplomacy entirely in one’s own language; it makes one very unpopular with foreign powers. But it is much more than that; it is about a kind of narrowing of the whole sense of the world’s culture and it is an inability to know any of the literature of other countries in a world that is becoming increasingly interdependent. It means that Britain in many ways is impoverished by the simple incapacity to speak anyone else’s language. It is not only about language, but about thinking in the way that other people think.
I remember years ago, when I was teaching in Africa, hearing one French African say to another, “Voila l’esprit Cartésien”. That was in the middle of a desert in Senegal. I could not help thinking that there was something quite staggering about French culture when all those miles away from metropolitan France people can talk about l’esprit Cartésien. That tells you something about other cultures, other languages and other countries and the contribution that they can make to the world’s civilisation.
So I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in her amendments, and I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will listen very carefully because I am sure that his heart is already with the debate.
My Lords, one trouble with the French is that they cannot admit that Descartes was wrong. I entirely support the spirit of my noble friend’s amendment. It seems enormously important that we should get ourselves to a position where we find foreign languages easy, as many other European nations do. The learning of languages is clearly not inherent to us in a genetic sense; it is something that we have allowed to develop as a cultural artefact.
Having been top dogs for a long time, we do not realise that we cannot now “boss it around” in the way that we used to. Although we have the great privilege of English being the international business language, it will clearly be under threat from Chinese. The Chinese are determined to make their language the business language of the East and they are putting a lot of money into that. I am delighted that we are responding through the British Council to keep English in there.
One way and another, we are going to find ourselves in a world where we need to speak foreign languages and, in any case, doing so is a matter of courtesy. If you are dealing seriously with people from another country, it is clear that you, one of your colleagues or someone in the business must understand them, their culture and their language. This should be, as it is in so many other European countries, something that we generate ourselves.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, language learning has to start at the earliest stages, when it is easy. I have the habit of buying DVDs on eBay and, from time to time, I end up with some fairly strange products. So, when I have not quite read what it is I am buying, my daughter watches “Shrek” in Cantonese and various other things in French and Mandarin. But she absorbs and enjoys them, and one picks up the occasional foreign word in her conversation—it seems to be a natural facility at that age.
As my noble friend Lady Buscombe said, there are many good products out there at the moment. There are self-education courses aimed at almost every level. It does not require teachers to know the language; they can learn it along with the pupils. Indeed, having an inexperienced teacher helps you to learn to use the product and to get over problems. We could set out on a journey together in Russian, my teacher and I, and I do not need her to start with a word of it. So long as she understands how the process works, we can follow the same course together and help each other to get over the hurdles. That can happen at any age.
We do not need a great cohort of people speaking whatever language in primary schools. What are we going to dictate to primary schools that they should do? We need only give them the facilities and the encouragement so that they can pick up on a lot of material that is out there and explore languages with their pupils. They can give those pupils a facility and make it seem easy to them. They can make it seem that languages are not the enormous hurdle that they have come to be seen to be—the hard discipline or the GCSE that is hardest to get through. Languages should trip easily off the tongue.
I am absolutely delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has been given the job that he has. It means that we have two people to speak to this evening: the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the Minister—and I hope that we can convince at least one of them.
I hope that the noble Lord will take an interest in the music examination system, which, it seems to me, has always had a great deal of application in languages. It should be taken in small steps. The split between playing and theory also seems to fit very well with languages. You can have just the speaking—the enjoyment—of the language to a certain level and allow the theory to lag behind but then catch up later. That is certainly how people get caught into the system of music exams. They may well reach grade 5 without knowing much theory but then realise that they have to catch up. But, by that stage, they are already on the ladder and—whoosh—the theory comes on from behind. On the other hand, the two peg together so that, by the time you are getting anywhere serious, you are level-pegging on theory and on the enjoyment side.
There is a lot of hope if only we can realise what is out there, how easy it is to learn languages and how much can be done without enormous expenditure or training and without a great deal of dislocation. One thing we must do is ensure that we motivate schools to teach languages. At the moment one can drop languages, take up media studies or whatever and there is no difference at all; there are the same results and the same motivation. We have to make it clear that languages are to be valued and that they must be reported on separately so that schools can focus on them. Let them use their ingenuity and the facilities with which we provide them to decide how, with their pupils, they will make progress in languages.
There is a great deal of expertise and understanding out there about how to teach pupils. Let it go. Let us not have the problem we had a few years ago when a wonderful course called “business studies in Spanish” was pioneered by Millais School, a state comprehensive in Horsham. It was killed by the QCA, which said, “We’re not having this; it is far too expensive; it is not standard; we will charge you £50,000 a year to ensure it is up to standard”, and so it died. That is entirely the wrong attitude. We have to let lots of people try lots of different ways of motivating pupils who come from a background where there is no incentive to learn languages. We want them to pick up languages and enjoy them. Given that kind of spirit, we will get somewhere.
My Lords, I also urge my noble friend Lord Dearing on his way. I wish him the best of luck and I congratulate the Government on having the idea. The great irony is that in this country we have the reputation of being monolingual. In fact, we are the most multilingual country in western Europe. We ignore that at our peril. Most of the languages that are spoken are either unfashionable or dangerous. Being monolingual, when we talk of speaking a foreign language in this country, we think only of the Anglo-Saxons in our midst. They are the people who are monolingual.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, rightly mentioned the problem we have in motivating people. The fact that English is misleadingly referred to as a world language helps to disincentivise our young. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Dearing gets down to business, he will not look upon GCE or even the old CSE as the appropriate models for foreign language learning, but will look more towards the model for music testing. Under the music criteria, a child learns a little at grade one on violin or piano and acquires a sense of achievement when he gets there. At grade five there is a link across to music GCSE. I think we shall have great difficulty in teaching British children French, German and Spanish unless we can find new ways of motivating and encouraging them to learn those languages.
My Lords, perhaps I may reflect for a moment. In 1993, I was withdrawn from the world of higher education, where I was devising a new funding methodology, to do a lightning review of the national curriculum. By comparison, university was a kindergarten. I had never been so terrified in my life as during the three months I was given to review the national curriculum because there was such passion and conviction, but it was all over the place. Macbeth says,
“that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return,
To plague the inventor”.
Earlier this afternoon, I was saying that local authorities should be accountable for their decisions. I look around this House and think, “I am going to produce a report, and will be accountable to this House. I cannot escape!”. Perhaps I should take special leave after Christmas.
Somewhere in the Good Book, it says:
“To everything there is a season … a time to be born, and a time to die”.
Dearing, this is the time to listen and shut up. I will say things, however, from time to time, because it draws fire, excites interest and I learn.
I had a letter from a head teacher in a special school which said some good and sensible things, but she felt that this review was not really for special schools. I e-mailed her to say, “Yes, the review concerns all schools”. Secondly, several references have been made to the ladder. Without having studied it, I see it as something that must command my attention, partly because of the small steps and the motivation and recognition that come from it and partly because, between steps, there are smaller steps recessed within the school rather than externally—the individual rungs are external. It could be a means of getting that articulation between primary—where everybody is saying we should start—and secondary without the dislocation that so often happens. I say that with some anxiety but, since it has been urged upon me, I shall look into it.
I am vastly intrigued by the dance mat. I have received in the post “Flirt Spanish”, and wonder if we could trade. I have not yet assessed it for its relevance and value.
I feel privileged as well as terrified to undertake this review, and do so with the recognition of how important it is to make progress in this area. I recall the German ambassador once saying something like, “If you come to my country to buy something, speaking English, okay. But if you come to sell something, it helps to speak a bit of German”. I think we all gain from speaking a bit of German.
My Lords, anyone who has followed education policy over the past 15 years, under both parties, will know that whenever a particularly intractable problem presents itself, one not subject to the powers of mere mortals to overcome, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is sent for. By an inscrutable process which usually takes several months—he acts very fast—he produces a deus ex machina: the answer to all our problems and an effective way forward. If he was able to do it with student finance—about the most intractable issue it is possible to imagine—he may find languages a relatively easy problem to crack.
On behalf of the whole House, I say how grateful we are to the noble Lord for taking on this responsibility. In my experience, there is no challenge that he does not rise to splendidly. The country owes him many debts of gratitude for the public services he has performed over the years, and this will be not the least of them.
A heavy burden rests on him, because there is a great sense of public unease—I shall be frank—reflected in the debate this evening about the teaching of languages in secondary schools. The noble Baroness is quite right to highlight the issue in her amendment. We have grappled with it and have not found the last word on policy in any respect, and have passed the baton to the noble Lord to find a better way forward for us.
Under the terms of reference, which my right honourable friend has agreed with the noble Lord, he will examine the scope for action to further strengthen incentives for schools and young people to continue with languages after 14. He will look at how we can support secondary schools in making a wider range of more flexible language courses available, with accreditation so that more young people keep up language learning—if not all the way through to GSCE, certainly to the later years of secondary education. He will work with representatives of further and higher education to see what might be done to widen access to, and increase interest in, language learning among students. He will also consult employer organisations, other organisations and pupils to see what ideas they have for taking forward policy in this area.
The noble Lords, Lord Quirk and Lord Lucas, mentioned the languages ladder. It closely reflects music grades and was designed with the philosophy of music grades in mind. Students can demonstrate their competence in languages in small stages and progress without having to make the giant leap to GCSE that was previously required. I am delighted to say that I am about to present the 10,000th award under the languages ladder scheme, and that must be a sign that it has reasonably wide take-up, which is a welcome development. I am delighted that the noble Lords highlighted the languages ladder for examination of how its wider use in schools could be encouraged to ensure that teaching and learning languages do not suffer the rapid fall-off that they currently experience in secondary years.
In respect of Amendment No. 91, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I am glad to say that the position in primary education is rather better. When we introduced the new policy on languages, which included making them optional at key stage 4, our philosophy was that we needed to do much more to make a reality of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was seeking to do back in the 1970s; namely, the systematic introduction of languages in primary schools. In order to carry through that policy, we not only established a new national entitlement that will take effect in due course, but we provided significant support for languages teaching in primary schools, including a new PGCE for languages in primary schools—formerly, there was no dedicated PGCE for teaching languages in primary schools—and providing financial support to allow schools to introduce languages. Since that policy began in 2002, more than 2,000 primary teachers with a languages specialism have been trained, and in the financial year 2006-07 and until the end of this decade, a further 1,000 primary school languages teachers will be trained each year. By the end of the next financial year, we will have invested more than £60 million to build capacity at primary level.
There is evidence that this is having an effect. In December 2002, only one in five primary schools was offering language learning opportunities, most of that was extracurricular and there were no trained primary teachers specialising in languages. Now, according to the latest survey, 56 per cent of primary schools are delivering or planning to deliver languages learning programmes, so significant improvement has taken place in primary schools. However, I accept that there is a great deal further to go. We need to look not only at training additional languages teachers for primary schools, but at how languages can play a role in the development of extended schools at primary level and at how we can further encourage supplementary schools, which can have a significant languages component, which we are also seeking to do. We also need to look at how we can further embed the languages ladder so that primary school pupils not only start to learn a language, but take the stages of the ladder seriously to improve their competence year on year. If we can crack that, we will have made a substantial contribution to ensuring that pupils in secondary education are motivated to learn languages. In languages, as in all other subjects, motivation is the key. If students arrive at secondary school motivated to learn languages by already having made progress and possessing steps on the languages ladder, then half our job will have been achieved.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I thank noble Lords who took part in it and the Minister for his reply. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said at the beginning of her contribution that modern foreign languages are in freefall. I share her concern. We differ on what to do about it. We feel that if we started teaching modern foreign languages earlier more young people would want to take them up to external exam level and go on to university; so we would not need to compel them.
The old saying is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Clearly it is broke and I close by saying that I hope the noble Lord will fix it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.